Global Site Plans Branding for Architecture, Engineering, Environmental Non-Profits, Landscape Architecture, & Urban Planning Companies Sat, 20 Jun 2015 09:56:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Negligent Landlords Targeted by Housing Aid Society in Saint-Quentin, France Fri, 19 Jun 2015 16:13:56 +0000 Facade of deteriorating  apartment building above a restaurant, France

In Saint-Quentin, France, the Family Allowances Fund (CAF) has been experimenting with a system that targets the landlords of rundown housing complexes and obligates them to do maintenance work. If they do not bring their buildings up to par, they will not be allocated financial assistance from the Family Allowances Fund.

The department will no longer pour out housing aid if the building does not meet basic standards of decency. In this way, the Family Allowances Fund of Aisne hopes to compel neglectful landlords to do work on dilapidated or otherwise rundown buildings they rent out. The method has been in place for the past few weeks in Saint-Quentin, following a 2-year trial period.

Before giving renters housing assistance, often directly used by the landlord, a specialized operator will come and inspect the state of the rented housing units. The agent will check that the housing conforms to electricity, humidity, sanitation, and fuel poverty (heating and insulation) standards. “If (the building) does not meet the criteria, the landlord’s allocations will remain with CAF until the work is carried out. He or she has 18 months to do the work,” explains Ghislaine Liekens, Deputy Director of the organization. “The renter cannot have his lease terminated (because of the landlord’s noncompliance),” she continues. A hundred inspections are projected to take place this year in buildings targeted by several stakeholders, or with a reputation for being run down. The cost of the operation is 40,000 Euros.

Saint-Quentin, Aisne, France

Does this mark the end of the scandal of poor-quality of housing being fed by public funds? “We want to send a strong message to negligent landlords and to developers in order to prevent them from trying to get rich off public funds. This is because, quite often, they fix their rental prices according to the level of aid they anticipate receiving,” explains the President, Guy Duval. “We will no longer pay.”

The public organization would like to see this type of partnership developed in different areas of the department. The program is adaptable in function of the type of housing and the number of competent local authorities, and aims to reduce “pockets of indecency in Aisne, which, we know, is an area that is particularly affected by old and poorly maintained housing.” The CAF of Aisne is one of the first in the country to launch itself into this combat. Such endeavors are encouraged by the Alur Law, but few departments have initiated such policies.

With 150 million Euros of housing aid distributed in 2014, the Aisne Department constitutes a pivotal player when it comes to housing, this much is clear. “We are working with other partners, whether they be the State, the Department, the ARS. This is because we are targeting and going after the landlord, not the housing units,” explains Ms. Liekens.

Unsanitary wall in Brittany, France

This ultimately puts double the pressure on the organization, because the CAF also supports renters dealing with the consequences of energy poverty, which are often disastrous. In 2014, the organization helped close to 4,500 households pay their energy bills that were, for the most part, disproportionate to their usage.

But after all, isn’t it true that one must invest money in order to save money? “No, we didn’t think that at all,” retorts the President. “We first thought of those families that live in terrible conditions. What better drive to action than that? When you hear about what people have lived through due to energy poverty and awful housing conditions, and then hear about the families decimated by these events, you don’t think about saving money.

Does your city face a problem of neglectful landlords? Has any action been taken by the city to address insufficient conditions and provide renters with better quality, more sustainable housing? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Image 2 by Alaina Lele. Image 3 by Laurent Bouclier. Image 1 and data linked to sources.

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New Zoning Bill Aims to Decrease Number of Cars in Downtown São Paulo, Brazil Wed, 17 Jun 2015 16:00:22 +0000 Traffic congestion in São Paulo, Brazil

A bill to revise the zoning law in São Paulo, Brazil was presented on June 2nd by Mayor Fernando Haddad to the municipal house. The bill aims to decentivize the use of automobiles in the greater city center of São Paulo by opening more space for bicycles and constructing garages close to metro and train stations.

The Municipal Secretary of Urban Development, Fernando de Mello Franco, stated that the idea is to relieve the flow of vehicles in the greater city center.

Another proposal of the bill is to install commercial establishments in residential neighborhoods, such as the region of Jardins. The zoning law seeks to tailor the Strategic Master Plan in relation to the city’s future development. Zoning is a combination of rules — parceling, use, and occupation — that defines the activities that can be installed in different locations in the city. For example, where commerce, industry, and residence are permitted, and how buildings must be constructed on lots to provide better connection to the surroundings.

The bill has begun to be processed in the São Paulo House. It will undergo forty public hearings in the neighborhoods with discussions lasting through the end of 2015. If approved by the city council and sanctioned by the Mayor, it will stay in effect until 2029.

Major Components of the Bill


The idea is to stimulate the construction of parking garage buildings around train and metro stations in the suburban neighborhoods to limit the movement of these cars into the city center.

Fewer parking spaces

The bill also proposes reducing the parking space requirement for new developments and, at the same time, require the widening of sidewalks, the creation of more bike parking locations, and increased locker rooms for cyclists. It is expected to reduce the minimum number of required parking spaces in developments, in particular by not requiring parking spaces in residential uses.

Sidewalk use in São Paulo, Brazil

Environmental Quota

Another innovation is the creation of an environmental quota that encourages actions such as planting trees, increasing the rainwater containment reservoir, and the creation of bioswells. Businesses will have to adhere to a set of minimum actions, without which they will not be licensed. In return they will receive an incentive to adopt these methods. The sustainability of each project can be simulated before being presented to the City Hall.

Maximum Lot Size

The new zoning proposal institutes a maximum dimension on lots and blocks to permit the opening of streets, creation of green areas, and use of the area for social facilities. Lots and plots with areas greater than the limit will be subject to subdivision The idea is to impede the formation of large blocks, as are used for gated communities. Large blocks generate discontinuity in the system and result in large distances to be traversed, which is incompatible with the pedestrian scale and with the principles of urban mobility.

Growth in Public Transport Axes

The master plan defines “structuring axes of urban transformation” – areas which are targeted to increase the supply of public transport and housing, thus enabling more people to live near large public transport systems.

Guaranteeing Industrial and Economic Development Zones

Near Jacu-Pessego Avenue in the East Zone, a large industrial district has been guaranteed to never be replaced with real estate. It is an example of what the city wants to do to ensure productive areas in the city and the permanence of manufacturing. These industrial zones will be chosen to have good rail and highway accessibility.

Cidade Tiradentes, São Paulo, Brazil

Qualification of Urban Life

Special interest zones,” the ZEIS 1 zone above all, are those containing favelas or irregular subdivisions that are either already regulated or in the process of regulation. The city wants to guarantee the production of affordable housing in these places, yet at the same time allow them to transform into a neighborhood like those in other parts of the city.

In response, two new zones will be created: the “mixed social interest zone,” and the “central ZEIS zone,” where the city will facilitate the development of non-residential uses (commerce and service). This zoning will take advantage of opportunity in employment, commerce, and proximity to these residential areas which are increasingly becoming mixed neighborhoods. One of these areas, for example, is in Tiradentes City, in the East Zone, where there is great need for non-residential uses.

How does zoning effect the area where you live in terms of sustainability, economic development and equity? How can your city improve its transportation system to disincentive car use? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Social Landlord Launches Coworking Facility in Saint-Leu-la-Forêt, France Tue, 16 Jun 2015 16:13:55 +0000 Rue General Leclerc, Saint-Leu-la-Foret, France

Go to the office – in a social housing apartment building. Such is the original idea just launched by Val-d’Oise Habitat. The department’s social landlord inaugurated a coworking space in the middle of Saint-Leu-la-Forêt, France. “At the beginning, it was considered a bit of a silly idea,” smiles Raphaelle Gilabert, Director of Val-d’Oise Habitat.

“But the city was willing to participate. We are targeting entrepreneurs, or people who have a company but are only two people: a boss and a secretary, for example. Coworking is ideal when one has a desire to create one’s own enterprise, but who doesn’t want to immediately invest in expensive office space.

