The analytic method is a study of the spatial footprint, water use and nitrogen flows. According to the conclusions, since the beginning of the XIXth century the production surface by resident has been divided by six for similar consumptions of meat and milk, as a result of improvements in production, at the cost of twice the water consumption and a three times more intense use of the soil.
As Pikety has used long series for revenue, here long environmental and economic data series are used.
INSEE (the French national statistics office) has just published an interesting report on the time French dedicate to shopping (as well for everyday things as food, as for choice items as clothes). According to the analysis of a series of data between 1974 and 2010, French have reduced their shopping frequency and they spend more time during Saturday, going to longer distances to get the items they purchase.
As of 2010 the average French uses 2 hours 41 minutes per week for shopping; between 1974 and 2010 women have reduced the weekly time for shopping some 28 minutes, while men have increased theirs by 21 minutes. Internet shopping is still reduced in France. 20% think that shopping is a chore, while in 1986 those were only 10%.
These figures may seem far away from urbanism, but they show that for small urban retail, that brings life to cities, times are hard…
I usually fancy maps that tell stories in which you can feel the scale of things. And this week’s news (with the ode to joy as a background sound and the twelve star banner) is somehow related. Beyond the million km distance, what surprises is the small size of the comet (you could walk all along it in just an hour, provided walking is feasible without gravity…) when related to a big city. The image has been published by the European Space Agency and conveys the idea of the ability of mankind to transform the surface of this planet on a geological scale, even on an interplanetary one (if we can see the comet from here well enough to reach it, chances are Paris can be seen from there…)
I was born on a peninsula, and I like that kind of places. Some people from inland areas are somehow puzzled, as for them a coastal city should have water only in one direction, a far cry from what a peninsula is. These same people have a still harder time when they realize that a peninsular city changes its shape constantly; not that inland cities are different, but here the coastline provides a more apparent limit that makes things clearer.
The best way to find your way on a peninsula is to look for a tall element. A lighthouse, a hill, a chimney… if you have no such elements, you are in trouble, as ships can come from anywhere (thank god, in the Cadiz marshes you have shipyards with large cranes, power towers and a new bridge…).
Some have found a loophole: make city grow so much larger than your peninsula that it will no longer be noticed. But this is somehow cheating…
Some years ago, while in Paris, I had a chance to listen to a speech by Jean Paul Lacaze, a French urban planner among those that had been everywhere in all the relevant places, as he explained a curious story. He talked about the French experience with new towns, and the growing complexity of the criteria to choose a place (to erect a city, an industrial area or whatever) in consistency with the sustainable development paradigm. He spoke about the urban planning project linked to the Lacq gas field, in Pyrénées Atlantiques. The field was discovered in 1951 and is somehow the origin of the present Total oil group; there are some parallels with the current shale gas, as it was a hard to obtain resource (high proportion of hydrogen and sulphur), but a relevant input for the national economy. Lacaze said that while the presentation of the project to the press around 1957, the mayor said something like “we chose the better place, no doubt; Jean Paul and I, we drove for an entire day on my car around the municipality to find it”. That is a far cry from what could be considered good practice now, but it is how Mourenx, a city of 7.000 now (10.000 in 1968) appeared.
The gas field closed in 2013, and the economic base of the city suffered, as in many other mining areas, even if there is a set of industrial projects. The city seems clearly a “ville nouvelle” of the first model, even a hybrid with the previous “grand ensemble” model. It is an architecture of lineal multi-storey blocks on a rather regular street grid in which every chance is taken to introduce a curve (and the terrain gives some room for that).
That day, Jean Paul and the mayor chose a relatively flat area surrounded by two large sets of hills giving a certain visual protection when seen from the close industrial areas. Each neighbourhood has a tower, but individual homes have become more important (after all, that is France). The Plan Local d’Urbanisme is being revised, with moderate growth previsions.
Cuando estudiaba en la Escuela de Arquitectura había un libro básico para los novatos: Arte de Proyectar en Arquitectura, de Ernst Neufert. No se trataba de su metodología de proyecto, sino de su sistemática descripción de la medida de las cosas o las proporciones (dos tabicas+ una huella en un escalón=63 o 64, 44 cm como anchura de asiento…). Ernst Neufert vivió entre 1900 y 1968 y publicó la primera edición de su libro en 1936; pero en la edición de 1986 aún había menciones a fuentes como el instituto Kaiser Guillermo.
Si bien es cierto que la dimensión del ser humano medio no ha variado tanto (y esa era la base de esas dimensiones), también lo es que algunas de las soluciones constructivas o de diseño recogidas en el libro parecen hoy en día anacrónicas. Cuartos de baño mínimos en los que el suelo cuenta con un desagüe para servir en conjunto como duchas, o escaleras con peldañeados imposibles para ahorrar espacio muestran que en la Alemania de la primera mitad del siglo XX aún había un problema importante de vivienda, y que eso también existía, aunque no guste reconocerlo, en otros muchos países (lo cual hace pensar si el Neufert no podría ser un éxito de venta en los “países emergentes”, que siguen teniendo muchos de esos problemas).
