Cities & sustainability III

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Cities4Biodiversity
Homes for People
How Nordic policies can improve
Australia’s housing affordability

Sustainable, Resilient Cities & Infrastructure Systems
Princeton University

28 April 2022
More affordable housing with less homelessness is possible – if only Australia would learn from Nordic nations
There is almost a universal consensus among economists, for example, that negative gearing favours the interests of investors to the detriment of others, but both major parties are scared to change the policy.
One way to break the policy stalemate is to consider policies shown to have worked in other countries. To facilitate this, the Nordic Policy Centre – a collaboration between The Australia Institute and Deakin University – has published an overview of housing and homelessness policies in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.
Of particular note among the wide range of housing policies in these nations is the prominence of housing co-operatives, which assist both renters and those wanting to own a secure, high-quality home. …
We identified who’s most at risk of homelessness and where they are. Now we must act, before it’s too late (25 November 2021)

20 June
Springsteen’s NJ Town Fears ‘Disaster’ From Kushner Housing Plan
Kushner Cos. wants to build 360 rental units in bucolic town
Sierra Club says it may contaminate drinking water for 300,000
(Bloomberg) The bucolic farm town about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Manhattan, where Bruce Springsteen owns a home, Jon Stewart operates an animal sanctuary and former President Donald Trump has a golf course, is locked in a bitter fight between the developer and residents over a planned 360-unit apartment complex that is close to gaining final approval.

14 June
How to Cool Down Parks in Hot Cities
Researchers at Princeton University are devising ways to transform green spaces into outdoor cooling centers.
(Bloomberg) The drive to be outside, even in hot weather, is hard to overcome. People without air ­conditioning would be more likely to seek relief at their local park, ­according to Elie Bou-Zeid, a professor of civil and environmental ­engineering at Princeton, than at a government building where they can feel like climate refugees. “It’ll certainly be more pleasant to be in a park than in some indoor stadium where nobody wants to go,” he says. The scientists are combining inexpensive technologies, some novel, some already in use, that they plan to test first in New Jersey for deployment in hot spots like Phoenix.

25 May
Detroit’s Revival Moves Beyond Downtown With ‘Little Village’
A new microneighborhood centered around a restored arts anchor will test the city’s ongoing revitalization outside its urban core.
Stories about Detroit’s comeback keep coming back to the same place: the roughly 7-square-mile area of downtown, midtown and the neighborhoods that border them. There, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and his real estate company Bedrock have invested some $5.6 billion in a host of developments, including about 100 properties and several iconic skyscrapers. Beyond that zone, however, reports of revival are more elusive.
Now, one of the cultural catalysts who has championed the city is looking past downtown.

23 May
Orban’s Vision for Budapest Raises Fears Over a Historic Skyline
(Bloomberg CityLab) Budapest’s grand, historic skyline hints at the city’s past as part of the Eastern bloc. But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government plans to bring modern high-rises to an iconic neighborhood near the center of the city, transforming it into a glitzy Dubai-style hub.
The $6.3 billion project, which has already been approved by parliament, is the latest clash between Hungary’s nationalist leadership and municipal leaders over the future of the city. The city council is pushing for affordable housing and development that won’t blight the skyline — but it lacks legal means to stop the project, Veronika Gulyas reports.
Local leaders say a UAE-backed development will bring modern high-rise offices and apartments that tower over one of Europe’s grandest capitals.
26 March 2022
A Rogue Leader’s Plan for the Heart of Budapest
Viktor Orban is transforming Budapest’s most touristy district to create a government stronghold, and his political opponents don’t like it.
… But the Hauszmann Program is also about reconstruction, and that includes the demolition of modernist buildings to bring the district back to the look of its heyday, according to the government. One of the other claims by Naszalyi is that the nationalist government wants to take the district back to how it looked in March 1944 before the Siege of Budapest ultimately led to the surrender of Hungary’s pro-Nazi government in World War II.

15 May
Bloomberg City Lab has discovered Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie Meet the Montreal Mayor Who Declared War on SUVs
Oversized vehicles are devouring street parking spaces in the Canadian city. So one borough’s mayor is fighting back with bigger fees for hefty trucks and SUVs.
… The ongoing expansion of vehicle size is causing growing consternation in North America.
Other downsides of car bloat are well established. Heavier cars exert more force in a crash and can take longer to come to a halt, endangering other road users. Taller front ends are more likely to strike a person’s torso than their legs, and they can conceal children or shorter people standing before them. Beyond their profligate consumption of fuel or electricity, which increases greenhouse gas emissions, heftier vehicles eat tires and brake pads, worsening particulate pollution that can foul the air and destroy ecosystems.

