Category Archives: 2.1 – walking

New Urbanism vs. Suburbanism

retrofitting suburbia in 3 steps


(photo: flickr)

This month, everybody talks about suburbs (and about the prominent feature of suburbs, cars): some posts on RSR website (here, here and here), the last edition of the forum Ecoparc: So, it’s the right moment to talk about this subject, and to propose a strategy to align autorities and developers’ interests.

1 – Complete the streets

First step, completely in the hands of public powers, is completing the streets. In many cases, people drive instead of walking because roads are designed for cars rather than for people. Let’s see some examples:


Aigle. Sidewalks are too small. Pedestrians are not protected from traffic


Aigle. Vehicles-only road


Aigle. Crossing forbidden (but people cross here anyway)


Aigle. Pedestrian underpass, not very appealing.

And here, some good examples:


Aigle. Trees, sidewalks and outdoor cafés.


Aigle. side street.


Aigle. Landscaped entrance to the shopping center (with bus shelter included)

2 – Allow and promote mixed-use developments

In this case too, public powers have the choice. A good zoning code should allow suburbs to be reconverted into  mixed-use districts, in order to reduce distances between houses, shops and workplaces.


Aigle: houses on this side street could be easily turned into shops.


Garages: this space could be easily be turned into shops or ateliers

(image: flickr)

3 – Crowdsourcing

The first two steps were were dedicated to public powers, the third one is dedicated to developers. Single-family houses and cars are, above all, industrial products, sold with a well-established marketing policy. So, mixed-use development should be marketed focusing on things that single-family houses couldn’t offer: common spaces, a vibrant community, walkable neighborhoods. At the same time, mixed-use development should keep the image of a customized house in a natural environment, image that made the single-family house so popular.

A good way to achieve this goal could be crowdsourcing: build a Cohousing or Coworking community, organize events in order to make future cohousers/coworker meet (i.e. a few-days trip) then go on all together to a developer  in order to build our dream’s  home. And the community could create new synergies and promote new features, like co-buying and mobility plans.

Tysons Corner turns into a downtown

“From ancient times, what made a city a city was how it functioned, not how it looked. And this is especially true today, for we have not built a single old-style downtown from raw dirt in seventy-five years.”

(Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, Chapter 2)

This is how Joel Garreau described in 1991 the trend in urban planning in USA and in most developped countries. Downtowns were a thing of the past, office parks, shopping centers, single-family houses and motorways were the future. One of the symbols of this “Life on the New Frontier” was Tysons Corner, an area capable to attract offices and retail, but lacking public space. (the description of Tysons Corner by Joel Garreau, is here).


A typical Tysons Corner road (image: Microsoft Virtual Earth)

18 ans later, Tysons Corner has become one of the symbol of post-war urbanism’s excesses: the lack of public spaces forces dwellers and workers to go everywhere by car, and traffic jams occur every day.

In order to solve the problem, Fairfax county approved a master plan which will thansform Tysons Corner in an “old-style downtown”:

  • A new metro line to Washington,
  • a new series of pedestrian spaces,
  • smaller blocks and more through roads.


(image: Tysons Tomorrow)

After Brasilia, another 20th century city reinvents itself.

further readings:

Shared Space

Two kind of space exist: The highway, regulated by signs, and the public realm, regulated by social rules. But lots of public realms are designed as highways.

source: shared space

Crowdsourcing the eco-district of Lausanne Blécherette: consuming

On september 10, another crowdsourcing session has taken place in Lausanne. This time, the theme was “consuming”: shops, energy, water, wastes. Here is a list of the wishes that came out during the session:

Small independent shops rather than big chain suburban supermarkets (Most of people had few hopes that this would have been possible, the suburban model being seen as unavoidable).

– A farmers market and a flea market.

– Late-evening open shops.

– Finding a way to give a second life to used products still in good state (cradle-to-cradle).

– Encouraging (or even imposing) energy savings:
– bonus-malus policies
– laws forbidding unnecessary wastes
– make energy and wastes lifecycles visible

The whole session report (in French) is available here.


Little by little, from these sessions (here is the previous one), something is emerging: there is a class of people which feels neglected by the actual market. They want a small-scale walkable city, with:

-urban, small houses, located in a vibrant, pedestrian oriented space,

-small, independent (but open 24/7) shops which can serve different needs (vegetarian, organic, local) and work as real third places,

-less energy wastes and more community.


Next crowdsourcing session (“Moving”) on September 25, 20h00, espace Riponne, Rue du Valentin 4, Lausanne.

