Monday, 23 September 2013

Curating cities

'The Curating Cities Database maps the increasingly important and emerging field of eco-sustainable public art. It is developed as a resource for researchers, academics, artists, curators, educators, commissioning agencies and sponsors working in the field as well as those interested in promoting sustainability via public art. In addition to descriptive information, the database evaluates the aims and outcomes of each project as well as the external constraints (and subsequent negotiations) that influence the production of public artworks'.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

High Line takes a hit

It is very exciting to have Robert Hammond here in October for the Thriving Neighbourhoods conference. But there is a debate around some of the unintended consequences (though I am not sure that they have been well-articulated in this passage from Sahra Mirbabaee of the Sustainable Cities Collective):
The High Line has been a catalyst for gentrification that, according to Neil Smith, "is no longer about a narrow and quixotic oddity in the housing market but has become the leading residential edge of a much larger endeavor: the class remake of the central urban landscape." The project exudes a "cool" image of feigned neglect, despite the troubling irony in this aesthetic. Commodifying ostensibly lower-class spaces for supposedly higher classes is both patronizing and divisive. Liz Diller, one of the lead architects for the High Line, joked that "the great success [of the project] has been introducing New Yorkers to doing nothing." This comment rests on a key oversight: Not everyone earns enough from their work to afford even a few hours of "doing nothing" at the High Line. And would crowds of people without disposable income be welcome in a neighborhood increasingly structured around spending money? Some experience a sense of not belonging there, as one visitor remarked: "I felt like I was in the home of a neatnik with expensive tastes, afraid I would soil the furnishings."
It will be interesting to explore the High Line model within issues of gentrification and the cost of housing in October...

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Alleys - a neighbourhood mechanism

A traditional hutong in Beijing. Image courtesy flickr user tsc_traveler.

Melbourne - where I live - is well-known for its alleys and the creative uses that they have been put to. This is a great approach from a non-profit in the USA (read more here):
Most alleys had simple utilitarian origins as ways to access buildings with goods and vehicles — especially where a socially decorous street frontage was desired. Commercial blocks in older American cities are often bisected by alleys. In Los Angeles, many retail streets have alleys for service and parking immediately behind the stores, with larger residential blocks behind. Residential alleys serve townhouse districts in Boston’s Back Bay and much of Washington, D.C., (but not New York). In Venice Beach, alleys make canals and “walk-streets” possible.Beijing’s hutong and Shanghai’s longtang alleys are the basis of the traditional residential fabric. These narrow lanes host a rich mixture of local functions, including access to the modular courtyard houses they serve. The explosive growth of Chinese cities has made these districts and their way of life something of an endangered species despite belated efforts at preservation.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Connecting energy and neighbourhoods

More from Rachel Armstead's paper for ICLEI....

Connecting Energy

The ICLEI Thriving neighbourhoods programme framework is based around 5 pillars.

The first is Leadership and Governance which addresses how the capacity of the local community, industry and government can be developed enabling them to take a leading role in driving the sustainability and vibrancy of their local area. The second pillar is Innovation which focuses on harnessing the creativity and ingenuity of a neighbourhood to make use of and develop innovative solutions, technologies and organisational structures. The third is Environmental Imperatives which centres on the management of climate change, natural systems and conservation. The fourth pillar is Economic Needs which addresses the productivity of the neighbourhood, the availability of jobs and businesses and people aspirations. The fifth and final pillar is Social Needs which is focused on social participation and equity, cultural richness and people’s sense of health and wellbeing.

We can approach community energy as one pathway towards the development of thriving neighbourhoods. Energy and community energy in particular possess certain characteristics which make it especially potent as a thriving neighbourhood development tool. The following outlines how community energy can contribute to the five pillars of thriving neighbourhoods.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Importance of Community

Rachel Armstead did some wonderful work interviewing colleagues around Melbourne - she has since left to do further work in the UK. Some of her thoughts follow...

The local community is becoming increasingly central as a focus for sustainability action in Australia. There are numerous recent sustainability initiatives and policies that address the unit of the community; the CSIRO Sustainable Communities Initiative, the Green Building Council Australia’s National framework of Green Star Communities, and the Australian Government department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency’s Community Energy Efficiency Programme (CEEP) to name but a few. 

Community as a key theme of current academic research and technical papers was also highlighted during the ICLEI annual Thriving Neighbourhoods conference held in November 2012.
These initiatives frame the community both as the beneficiary of sustainable development and as an agent of such change.

The community as a beneficiary of local government sustainability initiatives reflects more a change in terminology than in practice as local government is by definition in place to serve the local community. However, the local community as agent of sustainable development presents an interesting shift. 

Prof. Chris Ryan, speaker at the 2012 Thriving Neighbourhoods conference stated that a key characteristic of thriving societies is that communities are producing, not just passively consuming ‘[i]n the critical areas of life – in the provision of food, water, energy, mobility, shelter, information as well as in the power to shape development – thriving will see a shift of citizens to active roles in production and governance, a reversal of current trends that define the role of citizens as ‘passive consumers’.