Marcus Gee: Europe’s urban advantage leaves Canada in the shade
Arriving in Toronto, where I live, feels like crossing into the East Bloc from the West during the Cold War. Everything looks so shabby. The main route into downtown from the airport is in scandalous shape. Rusting guardrails. Garbage and weeds on the shoulders. Potholes and bumps. The inbound drive along the Gardiner Expressway is like a ride on a decrepit roller coaster. …
The highways of Spain, which I visited last month, are vastly better designed, engineered and maintained. A system of standard European signage makes it nearly impossible to get lost. Cat’s eyes and other reflective markers on even smaller roads make them much safer at night than our poorly marked roadways. Carefully trimmed greenery decorates the medians and the shoulders. When we were there, the oleander shrubs were just starting to bloom.

25 April
That sinking feeling: why long-suffering Venice is quite right to make tourists pay
Simon Jenkins
The overcrowded city is leading the way with a tax on day trippers. Surely other great European destinations should follow suit
(The Guardian) Venice has had enough. It is sinking beneath the twin assaults of tourism and the sea and believes the answer lies in fending off visitors by charging them to enter. It is not alone. Tourism is under attack. Seville is charging for entry to the central Plaza de España. In Paris, the Mona Lisa is so besieged by flashing phones she is about to be banished to a basement. Barcelona graffiti shout, “Tourists go home, refugees welcome.” Amsterdam wants no more coach parties, nor does Rome.
The Venice payment will be complicated. It will apply at specific entry points only to day trippers to the city centre, not hotel guests. It will be a mere five euros and confined to peak times of day over the summer. This will hardly cover the cost of running it. It is a political gesture that is unlikely to stem the tourist flow round the Rialto and St Mark’s Square, let alone leave more room for Venetians to enjoy their city undisturbed by mobs.

22 April
AI Holds the Key to Resilient Cities
Justina Nixon-Saintil,Vice President and Chief Impact Officer at IBM.
(Project Syndicate) Cities will play a central role in how the world addresses climate change, and if there is one factor that could give policymakers much-needed support, it is artificial intelligence. But access to technology and the skills required to use it effectively are proving to be major obstacles to implementation.

18 April
One Gulf City Preserves Streets After Others Bulldozed Old Buildings
(Bloomberg City Lab) Dubai, Kuwait and Riyadh turned away from the past to make way for modern skyscrapers, but UAE’s Sharjah
Dubai’s neighbor in the United Arab Emirates, developed differently. That’s partly because the UAE’s third-largest city came late to the party—it struck oil within its emirate in 1972 and only started exporting crude two years later. Its rulers had a chance to learn from the demolition-style approach of its peers. Although Sharjah has its share of generic office towers, its leaders are preserving swaths of the city. Its original center is undergoing a rebirth as a heritage and arts district, known as the Heart of Sharjah. Scheduled for completion in 2025, it offers visitors narrow, old-style alleys; an old souk, or market; and museums in historic buildings.
December 2021
Saudi Arabia Wants Its Capital to Be Somewhere You’d Want to Live
The crown prince’s next grand plan is to defy the skeptics and turn Riyadh into a greener, cooler city for twice the population.

3 April
Buried rivers flow under Canadian cities, hidden in a labyrinth of tunnels and sewer pipes. Will we revive them or let the waterways fade from memory?
9CBC) Climate change and urbanization are heating and flooding our cities. Restoring buried waterways — and their riverbanks — could be one answer to many problems: cooling heat islands, absorbing carbon dioxide, cleaning the air, reducing flooding and providing a habitat for wildlife and native plants.
Will Canadian cities relegate their lost waterways to the past, or is it finally time to let them see daylight again?
Canada’s three largest cities have something in common — they’re not just built along bodies of water, they’re built over them.
In Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, those rivers, brooks, creeks and streams supported wildlife and provided food and transportation routes for Indigenous Peoples — and later for the early European colonizers — who fished in them, washed in them and drank from them.
The rivers irrigated farms and commercial gardens in Calgary and ran water wheels in Winnipeg. Roads in Halifax were built along creeks for easy access to fresh water.

