On awards (4) Chile National Urbanism Award

borde costero chile

In 1971 the Housing and Urbanism Ministry of Chile established the National Urbanism Award; since 1996 the Colegio de Arquitectos (the professional board of Chilean architects) is also part of the organisation. The Award must recognize architects and other professionals that have shown excellence, creativity and substantial contributions to improve the quality of life in the cities of the country.

Up until now it has not followed a regular schedule, with six awards since 1971. The winner in 2014 has been Sergio Baeriswyl Rada, an architect who has worked in the Bio Bio region. A public servant at the city of Conception (224.000 residents) since 1994, he has directed its Plan Regulador, which was innovative in using a public participation strategy and a corridor structure. He has been recently involved in the regeneration of the Bio Bio seashore after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami.

Beyond the personal award, that I assume is justified, I will focus on the plans. I have never visited Chile, so what I say comes from an analysis of secondary sources. The Plan Regulador de Concepción defines (according to its bylaws as published in the municipal website, including amendments up to September 2009) areas which are subject to natural and anthropic risks; on these areas any project shall be preceded by a risk assessment, but there is no outright ban on building. This may seem strange to a layman, but it happens in many countries, as sometimes the safe areas are not in a convenient place; just think of Paris, when there are relevant underground quarries that are no longer exploited but create risk situations, or most of England, where floods are common on urban areas. In spite of that, in Europe there is an evolution towards a total ban on building on risk areas whenever feasible, as for instance this is impossible in most of the Netherlands.

The plans for the coastal populations, prepared after the tsunami, define areas in which homes and public facilities are forbidden, and it seems a good measure.

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 http://nederland.risicokaart.nl/risicokaart.html, 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.

Maps (1) Sandy storm

Please consult the original map on http://project.wnyc.org/si-elevation/embed.html?layer=0#14.00/40.5753/-74.0892

Please consult the original map on http://project.wnyc.org/si-elevation/embed.html?layer=0#14.00/40.5753/-74.0892 and read the full story there

A good example of an elegant and simple map whose reality everyone wishes could have been avoided: deaths in low lying “bowls” due to the Sandy Storm in Staten Island, New York City. A simple map, with the level contours and the dots (see the link) where these people died, with their names.

Water (3) The Delta Plan

809_fullimage_deltawerken zeeland.jpg_560x350In 1953 the Netherlands were subject to terrible floods. As a country located on the Rihne delta, with a large portion of its land under the sea level, the risk of flood is always high, but at that time a sizeable storm over the Northern Sea, touching also Britain, Belgium and Germany, made the sea level rise over 4 meters as related to its usual level. As this happened by night, many people were caught while sleeping, and there were over 1.800 deaths.

A coastal protection plan was implemented, creating one of the most abstract and impressing contemporary landscapes, with a figure as target: 4.000 years, the period in which, as a statistical average, there would be a flood large enough to overcome that barrier with the same effects as the 1953 flood (in Spain, for instance, a lot is deemed subject to flood risk if that time is 500 years). The giant cost of the works and their maintenance has been compensated, at least partially, by a Dutch- specific know-how that is exported. I have visited the Netherlands, but never this area; the upper image (taken from http://www.holland.com) shows an entireley abstract and artificial landscape, in which every element has a logic.

The original calculations for the Delta Plan have been altered by the climate change forecasts and the knowledge derived from the 2005 Katrina disaster in New Orleans. The Netherlands are reexamining their flood protection policy, wich is the same as saying they have to rethink half their country.