100 m

Biblio (113) The rise and fall of Manhattan’s densities

biblio 113- Manhattan densities

This working paper by Shlomo Angel and Patrick Lamson- Hall, researchers at the Marron Institute at NYU, studies the evolution of population densities in the built-up areas of Manhattan from 1800 to 2010. They combine census data for population with a series of maps, and conclude that time is ripe for a densification programme that could accommodate a larger population with bottom-up actions, without need to use large public- financed schemes. The proposal is essentially a change in the planning regulations that would allow higher densities in peripheral boroughs, as was done before in Manhattan. This would hardly be seen as a contentious issue where I live, as the habit of living in denser neighbourhoods is more common, but would mean a change for many in the land of the single- family home; even if skyscrapers are not a rarity, high rise housing has different cultural implications, as you would loose many freedoms you have being the lord and king of your lot.

There are two interesting videos which show the base data that helped reach those conclusions

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Snw3Huxm5U

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGXJTwkc0CA

The last of three great nights

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If you ever come to Spain around these days, this is how serious things are done here:

  • The night from 24th to 25th December: a family dinner and a Christmas meal. Usually no party out of home, but more and more people are receiving presents around this night.
  • The night from 31 december to January 1st: family or party out dinner, new year’s meal with your family. Midnight is the central moment. No gifts.
  • The night from january 5th to january 6th: according to tradition, the Kings (the Maggi from the bible) bring the gifts. No special dinner, gifts are unwrapped on January the 6th morning, and a family meal is usually associated. Even if some call for the end of monarchy in Spain, when it comes to gifts the Kings are still overwhelming (even if Santa, known here as “Papa Noel” as a derivation of its French name, is gaining ground…). The moment Angela Merkel knows some Spaniards receive two gifts, our sovereign debt spread will surely skyrocket…

Here you can see some images from yerterday’s afternoon in La Coruña, in Galicia (northwest Spain). People flocked to the streets, taking kids to see the King’s parade, or looking for a last chance to buy a present. Looking for a vantage point over the King’s parade we climbed to the Fundación Abanca and found an exhibition about the works of Isaac Díaz Pardo, quite interesting and beyond what I already knew due to the Sargadelos china; a rewarding intellectual gift.

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An unexpected image of yours sincerely with bottles portraying a wedding

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What good do shops deliver (2) aesthetics

mercado

This is an image of a city square in a rural area of Spain, and it represents the “zero degree” of the urban retail: a street market. I’ve chosen this image, quite far from idyllic. Here we have the same urban role played by those breath-taking image of Italian markets  conveyed through cuisine tv shows, but there is no substantial contribution to the formal landscape; sure this is more than decent, but it is not elegant, as so many other things in life.

callelondres

This image corresponds to a street in London, on Mayfair, close to Oxford Street. It is a street without retail; everything is housing (or retail), even if the setback from the sidewalk changes the way in which the buildings relate to the street quite elegantly. The difference with a social housing estate is in the architecture and its dwellers, not in the way in which the building uses are organised; and in the fact that here Bond Street is just a stroll away, albeit it is not necessarily a place in which to get value on groceries…

And this third image is a street in central Mérida (Spain), a city of almost 60.000. it is not main street, but is urban landscape is marked by retail.

comercio mérida

And this third image is a street in central Mérida (Spain), a city of almost 60.000. it is not main street, but is urban landscape is marked by retail.

trassanesteban

This fourth image is a set of shops behind Stephen’s Cathedral, in Vienna. Elegant shops in a central setting in which the architecture of the building is far from bad…

You can have beautiful streets with or without retail, or they can be uninteresting on their own; you can have attractive or boring shops. But what commerce brings to citizens using the streets on a daily basis is a material expression of the evolution of the city. And to those coming from out of town retail means a clue on what sort of aesthetics mobilizes local buyers; the extent to which retail implies visual clutter is also noticed by visitors (it can be positive, but not that often). The lack of retail (including bars and restaurants) in a street has its landscape depend just on  building architecture, much more static.

Paris (21) Martin Luther King Park

The park as seen from the southeast; the limit is not a high fence, but a lower one with a deep gutter.

The park as seen from the southeast; the limit is not a high fence, but a lower one with a deep gutter.