In a former computer accessories boutique, 50 square meters of space have been completely redone. The rooms are still empty, but will soon be equipped with desks, telephones, and printers. Val-d’Oise Habitat is supplying all shared amenities. New entrepreneurs will only have to show up with their laptops and take a seat. There can be up to 12 people sharing the space, and will share the rent of approximately 800 Euros a month.

Coworking Space in Toulouse, France

The Mayor and Departmental Counsellor, Sébastien Meurant, assures us that he has already been in contact with interested parties. “There are more and more entrepreneurs these days,” notes the Mayor. “This coworking space is an alternative to the business incubator in the city center. When someone starts out, they are often alone. This coworking structure is a fertile ground for growing small businesses. In France, too often, the little businesses never become large. They get absorbed by bigger companies or move abroad.”

To allow talented people to launch their businesses, Val-d’Oise Habitat invested 350,000 Euros in the project. They completed the total renovation of the apartment building in 2008. This 19th century building was in very bad condition, and lots of work had to be done in order to build the current 12 apartments. If the experiment proves successful, Val-d’Oise Habitat envisions creating other coworking spaces. It is the first time in France that a social landlord has put such a structure in place.

Saint- Étienne, France Cité Lib carsharing with Renault Zoé

In addition to office-sharing, Val-d’Oise Habitat is working on carsharing. The social landlord hopes to offer rentable electric cars at the intergenerational residence being constructed near the Montigny-lès-Cormeilles train station.

Between now and next year, two Renault Zoé cars will be made available to renters who can rent it for several hours or more, using the internet. “We couldn’t create more than 50 parking spaces at this location,” explains Raphaelle Gilaber. “Therefore, we are compensating for this with carsharing, which we have seen developed in other places. The children of older building residents can then come visit by train, and reserve a car to take mom out!

Has coworking caught on in your city? Would you ever consider using a coworking site to launch your business? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Image 3 by Daniel Villafruela. Images 1, 2, and data linked to sources.

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Residents Debate Uses or Demolition of São Paulo, Brazil’s Minhocão Expressway Fri, 12 Jun 2015 16:24:39 +0000 A festival on the expressway

The elevated Costa and Silva highway, popularly called the Minhocão (literally the “giant worm”), has come back into discussion in the Municipal House of São Paulo. On May 28th they discussed the closing of the highway on Saturdays, in addition to its current Sunday closures.

David Lacerda has lived in the area for three years and is in favor of the closing. “Since I moved here, I saw the transformation of the space on Sundays and also at night, and how it welcomes social interaction.

The Minhocão is an elevated expressway that extends 3.4 kilometers and connects the city center to the west zone. It was built in the 1970’s with the objective of improving local transit. In 1976, it was closed during the nighttime, and in 1989, the restriction was extended to be everyday between 9:30 PM and 6:30 AM. Today, the Minhocão is also closed on Sundays. The city’s Master Plan, approved by Mayor Fernando Haddad, calls for the total deactivation of the highway in the next 15 years, though it doesn’t specify whether the road would be demolished or turned into a park.

According to journalist Renata Falzoni, it has created a “car dependency” in São Paulo, and this is the main question for those against closing the highway for the movement of people. “It’s good that we are now discussing the Saturday closings to question this car dependency in the city, and from there, how to give citizen occupation of this space,” Renata stated, after hearing residents’ complaints regarding nuisances created by the Sunday visitors.

Minhocão expressway, São Paulo, Brazil

For Francisco Machado, President of the movement “Dismantle Minhocão,” the closing for one additional day is not a full solution, and would still endanger the health of the population. “Elevated roads function like pot lids. Gas from the cars that drive on the elevated road get dispersed into the air, but this doesn’t happen for the cars below. The innocent people walking above will breathe in toxic gas coming up from under.” Machado stressed that he and the other members of the movement are calling for the total demolition of the expressway.

Traffic study from the CET

An ongoing study by the Traffic Engineering Company (CET) has noted that the closing of the Minhocão is viable without greatly impacting the transit in the region. The work should be finalized in the next month. “The results of the macro-simulation indicate that the impact in terms of vehicular flow on the roads in the study region is not significant, allowing for the deactivation of the elevated Costa and Silva,” reads a section of the report.

The study area includes the roads surrounding the highway that would receive the vehicle flow in the event that the Minhocão is deactivated. According to the CET, the survey still has not verified the closing specifically on Saturdays. What has been examined so far by the traffic simulation is the traffic behavior with and without the Minhocão. To verify the possible impacts on weekend traffic, it would be necessary to reprogram the simulation, since the trips on weekdays have different origins and destinations in the city and car flow on the weekend is 17% lower.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Haddad expressed that in order to be favorable, the Saturday closings should at first only occur in the afternoon period. The city, in the meantime, will await the conclusion of the CET study.

Santa Cecília neighborhood, São Paulo, Brazil

Community leaders in the region, however, are against the Saturday closings. “The closing can create an area for recreation during the day, but at night will become a source of insecurity and disturbance of the peace, with loud music and drunk people in the doors and windows of the residents,” said President of the Security Council of Santa Cecília (CONSEG), Fabio Fortes. He stated that the desire among the residents and small business owners [in Santa Cecília] is for the highway to be demolished.

The Council Member Police Neto, author of the proposal for the Saturday closings, said that the total deactivation of the highway needs a starting point. “Closing on Saturdays is a beginning,” he said. “There are people who’ve made a very angry criticism of the closing and of the opening of a park on the Minhocão. I argue that this park would have rules, hours of operation, security, as is the case with all public parks.”

Police saw the preliminary report by the CET as “the first way the city has admitted that it’s possible to close Minhocão on Saturdays.” A new public hearing in the House should be scheduled to discuss the matter when the study is finished.

Have any roads been converted to public spaces in your community? What effect did it have on the local traffic? Did it meet resistance from residents? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.

Original articles, originally published in Portuguese, here and here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Metelkova Mesto, the Autonomous Squat at the Heart of Ljubljana, Slovenia Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:55:48 +0000 The face of one of the buildings in Metelkova, Slovenia

Metelkova is different,” says Ilina, a dreadlocked Macedonian art student living in Slovenia. “It’s not just an alternative cultural district in the capital – it’s the capital of alternative culture. Outside of Rome, where else can you find a city inside a city?”

From the first-floor window of the art gallery she works in – the only legally-occupied building in this enormous former military base – it certainly looks like Metelkova Mesto is the answer. Twelve thousand five-hundred square metres of derelict buildings are tucked away behind the train station in the centre of the beautiful Slovenian capital Ljubljana. Over the course of two decades, squatters have converted the former mess hall, stables, sleeping quarters and storage rooms into a colourful array of bars, clubs, studios and art galleries. Enormous broken-tile mosaics tower over courtyards of statues and sculptures that have been crafted out of scrap metal and cracked bricks.

Central artworks in Metelkova, Slovenia

As she pours a generous glass of home-brewed honey schnapps, Ilina explains that the grimy, artistic complex we’re looking at is more than a hipster fad. The thriving cultural community here in Metelkova has grown to house “the largest alternative cultural scene in the Balkans.”

“The first squatters took over in 1993, after the army left,” she recounts. “They fought to prevent the site from being demolished and turned into something horrible like a shopping mall. After that, artists set up studios and starting putting on events for the community – non-commercial, alternative music and art events, for everyone.”

It’s a far cry from the original barracks commissioned by Emperor Franz Josef I in 1881 – when the country was under the harsh rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – and the speed of such a community-driven urban regeneration is astonishing. But Ljubljana is the capital of a rapidly-changing, fledgling country. Present-day Slovenia was born out of the bloody breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia just twenty-two years ago. It was during the onset of the Yugoslav Wars in the early ’90s that the military base of Metelkova was abandoned.

