AIR POLLUTION: CHINESE vs. U.S. CITIES
While China’s environmental crisis is widely recognized, its dangerous severity is hard for many of us to fathom. As James Fallows writes in a recent post on The Atlantic Cities: “No one now alive has experienced anything similar in North America or Europe, except in the middle of a forest fire or a volcanic eruption.”
The chart above, from The Washington Post, compares the 10 most-polluted Chinese cities with the corresponding 10 worst in America, based on relative concentration of PM2.5 particles. These very fine microscopic particles — about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair — come primarily from burning fossil fuels. Such particles are extremely damaging to human health because they can enter lung and blood tissue, thus leading to asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
U.S. readings on this chart reflect the challenges of living in the Central Valley of California, where six of the seven most-polluted cities are located. (And the other is Los Angeles.) But the difference in magnitude of Chinese pollution is sobering. Even the worst American cities would be in the top-most excellent bracket in China.
Even more alarming, air pollution may be the country’s most visible problem, but it is not really the most serious of China’s environmental challenges. Water pollution and water shortage are even more problematic for the country’s environmental health and sustainability.
AMAZONIA: Deforestation, drought, and burning worsen damage to Amazon forests
The volatile combination of deforestation, drought, and burning now increase the Amazon’s vulnerability to climate change. Scientists fear that the region may to approaching a dangerous “tipping point” that could cause rapid, large-scale destruction during dry years, according to a new study.
The eight-year study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the largest, longest-running experiment investigating the effects of fire on tropical forests. It is also the first to show how fire and drought could lead to significant forest die-back in the Amazon.
Large areas of tropical forest, particularly in the southeastern Amazon, are being logged and cleared for crops. Such practices thin the forest canopy, promote growth of invasive, quick-burning grasses and cause warmer air to move in from cleared lands, drying the forest floor during times of little rain, according to the study.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE CITY: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
Walking through any city, one finds an endless array of technologies from various eras. On April 16, 2014, I explored the streets of Poughkeepsie NY, taking photos of past, present, and future technologies. Here is a sampling of six photos, two from each era. Clockwise from the top left:
- Fall Kill Creek, long the source of water power for the industries of Poughkeepsie, gradually fell out of use in the 20th century, as new energy sources allowed industries to move to new locations.
- This ”New York Coin Telephone” pay phone now looks quaintly obsolete, since cell phones are so widespread.
- A chained bicycle illustrates an old but now increasingly popular form of self-propelled transportation.
- Satellite dishes receive digital technologies for internet, entertainment, and more on Main Street Poughkeepsie.
- A historical marker on the Fall Kill Creek explains future plans for adaptive reuse of the adjacent Underwear Factory site.
- Future Technology: Featuring a stylish cyber-man, this colorful mural on Main Street proclaims that “Style is the Message.” The future will certainly involve “style,” however we define it…
BRASILIA: Inaugurated in 1960 as Brazil’s new capital, Brasília quickly became a modernist icon. Lúcio Costa’s panoramic land-use plan for the central “Pilot Plan” and Oscar Niemeyer’s spectacular modern architecture made the new capital highly imageable, although problems of urban sprawl in surrounding “satellite cities” made for noticeable problems as well. UNESCO’s World Heritage program listed Brasília in 1987, less than three decades after the capital’s inauguration!
BIG PROJECTS IN BRAZIL: Ambitious plans for urban and regional development, now stalled, over-budget, and abandoned
Brazil’s economic boom bore big construction projects to empower its impoverished interior and burgeoning cities. But as the economy cools, many ambitious projects remain unfinished and even abandoned, leaving a legacy of resentment and dislocation among residents.
Inspired by the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics, many urban stadiums, transit lines, and infrastructure programs are delayed and way over budget. Regional programs like the trans-Northeast railroad and irrigation channel appear to be abandoned.
Above we see several photographs by Daniel Berehulak, part of an excellent article by Simon Romero on “Grand Visions Fizzle in Brazil” (New York Times, April 12, 2014):
- ruins of a federally funded ”Extraterrestrial Museum” in Varginha, southeastern Brazil, where residents claimed to see an alien in 1996.
- long parts of the Transnordestina railway in northeastern Brazil, begun in 2006, now lie deserted
- construction of an expensive metro system, in Salvador, Bahia, began more than 10 years ago, but the system has never functioned.
See also an accompanying video on “Brazil Tracks from Boom to Rust.”
LOS ANGELES: A city in decline, a future at risk?
Concerned about growing civic problems, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission recently presented “A Time for Action,” a second scathing report on current metropolitan trends. Presented by a task force of lawyers, developers, labor leaders and former elected officials, the report provided a catalogue of urban failings. It also provoked controversy about its unflattering portrait of America’s second-largest city.