16 February
Paris’s New Weapons in Climate Fight Are Metro Turnstiles and the Seine
No contribution can seem too small to pursue in taking on the challenges of a changing planet.
(Bloomberg) Commuters who went through turnstiles at the Miromesnil station in central Paris powered mini turbines, converting kinetic energy into electricity. During the two-day pilot project, 27,000 people crossed six turnstiles — a tiny fraction of the more than 1.5 billion passengers who use the French capital’s metro system annually. The energy produced was minuscule, but if installed across the city’s metro network, these turbines could produce 136 megawatts a year, saving 30,000 tons of CO2, according to Iberdrola SA, the Spanish energy company in charge of the project.
The project is among dozens of ideas being tossed around as Paris — which has already warmed 2.3 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial era — seeks to transition to cleaner power and more efficiently use its energy resources. Other plans include using water from the Seine river to create a “cooling network” and reduce the effects of “urban heat islands”; or creating a new river in the bois de Vincennes fed by non-potable water that already feeds the area’s lakes and rivers. Still other projects envisage reopening the Bièvre river, which was covered in the early part of the 20th century, or adding vegetation to the rebuilt Parvis de Notre Dame forecourt.

2023

4 December
How climate risk data can help communities become more resilient
Insights from San Diego
Jenny Schuetz, Adie Tomer, Julia Gill, and Caroline George
(Brookings) Governments at all levels have a responsibility to help communities adapt to increasing climate risks. Local governments are on the front lines, as they regulate and incentivize the location of new housing and commercial development, develop and operate transportation and water infrastructure, and oversee emergency preparedness and response. The rapidly growing field of climate analytics can help local governments adopt a more proactive approach by identifying risks, developing climate action plans, and implementing strategies that limit the harms of both chronic and acute climate stresses, from intense storms to wildfires to extreme heat.
The goal of this project is to illustrate how local governments can use geographically granular climate risk data to map local hazards and plan community-based adaptation strategies, while highlighting some of the challenges in working with this data. We also discuss areas where regional, state, and federal agencies can support their local colleagues in these efforts. This analysis is intended to be useful for local governments—including elected officials and career staff—as well as utilities, regional planning agencies, private sector firms, and civic organizations engaged with built environment planning.

1 December
At COP28, Cities Will Show Us the Way
Michael R. Bloomberg and Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr
(Project Syndicate) For the first time, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will allow mayors and governors to engage directly with national and international leaders, and to demonstrate how “subnational” governments are already delivering the solutions we need. The timing could not be better.
Nation-states, presidents, and prime ministers – those are the players who garner the biggest headlines and the most media attention at each year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference. Yet for the past decade, and with far less fanfare, cities, states, and regional governments (known as “subnationals”) have been implementing the Paris climate agreement’s guidance, even when their national governments have not. This has meant investing in clean-energy systems and other urban innovations to reduce emissions locally, and sharing what works through networks like C40 and the Global Covenant of Mayors to accelerate progress on a larger scale.

20 November
No, Really. Building More Housing Can Combat Rising Rents
To many people, new home construction is synonymous with gentrification. But a new analysis reinforces how more supply drives down housing costs.
(Bloomberg) A study of new housing construction in Helsinki found that new homes rented by higher-income people set off a chain of moves that opened up housing to lower-income people.
…a review of recent research into the link between new housing production and apartment affordability offers new evidence that the rules of supply and demand do apply to housing: Building more can slow rent growth in cities and free up more affordable vacant units in surrounding neighborhoods, without causing significant displacement.

16 November
NYC Congestion Pricing Could Unleash a Transportation Revolution
The plan to charge drivers entering downtown Manhattan is the most important American transportation experiment in decades.
(Bloomberg) After multiple false starts over the past two decades, New York City is finally ready to launch a congestion pricing program in 2024. Drivers into Manhattan will pay a significant fee to enter the area from the Battery up through Midtown Manhattan. By deterring some people from traveling by car into Manhattan’s dense central neighborhoods, the fee will help alleviate traffic on some of the country’s busiest roads, provide much-needed revenue and passengers for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s train and bus lines, and clean the air for everyone’s benefit.
But what makes New York’s congestion pricing such an important development is what it means for every other congested American city. Even though cities around the world have successfully launched congestion pricing programs for half a century, US elected officials have exhibited far less courage, frequently stopping at small pilots or resident surveys.