View of Metelkova balcony and flag, Slovenia

Now, Metelkova is home to a unique blend of artistic spirit and vibrant counterculture, which is barely tolerated by the authorities. The constant fighting with the government over non-payment of taxes is steadily winding down, as the City of Ljubljana embraces a modern image of tolerance and alternative culture – part of which formed its successful bid to become European Green Capital 2016.

Metelkova was designated a cultural monument by the municipality in 2006 and is the second-largest provider of non-commercial events in the country, attracting visitors from all over the Balkans. From disabled workshops to feminist and LGBT techno raves, Metelkova provides a rare niche for minorities to openly socialise in public.

View of Metelkova facing Ministry of Culture, Slovenia

The irony of such a transformation – from the military centre of a censoring authoritarian regime to a diverse, tolerant artistic haven – is perhaps what makes Metelkova so special. Unlike similar squats in Berlin’s Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts, or Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania which was also built on an abandoned army base, Metelkova has managed to retain its individual identity, free from the taint of gang-violence, drug culture and hipster tourism that have come to characterise its counterparts elsewhere.

Have you visited Ljubljana? Do similar squats exist in your city or have you visited a squatter city before? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments below.

Credits: Images by Ajit Niranjan. Data linked to sources.

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Developer Foresaw the Untapped Potential of “The Delmar Loop” in St. Louis, Missouri Wed, 10 Jun 2015 16:25:56 +0000 Blueberry Hill, St. Louis, Missouri

After graduating from Duke University in 1972, Joe Edwards returned home to St. Louis, Missouri. It was here that he opened Blueberry Hill, a restaurant, bar, and live music venue. Edwards specifically selected its location on Delmar Boulevard, a retail area locally known as “The Loop” that was named for the streetcar which used to turn around there.

Throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, the Loop was a shopping and nightlife destination featuring stylish boutiques and theatres. The Loop fell into decline throughout the 1960’s when the emergence of the automobile pushed development further away from the city and resulted in the subsequent disuse of the trolley. By the early 1970’s, the area was crime-ridden and largely abandoned. Soon after opening Blueberry Hill, Edwards was confronted by the realization that the establishment would not survive if the neighborhood did not succeed.

He thus formed The Loop Special Business District, which persuaded residents to address the area’s urban planning issues including security, sanitation, and beautification. As a St. Louis native, Edwards saw the potential in the area, and Blueberry Hill began to attract other businesses from around the city. He also worked with the University City Council to change the zoning of the Loop to require ground floor retail, widen the sidewalks to encourage street traffic, and draw more businesses.

In 1995, Edwards invested in a second building. When he caught word that the Tivoli Movie Theater had gone out of business, he purchased the building and spent $2 million dollars to return the theater to its original 1924 design. The theater is now run by Landmark Theatres and functions as an art-house theater.

Pin up Bowl, St. Louis, Missouri

In 2000, Edwards once again demonstrated tremendous faith in the Delmar Loop, when he opened The Pageant, a 33,000 square foot concert venue. This project was important because it marked the first development that crossed the invisible line that had long discouraged development past Skinker Boulevard and North of Delmar. Dividing St. Louis County and the City Center, it was an area long seen as dangerous.

In 2003, by continuing to blur this divide, he opened a bowling alley and martini lounge named Pin up Bowl, and in 2009, the Moonrise Hotel, a boutique space-themed hotel. This past year, Edwards opened a 24-7 diner, called Peacock Loop Diner. The diner is on the ground floor of a Washington University dorm, which in August 2014, brought 400 WashU students to share in the Loop neighborhood living experience, acting as a testament to the resurgence of Delmar.

Edwards has been dubbed “The Duke of Delmar” for his creative business ideas and success as a driving force to bring development back to the University City Loop. The next project in talks for the Loop is to reinstate the former trolley system, with the hope that by connecting the street to Forest Park attractions, it will bring further visitors. Not surprisingly, Joe Edwards is behind this vision, serving as chairman of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District.

Are there creative developers in your city that have reinvigorated economically depressed areas? What areas in your community could use similar advocates? Share your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Data linked to sources. Images by Lindsay Naughton.

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“Flower Factory” Tours Begin at the Municipal Garden of Curitiba, Brazil Wed, 10 Jun 2015 16:10:12 +0000 Floriculture

Located in the Guabirotuba neighborhood, the Municipal Garden of Curitiba, Brazil received the first group of residents interested in learning about the production process of the flowers that decorate their local parks and city squares. Through the program “Flower Factory,” guided tours are offered in the nursery, where approximately 6 million seeds are produced annually – a true factory. During the visits, which are scheduled to happen once a month, participants experience all of the production steps performed by the garden.

The tour begins with a talk about the importance and the main development activities at the site. Next, the visitors advance through the stages of planning, sowing, germination, transplanting, greenhousing and the production of planters. Lastly, production is carried out and the flowers are planted in vases and flower boxes.

The Mayor of Curitiba, Gustavo Fruet, participated in this first guided tour. “With this program, we will present a beautiful work so that the people can understand when they see a flower in the square or park, all of the logistics done by such a competent and dedicated team. In this way, we create a sense of belonging and inspire people to take care of, support and preserve the beauty of the flowers in our city.

Tiradentes Square, Curitiba, Brazil

Ivete Fagundes, a tour guide in Curitiba, woke up early and went to learn about the nursery, a space that always piqued her curiosity. Owner of the agency Ivetur Turismo, she shows the city to national and foreign tourists every day. “The planters, always so floral, amaze all of the tourists and they often ask me about how the city is able to stay so beautiful and colorful with flowers year round. Doing this tour will help me respond properly to this question posed by many tourists.”

She listened attentively on the tour, and learned about the process by which the city holds four flower exchanges per year in public spaces, based on the production of 450 thousand flowers per month in the municipal nursery. “It is such an expressive production that a trip through the flower factory should be incorporated into our city tours,” Ivete said.

The Municipal Secretary of the Environment, Renato Lima, said that the objective of the Flower Factory program is to transform the nursery into a showcase, to recognize and appreciate the work of its team. “All of our citizens work to maintain a clean city, and for this we open the nursery for visitors and present their work to the whole city. We want to showcase the planning that is done by this team to guarantee a floral city the entire year,” said Renato.

Rua das Flores, Curitiba, Brazil


During the visit, participants are informed about the planning, organization, and logistics involved in flower production. “Nothing is at random — everything is thought out in advance. As in the fashion world, flowers that make up the urban scenery also have collections, and are replaced each new season,” explains Erica Mielke, the Director of the Department of Vegetation Production of the Municipal Secretary of the Environment.

In 2013, a new plan was implemented for the distribution of the flower seeds that optimized the process and consequently saved the city money. Currently, the 70 nursery employees produce approximately 6 million seeds every year, an average of 500 thousand per month. This is thanks to a machine that is able to sow 450 seeds in less than a minute. The same process took over an hour when it was done by hand.

After the sowing, the seeds are taken to a climate controlled room for germination where they remain for about four days. Next, they are transferred to a greenhouse, where they are protected from the cold, wind, and rain, for a period of a month on average. Then the seeds are transplanted on trays in an automated process. With just ten people in control, the transplanting machine allows for the production of 60 thousand seeds in one day, at most, which would not be possible without the assistance of technology.

A video report of the first event can be viewed here.

How can technology help improve the aesthetics of your city? How aware are people about such beautification efforts? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Re:Code LA Provides the First Update to Los Angeles’ Zoning Code in Sixty Years Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:26:42 +0000 Re:Code LA Community Planning Forum, Los Angeles, California

The last time the City of Los Angeles updated its zoning code was when it was first adopted in 1946. Now, more than sixty years later, the zoning code has grown from an 84-page pamphlet to a book spanning more than 600 pages. The amendments, conditions, and overlays that have been added throughout the years have made it a burdensome, unclear, and complicated document for present day development of the City of Los Angeles.

But what is a zoning code? Put simply, it is a set of rules that regulate what can be built, where it can be built, and how it is used. For example, it specifies how tall a building can be, what industries are allowed in what areas of a community, and how much parking is required in an apartment complex.

