Tag Archives: Paris

7 Cities that Are Going Increasingly Car Free

Like Helsinki (which is also a winter city)

Helsinki expects a flood of new residents over the next few decades, but the more people come, the fewer cars will be allowed on city streets. In a new plan, the city lays out a design that will transform car-dependent suburbs into dense, walkable communities linked to the city center by fast-moving public transit. The city is also building new mobility-on-demand services to streamline life without a car. A new app in testing now lets citizens instantly call up a shared bike, car, or taxi, or find the nearest bus or train. In a decade, the city hopes to make it completely unnecessary to own a car.

Have they always been this way?

Forty years ago, traffic was as bad in Copenhagen as any other large city. Now, over half of the city’s population bikes to work every day—nine times more bike commuters than in Portland, Oregon, the city with the most bike commuters in the U.S.

Copenhagen started introducing pedestrian zones in the 1960s in the city center, and car-free zones slowly spread over the next few decades. The city now has over 200 miles of bike lanes, with new bike superhighways under development to reach surrounding suburbs. The city has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in Europe.

Yet in Saskatoon the rumours are that our Better Bike Lanes demonstration project is being pushed back for a year because of the lane closures on University Bridge.  We seem to be going backwards instead of forward (which could very well become our new slogan)

Can urban planning suck the life out of your city?

It can if done poorly

London is gloriously un-plannable and horribly unplanned. From the Romans to the Romanians, the immigrant tribes who now call themselves English have been drawn to our uniquely cosmopolitan capital. This heterogeneous cultural mixture may help to explain the lack of appetite for plan-led “improvements” or urban reshaping. There is no common cultural foundation upon which to create a formal grand plan.

On my bedroom wall hangs an artist’s perspective of the plan Wren touted for the City after the Great Fire of 1666, fleshed out with buildings of classical design, looking like a beaux arts continental city. It is the first thing I see when I wake every morning and provides a constant reminder of the dangers of “master-planning”. If Wren, or any other planner, had had their way London would have ended up like Paris, Bath or Milton Keynes – architecturally inspired, but difficult to adapt to changing and unforeseeable future needs. Paris is formally planned, lacking in cultural diversity and inward-looking – no one can become a Parisian. London is unplanned, culturally diverse and a world business centre – anyone can become a Londoner.

Of course un-planning only takes you so far as the author continues.  Without planning (more specifically, land use restrictions), your entire city will suffer.

But while gloriously un-plannable the capital needs to be loved if we want to avoid the phenomenon of “lights-out London”, with homes just used as boxes for spare cash. It cannot survive without careful management and subtle control. Left to untrammelled market forces it will become an unstoppable nuclear reaction. George Osborne has claimed our dizzying house price inflation as his miracle of “economic growth”. Long gone are the days when planning was the bag of a politician of intellectual calibre, such as Michael Heseltine.

He goes on

Workers and residents want comfortable accommodation near the ground, with attractive spaces and facilities close at hand. Manhattan, the City and Canary Wharf can justify building office towers because their land area is constrained and demand for commercial space high. Office towers can be built in tight, sustainable clusters. This minimises their environmental impact and maximises their economic advantage – if they are serviced by a high-capacity public transport system.

The same does not hold true for housing. The highest density residential neighbourhood in London is Chelsea, which is gloriously free of towers. In the 1970s, the Greater London Council created some of the highest density housing estates. These six- to eight-floor redbrick developments were built around the edges of their site, leaving attractive central gardens. Lillington Gardens, in Vauxhall Bridge Road, is a fine example, beautifully maintained and highly popular with its residents.

A residential development in Central London is now likely to make four to six times more profit than an office scheme. Without planning control, much-needed offices have given way to piles of “safe-deposit boxes” rising across the capital. These towers, many of dubious architectural quality, are sold off-plan to the world’s “uber-rich”, as a repository for their spare and suspect capital. The purchasers are attracted by London’s rocketing residential prices, born of our unusual fixation on home-ownership. But many chose not to live here.

Rented housing is a much more efficient use of scarce urban land, because people only rent what they need. London’s house price inflation is also being fuelled by that “buy-to-let” property boom, which has aggravated the situation by reducing the security of tenants. We need an expanded, professionally managed, residential rental sector with dependable tenant security if we are to have any chance of addressing London’s housing crisis. This would provide equal scope for development investors and the construction industry but also provide Londoners with what they need – not just a global financial laundry cum bank vault.