29 October
The Definitive Guide to Balcony Designs
Private outdoor space for apartment dwellers became more coveted during the pandemic. There’s more variety in balcony types than the typical US or UK real estate listing would suggest.
(Bloomberg) Among the many lasting effects of pandemic-era lockdowns for apartment dwellers is an expanded appreciation for balconies. While these private outdoor spaces may have once been a nice-to-have, they are becoming a required feature for an increasing number of buyers and renters. A UK survey from June 2020 found that, just four months into the pandemic, 14% of British home-hunters felt that the experience of lockdown had made having a balcony more important.

27 October
A New White House Plan to Create Affordable Housing: Convert Empty Office Buildings
The Biden administration is freeing up resources to help turn offices into apartments.
(CityLab) As cities across the US continue to struggle with climbing office vacancies and unaffordable rents, the White House on Friday released a new plan to help property owners convert empty offices into apartment units.
By opening up significant financing resources to office-to-residential conversions, as well as by providing technical assistance, the Biden administration aims to make it easier for these challenging rehab projects to advance — with an eye toward both sustainability and affordability.
The Department of Transportation will make such projects located near public transit eligible for below-market financing programs that account for billions of dollars in loans, for example. Similarly, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will expand the use of federal housing dollars available to state and local governments to include these conversion projects. The White House is also releasing a commercial-to-residential guidebook with details on more than 20 federal programs across six agencies to support the efforts.

18-19 October
Mayors Address Affordable Housing and Innovation
Featured speakers on the second day of the conference include Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
(CityLab) … The best way for mayors to find innovative ideas is to draw from experiences of other cities, Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor Randall Woodfin said. “The ideas that are happening and solutions that have been created in other cities are infinite,” he said.
A prominent example is Visor Urbano, an initiative to make business licensing more efficient and transparent. Its director, Yunive Moreno Sánchez, said the initiative has expanded to help cut costs for citizens and governments in over 50 cities in Mexico, with plans to add 50 more. “It is a really important idea to spread because it opens the door to innovation and technology to many cities that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to have a digital platform like this one.”
The Economy of Urban Replication: Why Cities Need to Be Sharing Ideas
A new Bloomberg Cities Idea Exchange will provide resources to spur innovation and help break the so-called urban doom loop.
By Michael R. Bloomberg
The news is full of stories about the collapse of cities: rising crime and homelessness, empty offices and shuttered businesses, shrinking tax bases and failing schools. It’s been called the “urban doom loop,” and all of us who lived through a post-9/11 world have heard it before. We know it’s possible to break free of the doom loop — we’ve done it — but it’s not a given.
… At CityLab, we announced a $50 million investment to build and staff the Bloomberg Cities Idea Exchange. We’ll be creating a single, dedicated program that brings new muscle, science and rigor to the process of spreading ideas. Our mission is simple: to help good ideas to spread faster and take root.
We are excited about the Exchange’s potential, because we’ve seen the power of urban replication, and not only with high-profile ideas like bike share, 311 hotlines and smoking bans.
Whether it’s improving sustainability around waste management, accelerating language development for young children, or digitizing paper-based construction permits to promote government transparency, our foundation’s Mayors Challenge has helped ideas like this spread from 38 cities to nearly 350. That level of policy replication has benefitted more than 100 million residents around the world. And hopefully, this exchange will help us reach even more people, much faster.

17 October
Singapore Grows Food on Top of Skyscrapers—and Anywhere Else It Can Find
The island nation harnesses technology and tradition to wean itself from imports: A photo essay.
Singapore imports more than 90% of its food. The government wants to produce 30% locally by the year 2030. Take a tour of the many ways, from traditional to high-tech, that a densely packed nation is trying to achieve greater food security.

27 September
Why Don’t We Just Build New Cities?
Yearning for a blank slate crosses the ideological spectrum—but sooner or later, new places will face the same old problems.
By Jerusalem Demsas
(The Atlantic) …the dream of building a great new city continues to this day, even in developed nations like the United States, where we already have a lot of them. We start new companies, new schools, new neighborhoods all the time. Why not a new San Francisco, Boston, or Miami? The yearning for a blank slate crosses the ideological spectrum, touching socialists, antidevelopment activists, curious policy makers, and, most recently, Silicon Valley investors attempting to build a city from scratch. …
But building a new city is hard, and this most recent push to do so—unlike with recent gains in AI—doesn’t reflect an exciting breakthrough in America’s technological, political, or financial capacity. Rather, it reflects an abiding frustration with the ridiculously sluggish process of building housing in America’s most productive cities and suburbs. The dream of a new San Francisco is, then, rooted in the nightmare that the old one may be past saving.