Aware of this reality, the Department of City Planning has undertaken the cumbersome task of updating the zoning code. Known as Re:code LA, the project seeks to do a comprehensive revision of a code that is considered to be inadequate towards fulfilling a vision for a 21st century Los Angeles. The Re:code LA project began in 2013 and is expected to be completed in 2017. It is estimated that the five year project will cost $5 million. Some of its features include:

  • Dynamic Web-Based Zoning Code: A clear and predictable Code that better meets the needs of the City of Los Angeles, while also providing an interactive online experience.
  • Guide to Zoning: An easy to read guide to the new Code’s land use and development regulations.
  • Unified Downtown Development Code: New zoning tools customized for Downtown Los Angeles.

Zoning in South Los Angeles, California

Re:code LA aims to achieve the following goals:

  • Make it easier to understand for everyone.
  • Make it more business-friendly.
  • Streamline and in some cases speed up the review process.
  • Consolidate as many uses as possible into more comprehensive categories of use.

A revision to the zoning code is necessary in a city that is the second largest in the United States. Inhabited by 3.8 million people, this metropolis is comprised of a variety of neighborhood and landscape types that include dense urban areas, such as Koreatown, and suburban single family neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley.

However, the current update to the zoning code should not be confused with a change of policy. For example, if you work in a commercial area, Re:code LA will not change it into a residential area. To achieve a change in zoning policy in the City of Los Angeles, one would have to undergo a separate process, which begins by filing a zone change application.

What measures is your local government taking to address current and future development in your community? What zoning code regulations have you found beneficial in the sustainable development of your community? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel and Audelia Maciel.  Data linked to sources.

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Egypt’s New Capital Will be the Largest Planned City in History. But is it Possible? Mon, 08 Jun 2015 16:40:42 +0000 View of city density from Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo, Egypt

Cairo’s thousand year reign as the capital of Egypt is under threat by a new capital. Set to rise from the desert sand just east of Cairo, the new capital is estimated to cover an astonishing 270 square miles and cost $45 billion. Already being dubbed as the “new New Cairo” of Egypt, not to be confused with existing “New Cairo,” the development will be the largest planned city in history.

How long does it take to build a city? Egyptian Housing Minister, Mustafa Madbouley, is currently projecting the completion date in 2022. The masterplan, by architecture firm SOM (Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLP), is geared towards core concepts revolving around education, economy, opportunity, and quality of life, especially for the younger generations.

A few notable highlights include:

  • Housing for at least 5 million residents.
  • Schools, hospitals, shopping, an airport, community and religious buildings to support the new residents and visitors.
  • A park which is double the size of New York City’s Central Park.
  • A theme park four times larger than Disneyland.

Busy street in downtown Cairo, Egypt

With greater Cairo’s population estimated at 18 million, the intent of the project is to alleviate issues with congestion, pollution, and overcrowding by providing housing and points of interest for residents. The thought is that this will historically preserve the city and shield it from any more wear and tear that may ensue with a rapidly growing population. The catch? Unless they belong to the government elite, no one can afford to live here. Current residents of Cairo express that they would like to live in the new city, but they cannot afford to relocate their families or the expensive commute into the city center.

A clean slate to innovate is a rarity. It provides the unique opportunity to reinvent not only a city, but the ways in which we utilize city planning, architecture and design. Nevertheless, architects and planners see the viability of constructing a city the size of Singapore from the ground up in seven years with much skepticism. There have been worries about what will be jeopardized at the expense of hasty construction, primarily in regards to the overall sustainability of the city. Despite critics seeing the project as a kid carelessly wielding an open flame, project architects say that it will be an environmental showcase through its means of preserving the existing topography and developing passive cooling systems by utilizing natural breezes.

Aerial view of neighborhood surrounding historic mosque, Cairo, Egypt

Aside from critique around its carbon footprint, the new capital is an eerily close mirror to the already existing New Cairo which was intended to house two million residents but has barely attracted 100,000 residents. Since the gaudy columns and faux gold balconies of New Cairo’s suburbanite villas have failed, maybe the 200 meter-high skyscraper resembling the iconic pyramids will attract residents in droves. Even after the built up allure of a new city, fears still reside in the possibility of the new capital becoming another vacant Egyptian city reserved as a nesting ground for the elite.

Do you believe in the viability of building a new capital at such a grand scale? Or should alternative measures be taken to preserve Cairo’s history and provide for the future of young Egyptians?  

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.

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Opening This Year, Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam Will Be Fourth Largest in the World Fri, 05 Jun 2015 16:35:12 +0000 Engineer at the construction site of Belo Monte, Brazil

The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River, in the state of Pará, Brazil, is now 77% complete. In November 2015, it will begin minimal operations, at just 3% of its total capacity. The unit’s major machines will begin operation in March 2016. In the meantime, Altamira and other municipalities of Pará are already experiencing the positive effects brought by the enormous endeavor.

The municipalities of the region will receive in total R$ 3.7 billion (1.17 billion USD) of investments for social and environmental areas. This is reciprocation for housing the fourth largest hydroelectric dam in the world, which has the ability to generate 11 megawatts of energy and serve 60 million people in Brazil. “It’s a complex project, and it was done, for example, to not flood even a millimeter of the surrounding area,” said the President of Norte Energia, Duílio Diniz de Figueiredo.

When it won the competition for the Belo Monte Plant, Norte Energia committed to the ambitious compensation plan to minimize potential social and environmental impacts. The example to be avoided is the Trans-Amazon Highway, created in 1973, which didn’t benefit the region.” For 103 years, the City of Altamira had an open untreated sewage system, and only ten percent of the population had water,” stated the business executive.

The sanitation project in Altamira provides R$ 300 million (95 million USD) in investments for its 106 thousand inhabitants, replicating technology from Paris. It will gain eight reservoirs of drinking water. The municipalities of the region will receive R$ 485 million (154 million USD) for the water and sewage systems. According to the President of Norte Energia, Altamira still dumps their trash in the center of the city. A modern landfill will be constructed in its place.

President Rousseff greets Belo Monte, Brazil engineers

Intensive Care Unit Beds

In addition to basic sanitation, the Altamira region is obtaining a more robust network of health facilities. The project includes four new hospitals and renovations of three others — totaling 104 beds in intensive care. Thirty “Basic Health Units” were constructed in the region. “The results of this effort are already apparent. Between 2011 and 2015, cases of malaria have fallen by 96%,” Duílio Diniz informed. The city also gained a building for the future School of Medicine. In the area of education, 270 classrooms were constructed or renovated, benefiting 22 thousand students. Another 108 classrooms will be expanded. To improve security, the region is receiving R$ 100 million (32 million USD) for life jackets, the purchase of a helicopter, and the reform of the public jail.

Indigenous People

Some worry that the Belo Monte Plant will negatively affect the indigenous people of the Xingu River. The region has 34 parent tribes that occupy a 500 kilometer radius around Altamira. According to the President of Norte Energia, the social and environmental compensation project provides an investment of R$ 212 million (67 million USD) in benefits to the tribes. There have been 711 houses construction and the purchase of 370 boats, in addition to the installation of health centers and schools.

The social and environmental compensation show the responsibility of those who took a project in one of the most important regions in the world (the Amazon) and put it into action. And the numbers for Belo Monte are enormous. The workers count for 25 thousand people, involved directly or indirectly. One of the relevant points is that 60% of these workers are from Pará, stimulating the local economy.

What has been the impact of large scale construction projects where you live? How do the economic benefits stand up to the social and environmental impacts? Do you think compensation is a good way to deal with this? Share your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Citizens of Laval, Quebec Propose Height Limits for New Development Fri, 05 Jun 2015 16:15:16 +0000 Île de Paton, Laval, Quebec high rise apartment building

Laval, Quebec’s citizens movement “Pas de Tours dans Ma Cour,” (PTMC) or “No Towers in My Neighborhood,” is setting the tone for the upcoming public consultations that will be led by the Demers administration, beginning August 1, 2015, on the revision of the territorial development plan. The current plan has been in place for more than 25 years.

