Month: March 2014

Industrial traditions (1) A sample

Old industrial cities in what we call usually the “western countries” are often an exemple of how hard it is to maintain an economic health on the long term, but also that this is achievable. Monterrey is still a reference in the Mexican industrial landscape. Chattanooga seems to be succeeding its transition to a more viable economic model. Lille tries to reinvent itself as a reference node in the European High Speed Train network, and Bilbao has in fact changed its image thanks to a museum that is, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg.

Maps 2014 (11) Dutch risks



As me, probably many of my readers are unable to read Dutch. But it is not that essential to consult, an online map by the Netherlands Provinces Association which displays the natural and technological risks affecting the country. I don’t know to which extent that map is trustworthy, but it seems a rather good idea to take the transparency for citizens to that level; sure the Dutch case is special, as everyone is aware of what it means to live under the sea level, but they have gone the extra mile. Setting up such a system can help citizens looking for a dwelling; seen from the other side, this can play a role in real estate pricing, which is not prone to make friends in some areas.

Crime maps in some American cities are similar in approach; but when it comes to security citizens have an intuitive idea of how their city works (albeit not always a real one). When we talk about these risks the Dutch are mapping, there can perharps be a lost memory (the 500 years flood has perhaps never been experienced by living people), or simply the disaster never happened.

Biblio (83) The city at eye level

biblio83 city eye level


Sometimes you stumble upon a website that happens to be a the entrance to a book. This Biblio is just that, but it also seems to hold the promise for more things. To be sure, it is at heart the site of a business (a planning practice, which is nothing to be ashamed of), but it is worth the visit.

The main thesis of the book is that street plinths (that horizontal strip of building space that you see when walking the street) are an essential part in the character and liveability of any given city. Something I will hardly contend with, as I have often to work on urban space matters, be it retail or overall design. Sometimes Americans seem to think (I know there are millions Americans, I’m only judging from what I read often in blogs) that Europe is the lost Arcadia for urban shape, but in fact this is not always true, and this book, combining views from different geographical perspectives give a rich picture of it. The main authors are Dutch (Stipo, a multi-disciplinary team), but they have invited contributors from other countries, so you can see how the urban spaces of Rotterdam work, but also a plea for urban garages by a Flemish architect, among other things.

The book states, taking the forecasts of experts, that 30% of current retail units could be wiped out by the internet commerce; I assume that this can be an average for the Netherlands, but anyway things are changing in every country (for instance, variations in lease price rise limitations that exist in some places can be a more powerful factor). So one of the central points of the book, that urban plinths are not limited to retail use, become ever more needed as reflection grounds. That said, the book also has sections on retail that are interesting.

This book is based on an European view on the city that has some parallels to the US New Urbanism, but with the difference that it intends to work mainly on the existing urban tissue, so with more potential effect on how everyday life can be improved for far more people. Besides, the issue is not so much a given architectural “style”, but rather a play with the defining elements of the streetscape (something Americans as Christopher Alexander have worked with)

Rules and variations (5)

plaza2 plaza

A grand square, some 12.000 sq m (3 acres), built some centuries ago by a powerful monarch: where, it is pointless here, why, it is obvious, but how, therein lies the rub.

The king was mighty and powerful, projecting that power beyond the seas; but even this power was not enough to impose his absolute will on the people living in the city where his court was. So he did what kings did at that time: he imposed a regular geometry for the square, but this regularity was not extended to the surroundings. This transition from regularity to clutter is solved through a regular layout of windows in the elevation, and through ground floor arcades.

Zoom to right now, as this square has become, as many its European sister spaces, a tourism magnet. And that regularity trick somehow still works. Shops and watering holes for visitors now mostly occupy ground floor, and upper levels are mainly homes. This is an attractive space, in part due to its contrast to the neighbouring areas, despite a somehow harsh surface.

Ground floor. 1: arcades, 2: shops, 3: restaurants and cafes, 4: storage, 5: public offices

Ground floor. 1: arcades, 2: shops, 3: restaurants and cafes, 4: storage, 5: public offices

One of the high levels. 1: appartments, 2: offices, 3:   teaching, 4: public adminitration

One of the high levels. 1: appartments, 2: offices, 3: teaching, 4: public adminitration

Some of the building use data in the diagrams are not exactly what exists nowadays in the square, but the overall situation is that one.

Rules and variations (4)

When Môrice Leroux, a disciple of Tony Garnier, builds between 1927 and 1934 his “gratte-ciel” (literally “sky-scrapers”) he defines rules that are in Sharp contrast to the surrounding areas.

Rules and variations (2)

Each appartment has its own conditions...

Each appartment has its own conditions…

Rules are not just established by planning, but also by building codes or the demands of the market and the technology of the everyday products. Nearly every car is created with similar dimensions, but each home has particular conditions.

... but car slots are about all the same in the underground garage

… but car slots are about all the same in the underground garage

Biblio (82) Thoughts on the revision of the Madrid General Plan

Biblio82-reflexiones pgoum


Madrid’s General Plan is being revised, a complex moment in which there is a confrontation (sometimes far from harmonious) between the hopes and interests of all those related to the city. This Biblio is a volume of thoughts about this issue, which reunites the voices, among other, of a set of people I happen to know and appreciate, as I have worked with them. This is especially true for Julio Vinuesa, from which I have learned many things coming from his geographical vision of housing and cities. For those that are in Madrid, this book is linked to an ongoing set of interesting conferences (something I’m sure of, even if most of the time my work prevents my presence).

Maps 2014 (10) Home price mapping in France and America

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There are three main ways to get data on real estate prices: conducting a study based on standard assumptions (usually comparing with neighbouring properties is factored), using listing prices or using the amount that the legal professional authorised by the Government to record the deed. This legal professional is a Civil Law Notary in civil law countries as Spain or France, or their former colonies. The third way is, assuming there is no tax cheat, the most precise, but it is not universally available, or its geographical detail is not of use; for instance, in Spain the General Notaries Council ( publishes data by province. The geographical scope is relevant, as the real estate values depend a lot on location, and mixing in the same bag high price neighbourhoods with low price exurbs results in meaningless averages.

In France notaries ( do publish data with a detailed geographical scope (census blocks). This  is good to understand recent activity. But a substantial part of the land has such a reduced amount of sales that data is not representative (or simply does not exist, just think of depressed rural areas with no sales for years). This does not prevent the fact that there is a demand for some kind of data, so it is estimated by a multifactor system, in which listing prices and realtors opinions are factored (

In the US the fact that there is a continental size nation with 50 legal systems has led to nationwide portals as, which estimate prices for a substantial part of the country, even if a large part of the central states, as Texas or Louisiana, are not rendered.

Taking as a reference data from, and for Paris, New York and Madrid, with an exchange rate of 0,72 € by $, and considering that 1 sq m is equal to 10,7 sq ft, you can see that the more expensive areas of Paris (rue du Bac, for instance) are over 14.200 €/sq m, those of Madrid (Recoletos) are around 11.000 €/sq m, and those of New York (Flatiron District) are in the region of the 16.000 €/sq m. Any need for more reasons to understand why the urban fabric of the core areas of successful cities has such an inertia?.

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