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October, 2010 Monthly archive

The data collection in Basel is well under way and the second series of participants are now collecting data for the study. For ten people we already have a complete set of two month of tracking data using the new GPS trackers.

There are a number of very interesting observations that has been made also in comparison with the previous study undertaken in London. The scale differences are striking what is a regular commute is completely different. It might be on average one hour for Londoner, but is probably stretched for Basler if it is thirty minutes. As a consequence work and leisure journeys do tend to much more similar in Basel than in London where certain trips have a stronger specification.
However there are a lot of similarities too. Foremost the extension of the direct and persistent interaction in the urban realm is very much directed and selective. There is in both cases a strong local activity around the ‘known’ territory.

The study was also presented to representatives of the Basel Department of Town Planning who were interested to hear about the research undertaken. A summary of the presentation can be previewed below, it is in German though, but there are enough images to illustrate and communicate.

Essentially it explains the method and uses illustration taken from all three sample studies in London, Plymouth and London. The Basel data is still in development so only some preliminary information could be provided. However the maps ‘drawn’ by the participants using the GPS, beautifully illustrate the focus each individual puts on the city.

UDp_Basel_101026
Image by urbanTick / Visualisation of GPS tracked movement in Basel, Switzerland. The nine different individuals have been tracked over a longer period and it beautifully shows the individual focus on the city that is developed.

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Get your head out and pump up the volume. While vizzing around on ground level following everyday trails from one spot to the next one the overall picture might sometimes get a bit lost. But there are these moments when al of a sudden the sky clears up and things become clear, the focus sharpens and the pattern emerges. While leaving the hedgerows and brick walls far beneath one gets to see what is really out there. The beast we are battling while trying to establish a routine that in the end only lasts while we are on it. So what does it look like then, the urban legend?

city portrait
Images by Volk / ‘The city of sounds, the city of words’

The more you start to identify with the city you live in, I guess the more you become like the city and the city becomes like you. And once more ‘You are the City’.

The graphic was produced by Enrico Bonafede from Volk Graphic Studio. It was produced for Radio Citta’ Futura.

city portrait
Images by Volk / ‘The city of sounds, the city of words’

via urbansynergies.ca

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Wrapping up the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.
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Image by Krystian Czaplicki / Thruth – london england (2008).

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Click the image to read this post on DPR-Barcelona
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A post by DPR-Barcelona, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.
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Image taken from earth.geologist / Polarising microscope, wild M21.

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Click the image and read this contribution on Urban Lab Global City.
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A guest post by Duncan Smith, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.
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Connectivity and Sustainability in 21st Century Cities
Transportation is only one domain of urban sustainability, yet it is a critical aspect as connectivity is (arguably) the fundamental social and economic purpose of cities. Furthermore transportation has widespread consequences for urban quality of life, and of course for energy use and carbon emissions. This discussion is a reflection on a talk given by Prof Michael Wegener at CASA UCL.
The history of urbanism is one of massively increasing mobility, both within urban regions and between them in terms of travel, trade and globalisation. The graph below illustrates the dramatic change in vehicle miles over the last fifty years in the UK. This has been enabled by greatly reduced costs of motoring, through unprecedented fossil fuel exploitation and growth in the global car industry. Yet this change is fundamentally a result of social behaviour, that is the desire of people to maximise their opportunities and choice by using increased mobility to live, work, shop and socialise over greater and greater distances.

travelDistance_01
Figure taken from Department for Transport, 2009b / UK total travel distance by mode 1952-2008.