Batignolles has been marked for over a century by the rail yards leading to the St Lazare Station, one of the main access gates to Paris from the west.

The park and the new neigborhood, according to a project by François Grether and Jacqueline Osty, must face common issues: the original rail tracks are sometimes at the same level as the streets. The choice is then between burying the lines (something that can prevent their use for long periods) or to suppress them (a complex issue as this is upstream from a main station to the south). The bulk of the trains and the electric lines has the buildings on the western part of the park raised on a platform 10 m over the park, which will be integrated into the landscape design. Under the slab rail uses will persist, while over it there will be housing and offices buildings. The park is also cut in two by a public transportation exclusive track, so the park level has a discontinuity, that the aforementioned platform solves…

The housing area around the park is a set of sustainable development technologies and icons, but as always the real sustainability will depend on the consumption habits of the citizens.

A new housing building located over a school

A new housing building located over a school

A new station for the rail line that will cross the park

A new station for the rail line that will cross the park

A part of the new ponds

A part of the new ponds

Clichybatignolles-plan

Paris (19) Les Halles

The Canopy

The Canopy

Some 35 years ago I visited Les Halles for the first time; I was a small kid, but I remember going out of a then brand new RER through a hole (set to later become the central court), and seeing on the background the church of Saint Eustache. The commercial centre is open in 1979, at the most central spot of the Paris public transportation system. Vasconi and Pencreac’h’s architecture has not aged well, and in 2004 the City of Paris held a competition to renovate the commercial centre and the associated underground city, which extends under the garden up to the Bourse du Commerce.

David Mangin’s project, winner of the competition held in 2004 to choose an urban planning scheme for the scope of what one were the Halles, or central market, has been critized; it is too early to evaluate its qualities, but it is no doubt a clear change. The images in this post portray a particular element of the planning scheme, the Canopée+Pôle Transport project, which concerns the architecture of the large glass structure over the main court of the present mall and  its connection to the underground station, and is being built according to the project by Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti Architectes. Works have three interest points: on one side, the glass canopy that will cover the “hole” to the underground. On the other side, the works while the commercial centre stays open “as usual” (not often well solved, but it is not an easy job). Finally, the large concentration of temporary structures for the different specialists working on the project, which seems at first sight a housing project. In some months the results will be seen; now you can already see the green spaces organized in a more informal way.

As a comparison element, maps at the same scale (overlay grid is 100 m) of Les Halles (previous configuration, with a sketchy red outline for the Canopy), and of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, that after the opening of the new Cercanías (a system like RER in Paris or BART in San Francisco) plays a similar urban role, albeit with a more traditional architecture.

The Canopy as seen through the sitework offices

The Canopy as seen through the sitework offices

Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Les Halles area, Paris

Les Halles area, Paris

Canopy and works

Canopy and works

A temporary corridor during works

A temporary corridor during works

Paris (20) Noisy Mont d’Est-RER

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Paris (as a municipality)  is a small footprint city when compared to other capitals. A central matter for the current French planning scene is how to ensure a coherent urban project with  an administrative fragmentation, in which Paris has 2,2 million residents and an additional 8 million residents live in hundreds of municipalities seldom over 50.000.

Public transportation is essential. Noisy- Mont d’Est is a RER (a kind of metropolitan rail network) station created during the 1980s to serve what was to be the center of one of the new towns whose inception can be traced back to the Gaullist 1960s. As a child I saw the station, the neighborhood and the lake being built… and over time I have seen what was to become a city core fail somehow, despite a strong public cash injection. In part the station contributed, as it had a clear functional project linking rail and bus, but an architecture that relied on scarcely lit underground spaces that contributed to a climate of insecurity (one of the factors fueling the “seismic” result of last Sunday European elections).

A renovation program has moved the station outside, limiting the underground spaces to the platforms themselves, leaving the buses on open air. I’m not sure to see the centrality of the area improve that much (despite the fact that employment exists), but many people can use the bus with a different feeling.