According to the results of a survey that the organization conducted in March 2015, 64% of the 437 respondents are of the opinion that real estate developments should be limited to 4 stories in residential neighborhoods in order to assure architectural cohesion. One out of four respondents (26%) would be in favor of allowing for the continued construction of apartment buildings between 5 and 8 stories so long as they are in keeping with the neighboring area and are erected at least 300 meters from the river. These tall constructions should also be concentrated on urban boulevards, like Laurentides Boulevard, or in certain sectors of the city like the Centropolis, responders believe. According to several citizens, the impact of these projects on local traffic is an element that the city should consider when they are analyzing a particular real estate project.

Laurentides Boulevard, Laval, Quebec, Canada apartment building

In this respect, they also wish that developers would be required to join an impact study to their urban planning permit requests, and that this impact study would become publicly available so that citizens could become aware of it. The protection of the river banks and their accessibility also came up frequently in the surveys, highlighting the organization who organized the polls.

A Resounding “No!” to the Envol Condominium Project

Not surprisingly, close to 90% of the 437 people who completed the online questionnaire were opposed to the Envol Condominiums project, which seeks to build an 18-story tower at the edge of Lévesque Boulevard, adjacent to Henri-Dunant Park and diagonal from the Commodore Marina. This building of 126 condos, for which a permit request was submitted to the city, is one of the three projects that PTMC contests. Don’t forget that this same organization came out of that same summer combatting three skyscraper projects around the marina, made possible by the urban planning policy (PPU-Cartier) that was adopted by the former Vaillancourt administration.

Contrasting O’Cartier

According to all evidence, the O’Cartier project does not face the same sort of opposition. Only 30% of respondents object to the construction of its 14-story tower, close to the Pont Viau neighborhood.

Levesque Boulevard Laval, Quebec

That being said, “The vast majority of respondents estimate that the height is disproportionate and will forever disfigure the city,” indicates PTMC. “Half of respondents would be in favor of the project if the height were to be reduced to a more normal dimension and (better) integrated with the environment,” they add.

Non-consulted and Badly Informed

Moreover, 84% of people who responded to the opinion poll confirmed not having been consulted about major projects planned for their neighborhoods, even though they almost all expressed the wish to be consulted on those projects that could possibly affect their immediate environment. The survey also shows that three out of four people surveyed (75%) did not know anything about the zoning laws in effect on Lévesque Boulevard. There are no laws limiting the heights of projects there. According to the coordinator of the survey, Ronald Martineau, this survey illustrates that “the administrative decisions made by the Vaillancourt administration continue to haunt Laval’s citizens.” He acknowledges at the same time “the (current) Demers administration’s desire to consult citizens on real estate projects that have to do with the development of their neighborhoods.”

How much input do you think citizens should have on urban planning and development projects? What process does your government follow to inform its citizens about development projects? Share your comments and city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Teto Uses Catarse to Crowdsource Funding for Emergency Housing in Salvador, Brazil Wed, 03 Jun 2015 16:35:50 +0000 Vila Esperança, Bahia, Salvador, Brazil

In 2008, residents united to found the community of Vila Esperança where over one thousand families live today. Located in the district of Pau da Lima, in Salvador Brazil, the hilly region divides the residents between an upper and lower area.

The upper part has the only paved road in the community, with the majority of houses built from stone, and is the location of Association of the Residents of Vila Esperança. Descending the steps to the lower area, one will encounter makeshift dwellings made of wood, plastic, and other materials.

Deprived of nearly all public services, just a few houses have regular electricity. The absence of basic sanitation, treated water, and trash collection is a constant challenge in the lives of the residents. One of the main difficulties is in regard to access.

A large part of the roads do not have adequate stairs, making it difficult for anyone to get around, especially children and elderly. Much of the land is in a high risk region and, with the onset of the rain season, landslides invade the houses and bring a lot of trash down to the lower part.


To make this reality more bearable, the non-governmental organization Teto (“Roof”) has raised money through the crowdfunding platform Catarse. It aims for its work in Vila Esperança to improve the lives of many families that live in extreme poverty.

Teto volunteers in Vila Esperança, Salvador, Brazil

The goal is to build seven emergency houses for the residents of this neighborhood who live in extremely dangerous situations. The campaign on Catarse will go until June 21, and hopes to raise R$ 41,182 (13,100 USD). By the writing of this post, it had raised R$ 9.155 (2,900 USD). It is possible to contribute an amount starting at R$ 25 (7.95 USD).

We are looking to mobilize these residents to exercise daily actions of development in this community. In addition to the residents, about 100 youths will also have the opportunity to do volunteer work that will see this community through. They will work shoulder to shoulder with these residents in the construction of new homes,” highlights Teto on their website.

Operations in the Northeast

In 2014, Teto began its operations in one of the regions in Brazil with the highest index of absolute poverty: the Northeast. “As Bahia is among the most poor states in the region, we decided to begin our activities there. In June of the same year, volunteers Henrique Chan and Gabriele Tiemy disembarked for Salvador to set up another headquarter for the organization.

The first community chosen by the organization was the City of Plástico, located in the district of Periperi. There, they constructed eighteen emergency homes and mobilized around 200 volunteers. A video of the work can be found here.

Youth Volunteers

In November 2014, the headquarters obtained a physical space, making it possible to sustain and grow their work. Teto in Bahia currently has twenty-five volunteers working in the office and over 800 youths in activities. Teto is considered an “Organization for civil society and public interest” (Oscip). It looks to improve extreme poverty across Latin America by means of collaboration between youth volunteers and the residents of dangerous settlements.

How do natural events impact living conditions in your community? How effective are volunteer organization at improving standards of living? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Three Ways Baltimore City, Maryland Suffers from Parking Woes Wed, 03 Jun 2015 16:14:32 +0000 Aliceanna Street, Baltimore City, Maryland

Good urban planning requires forward thinking as well as learning from past successes and failures. Urban planning ideals are steadily evolving, and past practices have created dicey results that today’s planners are still grappling with. In particular, decades of parking policy are increasingly being questioned in many cities, including Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore’s zoning code, including requirements for off-street parking, went largely unchanged since 1971. In 2008, parking and other requirements were reworked as part of a comprehensive zoning code rewrite. In 2015, Baltimore still suffers from plenty of parking-related issues, including the following three examples:

1) Traffic Congestion

In popular neighborhoods like Fells Point, Federal Hill, and Hampden, where residents and businesses share limited on-street parking, congestion is noticeable. Drivers get caught in congestion caused by many factors, including drivers circling a block several times looking for parking. Drivers sometimes also park in lanes that would otherwise be open to traffic. Such a problem exists on Aliceanna Street in Fells Point, and the City’s proposed solution is to restrict on-street parking to keep multiple lanes open during rush hour. However, it’s possible that these restrictions will not benefit drivers, because further limiting desirable parking may result in drivers circling the block a few more times. Commuters who previously took alternate routes may also converge on Aliceanna. In these cases, the plan would fail to improve congestion, and could even leave the area worse off than before. As the plan offers little, if any, improvement to drivers at the expense of cyclists and pedestrians, bike advocates and complete streets fans are not pleased.

Bike Parking by Zipcar Offices, Baltimore City, Maryland

2) Aversion to Transit

An article from The Journal of the American Planning Association entitled “Does TOD really need the T?” included findings that the presence of transit alone doesn’t make people ride transit as much as a lack of parking makes people ride transit. In Baltimore, there is not only just enough parking, in number of spaces and affordability, to discourage alternative modes, but undesirable enough transit, bike infrastructure, and pedestrian safety to encourage driving. The Shops at Canton Crossing is a good case study for this concept. The area is a would-be Red Line station, but the shops are separated from Boston Street and bus stops for two lengthy bus routes by a sea of free parking and disconnected sidewalks.