25 September
Traditional downtowns are dead or dying in many US citieswhat’s next for these zones?
John Rennie Short, Professor Emeritus of Public Policy, University of Maryland
(The Conversation) The hollowing out of U.S. cities’ office and commercial cores is a national trend with serious consequences for millions of Americans. As more people have stayed home following the COVID-19 pandemic, foot traffic has fallen. Major retail chains are closing stores, and even prestigious properties are having a hard time retaining tenants. …
A recent study from the University of Toronto found that across North America, downtowns are recovering from the pandemic more slowly than other urban areas and that “older, denser downtowns reliant on professional or tech workers and located within large metros” are struggling the hardest.
Over more than 50 years of researching urban policy, I have watched U.S. cities go through many booms and busts. Now, however, I see a more fundamental shift taking place. In my view, traditional downtowns are dead, dying or on life support across the U.S. and elsewhere. Local governments and urban residents urgently need to consider what the post-pandemic city will look like.

29 August
What to Do With a 45-Story Skyscraper and No Tenants
HSBC’s plan to leave its Canary Wharf tower for a smaller site shows the global challenges ahead in repurposing unwanted office space for a post-pandemic world.
(Bloomberg) … The outlook for these buildings has gotten so bad that some investors are snapping up these empty carcasses for demolition, betting the land they sit on is now worth more than the structure itself. That newly vacant plot could then be redeveloped for high-rise housing, much needed in developed and emerging cities. New York City recently rolled out a plan to change zoning rules for Midtown Manhattan to allow more offices to be converted to apartments.
The most logical outcome could be a conversion — with the tower turned into accommodation for students or others, rather than torn down.
That might seem to be a convenient solution to three urban problems. First, long-term demand for office space has been decimated by the pandemic, with London estimated to have the equivalent of 60 Gherkins of empty office space last year. Secondly, because the UK’s housing crisis totals some 4.3 million units, according to the Centre for Cities, the average house in England costs more than 10 times the average salary. Lastly, landlords are being urged to reuse or recycle buildings rather than demolish, due to the heavy carbon footprint of the construction industry.

28 August
How the ‘urban doom loop’ could pose the next economic threat
A commercial real estate apocalypse — especially in midsize cities — could spiral into the broader economy
(WaPo) All across the country, downtowns, office spaces and shopping centers are at risk of becoming ground zero for a new economic hazard: the urban doom loop. The fear is that a commercial real estate apocalypse could spiral out and slow commerce, wrecking local tax revenue in the process. Ever since the pandemic drove a boom in remote work, hubs such as New York and San Francisco have drawn attention for their empty offices in previously bustling skyscrapers. But many economists are even more worried about midsize cities that have fewer ways to offset the blow when a major company slashes office space, the sale price of a building craters, or a downtown turns into a ghost town.
30 December 2022
The Remote Work Revolution: Impact on Real Estate Values and the Urban Environment
Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh
Abstract
The covid-19 pandemic induced a major shift in the prevalence of remote and hybrid work arrangements. This review article studies the effects of this remote work revolution for residential and commercial real estate values and for the future of cities. It also discusses consequences for productivity, innovation, local public finance, and the climate. The last part of the article discusses policy interventions.

26 August
Lahaina was expensive before the fire. Some worry rebuilding will price them out
Hawaii has the most expensive housing market in the country, and Native Hawaiians have borne the brunt of that
Lahaina land is valuable. …a worsening housing shortage has made Hawaii the most expensive market in the country. Last month, Governor Josh Green declared a state of emergency on housing, noting that costs have tripled since the 1990’s and most people can no longer afford a median priced home or condo.
… Many who can’t afford to live on their own squeeze in with extended family.
Native Hawaiians have borne the brunt of this housing crunch. They make up a disproportionate share of Hawaii’s homeless population, which is one of the highest per-capita in the country. And as the high cost of living leads more people to leave, census figures show at least half of Native Hawaiians now live outside Hawaii.
‘Miracle house’ owner hopes it will serve as a base for rebuilding Lahaina
The fire that devastated historic Lahaina in western Maui left a red-roofed house relatively unscathed. Its owner says he wants to open the house to the neighborhood to help the rebuilding process.
The house at 271 Front St. in Lahaina survived a wildfire because of its metal roof, a lack of vegetation along its dripline, “and a lot of divine intervention,” its owner says.

