France

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 (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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Shapes and outlines (3) Hills

Mont St Michel, France. Image from Wikipedia

mont st michel

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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Industrial traditions (4) Brownfields

Brownfield location in metropolitan Lille

Brownfield location in metropolitan Lille

Metropolitan Lille concentrates one of the largest sets of brownfields of the whole France. This means as much an urban problem due to the jobs and active urban uses loss in a context in which some areas are like a “sprawl by disappearance”, as an environmental one, due to industrial pollutants in the soil after years of industrial production.
In june 2010 Lille Metropole published a report on these brownfields and their pollution situation. Every aspect is analysed, from the spatial distribution of this problem to the national policies or the foreign experiences (with special interest in Flemish and USA cases), with a proposal of guidelines to tackle the issue from the urban planning scene. It is an interesting publication on a matter concerning more cities than usually expected.

Re-mid-sized cities (3) World fairs

marseille 2013

New Orleans organised in 1984 its Louisiana World Exposition, Seville its World Exposition in 1992, and Marseilles has used its 2013 declaration as European Cultural Capital (in a joint declaration that also included Kosice, in Slovakia) to promote its urban regeneration projects.

Large international events (world fairs, Olympic games, or cultural capitals) are coming under scrutiny not just for their cost or their financial balance, but also taking into account their legacy. Legacy encompasses the investments that are made for a short period of time that can later find a use adapted to the real permanent needs of the citizens. Expect such debates to raise by summer this year as the Brazil World Cup becomes the season’s issue. From this point of view, the large events balance is varied, often just because socio-economic dynamics in these cities cannot absorb some uses.

1984 Exposition in New Orelans did not attain a financial balance. Its legacy includes the rehabilitation of the harbour front and some port buildings.

Expo 92 in Seville did not either get to an economic balanced result. A relevant surface of gardens was built, which created a problem of maintenance costs for the city, and a high speed train station was built to operate just for a few months. The urban conversion of the site and the theme parc that was created have only found a limited successs. But the large hydraulic works on the Guadalquivir river are still there.

Marseille’s project includes a relevant transformation of the seafront, with relevant projects as the European and Mediterranean Civilisations Museum of Norman Foster’s works on the Old Port. It is still to early to judge the results.

Re-mid-sized cities (2) Ancient maps

New Orleans in 1718 as a project. A rather naive one, as the relative scale of things is quite unaccurate (the relation between the river and the Pontchartrain lake is an example).

New Orleans in 1718 as a project. A rather naive one, as the relative scale of things is quite unaccurate (the relation between the river and the Pontchartrain lake is an example).

New Orleans in 1744. Things have become more real (lots, buildings), the size of things is also more accurate

New Orleans in 1744. Things have become more real (lots, buildings), the size of things is also more accurate

Havana in 1743. A city turned towards its bay, as the coast to the open sea is more complex to defend against raiders.

Havana in 1743. A city turned towards its bay, as the coast to the open sea is more complex to defend against raiders.

Marseilles in 1743, a city still mainly concentrated north of the Vieux Port

Marseilles in 1743, a city still mainly concentrated north of the Vieux Port

In 1836 Marseilles has substantially expanded, in less than a century

In 1836 Marseilles has substantially expanded, in less than a century

Seville in 1590. A large city, which controlled a substantial part of the American trade

Seville in 1590. A large city, which controlled a substantial part of the American trade

Seville in 1771. A more complex city, but not a much bigger one.

Seville in 1771. A more complex city, but not a much bigger one.

Re-mid-sized cities (1) A sample

A mid-sized city can be such as a result of growth until reaching that status, or it can be the result of a certain downgrading from higher ranks. I am fully aware that some of the things I’m going to say could be unpleasant, but this is a long-term vision, and history is made every day, so nothing is unavoidable.

I’ve chosen four cities that, as in the first case, are seaports, but with quite different roles. They have been high places in the European colonial adventure (that could receive other names in different places). Seville as the main port in the first times of the Spanish empire, Marseilles as the French gate to the African and Asian empires, New Orleans as the gate to the Mississippi Valley, and Havana as the capital of the last jewel of the Spanish empire. These are by no means small cites, and they are rather relevant in their states, as to make many think that I’m not fair saying they are mid-sized cities; but they are no longer cities with a continental reach. They have sure gained population, but have lost rank.

Yet they are very interesting places. How does a city evolve when the technological- economical-social (you name the issue) wave that propelled it to its highest position disappears? The rise of these cities is linked to their network of relations in colonial worlds, and their evolution is related to the fact that new models appear that are more successful. There is a scent of Detroit here…

Far away ports (6) Regional planning- Brest

Ports matter as exchange points between exterior ports and the served inland areas. How is this organised in terms of metro area relations in terms of spatial planning?

Portada SCOT

Brest has a regional planning document (SCOT) encompassing the western tip of Brittany and 14 intermunicipal cooperation schemes. The SCOT is relevant for some land use operations over 5 hectares (some 12 acres) and big box retail proposals. Its maps must be adapted by local planning to a larger detail scale. The urban system is organized in urban agglomerations (large population settlements in all the coastal municipalities+ 3 secondary settlements + areas so defined in local plans), villages (over 40 dwellings) and hamlets. Infill growth is priorized (and the only option in hamlets), and higher level settlements can also have continuity growth (no leapfrog growth permitted).

