Metropolis by Rob Carter
“Metropolis is a quirky and very abridged narrative history of the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. It uses stop motion video animation to physically manipulate aerial still images of the city (both real and fictional), creating a landscape in constant motion. Starting around 1755 on a Native American trading path, the viewer is presented with the building of the first house in Charlotte. From there we see the town develop through the historic dismissal of the English, to the prosperity made by the discovery of gold and the subsequent roots of the building of the multitude of churches that the city is famous for. Now the landscape turns white with cotton, and the modern city is ‘born’, with a more detailed re-creation of the economic boom and surprising architectural transformation that has occurred in the past 20 years.”
According to the chief planner, Ma Xiangming:
“The idea is that when the cities are integrated, the residents can travel around freely and use the health care and other facilities in the different areas.”
He further added,
“It will help spread industry and jobs more evenly across the region and public services will also be distributed more fairly.”
I think this idea is undeveloped and ultimately disadvantageous. As the blog Climate Adaptation correctly notes, this means nine cities will no longer exist…. and it’s likely that people will lose their identities within a generation or three.
Chief planner Xiangming’s proposition of allowing 42 million people to “traveling around freely” will most likely not end well. Frankly, I think most people are smart enough to realize that when speaking of 42 MILLION people, you probably don’t want to bring up transportation at all. If you do bring it up, you should be honest and say, hey, it’s likely going to be a clusterfuck. Without going into too much detail, I think it will ultimately create many socio-economic injustices and honestly, be an uncomfortable place to live, not to mention probably one of the worst ecological disasters in the world. I love cities and in the end I think urban life is the best choice, but this is not a city. This looks like a mess that would result in a situation where the normal benefits of a city are not possible. Basically, I can’t imagine a citizen of this yet-to-be named city being happy.
From Slate: Food Deserts in America
A 2009 study by the Department of Agriculture found that 2.3 million households do not have access to a car and live more than a mile from a supermarket. Much of the public health debate over rising obesity rates has turned to these “food deserts,” where convenience store fare is more accessible—and more expensive—than healthier options farther away. This map colors each county in America by the percentage of households in food deserts, according to the USDA’s definition. Data is not available for Alaska and Hawaii.
Only four counties in Arkansas fall into the lowest tier: Benton, Craighead, Sebastian, and Washington (where Fayetteville is located). Of those four, Washington County fares the best, with only 1.83 percent of the population living more than a mile from a supermarket while lacking access to a car. Phillips County fares the worst, with 14.76 percent of its population lacking easy access to healthy options.
An Old Friend
For a while I had this project exploring abandoned buildings and public space in Wilmington, NC [. If you’re interested you can read about a couple of my experiences here. Since moving I haven’t really kept up with the picture taking/urban exploring activities but I’m still interested in these forgotten places. Just for kicks, I’ve decided to post some pictures of the building that first sparked my interests in abandoned buildings.
It looks like SoundTransit, an online community of field recordings, will be shutting down at the end of this year. According to their site:
After 5 years, the end of an era has come. On the last day of 2010, the Soundtransit.nl site will officially close. The Waag Society in Amsterdam, who physically hosts our server, has more than quadrupled the rent in the past year. Relocating to a cheap commercial host is simply not possible based on the unique technical needs of the site, so we are forced to shut the project down. The archived field recordings will hopefully be relocated through the kind support of Soundcloud.com.
SoundTransit was truly unique in that you were able to “Book” an audio journey through various location around the world using uploaded field recordings. You could also search their massive database for sounds by location. This is possible due to an extensive collection of environmental sounds recorded by “soundhunters” and uploaded to the site. Each recording has a detailed description of the place and exact moment the recording happened, “…the characteristics of the location or peculiarity of the sound itself. These stories add another dimension to the sound; one that connects and simultaneously exceeds time and place.”
It is obvious that many people have devoted countless hours to this project. I hope it finds a way to live on, somehow.
“All these connections between the social and physical environment potentiate each other and can be health-enhancing in ways you may not think about,” says Ana Diez Roux, epidemiologist from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, who directs a multimillion dollar longitudinal study—the MESA Neighborhood Study—aimed at clarifying the complex and interconnected ways that built environments affect behaviors and other risk factors for chronic disease, especially cardiovascular disease. Funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health as part of a larger parent study, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), the MESA Neighborhood Study is following approximately 6,800 people in six different U.S. locations: Chicago, Baltimore, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Los Angeles, New York City, and Forsythe County, North Carolina.
Health Impact Assessments take on Transportation
A health impact assessment (HIA) is a flexible, data-driven approach that identifies the health consequences of new policies, and develops practical strategies to enhance their health benefits and minimize adverse effects.
The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, is a national initiative designed to promote the use of health impact assessments (HIAs) as a decision-making tool for policymakers. According to their website:
HIAs use a flexible, data-driven approach that identifies the health consequences of new policies and develops practical strategies to enhance their health benefits and minimize adverse effects.
The Health Impact Project has recently made a huge commitment to researching the correlation between public health and transportation. The first-ever health impact assessment of a major metropolitan transportation and comprehensive growth plan will be led by the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO),
The HIP recently announced nearly $400,000 in grants to four organizations to conduct health impact assessments. One of the grants will be used to examine the health impacts of a 30-year transportation plan in the Atlanta region… [other] projects — to be conducted in Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, and Oregon — are at the leading edge of a growing movement in the United States in which governments, nonprofit groups, and other organizations use health impact assessments to help ensure that decision makers craft public policies and projects that avoid unintended consequences and unanticipated costs, according to the grant sponsors.