For the average person who may not be particularly engaged with sustainability and self-sufficiency, the role of producer is a new one. In addition the act of working as a community rather than an individual – self-sufficiency where the self is a collective may also be a novel concept for many. Encouraging and coordinating such action is for many local governments and many communities unchartered territory and a there is currently a big learning curve being embarked upon. 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The importance of geography

Even in an increasingly global world (or perhaps because of it?), geography matters - so taking down a freeway is a big issue about communities, as reported from LA:

Taking down a freeway—as radical as that sounds—is not a new idea. Paris, Milwaukee, Seoul and New York are among the cities who’ve removed them. In San Francisco, two major freeways—the double-decker freeway that rounded the Embarcadero and the Central Freeway that cut through Hayes Valley—were demolished and replaced with surface boulevards after being damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. These neighborhoods have since enjoyed a renaissance through freeway demolition that healed scarred communities.
In San Francisco, it wasn’t the earthquake that actually got the freeways taken down; there and in the other cities where such major pieces of infrastructure have been removed, it was the hard work of individuals who wanted to see something better in their city.
Changes in cities don’t just happen. People have to develop a vision for change, and convince others that such change is good. People with technical expertise need to weigh in to make sure the details work; politicians have to find the political will to make it happen. The people who had the vision in the first place need to hold on to that vision and push forward even when all hope seems lost.
San Francisco again finds itself with another opportunity to take down a freeway while creating major transportation infrastructure improvements in an important area of the city. Currently, the stub end of Interstate 280 creates a barrier between the developing Mission Bay neighborhood and Potrero Hill. At the same time, the Caltrain railyard—19 acres stretching from Fourth Street to Seventh Street between King and Townsend—divides Mission Bay and SoMa. These obstructions will worsen if current plans for California's high-speed rail proceed, forcing 16th Street and Mission Bay Boulevard into below-ground trenches beneath the tracks and the elevated freeway.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Brooklyn, New York City

The International Herald Tribune reported that 'New grass-roots efforts replace trickle down business-linked plans to revitalise neighbourhoods. One of the examples given was New Lots Ave, Brooklyn where the locals had supplanted cars for a people park. "New Yorkers deserve with the public realm, the priority ought to be public service', said Ms Sadik-Khan, a local.  Learn more about neighbourhood action at the TN2013 Conference.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Conflicting land-use for sustainability

I can remember a bit of this from early days in St Kilda - bike paths and open space. Here is another version, reported by Streetsblog, with the need for housing close to public transport versus wild open space - both desirable in themselves. This process in Boulder, Colorado could be an interesting debate...
There’s a proposal on the table in Boulder, Colorado, to preserve 25 acres in the heart of the city for agricultural purposes in perpetuity.Space that could be used for people to live near high-frequency transit should not be permanently preserved for agriculture, says Zane Selvans. Image: Flat Iron BikeThe problem, says Zane Selvans at Flat Iron Bike, is that from a sustainability perspective there are better uses for such a big parcel of urban land. Selvans says the proposal — on a property known as Long’s Garden in North Boulder — is at odds with the city’s goal to become more walkable and livable for people.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Our recent trip to Auckland in New Zealand revealed the growth of small local community farms and gardens. Boston looks like it is going to connect this sort of growth to policy:
The city of Boston is laying the ground work to grow and simplify the process for urban farmingthroughout the city. Mayor Thomas Menino and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) are introducing an amendment, Article 89, to the current zoning that would create opportunity for expandedurban agriculture activities such as rooftop farming and opening farm stands and markets.
The first phase of the Mayor's Pilot Urban Agriculture Rezoning Project involved issuing an RFP seeking farmers to create a farm on two city-owned properties in South Dorchester. City Growers was selected and now operates two farms in Boston. (Courtesy of City Growers Boston/Facebook)
Beginning in May, the Mayor’s office along with BRA launched a series of 11 neighborhood meetings to discuss Draft Article 89 with the public. This amendment change is part of the city’s larger Pilot Urban Agriculture Rezoning Project that was initially started in 2010: A group of farming experts and advocates were selected to participate in the Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Working Group to provide insight that helped inform a number of the recommendations included in Draft Article 89. This amendment tackles a range of urban agriculture issues from soil safety and rooftop and vertical agriculture to hydroponics and the care of animals and bees. reported that the new zoning would allow for 1-acre ground-level farms in any neighborhood throughout the city, and then permit farms larger than one-acre in areas specifically zoned for industrial use. The amendment would also make it significantly easier for Bostonians to start a ground-level farm by requiring a special permit instead of mandating a public review process.
According to the BRA’s website, the Mayor’s Office and collaborating partners are hoping that this ambitious initiative will “increase access to affordable and healthy food, particularly for underserved communities” and “promote economic opportunity and greater self-sufficiency for people in need, including increasing the capacity of Boston residents and business and grow and distribute local and healthy food.”