Free street camping in Central London

by Tom Turner @ 5:27 pm November 1, 2011 -- Filed under: Public parks,urban densification   

Free camping in Central London

It used to be a regrettable fact that London did not have a campsite for those who find hotel prices steep. So the anti-capitalism protestors currently occupying the space in front of St Paul’s Cathedral have done backpackers a big favour. The Church, the police and the Corporation of London have, today, decided to take no action against the protestors. My conclusion is that anyone who wants to camp in a London street, square or public park only has to say ‘I am an anti-capitalist’ and they will be allowed to camp for free. At this time of year, my recommendation is to look for a pitch near the vent from an office building. Tramps have always know these places are well-supplied with hot air.
image courtesy spinkney

Understanding density?

Density is much more complex than its seems. U-Thant 7 Residences in Malaysia are described as luxury “low density condominiums.” In terms of their built form they would usually be considered a medium density form of living. The context, however, is more typical of low density or even rural or semi-rural settings with a formal park-like foreground setting and a natural background setting.

Undoubtably there are many more examples of this kind. The Cultural Centre design by Paul Eluard in Cugnaux, France attempts to address the contemporary needs of an historical low density city within the landscape.

Dublin is considered to be a low density city. The economic challenges it faces and the resulting contemporary waves of youth emigration suggests that Dublin may remain low density for some time into the future.

So, are we really viewing a population redistribution in global terms with some areas de-populating and others re-populating or increasing in population? What does this trend suggest for the future of our cities, for greenspaces and for wilderness?

Food glorious food

Modern life presents numerous paradoxes. Perhaps the first is the widespread trade in food produce and the convenience of supermarket shopping, that has somehow alienated society from the concept that all food is land or sea based. And this means – land area & sea area – must be used, managed and preserved for this purpose, generally in some direct relationship with the population that must be feed.

Can all nations feed their own populations within the bounds of their own land and sea resources?

“Some countries just do not have the land to feed their year-2000 populations even at high yields. They include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Somalia, Lesotho, Haiti, and much of the Middle East. Some of these countries have resources they can trade for food; others do not. After the year 2000, if populations go on growing, other countries come onto the critical list, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria.”

How is sustainable agriculture and aquaculture to be understood?

Is new urbanism old?

The 10 principles of New Urbanism are:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed use and diversity
4. Mixed housing
5. Quality architecture and urban design
6. Traditional neighbourhood structure
7. Increased density
8. Smart transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of life

According the wikipedia entry “This new system of development, with its rigorous separation of uses, became known as “conventional suburban development” or pejoratively as urban sprawl, arose after World War II. The majority of U.S. citizens now live in suburban communities built in the last fifty years, and automobile use per capita has soared.

Although New Urbanism as an organized movement would only arise later, a number of activists and thinkers soon began to criticize the modernist planning techniques being put into practice. Social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford criticized the “anti-urban” development of post-war America. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s, called for planners to reconsider the single-use housing projects, large car-dependent thoroughfares, and segregated commercial centers that had become the “norm.”

Rooted in these early dissenters, New Urbanism emerged in the 1970s and 80s with the urban visions and theoretical models for the reconstruction of the “European” city proposed by architect Leon Krier, and the “pattern language” theories of Christopher Alexander.”

New urbanism was fundamentally a social planning movement although it has morphed more recently to include at least a minimalist environmental agenda. Wendy Morris says new urbanism was “….Initially A Reaction to Sprawl…..Now A Basis for Sustainable Urban Growth/Smart Growth…….and a response to Climate Change and Peak Oil…and a Basis for Addressing Physical Health and
Social Well-being.”

Can the old theory of New Urbanism be adapted to adequately address new environmental concerns?

How green is my neighbourhood?

One of the unfortuneate consequences of the fight against urban sprawl, which has been largely taken up in the name of Jane Jacobs, is the loss of green space and the urban forests of many communities. They are disappearing in the manner environmentalists call ‘death by a thousand cuts’, that is (sometimes) slowly and incrementally.

Sherwood Forest is one of the old, upscale, districts of Detroit, ‘the city of Neighbourhoods’;

“Developers thought that the area should resemble an English village; thus, they selected appropriate English names and curved and winding streets. You will not find a rectangular street pattern here or in old English villages. There are about 435 homes, most of them built before the Depression terminated housing construction in the city. Many of them are Georgian Colonials or English Tudor homes in keeping with the English theme. Some of the homes are newer, having been constructed after building resumed in 1947. They are large, even by the standards of early 21st-century architecture since they average about 3,600 square feet with four to six bedrooms.”

In the adjacent suburb of Palmer Woods is the Dorothy Turkel House by Frank Lloyd Wright, which undoubtably also relies on its leafy surrounds for its ambience.