3) Unsafe School Children

While often reported as a driving issue rather than a parking issue, Baltimore is unfortunately known for being unsafe for school-aged pedestrians. In a five-year period, over 1,000 school-aged children were hit by cars in Baltimore City. That’s more than one kid hit per school day based on Maryland’s required 180 school days per year. The observation of one principal seems to be that dodging double-parked cars is adding to the danger. He hopes to fine parents who double-park in school zones, saying the act “leads to traffic jams and jeopardizes student safety.”

Traffic at crosswalk, Baltimore City, Maryland

These three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. From a community standpoint, parking can be incredibly divisive and is the cause of countless disputes. Add snow to on-street parking in Baltimore, and you get an entertaining, though often disturbing, string of stories detailing arguments about who has the right to park in a shoveled spot. The true costs of bad parking policy and poor parking etiquette are still not fully understood and definitely not agreed upon within planning, engineering, or other disciplines.

What are your thoughts on the impacts of parking policy in Baltimore and in other cities? How does your city deal with its lack or excess of parking? Is your city designing for vehicles or people? Share your city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.

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Electric Scooters and Wheelchairs Now Subject to Motorists Laws in Magog, Quebec Tue, 02 Jun 2015 16:13:58 +0000 Man using a mobility scooter in Indianapolis, Indiana

Beginning June 1st, 2015, electric mobility scooters, trikes, and other motorized wheelchairs will be subject to the laws governing driving, the same as other users of the road in Magog, Quebec, Canada. Transport Quebec just publicly revealed its pilot project aimed at supervising the conduct of these vehicles that together are labelled as AAM (from the French for “Motorized Mobility Aid”).

In addition to submitting users to regulation, the project gives police officers the power to legally intervene and to give out tickets to rule violators when necessary. “With this bill, the role of AAMs is now much clearer to everyone. Now we just have to inform AAM drivers about the different rules,” indicates police officer Paul Tear, heavily involved in the project’s development over the past few years.

According to the information provided by the Minister of Transportation and the Official Gazette of Quebec, “delinquent” drivers are subject to fines ranging from 30-360 dollars. But the pilot project goes even further in obligating owners of AAMs to report any type of accident to the police, whether it be with a pedestrian, another vehicle of the same type, or even an animal weighing more than 25 kilos.

Motorized Wheelchair users ride in the direction of traffic

Drivers now have obligations that are similar to other users of the road. If they are involved in an accident and do not remain at the scene, they could be accused of a hit-and-run,” Paul Tear explains.

Even though the new law imposes restrictions on users of AAMs, it should make the majority of AAM users happy.

An organization that defends handicapped AAM users, Han-Quadri, has been working on the project since 2007 (along with the Memphrémagog police) and even participated in a study on the habits of AAM users in a small city. Notably, several members contributed to the study by recording their comings and goings with the help of GoPro-style cameras. “They kept some of our recommendations in the plan, like that of requiring pennants and reflectors on scooters and wheelchairs. I am very happy with this pilot project,” says the president of Han-Quadri, Jacques Gaudreau. Among the rules that risk changing certain riders’ habits is one that makes it illegal to have two passengers on an AAM (unless the second person is a child younger than 5 years old, wearing a safety restraint).

Riding Wheelchair in opposite direction of traffic

Another requires AAM users to ride in the same direction as traffic if there is no sidewalk. “In certain cases, drivers of AAMs will need to act like cyclists, and in other cases, like pedestrians, as they still have the right to ride on the sidewalk. A learning period will be necessary so that everyone can get used to this new law,” says Paul Tear.

In order to familiarize themselves with the new rules, all owners of AAMs are urged to come to an informational session at 1:30 pm on June 10th, at the Moulin parking lot in Magog. Representatives from the Memphrémagog Police and Han-Quadri will be on location to answer all questions.

Do you agree that those using motorized scooters and wheelchairs should be more highly regulated, like cyclists? Or is regulation demeaning to those who use such mobility aids? Does your city regulate the use of AAMs or wheelchair users? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Image 1 by Steve Baker. Images 2 by Olivier Finlay Beaton. Image 3 by Dylan Passmore. Data linked to sources.

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Versailles, France Welcomes Contemporary Architecture, Minus the Brutalism Fri, 29 May 2015 16:55:21 +0000 Aerial View of Versailles, France including Palace

In Versailles, contemporary architecture is making timid forays into the city under the omnipresent eye of Louis XIV. This is an exercise with high risk for the city which is constrained by its imposing heritage. In some places, matte steel and sculpted concrete sit side by side with 300-year old gilded stone … a complicated marriage that began a few years ago in this city which was created in its entirety by André Le Nôtre for Louis XIV. “We are in the largest preserved 18th-century sector of France. The city is marked by a powerful history, and urban planning rules are strict. The smallest faux-pas is taken as a catastrophe,” summarizes François de Mazières, a Mayor who often visits worksites in his commune while wearing a suit and sneakers.

The royal compound is the precursor to the “new city” and was a hotbed of building permits in 1779. Now, any contemporary intrusion in the historic center is scrutinized under a microscope by the “guardians of the temple,” the Architects of Buildings of France (ABF). However, the integration of building styles is not impossible in this sector, which remains sensible.

The machine-sculpted concrete bands that wave along the facade of the School of Fine Arts, just a stone’s throw away from the king’s abode, bear witness to this. In La Cour des Senteurs, just a few steps away from La Place d’Armes (the entry-square to the palace), the fragrance designer Guerlain has a boutique in a glass and black matte steel pavilion, designed by Philippe Pumain, architect of the renovated Louxor Cinema in Paris.

School of Fine Arts, Versailles, Modern Concrete Facade by 3d Pierre

Modernity without Disconnect

Since his election in 2008, Mayor François de Mazières, who previously presided over the City of Architecture and Cultural Heritage in Paris, has taken on a vast urban platform mixing historical preservation and contemporary development in small doses. New developments have involved architectural competitions for young talent and big names in architecture. The former general hospital has been transformed into a housing complex (as was recounted in Le Figaro several weeks ago), the Vauban Military Barracks were converted into student housing, and a minimalist garden was planted in the reservoirs of royal fountains.

As to the garish and futuristic, “We favor elegance and discretion,” explains the Mayor, speaking in particular about the recently inaugurated annex of the Saint-Louis neighborhood’s cultural center.

The City entrusted Clément Vergely and the ALEP Architects agency with the construction of a clean and simple design with glass walls and metallic millwork, revisiting the style of an “orangerie.” The annex is located in the interior courtyard of the Croÿ Barracks, former home to the king’s guards.

Versailles, France: Richaud Royal Hospital Renovation , front of building still covered in graffiti from years of abandon, scaffolding can be seen on right half of building for restoration

Several weeks earlier, the Richaud Royal Hospital (Versailles’ general hospital) was returned to its former splendor thanks to a renovation that stayed loyal to its original construction and was carried out under strict constraints by the famous architect Jean-Michel Wilmmotte. The complex contains a cultural center, a public garden in the French style, and housing quarters with smooth lines. With the design, the architect hoped to transplant a bit of the contemporary. In the end, “The city of Versailles has chosen to be a camelon. It is the architecture of compromise, but there is a rhythm to it, and it is unique,” he declared in September 2014 in Le Monde.

Trying to Avoid Going Around in Circles

The Mayor is moving forward with cautious steps. He wants to avoid, at all costs, a repeat of the “The Wart,” of a shopping center constructed in the 1970s near the Palace of Versailles.

Versailles, France Chantiers Train Station seen from Front

Hostile to heavy concrete, the Mayor has also fought to bury the idea of commercial flooring in the Chantiers Train Station development project, located beyond the protected zone of the city. As a compromise, the two architects of the moment, Portzamparc, will design a housing complex of 45,000 m2 with gardens and with greater liberty of design, promises the Mayor.

For a long time, the city has “gone around in circles … constrained by its traditional image,” explains Frédéric Didier, head architect of historic monuments in charge of the palace and the city. Few architects or developers have risked going against their predecessors: who created the first Versailles, a village of 400 inhabitants that became a royal capital in 1650. The result: with few exceptions, modernity has been limited to ” boring commercial architecture,” in the 20th century.