La Grande Motte tiene algo de eso. Es un modelo de asentamiento turístico diametralmente opuesto al de otros emplazamientos mediterráneos, como Benidorm, basados en una amplia laxitud del planeamiento. Aquí, en el marco de un programa de saneamiento y promoción turística del entorno de las lagunas del Languedoc bajo De Gaulle, se planteó una ciudad de vacaciones con arquitecturas que destacaran por sus formas entonces futuristas. Los edificios siguen siendo llamativos (aunque no necesariamente hermosos), pero cuando uno se acerca algunas cosas se muestran extrañamente pequeñas, o superadas por las expectativas de confort. Parece casi un ejemplo de retro futurismo; no es en ese sentido tan diferente a Benidorm, donde los rascacielos de hace décadas siguen ahí, con una obsolescencia clara en muchos aspectos, pero representando pese a todo un ideal de futuro pasado, mucho más anárquico en la imagen, aunque con una estética quizás más potente aún. No se alcanzan las cotas del bajo Manhattan (el único casco histórico que conozco con amplios conjuntos de edificios de más de 100 metros), pero hay algo de eso.
Y sin embargo, La Grande Motte no es igual. La profusión de espacios libres públicos y privados, con densidades menores que en el caso de Benidorm, y la idea de comunidad cerrada por las propias condiciones físicas del emplazamiento (podría rodarse una versión de el Show de Truman a la francesa) hace que la relación con el agua y la presencia en el paisaje sean diferentes… desde un punto de vista europeo, porque hay ciertas cosas que casi podrían ser del sur de Florida….
An august morning in Nice (some years ago) has many things to see; as in many other cities, but here, from the castle, you feel you can see more:
– Planes. Lots of them (one of the busiest airport in France), which you can see take off and land, as the runways seem an aircraft carrier; you feel you can almos touch them, as here the approach is curved (I never saw something like that, at least in Spain), and this makes traffic all the most spectacular. The aeronautical servitudes map seems an Enric Miralles’s architecture.
– The beach is quite active; cobblestones, so less hospitable that sand beaches.
– The Promenade des Anglais is quite used. Compared to other more modern sea walks, its beach sidewalk is utterly simple (its prestige comes more from the buildings on the land sidewalk), but seems to work well; it is wide, the most important thing, and at least it is not cluttered with nonsense stuff.
– Seen from a distance the hills could be almost anywhere in the northern Mediterranean coast. The percentage of eyesores on the landscape is lesser than in Spain or Italy, but they also happen to exist.
– On the harbour there are many yachts the size of a navy corvette (although not as many as in Monte Carlo). In fact, that area seems among the least active of this landscape, but it attracts the eye in a quite ordered wharf, which still shows the Italian origin of the city.
The Danube near Vienna, as seen from Khalenberg Hill
For those that have followed this blog during the last years, here is the proof it has not disappeared. Just a small fraction of that time was a break (most of it was quite the opposite…), but it was worth it.
During that time I have seen and thought about some interesting things, either on travel or through other means. Here are some, which can be viewed as a thematic layout of future posts:
Vienna: I had never visited Austria. After a recent trip to Germany I was curious to see the other big Germanic country, not so much (or rather no only) for its past as an old empire that imploded almost overnight in 1918, but more as a country in which I thought an interesting version of modernity was happening. The trip has indeed been interesting. My knowledge of German is schematic, and if I told you I have grasped the soul of the country after just a few days you would (for a good reason) think I’m just bragging; but some things have seemed interesting.
The evolution of the idea of sustainable development (or its weakening under some points of view). The quarrels surrounding the ministerial reorganization in France during this summer have made me remember news read during the recent municipal and European elections there. Among the promises made by local candidates of the National Front in many cities were the ones about letting again access the city core by car without restrictions, reversing policies adopted years ago to try to reduce pollution and conserve the old cities qualities. The National Front is a particularity in the French political system, but its rise is fuelled by their ability to grasp subjects that galvanize citizens. They raised that idea in many cities, but not in Paris and Lyon, where things cannot be so simplified. On the other hand, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President, who instituted a Ministry for Durable Development, said in 2011 during a visit to the Agricultural Convention of Paris “the environment, it is becoming a bit too much”. On the other side, the relations between socialists and ecologists in France are far from easy (hence the initial mention to the French politics of this summer). The evolution over time of the UK policies on that matter has also been controversial there. Many in Europe will think that this is just peanuts compared to the American scene, forgetting the fact that there the scene is also mixed, as you just have to compare Republicans in the Congress (denial of climate change) to Schwarzeneger or Bloomberg (climate change policies) to see what I talk about. Are we witnessing the end of sustainable development as a somehow blind faith (believing in something presented as good, even if not understood by many that feel it just brings costs or even nuisance to their way of life) that can be used by politicians and marketers alike, to see a more critical conscience emerge, or else? Therein lies the rump….
A new rise in the social demand for rules, not as a defence of some economic interests, but of other matters lied to the idea of common good. These days there have been demonstrations in Barcelona against the growing presence of tourists renting apartments in an informal way in the Barceloneta area; they use what to some is a reduced booze price and a perceived image of Spain as a permissive country to behave in ways that perhaps could be subject to prosecution in their own countries. Sure, hotel owners have used that to talk about unlawful competition (a bit like taxi drivers revolts against Uber), but the neighbours asked here for quite simple things: the right to sleep without noise, or to move around their city without seeing gross scenes. I have read on today’s Washington Post a quite similar news concerning Ocean City, Maryland. The fear of squadrons of youth looking for booze and party, ruining the calm of a neighbourhood by renting homes piecemeal has also surfaced, and is also criticized by those saying that as the city lives from tourism, this must be endured. So Barceloneta (a popular neighbourhood with high density) is on the same wavelength as Ocean City (apparently a richer, lower density area). Some will present this as a case of NIMBY (Not In My BackYard), a resistance to accept externalities related to the inherent complexity of cities. But this seems something more, a symptom of a general evolution of the idea of what can be or not accepted in a society.