Tag Archives: cars

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

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)

A short history of America

Some posts ago, we saw the first steps that gave birth to a road.

Here is the rest of the story (by R. Crumb)

(source: carfree)

Retrofitting urban sprawl: Learning from Monte Sacro

As gas prices rise, lots of people are wondering what will be the future of suburbia. Will it be able to recycle itself into more dense and pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, or will it decay and turn into XXI century slums? A visit of Monte Sacro (Rome, italy) can be useful.

In the 20’s Monte Sacro was the typical streetcar suburb: a group of single family houses clustered around a main square, where the only multi-stores, mixed uses were, and where the tramway stop was. All around, only countryside and farmland. Then the city arrived all around, and Monte Sacro found itself as a center of a town of 200.000 inhabitants. Little by little, some single-family houses were torn down or retrofitted as multi-family houses, and the density has increased to the average of a downtown.

(sources: Reconnecting America, Dover Kohl, The Atlantic, Newgrounds)

car sales drop 20%

May it be the rise of gas prices and of raw materials, may it be the shift of trends from goods possession to good use, car sales are dropping dramatically. Reports talk about a 20% drop in the last year. On realated articles, business analysts look for new solutions to face the crisis: more ecological cars (and even electric cars), looking for some new markets like China and India… It’s strange to see that almost no article sees the link to the big increase in mass transit ridership, and foresees mass transport vehicles as a possible source of business.

(sources: La Repubblica, carectomy.com, trendwatching.com, UITP)

Sheer transit pleasure

(video: BMW commercial – note the “sheer driving pleasure” logo at the end)

(photo:”Is it not time for a change?” by green idea factory)

Public transport has always been seen as the poor alternative to cars. While cars are always pictured as a way to get pleasure and new sensations,  public transports are always seen as a way to go from a point to another, just trying to limit as much as possible the problems that come from the travel itself.

But another image of public transports is possible.

First of all, a special train or bus can be reserved for a special event.

(video: MAD train)

Examples are:

– a travelling disco;

– a travelling restaurant,

– a travelling deluxe hotel.

Another option (which I consider much more interesting) turns around the “sheer pleasure” of travelling by public transports.

(photo via flickr)

several possibilities are still open in this fields:

Panoramic trains along a scenic route

Special buses on an ordinary line

– or just allowing people to organize a party on a commuter train