24 August
Robotaxis Are Making Enemies as They Go Around San Francisco
Cruise and Waymo face growing backlash over traffic concerns
Autonomous vehicle services are expanding in Arizona, Florida
(Bloomberg CityLab) There was the recent incident when a fleet of driverless vehicles froze and blocked traffic during a Friday night concert at North Beach. Days later, an autonomous car got stuck in wet cement at a construction site, and then a robotaxi crashed into a firetruck responding to an emergency call. Weeks earlier, pet lovers were mortified when a vehicle struck and killed a small dog. …
There are groups who see the benefits of driverless cars, especially for people with disabilities and for workers who need extra transport options. The Service Employees International Union, National Federation of the Blind and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 6 are among the organizations that have supported an expansion of autonomous vehicles.
Tensions over driverless taxis are part of a broader conflict over the future of autonomous transport. The state’s assembly has passed a bill, backed by the Teamsters, that bans trucks over 10,000 pounds from operating without a human driver. Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration is opposed to the bill. He wants to keep the driverless car technology in San Francisco and prevent other states from luring the companies away with less stringent regulations.
December 7, 2022
The Technology That’s Not Going to Save Your City
Ride-hailing services and self-driving vehicles both promised to improve urban living. In an excerpt from his book Walkable City, planner Jeff Speck argues otherwise.

13 August
Lahaina residents worry a rebuilt Maui town could slip into the hands of affluent outsiders
(AP) A fast-moving wildfire that incinerated much of the compact coastal settlement last week has multiplied concerns that any homes rebuilt there will be targeted at affluent outsiders seeking a tropical haven. That would turbo-charge what is already one of Hawaii’s gravest and biggest challenges: the exodus and displacement of Native Hawaiian and local-born residents who can no longer afford to live in their homeland.
Maui County estimates more than 80% of the more than 2,700 structures in the town were damaged or destroyed and 4,500 residents are newly in need of shelter.
The median price of a Maui home is $1.2 million, putting a single-family home out of reach for the typical wage earner. It’s not possible for many to even buy a condo, with the median condo price at $850,000.
Sterling Higa, the executive director of Housing Hawaii’s Future, a nonprofit organization that advocates for more housing in Hawaii, said the town is host to many houses that have been in the hands of local families for generations. But it’s also been subject to gentrification.
“So a lot of more recent arrivals — typically from the American mainland who have more money and can buy homes at a higher price — were to some extent displacing local families in Lahaina,” Higa said. It’s a phenomenon he has seen all along Maui’s west coast where a modest starter home two decades ago now sells for $1 million.

Boston University’s Center for Computing and Data Sciences sets a new Northeast standard for blocky sculptural design and ultra energy efficiency.

11 August
A University Drops a ‘Stack of Books’ on Boston’s Skyline
Boston University’s Center for Computing and Data Sciences sets a new Northeast standard for blocky sculptural design and ultra energy efficiency.
When the Toronto firm KPMB won the competition to design a new tower for Boston University, in 2014, the bar for making an environmentally sensitive building was easier to clear. Back then, certification for a building’s energy performance was the best if not the only measure around for sustainable design.
But by the time Boston University was actually ready to build its new academic tower, in 2018, things had changed. The city of Boston had adopted a climate action plan. So had the university. The standard for sustainable architecture has grown a lot steeper, especially for a project designed to make a statement.
“In those four years, a lot changed,” says Paulo Rocha, partner at KPMB and designer for BU’s Center for Computing and Data Sciences, a $305 million building that reset the Charles River skyline when it opened in December. Instead of aiming for energy efficiency, the architects designed the large academic building and data center to run entirely without fossil fuels, making it a model for geothermal engineering in the Northeast.

1 August
A Nordic Revolt Against ‘Ugly’ Modern Architecture
A movement known as Architectural Uprising is pushing back against Scandinavian design trends — and sometimes forcing architects back to the drawing board.
(Bloomberg) Founded in Sweden in 2014 as a public Facebook group, the social media movement Architectural Uprising is a collective of citizen design critics who object to what organizers call the “continued uglification” of developments in Nordic cities, and push for a return to classically informed design. With more than 100,000 social media followers across some 40 different branches, the group now serves as a significant platform for those who assert that the public, not just bureaucrats, architects, developers and property owners, ought to have a voice in the design of their built environments.

