10 km

Maps (2015) Lago d’Iseo

An image from the project by Christo in Lago d’Iseo. Image from ANSA

This comes from a press release by ANSA, the Italian Press Agency, and the title is quite catching; in English it would be “walking on the Iseo lake with Christ”, as this is a project for a temporary structure on the aforementioned lake, in Northern Italy, which springs from the mind of Christo Vladimirov, aka Christo, and Jeanne- Claude, two plastic artists that have done things as wrapping the Reichstag. As always, an interesting work of art.

Maps 2015 (14) The city of Mexico in 1628

1628 image (from mexicomaxico.org)

For some reason I found this week that image of Mexico city in 1628, drawn by Juan Gómez de Trasmonte and conserved at the Archivo General de Indias. A century after the conquest the city is still surrounded by lakes, and the structure of city blocks is apparent.

I also found that image of a mural by Diego Rivera (XXth century), representing the pre-hispanic city. Sure that is not a historical city, but I like the image.

Diego Rivera, National Palace, Mexico (image  from wikipedia)

Biblio (124) The 1935 Moscow General Plan for Reconstruction

Biblio 124- tesis plan moscú

Elisabeth Essaïn presented in 2006 her PHD in Architecture before the Paris 8 University, as a work on the 1935 Moscow Plan. This post is based on a special issue of the Annales de la Recherche Urbaine in 2012.

The plan adjusts, according to the context of that time, without having to cope with the complexities of the private property of land or buildings. The city block- primary street couple becomes a central element of that plan. The plan proposes a substantial extension of the city, with city blocks growing from an average of 3 hectares to some 10 to 15 (some 7,5 acres to between 25 and 38, for imperial system readers). It is in fact an experience with superblocks, related in their size to public transportation, and in this sense it is not that far away from other European experiments at that time.

The PHD dissertation also includes a vision of the complex political scenario, with purges and persecution, to which the Moscow architects were no strangers.

Starters of change (11) Water


The upper image corresponds to the village of Alange, in the Spanish province of Badajoz. The dam was completed in 1992, with a wall 67 m high (from foundation) and 720 m long, so what until then was just a village over the Matachel river became a space marked by water and a new coastline. This is no doubt a project beyond the means of a small municipality, and was managed by the Guadiana Water Board. This action produces a new landscape that allows the use of water for irrigation (in lower lands there is a wide agrarian plain) and electricity production.

The reservoir has a catchment basin of 2.545 sq km (which is equivalent to 60% of Rhode Island), and its water surface, of some 35 sq km, is marked by some islands which display the geology of the area. The areas that were to be underwater were cleaned of all vegetation, so when the water level changes sometimes the shores look rather arid, in contrast with a much greener area of lands above water.

Water has brought relevant change; a neighborhood was moved as its precedent site was flooded, some new buildings respond to the new landscape, and it is fair to think that the payments to the owners of land taken to be submerged must have somehow influenced the local economy. There sure was an impact due to the flooding of the lower valley agrarian land, usually a fertile one. Over a stretch, the new layout of the road goes between the urban edge and the water, but its physical configuration is not very attractive. Water has become the central element of an area of the Natura 2000 European Nature considered a Relevant Birds Area; birds have become users of the reservoir. But people are becoming less relevant in number; there were 2.031 residents in 1996, and in 2014 this number fell to 1.946.


Starters of urban change (9) Municipalities

Municipalities can be a powerful starter of urban change… or of inertia, depending on their ability to create positive dynamics on their territory. This is related to their accounts, and that is interesting in this year in which we will go vote for municipal councils in Spain and France. In the US the local administration system differs from state to state, so the only rational way to compare would be to take any given state in the US and compare to a given European country.

What follows is a (primary) analysis of data from the Virtual Office for the financial coordination with local entities (http://serviciosweb.meh.es/apps/EntidadesLocales/), which aggregates data from over 8.000 Spanish municipalities and Diputaciones and other organs classified as Local Entities. These are data from closed fiscal years with real accounting results, in a series running between 2003 and 2013 (last available year). Data are in thousands of euros for each year (inflation is not accounted for). For those out of Spain, most of urbanism and housing expenditure has been private for decades. Local administrations get resources in that field through taxation and a compulsory free cession that builders must deliver when they execute an operation, consisting in a percentage of building rights and the lots where it sits (the sale of these lots is often most of the “land lots sold” item).

As a result of that analysis, three charts show matters that are somehow linked to urban planning and related matters.

Income in Spanish local entities, selected items

Income in Spanish local entities, selected items

Income: local governments got to an all-time high for income in 2009; as of 2013 they were slightly under the 2006 level. The tax on urban real estate (data before 2009 make no difference between urban and non-urban) changes from 15% of total income in 2003 to 25% in 2013, while lot sales were reduced from 3,4% to 0,34% (in 2006 they reached 6%). The privative use of public domains went from 1,5% to 3,1%, as it is clearly apparent in the public space with sidewalk café and restaurant terraces, at least in part as a response to tobacco laws. The tax on urban land value increases has only grown from 2,9% to 3,6%, with quite reduced oscillations.

Investment in Spanish local entities, selected items

Investment in Spanish local entities, selected items

Investment: the investment on new infrastructure and general use goods was almost 7% in 2003, and it has gone down to 2,2% in 2013. When it comes to maintain these infrastructure and goods we have gone from 3,4 to 1,6% over the same period, and new/maintenance costs for operational services have followed a similar pattern.

Investment in Spanish local entities, selected items

Investment in Spanish local entities, selected items

Detailed investment: the real investment (not taking into account personnel costs and other elements) of the Spanish municipalities has followed a more complex curve. Up to 2010 this real investment was over 25% of the total expenditure, but since then they have lost weight (9,4% in 2013). Urbanism and housing were around a third of real investment up to 2010, and since they have increased to reach 44% in 2013, even if the absolute figure is half that of 2003. To give an order of magnitude, education (in which local administrations have a limited role) went down from 4% to 3% over that period, and its absolute value was reduced to a third of the 2003 figure.

Overall, the evolution of income and expenditure has been somewhat balanced (added figures for the whole period show more income than expenditure), but there have been relevant changes in relative weights. Land lots sold, whose expansion was related to the real estate bubble, have reduced substantially, while real estate taxes have increased. Investment in new infrastructure have reduced nearing those concerning infrastructure maintenance. Real investment in housing and urbanism has increased its weight in the overall real investment. But as in absolute terms this investment has been strongly reduced, today it is limited to solve previous deficits

Maps 2015 (9) Fracking in the North Dakota Oil Boom

mapas 2015-9- Fracking dakota

Here is a map by Mason Inman that is far from clear at first sight, but which is appealing from an aesthetic point of view. When you zoom in things become clearer: extracting oil can happen through horizontal pipes, so these are the most visible elements in the map. Each well has data associated. The way the land is exploited is surprising, it almost seems an agrarian structure.

Biblio (115) How much time do French allocate to shopping?


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…

Biblio (114) The formation of urban spatial structures : markets vs design

Biblio-114-the formation of urban spatial structures

This work by Alain Bertaud analyses the links between design (he is an urban planner- architect) and market, providing answers to why it is not advisable to have private streets or why some things work better as public goods. Taking examples from Hartford, CT, to China, he analyses the links between economy and urban planning. Interesting, and open to debate.