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A shopping mall becomes a city

Lisa Selin Davis, Grist
The poor shopping mall. That once impenetrable fortress now seems as susceptible to the ailing economy as the rest of us. Vacancies are at an all-time high. Dead and dying malls continue to plague the landscape. And, perhaps worst of all, the mall has transformed from an icon of American life—see Fast Times at Ridgemont High—to a scourge, a symbol of the poor judgment of developers and the government policies that supported them. The mall, at this point, is not only unsustainable, it’s downright unfashionable, and not just for urban planning aficionados; regular old mall-loving Americans are abandoning it, too.

Luckily, mallternatives are popping up across the land, demonstrating new futures for these old fixtures. Some dinosaur shopping centers are being de-malled, a polite term for razing and rebuilding. Some, like Bridgewater Commons in central New Jersey, are cutting hours to save dough. Others are lowering rents to allow locally owned businesses to set up shop inside, dispensing with the chain-store-only exclusivity that once characterized them.

And in at least one case, a mall is in the process of morphing into a new being: a city.
(15 April 2009)

Urban sprawl is killing us, but there’s another way

Frank Reale, The Age (Australia)
AS THE days grow cooler, many of us are breathing a sigh of relief that the past summer has finally come to an end. As well as the unprecedented and tragic bushfire season, severe summer conditions induced a string of urban disasters that, due to poor planning, were waiting to happen: public transport failures, traffic nightmares and water shortages.

In response, the State Government is proposing quick fixes that involve new roads, longer freeways, rail tunnels and a desalination plant, solutions that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Yet in the face of unbounded urban sprawl, such answers are short-term and ultimately unsustainable…

About half of Australia’s population is contained in five state capitals. The result is an over-urbanisation that is inefficient and requires the building of ever-expanding infrastructure, including transport, sewerage, water and energy supply, telecommunications and waste disposal.

Smaller planned cities make more sense. Ideas that might generally be considered too difficult suddenly, in the context of a smaller urban centre, become feasible: storm water harvesting for household and industrial use, water recycling, conversion of sewage and garbage into fuel, and greenhouse market gardens and aquaculture using low-grade waste heat. Smaller cities are efficient. Roads, sewers, water supply pipes, electricity lines and telecommunication links can be shorter and economical. Energy that would otherwise go to waste can be used by homes and industry.
(17 April 2009)

20-Minute Neighborhoods

Andy Lubershane, WorldChanging
Graphic Series: Earthly Ideas

This week’s cartoon describes 20-Minute Neighborhoods. This term for walkable communities, which has often been used by urban planners, gained a lot of attention in Oregon last summer as city officials discussed the next version of the Portland Plan. We think it’s great to see city planners actively pursuing this connected, mixed-use model of development, which enables and encourages residents to walk or bike rather than drive.

Living near basic amenities like grocery stores not only makes everyday errands much easier; it can also make you healthier. Read more about real 20-minute neighborhoods in 20 Minute City, our newest series on Worldchanging Seattle!
(15 April 2009)

Ecocities Emerging newsletter

Kirstin Miller (editor), Ecocity Builders
Articles include:
Cycling in Hanoi: Can the Past Become the Future?
Israel on Tel Aviv’s 100th Anniversary
Can EcoCities 09 Really Change the World?
Wenchuan as Eco-City
Car-Free Journey
Ecocity design archive
(April 2009)

Shelter- Future Proofing Our Homes and Buildings

Andy Wilson, Zone 6
This is the introduction to week seven of the Powerdown Toolkit 10-week community learning course created by the Cultivate Center in Dublin. It has an accompanying TV show with a 30-minute episode accompanying each week of the course, soon to be aired on Dublin Community TV.

Energy and the Household

Recent increases in energy costs have spawned a huge increase in interest in “sustainable” housing with considerable improvements in some aspects of house design and construction. With a plethora of new building products and systems emerging from the industry on one hand and a burgeoning interest in natural building materials such as cob and strawbale, housing has been one of the most intensely scrutinised areas in terms of energy conservation and use. The industrial revolution that downgraded the household to the edge of economic life; the time has come now for it to reclaim its place. David Holmgren has described how this might occur for many over the first years of energy descent in his paper Retrofitting the Suburbs.

In the future, the great challenge will be to retrofit the existing housing stock to be more energy efficient. New builds will decline to a fraction of what they have been during the years and decades of industrial growth.

House Design

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander {1977} is a design manual for convivial housing and town planning, compiling over 240 “patterns” or design solutions many of which will both help conserve energy and build community.

“Each pattern”, says Alexander “describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way as you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.”

Here are a few examples of patterns in house design and function that may prove useful in the low-energy future:

1. Living space: The house needs to be a place where families – or the extended household – lives, talks and eats together, on a regular basis.
(16 April 2009)