After its architectural wanderings, Versailles, an urban planning model that inspired Washington, “intends to show that she will continue to be a supporter of creativity, without brutal divergences,” according to the Mayor. It seems as if Louis XIV is still the king around here.

Should historic cities have a greater commitment to architectural contiguity than to modern innovation? How strictly is historical preservation observed in your community? What zoning codes exist to protect history and heritage in your community? Share your stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Image 2 used with permission by 3d Pierre. Images 1, 3-4, and data linked to sources.

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Businesses Close as Rio Negro River in Manaus, Brazil Exceeds Emergency Level Fri, 29 May 2015 16:24:05 +0000 Flooding on Rua dos Barés, Manaus, Brazil

In Manaus, Brazil, on May 19th, the level of the Rio Negro exceeded the minimum emergency quota of 28.94 meters (94.95 feet) with a level of 28.97 meters (95.05 feet). The volume of the water, aided by recent heavy rains, caused much flooding in the streets of Central Manaus.

In accordance with the measuring system of the Port of Manaus, the level was recorded on the morning of the 19th and was five centimeters (0.2 feet) greater than the previous week’s reading.

The number exceeded the minimum quota determining an emergency, which was published by the Geological Service of Brazil (CPRM). The agency provides that a level of 29.62 meters (97.2 feet) constitutes a flood.

Businesswoman Márcia Luis Ferreira stated that this week she will install damage control measures on the storefront that she manages on Rua dos Barés, one of the roads affected by the rising river. “I’ve bought the materials, which I get every year, to create barricades against the water so that it doesn’t invade my establishment. I hope that it’s not a big flood this year.”

The merchant Valdenilson Reis explained that with the economic crisis and the consequences of the flood, he is afraid that he may have to close his store. “I have a small disposable business. My earnings have already fallen about 20% with the flood, and we predict further falls.” he said.

The vendor, Daniel Tiradentes Paiva called attention to the authorities who, according to him, said that the central roads would not be flooded. “The city came here before the Rio Negro rose. They had explained that with our help and with the new improved manholes, the water would not flood the streets. None of this happened. Every year there’s a flood and no one ever plans,” he criticized.

A car from the Municipal Civil Defense was present on Rua dos Barés to prevent cars from going onto the site, but there was no one in the car to talk to the reporting team.

A forest on the flooded Rio Negro, Manaus, Brazil


The press office of the Municipal Civil Defense said that the third phase of Operation SOS Flood 2015, which aims to mitigate the effects of the Rio Negro flooding on the families residing in the city’s waterfront, is underway. At this stage, 2,900 families will be registered by the Municipal Secretariat for Women, Social Welfare and Human Rights (Semmasdh).

The organization confirmed that the registration, which is the coordinated action by the Municipal Integrated Management Cabinet (GGIM) and Manaus Civil Defense, will be accompanied by environmental agents who will direct families about the correct disposal of trash. With the river flooding, much waste accumulates near the houses.

To alleviate the inconvenience and ensure families’ mobility, the city has built, through the Civil Defense and Municipal Infrastructure Secretariat (Seminf), twenty access bridges in five districts of Manaus. Seventeen more districts will soon receive structures.

The press office of the Municipal Health Secretariat (Semsa) reported that it will also provide support, meeting with people and providing advice about diseases, and the caution required to avoid contact with water that’s been in the streets. The Secretary for Municipal Cleaning (Semulsp) is also involved; removing garbage from around the waterfront.

Has your community been impacted by natural events or disasters? How effective was your local government in responding to them? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Baltimore, Maryland’s Transportation Options Minimizes School Choice Opportunities Fri, 29 May 2015 16:19:59 +0000 Broken down bus, Baltimore City, Maryland

Baltimore City, Maryland’s school-age population is roughly 90,000, with about 185 public or charter schools that enroll based on neighborhood, academic criteria, school choice, lottery, or specialization. The mix of school types and enrollment practices in Baltimore City means greater opportunities for students regardless of their home address or lack thereof. However, much of the opportunity brought on by school choice is diminished by persistent shortfalls in transportation options for students. Yellow bus service may be provided to students of certain elementary schools, while others receive an S-Pass for public transit or taxi vouchers. Others receive nothing.

On any given school day in Baltimore City there are well over 500 buses on the road at one time. The Maryland Transit Administration operates at least 50 bus routes of differing lengths and frequencies, creating a web-like pattern in and around the city, which contains 600,000 people spread across 80 square miles of land. Relatively limited metro, light rail, and commuter rail services are available, but ultimately the bus system carries the greatest weight due to inadequate infrastructure for rail, bikes, or other modes of transportation. If students had access to a clean, safe, and reliable transit system, they might experience the many benefits attributed to youth who use public transit. Benefits include healthier and happier students who are connected to their communities and more likely to become the transit advocates of the future.

schools and transit, Baltimore City Maryland

Unfortunately, Baltimore and other cities such as Boston and San Francisco have transit systems with imperfections, even the smallest of which can exacerbate the abundant stressors challenging city students. In Baltimore, the death of Freddie Gray and the heavily publicized riot that followed has sparked discussion about historic and present-day issues in the context of race and social justice. Specific topics include: housing, crime, policing, architecture, design, and many more, all of which have shaped Baltimore over the years. Baltimore’s youth are in need of better opportunities, and transportation access continues to emerge as a weak link.

Before the protests and rioting, I’d heard city planners, teachers, studentscivic hackers, and community leaders all express concern for students relying on public transit. Even MTA engaged with students on transit issues through various channels. Free bikes were suggested as a way to encourage active transportation to school, but this suggestion would prove impractical in a city where very few safe routes exist for cyclists of any age. Student-focused ridesharing applications were mocked up at a local hackathon. A lot of ideas are floating around on web sites and social media, but so far no observable action has been taken.

Student waiting by broken down bus, Baltimore City, MD

In the aftermath of protests, the problems facing city kids are gaining more attention and potentially gaining more advocacy for those willing to create solutions. Unfortunately, the driving forces behind students’ transportation challenges continue.

Maryland’s Department of Planning reports that the recent recession closed several parochial schools and public schools in Baltimore. As a result, Baltimore City has experienced a recent uptick in public school enrollment, a trend expected to continue for several years. Baltimore may see a reversal of its previous efforts to reduce school sizes and buses may get a little more crowded if the city’s problems continue to outpace implementable ideas.

What kind of solutions do you think civic hackers or urban planners can use to relieve the stressors of students in transit? What student transportation fixes have been executed in your community? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below.

Images by Jade Clayton. Map created using ArcGIS® software by Esri. ArcGIS® and ArcMap™ are the intellectual property of Esri and are used herein under license. Copyright © Esri. All rights reserved. Data linked to sources.

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Los Angeles’ Health Atlas Spurs General Plans’ Adoption of Health & Wellness Thu, 28 May 2015 16:59:15 +0000 CareNow Los Angeles, Care Now Los Angeles

In June of 2013, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released the Health Atlas for the City of Los Angeles. The document was the first step to better understanding the areas within the City of Los Angeles that are currently burdened with the most adverse health-related conditions. The Health Atlas analyses how demographic conditions, social and economic factors, the physical environment, access to health care, and health behavior play a role in the overall health of city residents. Specifically, more than 100 health indicators including asthma, coronary disease, and obesity were studied within Los Angeles neighborhoods. Some of the key findings in the Health Atlas include:

  • Geographic location is a very important indicator, such that a resident born and raised in Brentwood can expect to live twelve years longer than a resident who is born and raised in Watts.
  • Over 90% of adults in several Westside neighborhoods have a high school diploma, compared to less than 50% in neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights, South Los Angeles, and Arleta-Pacoima.
  • Over 30% of children in South Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and in neighborhoods near the Port of Los Angeles (i.e. Harbor City, San Pedro, and Wilmington) are obese, compared to less than 12% of children in Bel Air-Beverly Crest and Brentwood-Pacific Palisades.
  • Residents in Westlake and Southeast Los Angeles have less than half an acre of park space available per 1,000 residents.

