Urban Planning

Building the Better Block: New Urbanist Guerrilla

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Patience has never been a virtue of the young. Change is. But change has always come at a glacial pace and an exorbitant price when it involves land development. The dreaded bureaucracy of planning departments and city councils can chew up more time over debating a project than it takes to build it. No longer. What would normally take years of design and debate, a new guard of young, idealistic urban activists, including Jason Roberts, a self-described artist and computer consultant, and partner Andrew Howard, A.I.C.P. of Team Better Block, now accomplish overnight – or, at most, in 72 hours.

New York City Revitalizes the Life Between Buildings

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(Thanks in part to Gehl Architects)

Over the past decade or so, New York City has been making dramatic improvements that emphasize the quality of life on the street, urban vitality, and sustainability. This is a most welcome shift that is part of a most welcome sea change. Specifically, the city has been carving out more spaces for pedestrians, bicycles, public transit, public gathering, and parks. New York City has no lack of pedestrians, and these improvements invite more. Planting a million trees and creating 200 miles of bike lanes are certainly New York City-sized moves. Like many cities, New York City is correcting the problems created by modernist planning and the predominance of the automobile, including damage to ordinary life for people on the street, where valuable urban vitality was traded for more lanes of traffic and parking lots.

Community Gardens, Farm Co-ops, and Land Trusts

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As our global urban population continues to swell, the growth of community gardens, urban agriculture, farming co-ops, and land trusts is rising as well. How will urban planners accommodate these needs and govern their operation?

Currently, the worldwide percentage of people living in urban areas exceeds 50%; in the United States, that number swells to more than 80%. City planners face increased demand from urban populations for places to collectively garden and farm. 

Madrid Rio by West 8 and MRIO

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Tranquilo might as well be the motto of Madrid. It’s commonly used to tell someone to “take it easy” or “relax," perfect for these trying economic times. For those Madrileños who might find themselves a little stressed (and overheated) these days, the Madrid Rio project by West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture has created a recreational zone along the Manzanares River that will allow people to enjoy an area previously referred to by many as “what river?”

Sustainable Site Planning Basics

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One of the most important and effective ways to create sustainable designs is by taking a collaborative approach. Ideally all of the project stakeholders (owner, architect, engineers, contractors, etc.) are brought together before the design process begins, and the design process can be completely collaborative, with all parties providing valuable input based on their expertise. The reality, however, is that this collaboration rarely happens, especially on smaller-scale projects.

Shifting Economic Development Downtown

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Not a day goes by when we don’t get bombarded with more talk of jobs, be it from politicians or the media. It seems that this is the single most important factor on which we must base all decisions. City, county, and state budgets are depleted, but we continue to allocate tax payer money to economic development strategies that have proved too costly and ineffective. Economic development has, for the most part, become a mechanism by which we redirect taxpayer money to out-of-town companies to relocate low-paying jobs. This is not development in any sense but a short-term political strategy that redistributes scarce community resources to those who need it the least. Revitalizing the nation’s urban centers and small town Main Streets is a strategy that can do much more to create strong, sustainable local economies at a fraction of the cost, while retaining and fostering local resources.

Madrid's M-30 Urban Renewal Project: Puentes Cascaras

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It’s easy to get Spanish blood boiling here in Madrid. Just mention the M-30 to a local, especially one living by the Manzanares River in the Arganzuela district south of the city. Their hostile reaction would be due to the fact that this part of town has been under major construction for what seems like an eternity. Once complete, Madrid’s M-30 urban renewal project will include improved roadways, pedestrian pathways, and West 8's Puentes Cascaras, which were inaugurated in September 2010.

Denver’s Union Station Gets A Facelift

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Denver’s Union Station is a regional multi-modal hub that embodies everything about Denver’s upbeat future. The Union Depot & Railroad Company built Denver's first Union Station at the city's northwest edge. It cost $525,000 to build and opened on June 1, 1881. Union Station houses the Amtrak service and, more uniquely, the Ski Train, a local favorite that takes skiers on an entertaining ride through the Rockies to the Winter Park Ski Resort.

Fix the Ditch: Enhancing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

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In the 1950s, the construction of elevated and sunken highways marred many cities in the name of progress and the almighty automobile. Even brownstone Brooklyn wasn't spared. Under the heavy hand of Robert Moses, the infamous chair of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) severed several neighborhoods in order to connect the two boroughs. Some neighborhoods fared better than others; affluent Brooklyn Heights bargained for a scenic promenade to disguise the BQE. However, their neighbors to the south along the Columbia Street waterfront, an area primarily inhabited by Italian immigrants at the time, were cut off from the picturesque portions of Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill by a sunken, six-lane stretch of highway.

Brooklyn Bridge Park: Linking Harbor, Infrastructure and the Urban Fabric

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Although it is surrounded by water, New York City offers few opportunities to physically interact with the shoreline. The new Brooklyn Bridge Park proves an exception; its 85 acres of green space and recreational facilities, designed by landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, will span 1.3 miles of post-industrial waterfront between the Manhattan Bridge and Atlantic Avenue, bracketed by the East River and Robert Moses' tiered Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

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