Wegener argues this era of increased mobility has ended. The threat of anthropogenic climate change compels us to massively reduce transportation carbon emissions, and commitments made for example at the EU level to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 require massively reduced motorised travel and subsequently mobility. The second strand to this argument comes from the finite nature of oil supplies and the inevitable price increases as global supplies dwindle. Unfortunately these demands are in sharp contrast to major economic trends of increased globalisation, with greater interaction between cities, and specialisation with intensive spatially segregated economic functions requiring greater travel. Current urban form solutions to this potential conflict revolve around ideas of ‘networked’ and ‘polycentric’ cities, with multiple nodes closely integrated through public and active transport links.
Just as modernism fetishised speed and motorisation, technological fixes to urban transportation sustainability are constantly promoted and are always just around the corner. Amazing innovations in electric drive train vehicles can remove local pollution from cities, but will not overcome energy and carbon emission challenges. A more radical overhaul of the automobile is required. The humble pedestrian, bicycle and the tram/streetcar currently remain the best tools we have for providing connectivity and liveability, and the most successful cities for sustainable travel (e.g. Copenhagen, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Munich..) prioritise these modes. Progress relies on planning and design that enables connectivity through less energy intensive means, as well as a political consensus to tax fossil fuels, which research shows is the powerful means of influencing travel behaviour.

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Duncan Smith is a researcher in GIS and urban geography at CASA UCL, completing a PhD on the topic of polycentric urban form and sustainable development. He also works as a research fellow at the Greater London Authority Economics Unit.

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A post by Annick Labeca, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.
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Image by footprintnetwork.org / United Arab Emirates’ Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity.

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Click the image and read this contribution on DPR-Barcelona
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A post by urbanTick, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.
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barnet_greenbelt
Image taken from virgin / Don’t go Zombie … Go Virgin Trains.

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Click the image and read this contribution on Urban Lab Global Cities
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A guest post by Martin Gittins from Kosmograd newsfeed, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.
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For a while, I was contemplating buying the Last House in London. It appealed to me, the idea of living at the very edge of the city, as far north as it is possible to go, on the outskirts of High Barnet. But on closer inspection it turns out that it isn’t the edge of the city at all. Next to the house is a cemetery, then a paddock and stable, and a little further on 2 golf courses. Then there are a couple of fields before you get to a pub, then the estate of Dyrham Park Country Club (one of a string of large country estates encircling London), then a gypsy encampment, the M25 motorway, and the curious environs of South Mimms, a village consumed by a motorway service station.

barnet_greenbelt
Image taken from Google Maps / The area to the north of High Barnet appears to be lush, verdant, sward, but on closer inspection reveals a hidden urbanism.

The city has a fractal edge, bleeding urbanity into the countryside, which conversely seeps tendrils of nature into the city. Yet our innate desire to see town and country as two separate realms means that at the edge of cities this landscape becomes a strange hinterland, a secretive fictive space. Development here is almost always ad-hoc, piecemeal, a gradual process of urbanisation – a garden centre or golf course as a vanguard – with the occasional flurry of infrastructural activity, usually a new road, a moment of intensification, seeding new developments.

Interwar planning dogma in the UK threw up the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act 1938, designed to stop the untramelled growth of London into the country, to protect against urban sprawl. It arose after vigorous campaigning from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and carried with it the overtones of protecting the wealthy country folk, the landed gentry, from the great unwashed lumpenproletariat. (For a town planner Abercrombie was a secret ruralophile). The Green Belt became a politicised landscape, the buffer zone between the haves and have nots. It was a concept that was soon adopted by other metropolitan areas of Britain and then exported to the world.

london_greenbelt
Image on the left taken from Building Land UK, image on the right taken from treehugger / The Green Belt was exported from London to the rest of the world.

Iain Sinclair, in the wonderful London Orbital, wrote:
“By the time Londoners had seen their city bombed, riverside industries destroyed, they were ready to think of renewal, deportation to the end of the railway line, the jagged beginnings of farmland. Patrick Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan 1944 (published in 1945) still worked through concentric bands: the Inner Urban Ring (overworked, fire-damaged), the Suburban Ring (to which inner-city casualties would migrate), the green belt (ten miles beyond the edge of London), and the Outer Country Ring, which would extend to the boundary of the regional plan.

Visionary maps, in muted Ben Nicholson colours, were produced. Lovely fold out abstractions. Proposals in soft grey, pale green, blue-silver river systems. But as always with the blood circuit of ring roads, the pastoral memory ring at the edge of things, at the limits of our toleration of noise and speed and grime. There must, said William Bull (in 1901) be ‘a green girdle around London’s Sphere … a circle of green sward and trees which would remain permanently inviolate'”.

greater_london_plan
Image taken from CBRD website / Abercrombie’s 1944 Greater London Plan. View larger image HERE.

