Posts Tagged "Urban Planning"

Houston Strong, A New Detroit, and the Future of Bayou City’s Urban Planning.

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In late 1950’s, with the decline of the American automobile giants, began the economic and population decline of Detroit. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, forty-eight percent of the manufacturing jobs in the state of Michigan were lost. For reference, in 1950, there were about 296,000 manufacturing jobs in Detroit. Today, there are less than 27,000 manufacturing jobs. In 1950, the city of Detroit was counted as a population of 1.8 million making it the 5th largest city in America. Today, almost 70 years later, there are 700,000 residents.

Detroit was the first modern major American city to experience such a massive exodus out of the city. As people left, property values fell apart and the city became broke. All over the inner city, properties were abandoned and fell into neglected decay; the dense urban areas became a wasteland of dangerous crumbling infrastructure. In its wake, as these structures were demolished, a city with vast plots of uninhabited space was left.

All this may sound tragic, but on the other side of the coin was an opportunity – an opportunity for a large major American metropolis to reinvent itself from the industrial era urban design of American cities into a new post modern evolution. An opportunity for a city to learn from all of the mistakes of the last centuries and implement all the environmental, technological, and sociological understandings we have today on a redesigned American city.

As we are beginning to see with the resurgence of the Detroit economy, the city is using the opportunity to embrace sustainability and environmentalism in its movement towards a better future. From cars to bicycles and public transportation, from imported agriculture to vast communal urban farms, from infinite planes of impermeable concrete to a network of green spaces – the infrastructure revolution continues.

I mention all this today, because in the wake of the most catastrophic flooding in American history, Houston now has an opportunity. Anyone can see that a city that floods every single year from non tropical storms was not going to make it through a category 4 hurricane unscathed. For decades in the field, we have known and discussed the recklessness of building in the flood plains, in any city, and the macro effects of covering a virtually pancake flat city, that covers a whopping 627 square miles, in 40%  impervious surface. Houston was once prairie lands with large plots of open space which slowed and absorbed storm water runoffs. That is the profile of the city for which the city’s archaic bayou drainage infrastructure was actually prepared for. Not what it has become.

The choices of the past are what they are. Now is the time to reevaluate what needs to be done or this will happen again.  We have vast plots of urban land that have been simultaneously destroyed and will likely be rebuilt, but the truth is that majorities of them should not be. That is not to say Harvey, a one in 500 years storm should be the indicator, but rather use the last 10+ years of regular flooding to indicate the unsustainable developments. Areas that have been flooding every other year should not be rebuilt and should become public green space – an environmentally healing, psychologically beneficial, and economically stimulating public good. There needs to be an understanding that this will get worse before it gets better because it will take years to update the drainage infrastructure needed to get Houston through the next storms.

Houston, throughout the storm, brought pride to people across the world as they watched acts of heroism and humanity. Today, Houston can make the choice to be the pride of the nation with a city that uses a disaster to reinvent itself into a new sustainable city. The opportunity to learn from our fellow Michiganders is there, it’s our choice to take it.

DATE: Sep 4, 2017
AUTHOR: tbaumdesign
Comments: 2

Central Europe Study – Sustainable Communities, Recycling, & Reclamation

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Post World Wars Central Europe might not have a lot a lot of positives you can say were taken away from the devastation of war. However, when everything is bombed to rubble you certainly have a clean slate to start over from when it comes to design. Many cities like Frankfurt, Bonn, and Berlin that suffered the highest amount of city destruction took the opportunity to rise from the literal ashes with a new era of urban design and architecture.

               In Frankfurt, for instance, over 50% of the infrastructure was destroyed by 1945. Today, 52 percent of the city area is green space, consisting of parks, woodland, farmland, orchard meadows, grassland, allotments and hobby gardens, cemeteries, roadside grass verges and bodies of water. And as of 2019, Frankfurt has been ranked the most sustainable in the world.

               Sustainable communities can arise naturally over time as well, through the reclamation and re-purposing of infrastructure. When a large industrial site or landfill, that used to be on the outskirts of town, finds itself decommissioned and eventually absorbed into the growing city, it can present a multitude of challenges (i.e. contaminated soils, eye sores, wasted space, etc). Europe’s ancient cities can serve as great examples of how to cope and even benefit from these challenges.

               For industrial sites, Landschaftspark in Duisburg, Germany is a patent example of how a derelict site can be reclaimed without disturbing the polluted soils through deconstruction and wasting materials and energy in mass deconstruction. Through this they achieve the addition benefit of preserving a bit of history. Landschaftspark was transformed from a disused old industrial ironworks into facilities with multiple uses into a one of a kind park space. The huge buildings of the former ironworks have been modified to provide patrons with a multitude of new functions such as alpine climbing gardens created in ore storage bunkers and a viewing tower made from a decommissioned blast furnace.  Landschaftspark represents how an area can celebrate its industrial past by integrating vegetation and industry, promoting sustainable development and maintaining the spirit of the site without morning it as an eyesore.

Metabolon in Bickenbach, Germany serves as an interesting example of landfill reuse. Metabolon is a multi-purpose site built upon a decommissioned landfill. The site today takes advantage of the artificial topography to serve as serves as a lookout point, bike track, public park, playground, and research center and more. Converting waste to energy is the most significant goal in the research center. What was a disaster for the town has become an attraction and public benefit.

The benefits of recycling and reclaiming are shared among citizens, tourists, developers, customers, and the environment alike. Firstly, an industrial reclamation project produces ecological benefits to the environment and its inhabitants through the growth of plant materials that harbor ecology that break down pollutants in the soils and filter water runoff. Secondly, by transforming dilapidated space into functional and aesthetic pieces, a city brings economic revitalization to the surrounding area. And thirdly, when site is transformed into a useful and attractive space the area becomes more attractive to potential businesses and tourists.

This mindset of design applies to projects large and small. When we think about renovating our residential spaces we have two options. Tear everything out and start anew, or integrate and recycle. Many people in the industry will take the easy road- remove it all and put in new. I urge more of you to consider the value in preserving and recycling the old. Keep more structures out of the landfill. Integrate those priceless 30 year old shrubs into the plans if you can with a nice pruning. Reuse materials where you can. New is not always better, it’s just cleaner for a few years.

DATE: Mar 28, 2016
AUTHOR: tbaumdesign