Category Archives: 2.4 – cars

Parking, repurposed.

On Reinventing Parking, a post wonders about the possibility of turning parking spaces into something else.

A good case study is Rome: here, zoning laws and parking requirements are rarely enforced and so, as soon as the land values rise, parking spaces turn into something more profitable.

Here are a few examples:

On the other side, in Switzerland zoning laws and parking requirements are strictly enforced:  anyway, garages are still able to be repurposed.

Here is an example in Lausanne: a parking garage turned into a supermarket.

Mixed-use Suburbs

Some days ago, at the conference “desperate houses” at the EPFL, I heard about a  research, realized by the architectural firm Raumbureau, saying that, in the suburbs, around 1 over 5 houses is refurbished as office space.

If this tendence goes on:

  • Little by little, suburbs will become true villages with offices, shops, post offices, sall hospitals… (a similar project was shown at the conference),
  • Density is not the only solution to urban sprawl, other solutions (much more “open source”) are available,
  • The houses in Aigle, which I saw some days ago, can become something really interesting in a few years!

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New Urbanism vs. Suburbanism

retrofitting suburbia in 3 steps

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(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:

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

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Aigle. Vehicles-only road

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Aigle. Crossing forbidden (but people cross here anyway)

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Aigle. Pedestrian underpass, not very appealing.

And here, some good examples:

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Aigle. Trees, sidewalks and outdoor cafés.

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Aigle. side street.

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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.

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

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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.

The future of automobile infrastructure: Antonio Segni Bridge, Rome

Usually, a highway is a mono-functional road, designed to carry cars from one place to another at a maximum speed.  But, sometimes highways don’t carry so many cars as expected,  and other uses start to appear.

An example of the re-use of highways was the Antonio Segni Bridge in Northern Rome, the east-west road in the photo here below.

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(image: microsoft virtual earth)

Designed to be part of the Milan-Naples highway, the Antonio Segni Bridge has survived as an isolated stretch when the motorway was re-routed on a more external path. Closed to traffic for almost ten years, it has become the favorite place for pedestrians and cyclists’ sunday strolls. When it was opened to motorized traffic, few cars passed on the Bridge, and pedestrian and cyclists still continued to use its sidewalks as a shortcut to reach otherwise far neighborhoods.

Some improvement could be made in order to make the bridge a more interesting place:

  • wider sidewalks and zebra crossings.
  • more pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhood.
  • a landscaped median.

Here is a similar example, from Minneapolis:

video: streetsblog.org

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).

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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.

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(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

Obama promotes urban life

“…All of our politics was built around the idea that there are cities, and there are suburbs, and the suburban people don’t like the city people, and the city people don’t like the suburban people, and usually the suburban people are republicans, and the city people are democrats…our politics was built around that idea. Except that now all the researches are showing that, if you want a driving suburban area, then you’d better have a driving city…”

Little by little, the theme of city life and suburban life is entering the main political debate. First, talks were about gas prices and how they are threatening the suburban lifestyle. Then little by little, the speech moved to the opportunities offered by a less car-friendly and more pedestrian-friendly city: socializing opportunities, random meeting opportunities, life-improving opportunities. The suburban model is not  “the one and only” possible model anymore.

(source:barackobama.com, via jane jacobs)

from “Adapt the city to cars” to “Adapt the city to social networks”

In 1971, Georges Pompidou said: “Adapter la ville à la voiture” (adapt the city to cars), in a world where people wanted to go faster and further, and reach in a reasonable amount of time more and more places. A new world was born, made of countryside houses, motorways, shopping centers, big buildings: a world whose biggest examples are cities like Brasilia.

37 years later, the world has changed. The shift has moved from “going faster and further” to “meeting the right people and find the right thing”. And, regarding to the city, the new motto could be “Adapter la ville aux réseaux sociaux” (adapt the city to social networks). How will the “social network city” be? A good overview can be found here: Social Network City will be full of meeting places, hotspots, events, unconventional shops, customized objects…

And how will it look like? First, online classic will jump out of the screen and appear in the real life:

(image: wikipedia)

Then, forums, blog and social networks will invade the real life, and turn into “real world discussion forums

(sources: oh my marketing!, trendwatching)

protection against the motorway noise: Croisset Student House

The Croisset Student House is a good example of how to protect a building from the noise of a motorway and give at the same time a public image to the building.

The complex is made of 3 residential blocks, oriented perpendicularly to the motorway, and a continuous screen which runs between the blocks and the motorway. The screen is made by two 30 cm walls, separated by a 3 meters void, which contains the stairways and elevators.

Photos of this building can be found here, and a video can be found here.

(source: architecture studio)