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Housing & urban design - Oct 29

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Odense: Masterplan for sustainable mobility

sustainable cities
With a unique approach Odense Municipality has submitted a masterplan for sustainable transport solutions that are intended to lead the way towards the goal of CO2-neutrality in 2025. It is a comprehensive strategy that at once aims to reduce car traffic in the inner city and increase individual mobility through improved conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation. Odense already occupies a prominent position among the world's cycling cities, and the new master plan can be seen as an effort to consolidate this position.
(Oct 2009)


Empty homes: Properties with potential

Graham Norwood, The Independent
With first-time buyers struggling to get onto the bottom rung of the property ladder, 1.7m people waiting for social housing and a government planning to build three million new homes by 2020, you could be forgiven for thinking the average British street, close or avenue was full to bursting. It will no doubt surprise you then to learn then that, despite a housing crisis, over one in 20 homes lie empty. And that this month, for the first time ever, the number of residential properties that have been empty for six months or longer has exceeded one million.

“About 50 per cent are empty for transient reasons, such as the owner dying or having financial difficulties. However the other half are empty due to long-term failures such as abandoned regeneration schemes which leave compulsorily-purchased homes boarded up, blighting entire areas,” says David Ireland, head of the Empty Homes Agency.

“Most empty houses are privately owned. But the empty public sector homes tend to be concentrated and more obvious,” he adds.

The Empty Homes Agency is an independent charitable group campaigning for properties to be bought back into use. It has used data from councils, land registries and other charities to produce the one million total projection...
(21 Oct 2009)


Metropolitan Glory

Tunku Varadarajan, Wall Street Journal
John Julius Norwich is an earnest and somewhat stiff-backed editor. So it's not entirely surprising that he reveals in his introduction that he is "braced for objections" over his selections for "The Great Cities in History," a collection of essays and images. He anticipates that readers will ask, for instance, why Timbuktu is included and not Toronto, why Meroe (an ancient Nubian city) is included and not Melbourne. It's a dull question, and Norwich answers it dully, by pointing to the "in history" part of the book's title. The better answer would have been that there's not a shred of romance in Toronto and Melbourne.

In any case, Norwich need not worry about objections, for there will be few. His choices are almost entirely uncontroversial, and his is a careful historian's vision of man's metropolitan history. There are 68 cities here included (if we count ancient Constantinople and modern Istanbul as separate cities). Each is accorded a short chapter, written by contributors whose number includes Simon Schama (on Amsterdam and Washington), A.N. Wilson (on London) and Jan Morris (on New York). The cities under discussion range from the primordial Uruk to modern monsters like Sao Paulo, taking in, along the way, a host of conurbations from the ancient, the medieval and the early modern periods.

Dam Square in Amsterdam, painted by Jacob van der Ulft in 1659.
The world has, for much of its history, been a place of fragments. During the Middle Ages, many cities were so far-flung as to be virtually unknown to each other. Cairo, Palermo, Benin, Angkor and the Incan capital of Cuzco were "great" but only in isolation. And greatness, often, was a product of the imagination. Timbuktu's aura, we learn, was built partially on a mythical reputation spread by word of mouth. During the 14th century, its ruler, Mansa Musa, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he generously dispensed gold to the faithful. Thereafter writers and diplomats traveled to the supposed source of this largess, only to be disappointed...
(24 Oct 2009)
More about the book here.


Greenest Place in the U.S.? It’s Not Where You Think

David Owen, environment yale 360
In 2007, Forbes picked Vermont as the greenest state, a choice consistent with conventional thinking about low-impact living. Vermont has an abundance of trees, farms, backyard compost heaps, and environmentally aware citizens, and it has no crowded expressways or big, dirty cities. (The population of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, is just under 40,000.) Vermont also ranks high in almost all the categories on which Forbes based its analysis, such as the proportion of buildings certified by the U. S. Green Building Council’s increasingly popular eco-rating system, which is called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and the implementation of public policies that encourage energy efficiency.

But Forbes’s ranking was unfortunate, because Vermont, in many important ways, sets a poor environmental example. Spreading people thinly across the countryside, Vermont-style, may make them look and feel green, but it actually increases the damage they do to the environment while also making that damage harder to see and to address. In the categories that matter the most, Vermont ranks low in comparison with many other American places. It has no truly significant public transit system (other than its school bus routes), and, because its population is so dispersed, it is one of the most heavily automobile-dependent states in the country. A typical Vermonter consumes 545 gallons of gasoline per year — almost a hundred gallons more than the national average.

Is there a better U.S. environmental role model than Vermont? There are many — and the best of them, I believe, is New York City.

This choice may seem ludicrous to most Americans, including most New Yorkers, because for decades we have been taught to think of crowded cities as one of the principal sources of our worst environmental problems. In the most significant ways, though, New York is a paragon of ecologicalThe key to New York’s relative environmental benignity is the very thing that makes it appear to be an ecological nightmare: its extreme compactness. responsibility. The average city resident consumes only about a quarter as much gasoline as the average Vermonter — and the average Manhattan resident consumes even less, just 90 gallons a year, a rate that the rest of the country hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s. New Yorkers also consume far less electricity — about 4,700 kilowatt hours per household per year, compared with roughly 7,100 kilowatt hours in Vermont and more than 11,000 kilowatt hours in the United States as a whole. New York City is more populous than all but 11 states; if it were granted statehood, it would rank 51st in per-capita energy use.

The key to New York City’s relative environmental benignity is the very thing that, to most Americans, makes it appear to be an ecological nightmare: its extreme compactness. Moving people and their daily destinations close together reduces their need for automobiles, makes efficient public transit possible, and restores walking as a viable form of transportation. (Dense urban cores are among the few places left in America where people still routinely go around on foot; in the suburbs, you seldom see anyone walking who is actually traveling to a destination rather than merely moving between a building and a vehicle or trying to lose weight.)...
(26 Oct Sept 2009)

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