24 May
Canada’s housing crisis demands better buildings — here are the changes that could improve apartment and condo life
Marianne Touchie, Associate Professor, jointly appointed in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering and Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Toronto
(The Conversation) As Canada grapples with an ongoing housing crisis, the need for more housing — particularly in cities — is becoming increasingly apparent. To effectively address this challenge, Canada needs to focus on constructing more multi-unit residential buildings, like apartments and condominiums.
This is especially important because Canada becomes increasingly urbanized with each passing year. In 2021, 73.7 per cent of Canadians lived in one of the country’s large urban centres.
But Canada doesn’t just need more housing — it needs good quality housing. And the multi-unit housing sector is plagued with performance issues that negatively impact residents.

17 May
Dementia friendly neighbourhoods (audio)
How do you help older people, and particularly those with dementia, to remain independent for longer?
(BBC/People Fixing the World) In Singapore, where dementia affects roughly 1 in 10 people over 60, the government are betting that the re-designing neighbourhoods with an aging population might just be the answer.
Reporter Craig Langran visits the Singaporean suburb of Nee Soon – an area of public housing which has been overhauled by a team of healthcare experts, designers, and residents – and looks at some of the other innovations in elderly care taking place in the country.
And we look at a village in France where everything has been designed especially for people with dementia.

Jakarta is sinking, and Indonesia’s president has chosen to move the capital.
Welcome to Nusantara (interactive)
The audacious project to build a green and walkable capital city from the ground up.
Climate change is part of the reason: The Java Sea — which surrounds Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital — is rising. But an even bigger factor is that Jakartans, desperate for access to clean water, have dug thousands of illegal wells that effectively deflate the marshes underneath the city. Today, 40 percent of Jakarta lies below sea level, and flooding is increasingly common.
The encroaching sea presents a threat to one of the world’s most densely packed cities, where 10 million people live in an area about half the size of New York City, and another 20 million reside in the surrounding region. To deal with that threat, Indonesia’s popular president — Joko Widodo, in his ninth year in office — has devised an audacious solution: He is moving the country’s capital.
The new capital, now under construction, is called Nusantara. It is being built from the ground up, about 800 miles from the current capital. Joko promises that the city will be a model of environmental stewardship, carbon neutral within a few decades.

13 May
Istanbul Gets Caught Between Housing Crunch and Earthquake Risk
(Bloomberg CityLab) Decades of bad building practices have left Istanbul with a vulnerable housing stock:  Some 200,000 buildings could sustain at least moderate damage during a severe earthquake, according to experts. Applications to tear down and rebuild unstable homes have tripled since two massive quakes killed more than 50,000 people three months ago. But such efforts are being hampered by soaring housing prices and political squabbling between the Turkish government and city officials.

11 May
White House Unveils a New Climate Fix: Building Codes and Energy Retrofits
Green building standards for new homes are intended to kickstart the push toward a clean-energy economy.
(Bloomberg) The Biden administration announced a plan on Thursday to adopt new building energy standards for homes built and financed by the federal government, a move that officials said will result in energy savings of more than 35% for families.
The new building energy codes would apply to an estimated 170,000 new homes per year, including newly built or financed subsidized housing, both urban and rural — much of it meant for families of limited means who could particularly benefit from energy cost savings.
To complement the new construction push, the White House also introduced an $830 million purse for clean-energy building retrofits for existing homes, funded by the Inflation Reduction Act.
These updated building codes and retrofits are meant to set a higher bar for energy efficiency, performance and resilience for homes and apartment buildings alike.

6 May
As economy recovers from pandemic doldrums, big employers step up push to get back to the office
Royal Bank and Amazon among companies requiring more face time at work
(CBC) From a strong job market to the World Health Organization officially downgrading COVID-19’s status as a global health emergency, signs that the economy is recovering from the pandemic are everywhere.
But there’s perhaps no clearer one, in hollowed-out downtown cores across the country, than the sight of millions of office workers returning to cities after spending much of the past three years working from home.
The trend is undeniable. Cellphone data suggests that Canadian cities are now about half as full of people during the workday compared with before the pandemic. That’s well up from under 10 per cent observed at various points since 2020, when the pandemic began and lockdowns were implemented.
While Canadian cities are still laggards compared with those in the United States, a number of major employers are trying to do what they can to close that gap.