The Treasury now controls the policies, delighting in the destruction of the last tools of planning. The Use Classes Order has been neutered to let offices, and soon shops, be turned into homes without planning permission. Rather than stimulating the reuse of empty buildings, this measure has seen the rapid disappearance of much-needed office accommodation in prime locations. Without land-use control, planners are powerless.

Overwhelmed

Airline pilots were once the heroes of the skies. Today, in the quest for safety, airplanes are meant to largely fly themselves. Which is why the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, which killed 228 people, remains so perplexing and significant. William Langewiesche explores how a series of small errors turned a state-of-the-art cockpit into a death trap.

On the last day of May in 2009, as night enveloped the airport in Rio de Janeiro, the 216 passengers waiting to board a flight to Paris could not have suspected that they would never see daylight again, or that many would sit strapped to their seats for another two years before being found dead in the darkness, 13,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. But that is what happened. Air France Flight 447 carried a crew of nine flight attendants and three pilots—their numbers augmented because of duty-time limitations on a 5,700-mile trip that was expected to last nearly 11 hours. These were highly trained people, flying an immaculate wide-bodied Airbus A330 for one of the premier airlines of the world, an iconic company of which all of France is proud. Even today—with the flight recorders recovered from the sea floor, French technical reports in hand, and exhaustive inquests under way in French courts—it remains almost unimaginable that the airplane crashed. A small glitch took Flight 447 down, a brief loss of airspeed indications—the merest blip of an information problem during steady straight-and-level flight. It seems absurd, but the pilots were overwhelmed.

Amazing long read of what went wrong on that fatal flight.

Paris in Winter

Paris strikes me as both a city that is built on a pedestrian scale and one that cars that can still navigate around in due to the Napoleonesqe wide streets and boulevards (needed to mark an army down).  That being said, those skyscrapers just randomly placed throughout the city is not a good look for any city.

Architecture as a force to deal with poverty?

As Paris is finding, it may be overestimating the power of architecture

Balzac has now been emptied, though, and a spidery mechanical arm tears away at it each day. The towering wall of stained concrete and tile, once 600 feet long and 16 stories high, is to be replaced by a cluster of smaller units, part of a $60 billion nationwide plan to refurbish France’s roughest neighborhoods.

It is hardly the first time such efforts have come to the 4000. Governments have been razing and rebuilding in this neighborhood for 25 years, hopeful that new architecture and new theories about how best to house the poor will solve the problems here. Residents and local officials, though, have few expectations that new walls and fresh pavement, whatever their configuration, can drive a deeper renewal.

“They’re not building shopping centers, they’re not creating jobs for young people,” said Soraya, 42, who was raised in Balzac and now lives nearby, requesting that her last name be withheld for fear of retribution by local thugs. “This will solve none of our problems.”

Balzac will be the fifth tower she has seen fall. Her current residence sits on what was once the site of the Renoir tower, destroyed in 2000. Ravel and Presov came down in 2004. A first tower, Debussy, was dynamited in 1986; the event was broadcast on national television and heralded as the start of a broad urban renewal.

Erected in the 1960s, the 4000 was meant as a utopia, an experiment in social engineering that would rationalize the lives of the immigrant workers it would house.

The theory of the day, drawing on the architectural philosophy of Le Corbusier, held that residential areas ought to remain separate from roads and the workplace, and so the cluster was built as a sort of island; residents trudged across a muddy field to reach the adjacent train station. Each airy apartment was equipped with a bathroom, a relative rarity in Paris at the time. The complex was deemed revolutionary.

A model of the 4000 was exhibited at the Grand Palais in 1961.

Government after government has since pledged to undo the damage they say these structures have done. In 1973, an official directive halted the construction of such housing clusters, deploring their “homogeneity” and “monotony,” and the “social segregation” they imposed.

And yet, while the particular philosophy underlying the 4000 has been disavowed, few French officials have jettisoned a belief in the primacy of architecture in shaping social outcomes, said Marie-Christine Vatov, the editor in chief at Innovapresse, a media group specializing in architecture and urban planning.

“Mixing” and “openness” have replaced “separation” and “uniformity” as the watchwords of the day. But the central lesson of the past decades, Ms. Vatov said, has been the error of such faith in the power of architecture.

“It’s not enough to build in a certain way,” she said, especially without more pointed efforts to improve education and employment.