Among the most pressing issues are widespread poverty, job stagnation, huge municipal pension obligations, a struggling port and tourism industry, and paralyzing traffic congestion unlikely to be relieved even with a continuing multibillion-dollar mass-transit initiative. The report’s frank conclusions amounted to an indictment of a city and its culture.
While recognizing a metropolis full of talent and resources, the commision argued that Los Angeles was steadily falling behind other major cities across the globe. “Los Angeles is barely treading water, while the rest of the world is moving forward,” the report said. “We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a city in decline.”
After publication of "A Time for Truth" in December 2013, the recent release "A Time for Action" in April 2014 proved even more contentious.While this second report suggested a series of relatively modest proposals for governmental administrative reform, what provoked most debate was the general image of Los Angeles as a municipality in decline.
I may now live in New York, but I grew up in Los Angeles and so I retain a great affection for the metro area. Although problems of traffic congestion, air pollution, and racial segregation already were widely recognized, the L.A. of my youth had a boosterish feeling of growth and expansion. So these recent reports suggest a disturbing change in mood. Having followed the recent transit innovations and rise in environmental activism in Southern California, however, I think we should also recognize the positive forces for change in greater Los Angeles.
Read the full news account from the New York Times here.
"I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good."
Happy Birthday Ludwig Mies van der Rohe!
"Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), a German-born architect and educator, is widely acknowledged as one of the 20th century’s greatest architects. By emphasizing open space and revealing the industrial materials used in construction, he helped define modern architecture.
Our built environment is meant to be lived in. Mies’ buildings, beyond merely affecting our lives, endow them with greater significance and beauty. His buildings radiate the confidence, rationality, and elegance of their creator and, free of ornamentation and excess, confess the essential elements of our lives. In our time, where there is no limit to excess, Mies’ reductionist approach is as pertinent as ever. As we reduce the distractions and focus on the essential elements of our environment and ourselves, we find they are great, intricate, and beautiful. Less is more.” [via]
Photo credits found here 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
SPRAWL, AMERICAN STYLE: How walkable and sustainable are these settlements?
BELFAST PEACE LINE: Public art on a contemporary “Berlin Wall”
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is the region’s economic powerhouse, but the city remains a deeply divided. Once called “Linenopolis” for its production of linen, industrial Belfast also became known for building the ill-fated ship Titanic.
No doubt Belfast has come a long way from the height of The Troubles, the ethno-political conflict that lasted from 1969 to the mid-1990s. Today, Belfast is a bustling centre of trade and commerce with a thriving music, arts and café scene. Still, 99 barriers that prevent movement between adjoining districts in the city.
Included in these barriers are the “peace lines” — walls keeping neighboring Protestants and Catholics apart. Approximately one third of these walls have been erected since the paramilitary ceasefires of the mid-1990s, which that led to the Good Friday Agreement between the Irish and British governments, and the opposing paramilitary groups that had been engaged in conflict for almost 30 years.
After a recent deal between parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, all of these walls and other barriers are scheduled to be taken down within the next 10 years. Funding is available to local community groups to encourage this to happen. Still, will we miss the colorful art that has decorated the walls for so long?
Source: Untapped Cities
Rebuild by Design Competition Unveils Shortlist of Proposals for a Resilient Post-Sandy World
by Lucy Wang
Seventeen months after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York City’s coastlines, the Rebuild by Design Competition has unveiled ten shortlisted solutions for restoring and protecting communities affected by the superstorm. The interdisciplinary teams participating in the challenge, which consist of acclaimed design firms such as OMA and West 8, presented their designs after several months of research and public outreach. An expert jury is expected to announce the winners of the competition and an allocation of funds by the end of this month.
Announced last summer, the Rebuild by Design competition is an initiative of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The competition invited architects, landscape architects, and urban planners to re-imagine a more resilient post-Sandy future. Each team was given $200,000 and asked to create designs solutions for different regions of the afflicted Eastern seaboard, from Connecticut down to the Jersey Shore.
Related: WXY and West 8 Explore Protecting NYC from Floods Using Barrier Islands
The ten final proposals explore design as infrastructure and introduce multi-functional plans with a mix of economic, social, and ecological benefits. Bjarke Ingels Group, for instance, proposed the ‘Big U,’ a 10-mile ribbon that wraps around lower Manhattan and doubles as public space. The designs of the WXY Architecture and West 8 team, on the other hand, offer a more ecological approach with barrier islands that protect the Jersey shoreline and provide a wildlife habitat. The winners of the competition will receive federal funding to implement their designs.
+ Rebuild by Design
Via NY Mag
Images via Rebuild by Design - OMA’s Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge is a comprehensive urban water strategy for Hoboken
BIKE LANES IN THREE CITIES: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Portland OR are leaders in miles of bicycle lanes — enlightened citizenries and urban planning!