Centrality is in such places a more complex issue: those new towns have obtained over time a set of roles, including universities and corporate headquarters. But two factors have played against these projects up to date. On one side, a configuration in which, despite a presence of public transportation, car has remained central. On the other side, the asymmetry between a public power that is to make its strategies explicit through planning and a private sector not bound to this, which has, especially in the first years of the new towns, having no constraining laws, created big box retail in peripheral locations that prevented other retail operators from locating in planned centralities. And an urban core without a strong retail base is a complex thing to get…

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Paris (18) Place de la Republique

A view from TVK’s site

I had read that the Place de la Republique had been renovated ; I saw it from a taxi and was underwhelmed, as it seemed just a renovation of the ground surface. The reason for that first impression is that I had never gone there before. A square that was in fact a giant roundabout has had its traffic concentrated on its southwest part, giving continuity to the pedestrian traffics towards the northeast, changing many things.

The square is 280×120 m, one of the largest in Paris. The project is launched in 2008, and Trevelo & Viger-Kohler (TVK) win the architectural competition. Cars are moved and the square becomes a single platform including also a first section of the rue du Faubourg du temple. The statue of the Republic has been integrated on the pedestrian platform, which has been paved with large stone slabs. Some have complained about the removal of some urban art elements from the XIXth century, but overall the square seems to be work well as a public space (some kind of meadow could have been an idea…)

The project, completed in 2013, is available at http://www.placedelarepublique.paris.fr/

Modified square

Modified square

Initial square. Curbs layout. 100 m grid

Initial square. Curbs layout. 100 m grid

Paris (16) The Seine embankment

By the Musée d'Orsay

By the Musée d’Orsay

A playground

A playground

Between Concorde and Pont Alexandre III

Between Concorde and Pont Alexandre III

The Municipality of Paris has closed to traffic a part of the embankment on the Seine that had been used as a freeway during the second half of the XXth century. This can be ascribed to a drive to limit the use of the car that originates in European rules on air quality and a fight against traffic congestion that was shared by the two main options in the recent municipal election. The Parisian solution has been almost the opposite of what Madrid did facing what seemed an identical problem.

Madrid has chosen to bury the freeway under its former site, creating a new public space project on a much larger scope. Paris has not substituted the eliminated car space, and the asphalt has not been removed; it has become a platform for varying uses, as a tv set in some way. The cost is much lower, and the use more flexible. Doubts can rise on whether this is a more or less ambitious scheme, but it seems more sustainable.

A project as the one in Madrid would have been far too complex, among other reasons due to the cross section, which in Paris maintains the traditional embankment walls (essential in case of flood, a problem tackled in Madrid with a preexisting upstream reservoir), and on the higher level the conventional traffic goes on as usual.

There is also a historical dimension, on how the “urban prosthetics” end up reconfiguring the city. In Paris as well as in Madrid, these fluvial freeways appeared when the city was already present on both sides; but in Paris it was the historical core of the city around the corridor, while in Madrid the Manzanares shores were recent tissues of scarce urban quality, so the freeway was located with a rather savage approach. In Madrid the freeway was the street on which the entrance halls to the apartment buildings opened, and burying the freeway has given for sure a substantial reduction in noise; in Paris, cars still run over the higher parts of the embankments.

This is a matter of choice between closed (and expensive models) that try to deliver substantial transformation (and a compromise, trying to entice the car-loving voters…) and more flexible models that try to address a more complex problem, including historical heritage and flood risk, with chances for incremental change.

Conserving asphalt (as it has been done in the car-less embankment in Paris) doesn’t seem a bad solution. Sure, as the 1968 revolutionaries said, the beach is under the paving stones, but on asphalt things can actually happen.

Shapes and outlines (3) Hills

Mont St Michel, France. Image from Wikipedia

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Mont St Michel, France. OSM map

The shape of things can be the result of many factors. But usually the European middle ages cities were roughly circular in shape as this allowed a good protected area- wall length ratio. As there certainly existed good reasons to look for shelter, cities usually were placed on higher ground when compared to the surroundings, and often right on top of a hill. Mont St Michel is the clearest example (although by size it is not a city), but there are others, as Betanzos in Spain, where just 30 m (some 90 ft) of level difference already shows the issue. In these cases, the city plan shows relations between built volumes, but far from what the real urban space can provide. To begin with, side walls become visible as buildings along the street line are on different levels, but the ground level must also adapt.

Betanzos, as seen on the city website http://www.betanzos.net

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