One of the usual ways to express the complexity of the urban shape is to analyze the figure-ground relations, mainly for the built-up volumes. A substantial part of the urbanism- architecture literature uses such analysis: is there a sense in coming back to such visions? This can be tried in next posts.
Parking Day 2013, with a different approach
Parking Day 2013 has just been held around the world. Chances are you probably never heard about it: people occupy for some time during the day what usually is a parking space, turning it into a public, green space of some sort. There have been several variations, the simplest one beeing that you insert a coin i a parkmeter and simply use what is suposed to be a space for a car to, instead, park some green elements, or even just a green rug, just to make people think about how much of the urban space is devoted to cars.
Among other blogs, I do follow africanurbanism.net, a site in which Victoria Okoye gives a vision of what urbanism is in Accra (Ghana), a very different context to the one in which I live; or rather, in a very different context to the one that the place in which I live is experiencing nowadays, as many of the things she writes about seem quite connected to what any european country probably experienced during the transition from rural to urban societies. In a certain way, she forces us readers to think about what urbanism really is, as connected to solving the needs of citizens.
So, they had this project in a Car Park in Accra, which was conceived before thinking of Parking Day. Sure, it is an ephemeral thing, but it involved a lot of planning: convincing the site owner, bringing all the tyres and the rest of the elements, integrating some community participation… Has this meant something for the residents? I think that only time can tell, but trying is already much more than what many do. So congratulations, Victoria and your bunch of people!
The Gran Vía in Madrid
The Gran Vía is to central Madrid, since its inception in 1910, what the boulevards were for Haussmann’s Paris: a large cut through its old urban tissue. But here it is an isolated case. With an irregular plan, it is the moment in which a Spain that had lost the 1898 war against the United States tries to rebuild its image taking America as a reference.
An icon of modernity in the post-war years, since the 1980s it entered in a decay dynamic, which began to be reversed since the late 1990s, in parallel to a sizeable work on the public space. The closure to motor traffic of the Plaza de Callao and the calle Montera allowed an increase of pedestrian spaces, reinforcing the strongest retail area in the city.
Architectural plug-ins or makeshift aditions
In western world cities buildings are usually designed according to bylaws that set, among others, aesthetical guidelines. We are (at least out of the historical precints) far from permit denials due to a bad integration in the area or outright uglyness (Adolf Loos would no more be “declared artist” by an administrative act…), but it is common to se that ocupying balconies, installing air conditioning fixtures on façades and other acts are forbiden.
But all norms are as strong as the enforcement measures that are associated, and it is clear that often there is no such enforcement. This produces a somehow caothic image of the cities in which we live. And we could use a little more pedagogy on why bylaws establish such rules, so that, incidentally, we could also get to think again on what is asked for…