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The New York Times put out a good interactive map on New York’s 1811 Commissioners’ Plan for the city. You can adjust the slider to move between the current map and the 1811 map.

The article recounts the 200th birthday of the plan–“the single most important document in New York City’s development.”.

The Plan basically overlaid a 200 ft x 600 ft. grid over Manhattan island–regardless of topography of the island. It in fact was a reason that many of the hills of New York City were leveled. The basic parcel size in each block is 25×100. 2,000 blocks total.  With the plan, the merchant leaders of New York wanted predictability and they wanted a block that was conducive to commerce and development. What resulted isn’t one of beautiful vistas, some even call it monotonous, but it has worked well and efficiently. The grid takes a back seat to the people and the buildings of the city.

“The 200-foot-long block is short enough to provide continuous diversity for the pedestrian, and the tradition of framing out the grid by building to the street-wall makes New York streets walkable and vibrant,” said Amanda M. Burden, the director of city planning.

But some have reservations. Tony Hiss, author of “In Motion: The Experience of Travel,” said that while the grid contributes orderliness, “I still think it distances us from our natural surroundings, and it has given us a slightly spurious and diminished mental geometry.We think more in terms of linear blocks than neighborhoods.”

In its recently published Making Room for a Planet of Cities, The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy complimented the plan, along with Cerda’s plan for Barcelona, for being farsighted. The 1811 Plan expanded the city by five times. Making Room says that cities should at least consider that more growth will occur than expected; it doesn’t hurt to plan for the possibility when the consequences for under planning are quite worse. Both the 1811 plan and the Barcelona plan are grids and the grid is easily extend-able, making it easy to accommodate future growth. The Lincoln land Institute’s point is that you do not need to commit to building infrastructure and streets now, just say that if the city does expand, this is where the streets would go, so don’t put buildings on what may in the future be streets.

I think lessons can be learned here in China, where some cities are underestimating population growth, or being told to underestimate population growth. The result is a constant reworking of the plan to catch up.

See the Wall Street Journal Blog entry for many other fun maps relating to Manhattan:

A Birds eye view of teh Yongsan International Business District masterplan

A Bird's eye view of the Yongsan International Business District masterplan

A few weeks ago it was announced that Daniel Libeskind (the architect who won the masterplan competition for the 9/11 site in New York City) won the masterplan competition for a 57 hectare riverside site in Seoul, South Korea. It is aiming to be a center of international business is Seoul, and so is called the ‘dream hub’ The developers will start US$20  billion project  in 2011 and  complete the 3+ million m2 of space by 2024. The developers wanted one landmark skyscraper (640m) and 11 other commercial buildings (between 20-70  floors) and a further 7 residential/commercial buildings  (20-50 stories).

The main concept is:  The site is broken into “islands” – distinct forms that together create a landscape. Outside the islands, the site is developed into a generous natural landscape which acts as the “sea” connecting the islands together. The islands become distinct neighborhoods with their own unique program area, character, community and atmosphere. Although they are distinct and human scaled, together the islands create a wonderfully diverse, active city life.  These island neighborhoods break down the overall density and mass of the large urban development to create a pedestrian scale….The creation of many islands maximizes the “coastline” to nature, increasing the quality and value of the property. The conceptual idea of the island arrangement allows for maximum freedom of development in the future…Once a barrier between neighborhoods, Yongsan IBD will create a new community that links adjacent communities into a cohesive whole and offer new opportunities to access the waterfront…Constructed wetlands, green roofs, fields of solar panels, and other strategies for sustainable living are an integral part of the landscape experience for the community.

More on the winning design can be seen at Libeskind’s website the website of the developer. Four other architecture firms were in the short list, but did not win: Asymptote (with Hargreaves Associates), Foster + Partners, Jerde Partnership, and  Skidmore Owings and Merrill. You can see their designs at the  Dreamhub website. World Architecture News says the five architects were given US$ 1 million to refine their first designs.

From the New York Times. Shenzhen needs green roofs to help lessen the load on sewers during heavy rains and cleanse the air.

The Toronto council this month got a look at a proposed green roof by-law that would make such installations mandatory on certain new developments with a gross floor area exceeding 54,000 square feet. The measure, which is a component of Mayor David Miller’s environmental strategy, proposes greening 30 to 60 percent of the roof area, depending on building size. Exemptions include schools, industrial structures, low- to mid-rise apartment buildings and affordable housing.” “If adopted, the city of Toronto would be the first municipality in North America with a mandatory green roof by-law. Similar requirements exist in Japan, Switzerland, Germany and France.

This opinion piece in a local Dubai newspaper says that Dubai needs moer than towers to be pedestrian friendly.

The biggest problem with rows of towers is the absence of life where buildings meet the street, the only part of these structures that exists on a human scale.Without cafes, small shops and restaurants, streets lined only with tall towers can be foreboding, ugly, even dangerous. Many cities have at least one central area made up primarily of towers, and the dynamics are always the same. The offices in these towers bring people to the streets during the day, but almost all of them disappear in the evenings. Without any pedestrians at night, these streets can become places for illicit activity – vandalism, harassment or, in some cases, drug use.