In response to the Health Atlas, in March of 2015, Los Angeles lawmakers adopted the Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles (The Plan). The approval from Council marks the end of a two year planning process that involved community advocates, government leaders, public health experts and thousands of Angelenos. This new element—known as the “Health and Wellness Element”—will be incorporated into the City of Los Angeles General Plan, which is a document that serves as a blueprint for the growth and development of a city and is often referred to as the city’s planning constitution.

Banning Park, Wilmington, CA

The new health plan is a joint effort between the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning and the California Endowment, with funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Plan seeks to elevate health as a priority in the city’s future sustainable growth and development. It includes a series of policies and programs that will help guide the city toward a healthier and sustainable future which are not currently addressed by the General Plan. These elements include:

  • Increasing access to health-promoting goods and services, such as affordable and healthy food, by incentivizing economic development in underserved communities in the city.
  • Ensuring that Angelenos have equitable access to parks and open space.
  • Encouraging innovative solutions to improve food access, including the promotion of urban agriculture and increasing the number of healthy food vendors.

However, it should be noted that no additional money has been allocated to achieve the goals established in The Plan. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the various goals included in The Plan will be financed.

Is your community considered to be burdened with adverse health-related conditions? How are local city officials addressing such conditions? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes.  Data linked to sources.

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Riverside, CA’s Eastside Provides Benefits and Challenges of A Mature Neighborhood Wed, 27 May 2015 16:20:11 +0000 Sign indicating to drivers along 14th Street in Riverside that they are entering the Eastside neighborhood.

As we know very well here in the Inland Empire, California, there is value in undeveloped land. It can provide a blank slate for development, can host renewable energy systems such as large-scale solar or wind power, or can be preserved to let the natural systems thrive. But while we focus on the possibilities of a vacant lot, we sometimes miss the value of our older, more mature neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have established infrastructure, central locations, mature trees, and community pride. Sometimes however, they appear run down and undesirable, a phenomenon that hides the neighborhoods’ true potential and can also indicate hidden problems. Take Riverside’s Eastside neighborhood for example.

The Eastside is one of Riverside’s oldest neighborhoods, established when the City was founded in 1870. It was home to many grove workers during the citrus boom of the early 20th century, and many of their families still live there. The neighborhood is within walking distance of the growing Downtown, close to major (and growing) logistics jobs, and only a few miles from the University of California-Riverside. It’s easy to navigate Eastside streets, along which there are decades-old oak trees. There are also a few large parks, community centers, and access to a Metrolink commuter rail station. In fact, the site Areavibes rates the Eastside as “very livable.” So why isn’t the Eastside one of the most desirable areas of Riverside?

Tree lined residential street in the Eastside neighborhood of Riverside

The Eastside illustrates many challenges faced by aging neighborhoods. The median home value in the community is $221,400, which is about 26% lower than the City’s $299,100 median. The average household income for the 92507 area code is $39,564, compared with $55,636 for the City of Riverside, and 33.1% of residents are below the poverty line, compared to 19.1% for the City. Seventy-five percent of residents have a high school or higher education, but only 25% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The Eastside-Downtown area was designed by the State of CA as a Medically Underserved Area, and in 2009 the Riverside County Joint Health Coalition (RCJHC) was formed, identifying many health issues in the Eastside, including a lack of healthy food choices and high rates of obesity and inactivity. Added to this is the fact that connections between the Eastside and other neighborhoods have evolved over time such that the Eastside’s main streets are arterial routes, focused on moving high volumes of cars through the neighborhood at the expense and safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Bobby Bonds sports park in Riverside provides recreation options for residents of the Eastside neighborhood

If issues like these are addressed, residents of neighborhoods like the Eastside will be more likely to enjoy the benefits that a mature neighborhood can provide. Programs such as the Eastside HEAL Zone, a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and the RCJHC, focus on the availability of healthy food and increasing physical activity, especially among children. Community programs can help keep kids occupied and focused on graduating high school and going to college, rather than adding to the already-high crime statistics. Improving connections for cyclists and pedestrians could increase access for those who cannot afford a car. If realized, solutions such as these could add up to a healthier population that has more time to enjoy the shade of those big trees.

What are some other ways to improve the value of mature neighborhoods? What mature and successful neighborhoods exist in your community? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Taylor York. Data linked to sources.

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Rio de Janeiro State to Build Fully Green Education Center Using Shipping Containers Wed, 27 May 2015 16:17:43 +0000 Rendering of the educational center, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Center for Ecology and Education for a Creative Economy

The marshland in Rio de Janeiro State is about to have a new building constructed and certified by the Green Building Council Brazil. The structure, designed by an NGO called Onda Viva, will house the Center for Ecology and Education for a Creative Economy.

The project proposes to unite citizenship and sustainability. “The idea is to have sustainability issues open, inclusive, and instructive for all. We want to inform the public perception about sustainable construction and how an energy efficient building works. For example: reducing the use of potable water, using new renewable energy technologies, and materials & equipment that meet environmental standards,” says the description of the educational center.

In an interview with the website CicloVivo, Hélio Vanderlei, Public Policy Manager of the NGO, explained that the idea for having this type of structure, which has sustainability in every detail and even serves to offer courses and training for disadvantaged youth, first came in 2012. Since then, the organization has worked to research an ideal model, and sought out partnerships which would allow the dream to become reality.

The partially completed center, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Center for Ecology and Education for a Creative Economy

Now in the final phase of construction, Vanderlei explains that the choice to construct a building made from shipping containers came after much study and consultation with experts. Additionally, the NGO had experience in other types of sustainable construction, such as the use of styrofoam board and bamboo. The current project, planned to open this July, uses recycled materials and a number of other efficient solutions.

In all, the building will contain six containers arranged on two floors. The sides of the containers will be used for the foundation and the upper part will remain. Using only the metal, they will form open spaces and provide structural rigidity, creating large environments.

The foundation is only the beginning of a series of sustainable technologies in the building. The finishing materials are certified to have low emission of volatile organic compounds. Throughout the entire construction phase, means of reducing environmental impacts were taken into consideration.

The educational center will have green walls, to minimize the heat island effect and provide thermal and acoustic insulation. The plants also help to improve air quality by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen.

The roof of the building is one of the project’s highlights. It contains eleven solar panels, equipped with inverters, batteries and a bidirectional meter, as well as wind turbines that transform the force of the wind into energy. The structure allows for excess energy to be stored or sent to transmission networks. The roof also has rainwater harvesting systems and solar collectors to warm the water used by the operations of the complex.

Even with systems that produce energy and collect water, the structure must have a way to avoid expenses, which is the best incentive for reducing waste. Therefore the building has large windows that take advantage of natural lighting and ventilation, highly economical LED light bulbs, aerators, efficient faucets and flow regulators, and toilets with two flush settings. Lastly, the building is equipped with a “biodigestor,” which processes organic materials to generate gas for the kitchen.

Rendering of the educational center, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Center for Ecology and Education for a Creative Economy

Educational Function

In addition to its architectural design being one of its great advantages, the complex also has a large educational appeal. The Center for Creative Economy will offer various community services. The workshops and courses made available by the NGO will focus on the creative economy. The aim is to provide one hundred youths access to classes in communication, public speaking, video production, social design, photography, fashion, digital media, and more, annually.

The structure and all of the concepts behind its architectural design will themselves be used for educational purposes. The activities include guided tours for high school and trade school students with the goal of presenting tools and technologies of sustainable construction. Future designers, architects, and engineers can also attend seminars about the techniques of container based construction, energy efficient concepts, and other solutions used by the educational center.

Are there buildings in your city that utilize some or all of the elements of this building? How does construction practiced in your area impact the environment? Is there sustainable construction occurring in your community? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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