Tag Archives: smart growth

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:

Lagado and Balinarbi

The continent, as far as it is subject to the monarch of the flying island, passes under the general name of BALNIBARBI; and the metropolis, as I said before, is called LAGADO. I felt some little satisfaction in finding myself on firm ground. I walked to the city without any concern, being clad like one of the natives, and sufficiently instructed to converse with them. I soon found out the person’s house to whom I was recommended, presented my letter from his friend the grandee in the island, and was received with much kindness. This great lord, whose name was Munodi, ordered me an apartment in his own house, where I continued during my stay, and was entertained in a most hospitable manner.


(image: wikipedia)

The next morning after my arrival, he took me in his chariot to see the town, which is about half the bigness of London; but the houses very strangely built, and most of them out of repair. The people in the streets walked fast, looked wild, their eyes fixed, and were generally in rags. We passed through one of the town gates, and went about three miles into the country, where I saw many labourers working with several sorts of tools in the ground, but was not able to conjecture what they were about: neither did observe any expectation either of corn or grass, although the soil appeared to be excellent. I could not forbear admiring at these odd appearances, both in town and country; and I made bold to desire my conductor, that he would be pleased to explain to me, what could be meant by so many busy heads, hands, and faces, both in the streets and the fields, because I did not discover any good effects they produced; but, on the contrary, I never knew a soil so unhappily cultivated, houses so ill contrived and so ruinous, or a people whose countenances and habit expressed so much misery and want.

This lord Munodi was a person of the first rank, and had been some years governor of Lagado; but, by a cabal of ministers, was discharged for insufficiency. However, the king treated him with tenderness, as a well-meaning man, but of a low contemptible understanding.


(image: wikipedia)

When I gave that free censure of the country and its inhabitants, he made no further answer than by telling me, “that I had not been long enough among them to form a judgment; and that the different nations of the world had different customs;” with other common topics to the same purpose. But, when we returned to his palace, he asked me “how I liked the building, what absurdities I observed, and what quarrel I had with the dress or looks of his domestics?” This he might safely do; because every thing about him was magnificent, regular, and polite. I answered, “that his excellency’s prudence, quality, and fortune, had exempted him from those defects, which folly and beggary had produced in others.” He said, “if I would go with him to his country-house, about twenty miles distant, where his estate lay, there would be more leisure for this kind of conversation.” I told his excellency “that I was entirely at his disposal;” and accordingly we set out next morning.


(image: wikipedia)

During our journey he made me observe the several methods used by farmers in managing their lands, which to me were wholly unaccountable; for, except in some very few places, I could not discover one ear of corn or blade of grass. But, in three hours travelling, the scene was wholly altered; we came into a most beautiful country; farmers’ houses, at small distances, neatly built; the fields enclosed, containing vineyards, corn-grounds, and meadows. Neither do I remember to have seen a more delightful prospect. His excellency observed my countenance to clear up; he told me, with a sigh, “that there his estate began, and would continue the same, till we should come to his house: that his countrymen ridiculed and despised him, for managing his affairs no better, and for setting so ill an example to the kingdom; which, however, was followed by very few, such as were old, and wilful, and weak like himself.”


(image: wikipedia)

We came at length to the house, which was indeed a noble structure, built according to the best rules of ancient architecture. The fountains, gardens, walks, avenues, and groves, were all disposed with exact judgment and taste. I gave due praises to every thing I saw, whereof his excellency took not the least notice till after supper; when, there being no third companion, he told me with a very melancholy air “that he doubted he must throw down his houses in town and country, to rebuild them after the present mode; destroy all his plantations, and cast others into such a form as modern usage required, and give the same directions to all his tenants, unless he would submit to incur the censure of pride, singularity, affectation, ignorance, caprice, and perhaps increase his majesty’s displeasure; that the admiration I appeared to be under would cease or diminish, when he had informed me of some particulars which, probably, I never heard of at court, the people there being too much taken up in their own speculations, to have regard to what passed here below.”

The sum of his discourse was to this effect: “That about forty years ago, certain persons went up to Laputa, either upon business or diversion, and, after five months continuance, came back with a very little smattering in mathematics, but full of volatile spirits acquired in that airy region: that these persons, upon their return, began to dislike the management of every thing below, and fell into schemes of putting all arts, sciences, languages, and mechanics, upon a new foot. To this end, they procured a royal patent for erecting an academy of projectors in Lagado; and the humour prevailed so strongly among the people, that there is not a town of any consequence in the kingdom without such an academy. In these colleges the professors contrive new rules and methods of agriculture and building, and new instruments, and tools for all trades and manufactures; whereby, as they undertake, one man shall do the work of ten; a palace may be built in a week, of materials so durable as to last for ever without repairing. All the fruits of the earth shall come to maturity at whatever season we think fit to choose, and increase a hundred fold more than they do at present; with innumerable other happy proposals. The only inconvenience is, that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection; and in the mean time, the whole country lies miserably waste, the houses in ruins, and the people without food or clothes. By all which, instead of being discouraged, they are fifty times more violently bent upon prosecuting their schemes, driven equally on by hope and despair: that as for himself, being not of an enterprising spirit, he was content to go on in the old forms, to live in the houses his ancestors had built, and act as they did, in every part of life, without innovation: that some few other persons of quality and gentry had done the same, but were looked on with an eye of contempt and ill-will, as enemies to art, ignorant, and ill common-wealth’s men, preferring their own ease and sloth before the general improvement of their country.”