Post WW2, with London and other urban areas ravaged by bomb damage and with a large displacement of people, a new vision of London arose. It was led by Abercrombie’s 1943 County of London Plan, followed in 1944 by the Greater London Plan, and led to the New Towns Act of 1946, with its plan for the extensive enlargement or creation of a ring of towns around London within the Green Belt. Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield were the three designated towns in Hertfordshire.

abercrombie
Image taken from CBRD website / Part of Abercrombie’s County Plan of 1943. View larger image HERE.

welwyngardencity
Image taken from BBC / Welwyn Garden City was founded by Ebenezer Howard but expanded as part of the New Towns Act.

New Towns, heavily inspired by Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement, were conceived as places that would not be allowed to grow too big, and maintain a healthy relationship between Town and Country. Certainly Howard thought that Garden Cities could be self-sustaining communities, solipsistic enclaves, with just enough people to support just the right amount of amenities, light industry and offices, enough to provide employment for all the inhabitants. It’s a concept that was also mooted for the flawed ecotowns boondoggle of the late 2000s in the UK. But, inevitably, any town is plugged into an infrastructure larger than itself, and so there is a network of transport links, water and sewage systems, power lines and telecoms links that has grown up to meet the needs of these towns.

junctions
Image taken from CBRD website / 3 types of arterial road junctions. Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan included proposed layouts of road junctions, but gave little thought to what might happen around these junctions, outside of the city.

This infrastructural life support system criss-crosses the green-belt, connecting the towns of Hertfordshire together and plugging them into the beating heart of London. Physically it also carves the landscape into a number of small, leftover spaces. It is into these leftover space that secret urbanism seeps in, the parasitic typologies of golf courses, garden centres, caravan parks, and those other things that spring up along transport interchanges, such as business parks, retail parks, travel hotels, distribution warehouses. The Green Belt seems in places to be little more than one or two fields that keep a satellite town, Bushey, Potters Bar, Broxbourne, from merging into the Great Wen of London.

london_colney
Image taken from Geograph.org.uk / The Green Belt, as it is today. Retail park, London Colney.

‘Abolish the green belt’ is an provocative clarion call that periodically raises the hackles of the folks in the Shires, the Home Counties home guard, whether it comes from design figureheads like Kevin McCloud or anti-establishment tyros like James Heartfield. The problem with a Green Belt is that it does nothing to really save the countryside from the encroachment of the city, and instead of presenting sprawl, actually encourages it. But rather than simply abolish it, we need to recognise it for what it has become, and design within it.

The green belt has become not a verdant sward of pastoral beauty but an interzone of pure infrastructure. Instead of resisting the growth of the city, and pretending the resulting drosscape doesn’t exist, a new form of continuous urbanism is required, one that can operate at a variety of densities, with points of stim and dross, to use Lars Lerup’s terms, more consciously defined.

References
Sinclair, Iain, (2002) “London Orbital”, London: Granta Publications
Lerup, Lars (1995) “Stim & Dross: Rethinking the Metropolis.” Assemblage 25, Cambridge & London. MIT Press

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Martin Gittins writes the Kosmograd newsfeed, a blog largely about architecture, disurbanism and urban identity, viewed primarily through the lens of Soviet Constructivism. Trained as an architect, but now working in the field of interactive design, Martin lives in north London with Ms Kosmograd, 3 children and a collection of bicycles. Martin spends most weekends cycling around Hertfordshire considering the ‘problem’ of London. Martin also writes occasionally at SuperSpatial.

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A guest post by Luis Suarez from estudio-arq, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.
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Image taken from Saidaonline / Balloon helps Parisians breathe easy By Jim Bittermann, CNN September 20, 2010 9:15 p.m. EDAir de Paris balloon tells Parisians whether the quality of the air is good, bad or indifferent.

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Click the image and read this contribution on DPR-Barcelona
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A guest post by Jonathan Kendall, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.
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Image by Cris Mitry / A view of the extended viewpoint area and the social element of the scheme – commmunity allotment gardens. MA Urban Design project 2010.

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Click the image and read this contribution on Urban Lab Global Cities
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