Brest's regional development scheme basic layout: a special relevance is given to the conservation of the coastal band and to the  survival of the traditional farmland. urban growth must follow a set of rules, being directed towards a linear expansion of the main city along the northern shore of the bay

Brest’s regional development scheme basic layout: a special relevance is given to the conservation of the coastal band and to the survival of the traditional farmland. Urban growth must follow a set of rules, being directed towards a linear expansion of the main city along the northern shore of the bay

Transportation is also a relevant issue for Brest's SCOT.

Transportation is also a relevant issue for Brest’s SCOT.

Far away ports (5) Transit maps

Ports have a central meaning as nodes in a network of maritime transportation; a ship captain can only get to the right harbour if provided a good navigation chart. So it is interesting to see how the residents of these port cities are told how to go from one place to another by public transit (mainly bus in cities this size).

This somehow brings to the mind the work of Kevin Lynch on the image of the city, as well as how citizens perceive it. Sure, architects like global maps in which the whole network can be seen, but these are not always easy to understand for lay people, and besides their design is not always clear.

La Coruña has a lines map quite complex. It is a peninsula with a narrow isthmus which causes a heavy density of lines in certain areas, so it is not that easy for some to understand how to go from A to B. Bus stops have a simplified version of that network; some people complain that the map is hard to read in dense zones. The transit company’s website shows simply a list of stops along each line, and a link to google for maps showing which streets the bus takes.

Líneas transporte urbano puerto montt (www.loslagos.transporteinforma.cl)

I have found no clear, structured website about urban transit in Puerto Montt, but rather (and it seems quite usual in Chile) a central Government site that explains, by province, the transit networks by classes, including the municipal scale.

parte bus

Brest has the most sophisticated public transit system of these four cities, with supra-municipal scale and a tram line. There is a real network map, quite clear, which reproduces the map of the territory without deformations; besides, line maps are also based on the geographical map. There is also an interactive map.

DTA Routes

Even if this may come as a surprise to many given its quite peripheral location in the US and its sprawl, Duluth also has a public transit system. There is a map of the whole network, and the line maps are, as many similar things in the US (just think of the zoning map in NYC) utterly simple, but efficient. The street grid is reproduced under the line layout without deformations, for each line.

Overall, despite the role of the ports in the economies of these cities, transit networks show overall that there is a more complex reality (being otherwise clear that this minute analysis is just considering line layouts, excluding such things as schedules or fares).

Far away ports (4) Histories. Towers, submarines, beavers, salmons…

La Coruña port existed in roman times. The Hercules Tower, a roman lighthouse which is thought to have been built during the first century AC, shows the relevance of the area during that time. The relevant port of the region was present Betanzos (Brigantium), as its ria was less silted and ships were smaller. During the Middle Ages the city becomes more relevant, and the opening of the American trade after the end of the monopoly of Seville and Cadix helps. Around the mid XXth century the port occupies most of the southern bay, protected by the peninsula; this is the last vision of Spain for thousands of Galicians migrating to America. During the 1960’s a large jetty is built to enlarge he port, and a new oil refining plant gives relevance to liquid bulks. This also leads to several tanker accidents that pollute the air and the ocean. The transition to democracy with the death of Franco brings regional devolution and the loss of the regional capital to Santiago, with the transfer of many public jobs. During the last decade a new port has been built, west of the historic bay, in part to reduce risks (oil wharfs are linked to the refining plant by a pipeline near homes), but the location is clearly into the metro area. The presence in that metro area of the headquarters of Inditex, the textile group owning Zara, helps to a certain degree to weather the current economic crisis.

Brest

Brest is first mentioned in history as a roman encampment at the end of the IIIrd century AC. The estuary of the river Penfeld made for a good natural harbour for the ships of the age. In 1593 Henri IV incorporates Brest as city, and in 1631 Richelieu establishes an arsenal on the Penfeld’s banks. The city plays a relevant role for the fleets helping the United States in their Independence War. The XIXth century starts under the British naval blockade, hurting the port; this changes under the second empire, with a wider sea trade, new rail lines and bridges over the Penfeld. Urban growth goes crosses the historic walls. Bigger ships make the need for a larger port, out of the Penfeld estuary, and new warfes are open on the large bay. During WW2 the port becomes a German Naval base and is bombed by the allies, which destroy a large portion of the city, later rebuilt. The creation of the Oceanic Strategic Force in 1972 leads to the creation of the new nuclear submarines base on Ile Longue, south of the bay. The reduction in military budgets hurts the city.

Duluth

Duluth receives its name from the first European explorer of the area, a XVIIth century French soldier which was called “Sieur du Luth”. The first known residents were the Anishinaabe tribe, which played a mediating role between the French and other Indian nations. Fur trade (especially beaver) was a relevant part of that early trade. In the mid XIXth century cooper mines, new locks allowing the arrival of large ships to lake Superior and plans for new rail linking the city to the Pacific (creating so a inter-ocean port) helped fuel the inception of the city. The port and the city grew exporting ore (mainly iron) and cereals. The crisis of the traditional heavy industry at the end of the XXth century has touched the city, but it is to a certain degree compensated by tourism and services to the metro area.

Puerto Montt in 1861.

Puerto Montt had some population prior to the arrival of the Spanish (southern Chile was never really incorporated to the Empire). Around the mid XIXth century German colonists started arriving to the area, and the city is incorporated in 1853. The rail line to Osorno starts operation in 1912. During the 1930 there is a substantial transformation of the waterfront, with new embankments, rail lines, a wharf and the dredging of the Tenglo channel. The city becomes in 1974 the capital of the Xth region (Los Lagos). Since 1985 the salmon production becomes important (and the plague problems for the species test the local economy), with other more traditional activities as agriculture, cattle or wood being also relevant. Tourism has become a relevant asset too.