His lordship added, “That he would not, by any further particulars, prevent the pleasure I should certainly take in viewing the grand academy, whither he was resolved I should go.” He only desired me to observe a ruined building, upon the side of a mountain about three miles distant, of which he gave me this account: “That he had a very convenient mill within half a mile of his house, turned by a current from a large river, and sufficient for his own family, as well as a great number of his tenants; that about seven years ago, a club of those projectors came to him with proposals to destroy this mill, and build another on the side of that mountain, on the long ridge whereof a long canal must be cut, for a repository of water, to be conveyed up by pipes and engines to supply the mill, because the wind and air upon a height agitated the water, and thereby made it fitter for motion, and because the water, descending down a declivity, would turn the mill with half the current of a river whose course is more upon a level.” He said, “that being then not very well with the court, and pressed by many of his friends, he complied with the proposal; and after employing a hundred men for two years, the work miscarried, the projectors went off, laying the blame entirely upon him, railing at him ever since, and putting others upon the same experiment, with equal assurance of success, as well as equal disappointment.”

(Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s travels, part III, chapter IV , 1726)

Also read:

Annie Leonard, the story of stuff

(mini)marketing, il cliente affezionato è un costo

CoolTownStudios, the american dream comes full circle

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)

Small towns and smart growth

(image: a small town in Paris’s suburbs, via Microsoft Virtual Earth)

Till now, it seemed that small towns were doomed to be the victims of urban sprawl: the only future waiting for them was made of single-family houses, shopping malls, office parks and highways.

Even when bigger towns started to develop their downtown, smaller cities thought that this was not their business, because there were not enough amenities to justify a mixed use, walkable development.

But things are changing. Even a small town can have its part of smart growth. Let’s just stop thinking about it as a closed entity and let’s think about it as an element of a bigger system…  an office park, a shopping mall, a residential development and a transit station,  all concentrated in a single entity. Then, the small&smart town can advertise itself like any other office park or shopping mall (parkings all around and a big billboard sign)… and it’s done!

(sources: 24Heures, NRDC)

Smart growth goes to western Lausanne: Les jardins de Prélaz

Once victim of urban sprawl, western Lausanne is organizing its growth with the principles of New Urbanism and Smart Growth. One of the examples of this trend is the “jardins de Prélaz” complex.

(image: Microsoft virtual Earth)

Built on the site of a former bus depot, the complex is made of different buildings, designed by different architects, and can be divided in 3 different areas:

1) The Square

this is the entrance door of all the complex: it hosts the transit stops, a supermarket and a pharmacy.

The transit stops, seen from the square.

2) The Street Front:

The public image of the complex, it follows the street alignment and the average height of the surrounding buildings. The ground floor hosts commerces and public services, and has a different texture than the above, residential floors.

3) The Gardens:

from the square, a lane leads to the Gardens, a group of row houses organized into small courtyards and small gardens.

In this area of the complex, most buildings have external stairs and corridors.

Stairs and corridors are also on the backside of the street front buildings.

view of one of the courtyards.

View of the lane, looking towards the square.

(source: Lausanne Architectures)

The best new neighborhoods in europe

(photo: model of Le Plessis-Robinson, from wikipedia)

Yesterday I showed some examples of smart growth in Spain. Today, we’ll have an overview of  what’s happening all over europe, with the winners of the 2008 Philippe Rottier European Prize. Here they are:

Best Operation of Urban Renaissance in a suburban city – Plessis-Robinson, France
Best New City – Val d’Europe, Ile-de-France
Best Reconstruction of an Historic Center – Historisches Gesellschaft DresdenNeumarkt, Dresden, Germany
Best Reconstruction of a City Center – Palermo, Italy
Best New Village – Poundbury, Dorchester, UK
Best Public Intervention – Rathaus Viertel, Gladbeck, Germany
Best Neighbourhood Center – Borgo Città Nuova, Alessandria, Italy
Best European Urban Plaza – Plaza del Juncal, Irun, Spain
Best New Garden-City – Heulebrug, Knokke-Heist, Belgium
Best Urban District – Akroken Campus, Sundsval, Sweden

Details of all project can be found here.

(source: A vision of Europe, cool town studios)

Smart growth goes to Spain

(Photo: Bilbao master plan, 1876. Source: wikipedia)

On 19th century, Spain was one of the leaders in urban development. In almost all towns, a grid-shaped extension (Ensanche) was planned, and in almost all towns, the Ensanche is one of the most vibrant districts.

(photo: plaza de Habana in Gijon. Source: Microsoft Virtual Earth)

150 jears later, Spain goes again. Since 1992, almost all towns in Spain started building new neighborhoods, following the principles of the ancient Ensanche. The result is a serie of dense, transit-oriented neighborhoods, following the principles of Smart Growth.

An overview of all projects is available here.

(source: A Vision Of Europe)