British biologist Professor Jeff Sayer in his lecture at James Cook University asked the apt conservation question, ‘Conserving the forests for whom?’

Is the planet in dire straits?

by Christine @ 12:22 am November 14, 2010 -- Filed under: context-sensitive design,Landscape Architecture,landscape planning,urban densification,Urban Design   

The Berring Straits Project asked designers to imagine an element to connect the Russia and the United States. A peace bridge perhaps? Off Architecture were awarded second place for this imagining of a sometimes occupied space between two parallel 10 metre walls.

As architects contemplate the perils of global warming marine architecture is emerging as a serious discipline. However the genesis of this architectural discipline can be found in iconic structures such as the Miami Marine Stadium designed by Candela in the early 1960s. The stadium is expected to achieve landmark listing status.

Obviously, marine architecture presents a new challenge to the land-scape profession because imagining a sea-scape and the propogation of corals and algae in the enclosed gardens – hortus conclusus – of the ocean is conceptually different.

In the petrified seagarden, Richie Park, we are challenged to rethink our ideas about the natural boundaries between land and sea.

Yet, in explorations of the seaside, are potentially the sparks of inspiration for seagarden designers.

What makes travel a great experience?

Design schools are starting to tackle questions of urban scale city design in their masters programs. The key to future transit systems is to make that form of travel the best it can possibly be. Ask, what would make people choose this form of transport over other alternatives if they had many equally accessible and affordable options? Why might they want to travel this way? What would be unique, good or special about the experience?

Densification of urban landscapes

by Tom Turner @ 10:15 am November 10, 2010 -- Filed under: urban densification,Urban Design   

Good urban densification requires good urban landscape design

Jonathan Solomon tells a CNN inverviewer that ‘Dense cities use less energy per person than more dispersed suburban equivalents. When you consider a city in relation to its larger region, the ecological footprint per person in a city may be significantly smaller than rural inhabitation’. Similarly, public transport systems use less land than private cars. So it is likely that if we must make our cities more sustainable then we must adopt densification policies. The main possibilities include: make more use of airspace (eg by building higher); make more use of underground space (eg for transport and parking); make more use of waterspace (eg with houseboats, tunnels etc); make better use of roofspace (eg for parks and gardens); make better use of ‘space between buildings’ (eg with new structures, cantilevers, balconies etc). In comparison with Tokyo, London is a very low density capital, and profligate with its use of transport space. The urban density in London (5,000/km2) is one eigth of the density of Manila.
OK, but all these measures require ingenuity and design imagination. They require studies from urban designers and landscape architects to discover how densification can take place in conjunction with improvements to the quality of life in cities. And we should remember the sceptics, like Jan Gehl, who argue that low density cities are more sustainable. My instinct is that there is no ‘one right answer’: cities need high density nodes with lower density peripheries.

Above image courtesy Jake Hirsch-Allen

Will we live to see the End of Suburbia?

The beginning or the end of the car?

Is peak oil, sustainability and climate change the beginning or the end of the car as we know it? With the advent of modernism carparks became first part of a highrise building to be constructed and were considered as part of the foundation system. There are a number of concerns with parking in urban areas. Will pollution and noise issues be meet by electric cars? Will innovative greened multistacking carparking arrangements be proposed for multi-density dwellings? How will congestion be addressed?

How will car supply and demand issues be thought about? Should urban residences be carfree with the possibility of outer-urban garaging accessible beyond the urban core area? Should urban work and commuting also be limited to the periphery of the inner-core? If so, who should be able to access this inner centre by car? Why?

Will eco-traffic engineers be engaged to design flow throughs and do capacity modelling for all new development sites so that designers can innovate and demonstrate best practice? Who will dream of the transit and traffic organisational schemas of our new cities?

More questions than answers!

Cities in their landscape setting

The landscape setting of cities is a vital component of their character which can often be overlooked. This is particularly so for designers when they are considering contributions to the design of the skyline. Hong Kong with its harbour and mountainous surrounds benefits from the scenic amenity of its setting. And because of the physical and visual strength of these geographic characteristics the setting is able to support a dense tall city.

The relationship between building and landscape is worthy of considerable design attention. The name Hong Kong literally means ‘fragrant harbour’. Victoria harbour is one of the deepest natural maritime ports in the world. Reclamation projects dating from the late 1842 (1890, 1930, 1960, 1980 and 1990) have progressively advanced Hong Kong’s shoreline.

In Hong Kong they recognise some of the benefits of landscape saying that the landscape is an asset which contributes to well-being, helps define the identity of the city, provides habitats for wildlife and is part of their culture and heritage.