Tag Archives: downtown

Basel, Gundeldinger Feld

Today, I’ll take you to Basel, at Dornacherstrasse 192,where an old factory has been transformed into a neighborhood center, Gundeldinger Feld.

The history of this place could be the same as many other places around the world: a 19th century factory in the inner city suddenly moving to the suburbs in order to look for more space, an urban void opening up in the neighborhood, maybe some developer buying the buildings in order to turn them into  expensive lofts… But here the story takes a different path. The architectural firm INSITU, composed mainly of people living in the area, develops a project willing to promote local, indipendent business and improve the cultural offer of the neighborhood. They submit their proposal to the factory’s administrators: a Limited Company, composed of the architects themself will buy the buildings, renew and rent them to the different businesses.

Most of the architects from INSITU have previously worked in Africa, and thus they apply here most of the principles developped in their African experiences:

  • reuse of buildings in a way that minimizes the changes in the structure;
  • use of massive materials (concreetes, bricks, wood), easy to repare and with a long lifespan;
  • possibility, for a large and diverse population, to come and enjoy the area.

Today, Gundeldinger Feld includes a mixture of activities and business, including:

The central alley. The restaurant Eo Ipso on the left, offices on the right.

Details of the central alley. Here, all the works have been a new pavement for the alley, some flower pots and some bike racks. Thanks to laws in Basel encouraging car-free projects, no parking space is provided within the area.

Flower pots are not fixed. Customers can move pots as they like, and give their own touch to the alley.

Blinde Kuh restaurant, and its Braille-labeled bottles. In this restaurant, all waiters are blind, and people eat in complete darkness. Definitely worth trying!

A hall waiting to be renewed.

Another hall, turned into a public library. Lots of the factory equipement (cranes) are still on place.

The Rock-climbing training hall. Here too, cranes and other industrial equipements are still visible.

What lessons could be learnt from this project? Here are mine:

  • sustainable development won’t be made of futuristic materials (for example, we can compare Gundeldinger Feld with this project still in Basel) or over-determined, Le Corbusier-style projects, but of simple, reproducibile solutions. (more readings on this subject are on the website “emergent urbanism“)
  • In order to be accepted from the main audience, sustainable development has to be fun: somebody will adopt it because of their environmental committment, some others just because it’s fun or convenient. And all together, all these people will make the business thrive.
  • Small business need small rents, but not too small rents. Too expensive rents will make the area accessible only to the most luxurious brands, while too cheap rents will let small business survive without caring too much of their customers. And projects like this need business who take care of their customers!

Did you like this place? Vote for it on Cooltownplaces.com!

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:

New shopping area opens in downtown Lausanne


On November 26th, a new shopping area has opened in the Flon area in downtown Lausanne. The new complex includes a supermarket (Migros) and some smaller shops, and is located close to Lausanne-Flon subway station (lines M1, M2 and LEB), making it a perfect example of Transit-Oriented-Development.

With the opening of the new complex, Flon area turns into a major commercial-entertaining-business center at the scale of the entire Lausanne-Morges metro area.

(source: 24heures)

The 21st Century Medieval City

When we think of medieval cities, we assume it was something like this:

(image: Siena, from wikipedia)

while, at that time, it was more likely to be something like this:

(image: Rio de Janeiro, from wikipedia)

This is the thesis of Robert Neuwirth, who studied from (and lived in) what he calls “the 21st Century Medieval City”. The video here below shows the results of his studies:

(The slides behind his speech can be found in a better resolution here, the original video is here)

According to him, these places are fully-developped cities, full of economical activities and with a surprisingly high level of organization. The thing that differenciate most them from the “official” city is the complete lack of debt: people build houses and infrastructure according to their financial possibilities, while most of the official city uses debt in order to grow.

And so,  public powers should focus on the best way to integrate them in the official city. Neuwirth proposes these strategies:

  1. Guarantee  the “21st century medieval city” dwellers a right to stay. This will let them make long-term planning and allow them to build them better buildings.
  2. Give political rights to the inhabitants of the “21st century medieval city”. This will allow them to lobby for their community and provide all the things the community needs.
  3. Provide infrastructure. Infrastructures need a higher level of organization, that can be more easily provided  by an organized political structure.

A result of these strategies can look like the images below:

(images: Naples Metro, Salvator Rosa station, from wikipedia)
A question remains open: how can all these strategies be integrated in a sustainable land use planning?(source: The Long Now Foundation)

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)

Why place matters (Richard Florida)

(source: Creative Class)

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)

immobilio: the housing search engine for downtown dwellers

(image: wikimedia commons)

Urban dweller always seem to be neglected by the real estate market. all over the world, almost all the developers promote car-friendly, single-family houses situated out of town, while city center houses or transit-oriented developments represent just a minority of the business.

But little by little, the trend is changing, and the birth of immobilio proves it. Immobilio is one of the first real estate search engines to be transit-oriented. Announces are selected according to the travel distance from the main points of interest, and travel time are considered by public transports.

At the moment, this service is just available in France, and the public transport engine doesn’t cover all cities. Let’s hope this kind of service will soon cover other countries!

(source: carfree)

Amaro Ramazzotti: the celebration of Urban Life

I read today some posts about Milan (here, here and here), and my mind came back to one of the most famous ads who celebrated urban life. The scene is in Milan, but it could easily be New York, Paris or any  other global city.

(sources: Jane Jacobs, Nazione Indiana, GaWK, spot80)

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)