People need reasons to be in the city, whether it’s to shop, eat or sit. The presence of small businesses at the ground level of tall towers has a humanising effect on the streetscape. It extends the hours of activity: an otherwise underused pavement can become lively, a destination even, if executed well.

The absence of street life in large parts of Abu Dhabi and Dubai is a result of the rush to build….It could be argued that both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have developed too quickly, and according to how planners thought cities ought to look, not how they ought to function….The excessive heat is often cited as an argument against creating more exciting outdoor businesses and other spaces, but it doesn’t hold water: for more than half the year we have the kind of weather that most cold-climate people envy.

Shenzhen is often compared to Dubai, and here, setting skyscrapers back from the street and pushing retail into  shopping malls also creates lifeless spaces. The beautiful plazas for those skyscrapers set back from the street often end up as ugly parking lots.

A different commentary on Dubai’s shaky economic and urban planning and what has happened since the financial crisis:

Between the malls, there is nothing but the connecting tissue of asphalt. Every road has at least four lanes; Dubai feels like a motorway punctuated by shopping centres. You only walk anywhere if you are suicidal. The residents of Dubai flit from mall to mall by car or taxis.

Dubai is not just a city living beyond its financial means; it is living beyond its ecological means.

 This article is from US News & World Report, an American magazine that, besides putting out a list of best careers for 2009, is also most famous for its rankings of US colleges. Urban planning is one of 30 professions that the magazine feels  “offer strong outlooks and high job satisfaction. ”  The article is good to read for information about a ‘typical’ day for an American urban planner. You might want to read the comments section for insight into what some current and  future planners are thinking.

Best Careers 2009: Urban Regional Planner

Overview. Should a new stadium be built downtown? How can a county reduce sprawl while providing appealing, affordable housing? What should the city demand of a developer who wants to build a new project?
To address questions like these, planners analyze trends, population needs and desires, the area’s assets and liabilities, and laws and policies. Planners conduct studies, lead meetings with experts, and hold public hearings.

Before making a recommendation, planners end up wearing many hats: civil engineer, architect, economist, budget analyst, sociologist, and politician. A diplomat’s touch is necessary if you expect your plan to survive all of the stakeholders’ competing interests.

In larger communities, you might be able to specialize in redeveloping blighted areas; choosing proper land use for a particular parcel; or managing transportation, housing, environmental protection, or historic preservation. In smaller communities, you may handle it all.

A Day in the Life. You’re a planner for a rapidly growing small city and, rather than filling the distant suburbs with mini-mansions, you’re eager to redevelop faded urban areas. That approach will require fewer new roads and make better use of existing resources. So, you’ve solicited proposals from developers and selected one.

For more, go to the article

In my opinion, more Americans approach urban planning from a social justice point of view, than the  engineering/architecture point of view which is more common here in China. As a result, some people getting a Master’s in Urban Planning might also get a Master’s in Social Work at the same time–or maybe a Master’s in Natural resources. Of course, strict urban design is usually done by those with architecture backgrounds.

From World Architecture News.

The cities of Flins and Les Mureaux, located North West of Paris, along the Seine river, will host the new Formula 1 French Grand Prix, a competition won by the team WILMOTTE & ASSOCIÉS SA and APEX in February 2009.

The circuit will integrate itself on a site which currently houses agricultural land, urban spaces and car factories. The Formula 1 circuit is set out on a sensitive natural site and has had to incorporate the highest environmental standards respecting the surrounding environment –fauna, flora and inhabitants alike. Moreover, the whole infrastructure system was designed in perfect harmony with the existing drinking water reservoirs and acoustic barriers and ‘Automatic noise monitoring systems’ have been introduced.

The circuit, which is 4.5km long, will function clockwise with a 1km straight-line, 11 right corners and 4 left ones. This project also houses conference and exhibition halls. The site can accommodate 120,000 spectators. Its main access will be made by train with a dedicated high-speed station. For each Grand Prix, Renault will offer extra parking spaces around the circuit.

To attract and identify the best teams to design a large building complex on a reclaimed harbor at the western edge of Helsinki’s central business district. It is envisaged that the competition will lead to a design commission.

The Low2No competition is a three part competition:

  1. design a strategy or model of the dynamics that support the architecture
  2. design an indicator of sustainability by which the competition proposal and future projects can be measured
  3. design a vision for the project that will ease the heavy lifting of systemic change

In their proposals, teams should declare the best ingredients for sustainable development, and illustrate how they will be mixed over time. The goal: to achieve a low carbon building complex and urban district that will transition to a no carbon complex as the energy context improves.

More than a design, we are looking for a credible strategic framework for change, and the principals upon which the framework was built.

Our competition is designed to seek approaches for four central objectives applied at the scale of a city block:

  1. energy efficiency
  2. low/no carbon emissions
  3. high architectural, spatial and social value
  4. sustainable materials and methods

22 April R FQ submittal due
06 May Selection of best qualified teams announced
Week of 11 May Competition brief available at our website
01-03 June Selected teams in Helsinki for 2-3 day competition introduction & workshop
01 July Competition proposals due
01 September Winning team announced
September Selected teams return to Helsinki for a “next steps” workshop

Results were announced a few weeks ago and no one won, only third prize given. Some of the commentors do not seem to like the designs either.

A full gallery can be found here (although in the Croatian language) at the architects’ association of Split.