Though this is certainly a great start, $400,000 is, frankly, weak considering the amount of research money invested in other areas. Let’s hope these assessments are productive and persuasive as a sound method for addressing potential and often overlooked health implications of policy proposals.
Recently many bloggers have brought attention to the Tom Cordell documentary Utopia London. I would like to echo these nods of approval to what looks like a neat documentary. The idea of locating and connecting the original architects and designers to talk about a process reminds me of Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, a fascinating documentary about the life and times of architectural photographer Julius Shulman.
Via the director Tom Cordell, news of his new documentary Utopia London:
“The film observes the method and practise of the Modernist architects who rebuilt London after World War Two. It shows how they revolutionized life in the city in the wake of destruction from war and the poor living conditions inherited from the Industrial Revolution. This film is their story. Utopia London travels through the recent history of the city where the film maker grew up. He finds the architects who designed it and reunites them with the buildings they created.
These young idealists were once united around a vision of using science and art to create a city of equal citizens. Their architecture fused William Morris with urban high-rise; ancient parkland with concrete.
Utopia London examines the, social and political agendas of the time in which the city was rebuilt. The story goes on to explore how the meaning of these transformative buildings has been radically manipulated over subsequent decades. Inspired by the optimism of the past it poses the question; where do we go from here and now?”
Report: Bicycling and Walking in the U.S.: 2010 Benchmarking Report
Reveals data including: bicycling and walking levels and demographics; bicycle and pedestrian safety; bicycle and pedestrian policies and provisions; funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects; bicycle and pedestrian staffing levels; written policies on bicycling and walking; bicycle infrastructure including bike lanes, paths, signed bike routes, and bicycle parking; bike-transit integration including presence of bike racks on buses, bike parking at transit stops; bicycling and walking education and encouragement activities; and public health indicators including levels of obesity, physical activity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
While it concentrates on US trends and is written for a US audience it also provides some interesting comparison data from other jurisdictions. In my first scan of the report the cycling and walking share of trips from different countries caught my eye:
In particular, given the following graph which appears to shows a positive relationship between investments and mode share:
To this end, recent investments by the US Department of Transportation are already bearing fruit and its new Walk Friendly Cities program should further bolster sustainable transportation options in the US.
Some years ago, Harvard architecture professor Alex Krieger made one of the most memorable and withering critiques of the New Urbanism: in too many cases it was, he said, “sprawl in drag.” What he meant was that the underlying patterns of sprawl were still dominating, and no mere repositioning of colorful traditional buildings on streetscapes would be enough to change that. While the Charter of the New Urbanism was much more thoroughgoing than Krieger suggested, the criticism was all too valid for a number of projects. -Via
Expect more of my own commentary on this later.
Urban designer Kaja Kühl illustrates how to use plants to clean up contaminated sites, a cost-effective way to add productive, healthy land to the City’s environment
Austin, Texas is famous for breakfast tacos and Richard Linklater films. But it also home to a lesser known but equally great phenomenon known as the moonlight tower. Essentially an infrastructural anachronism, moonlight towers are 50-metre high lighting structures, designed to illuminate several blocks at a time. They were popular in North American cities at the end of the nineteenth century before ubiquitous street lighting existed, as a relatively cheap way of lighting a large city area. A single tower cast light from six carbon arc lamps, illuminating a 460 m radius circle bright enough to read a watch.
The initial construction of these towers was in part a reaction to a local serial killer dubbed the Servant Girl Annihilator, who terrorized Austin between 1885 and 1886. While every other city eventually dismantled their moonlight towers, Austin has made a concerted effort to preserve theirs. 17 of the original 31 still exist and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When it was built in 1833 Colonnade Row was the biggest thing in New York since the British occupation, a 200-foot-long sweep of glistening white marble in the form of a Corinthian colonnade, nine houses combined into one great Greek revival statement on what is now Lafayette Street, opposite the Public Theater. But five of the houses were destroyed early in the last century, and their graceful fluted columns and Corinthian capitals were carted away, vanished from the city with the dust of demolition. Vanished, that is, until a garden designer and a Benedictine monk solved the decades-old puzzle of a mysterious Lost City in the woods of a New Jersey monastery.
Smaller City Blocks
Urban form is important to public transportation, public health, and urban communication. Many thoughtful city planners and designers will acknowledge the importance of smaller city blocks which allow for multiple, overlapping paths through a city.
Streets have a need for mixed primary uses. Jane Jacobs, activist and author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, says that “most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.” This enoucrages activites like riding your bicycle to work and walking to the grocery store by being able to move through a city easier and faster. It also helps isolated neighborhoods, which are apt to be socially abandoned. Isolated blocks or neighborhoods will have a negative social, physical, and economic impact on the city. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs also says:
I bring up this problem not merely to berate the anomalies of project planning again, but to indicate that frequent streets and short blocks are valuable because of the fabric of intricate cross-use that they permit among the users of a city neighborhood. Frequent streets are not an end in themselves. They are a means towards an end… Like mixtures of primary use, frequent streets are effective in helping to generate diversity only because of the way they perform.
So the means by which short blocks and frequent streets work (bringing together a mixture of users) and the results they accomplish (growth of diversity) are inseparable.
Below are some pictures of shorter city blocks created by alleyways in Philadelphia. The result is appealing both aesthetically and functionally. I spent hours walking through these neighborhoods. Enjoy.
Oh, also I found via Bricoleurbanism a visual of urban form/fabric drawings in 9 cities, which does a great job of visualizing the fabric of the different street networks.
There are dozens of these neat alleyways which create smaller and very walkable city blocks. Unfortunately I was only able to take a few pictures, but I have plenty of pictures of urban vernacular architecture in Philly that I plan on posting very soon.