Crowdsourcing the eco-district of Lausanne Blécherette: growing up

(source video: OLA Métamorphose)

The city of Lausanne is promoting a serie of crowdsourcing sessions for the new eco-district of Pontaise-Blecherette. Last Tuesday I was in the first of them, called “Grow Up”, and heard lots of interesting ideas.

First of all, people wanted a small-scale district: small roads that will help random meetings, small houses that will help people go out…exactly the opposite of modern day suburbs.

Then, another wish was for different areas for different people, but still in the same district: vibrant places for the youngest, quieter places for the elders, a common place where people of different ages could meet, some appartments specially designed for old people within the district.

Another idea was about finding a way in which people could add a personal touch to their district: some unfinished spaces, some house decoration programs…

Meeting in two weeks (september 10, 20h00, espace Riponne – rue du Valentin 4, Lausanne) for the next crowdsourcing session!

in the meantime, French-speaking people can find all the ideas that came in Tuesday session here.

How to create a private space without using fences

This image (Geneva, square Pradier, via Microsoft Virtual Earth) shows how to create a calm square and give privacy to a block without using fences or corner buildings. The four external building act as a screen and separate the square from the through traffic of the surrounding roads. Access to the backside of the external buildings is still possible by two straight alleys that run behind the external buildings. The two internal buildings separate these alleys from the central square: to reach the square from the exterior of the block, two turn are always necessary, one from the surrounding roads to the alleys, and a second one from the alley to the square.

Spatial organization and human nature

If we think, like Le Corbusier, that human nature is bad, social interactions can only lead us away from the Truth, thus shall be discouraged. A “bad human nature city” will have freeways with no sidewalk, windows on nature, shopping centers with security guards preventing unwanted behaviours…

If we think, like Jane Jacobs, that human nature is good, social interaction can only bring good things, thus shall be incouraged. A “good human nature city” will have roads full of people, windows on the streets, improvised parties, bars and cafés, flash mobs, free hugs, bicycle races

(source: urban reinventors)

Brasilia: the evolution of a modernist masterpiece

(image: wikipedia)

In 1956, when Brasilia was conceived, cars were the transportation system of the future. “Adapter la Ville à la Voiture” (adapt the city to cars) was the reigning philosophy in those years, and as Brasilia wanted to symbolize the most avanced face of Brazil, all the city was planned around cars. Two big motorways, the Monumental Axis and the Residential Axis, crossed in the city center, and structured all the shape of the town. All the important monuments gathered along the Monumental Axis, and were designed in order to give the best image of them when seen from a car’s windowshield. Functions were strictly separated: workplaces on the Monumental Axis, residences on the Residential Axis.

Fifty years later, the city was facing a big challenge.

On one side, the city’s masterplan has become a symbol of Brazil development, and classed as a world heritage site from UNESCO. A change in the masterplan following smart growth principles (retrofitting the motorways into urban avenues, adding new buildings in the central esplanade and mixing different urban functions) would have changed too much the image of the city and made it lose its appeal.

On the other side, the transportation philosophy on which Brasilia is funded was becoming more and more dysfunctional. Long commutes from only-residential zones to only-workplaces zones were the norm, and buses were often idling all day in the city center between the morning and the evening rush hours.

Trying to solve both problems, the city has started the “integrated Brasilia” master plan. The principle is simple: while keeping the monumental axis as it is, the plan will retrofit the southern part of the residential axis, that will be equipped with metro, tramway and BRT.

After this plan:

– The Monumental Axis is no longer the main entrance to the city, being concurrenced by the Residential Axis.

– The Residential Axis is no longer simmetrical, the southern part being more infrastructured than the northern part. Tramways and BRT have also turned most of the streets of the residential axis into mixed-use streets, open to both pedestrians and vehicles, breaking one of the city’s founding principles.

– At the southern end of the Residential Axis, new districts have been built. Free from the strict rules of Brasilia’s masterplan, these districts have converted into mixed-use development and are now concurrencing the Monumental Axis.

The Integrated Brasilia Plan hasn’t changed the phisical shape of Brasilia that much, but has turned upside down the way in which the city is perceived and used.

(source: IRD, skyscrapercity, sprawltown)

Google maps now gives walking directions!

Look at the google map above here. Don’t you see something different? Yes, it’s true: something has changed. The “walk until …” direction has turned into something more precise and more similar to the driving instructions.  More things are still to be implemented, but, just like Walkscore some days ago, this is the sign of a big change.