26 April
Return of the child-friendly city? How social movements are changing European urban areas
Urban development and social norms concerning childhood have led European cities to a situation where streets are no longer places for children and young people.
Many experts and interest groups have voiced their concerns about this and explained why closing the streets to children is bad policy. Children’s physical activity levels are alarmingly low and limiting their sense of safety and autonomy also hampers their mental and social wellbeing. These trends are endangering the health of an entire generation and compromising their ability to uphold societies and economies with grim dependency ratios.

11 April
Australia’s New City Tackles Climate Change From the Ground Up
Bradfield City in Sydney’s west will sit next to a new airport
Area has recorded some of the world’s hottest temperatures
Carbon-neutral buildings and tree-lined streets are at the heart of plans for a brand new city in a pocket of Australia where temperatures can be among the hottest on earth in the summer and climate change looms as a major threat.

6 April
Paris’ Failed Romance With Scooters Is a Warning
The 15-minute city is going to take things a little slower in its bid to go carless.
29 March
Parisians are heading to the polls to vote on an unlikely subject: electric scooters.
(Bloomberg) The public will decide in a referendum on Sunday whether to ban shared e-scooters citywide. The result could make Paris the world’s biggest city to kick rental scooter operators out.

17 March
‘A gas-guzzling villain’s lair’: welcome to LA’s grotesque new high-rise
This is (W)rapper, “an outrageous creative office tower”, in the words of its leasing agents, set to “reawaken the Los Angeles skyline”. It is also the bombastic tombstone of a bygone era, a carbon-guzzling monument to a time when architectural ego trumped the interests of people and planet.

27 January
Featuring Sauvé alumnus Yaniv Rivlin
Tel Aviv’s E-Scooter Transformation (video)
(Bloomberg CityLab) High-tech workers have been flocking to Tel Aviv for years, and many move around by electric scooter, bicycle and other forms of micromobility. The company Bird has recorded more than 10 million shared rides in the last four years, and some 550,000 unique users. That’s changing the face of the city: Bike lanes line roadways, allowing riders to zip past gridlock, and streets are filled with pedestrians and spaces for e-scooters.
Tel Aviv plans to more than double its bike paths to cover 350 kilometers by 2025 — part of a long-term mission to make one of the world’s most congested cities car-free and pollution-free. It’s also part of the city’s strategy to attract more high-tech workers and keep them there.

26 January
Zimbabwe Plans a New City for the Rich
Zimbabwe’s leader is seeking investment for a new national capital with luxury homes just down the road from an impoverished and overcrowded Harare.
By Ray Ndlovu and Archana Narayanan
(Bloomberg CityLab) Zimbabwe’s political leaders have a remedy for the collapse of the capital Harare: Build a new “cybercity” with as much as $60 billion of other people’s money.
The development in Mount Hampden, 11 miles northeast of Harare, is slated to be the site of the national parliament, headquarters of the central bank, the high and supreme courts, mineral auction centers, a stock exchange, a presidential palace and luxury villas.
The planned development in Mount Hampden reflects “a ruling elite preoccupation not to interrupt their lives by having to see dirt and poverty,” said Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In 2005, Zimbabwe’s leaders cleared slums and informal businesses in cities with earth-moving equipment in a program called Operation Murambatsvina, which means “move the rubbish” in the Shona language, displacing 2.4 million people. Now, rather than attempting to address underlying issues, officials are opting to move the capital entirely.

2022

21 December
To attain global climate and biodiversity goals, we must reclaim nature in our cities
Emma Despland, Professor, Biology Department, Concordia University
(The Conversation) At the 7th Summit for Subnational Governments and Cities, an official parallel event to the COP15 biodiversity conference, cities were brought to the forefront of conversations on how to protect life on Earth.
As a researcher of terrestrial ecosystems, I believe that we cannot think of nature as something set aside in wildernesses, far from human activity. We need to conserve some elements of nature everywhere, including in the cities we live in.
Cities are growing rapidly and covering more and more land. They are often built on the most fertile land, near rivers or coastlines. This is also where most of the biodiversity lives. It is, therefore, crucial to conserve nature in cities.
To add to this, some ecosystem services that humans rely on only operate within short geographical limits. Healthy soils and wetlands absorb rainwater and snowmelt to buffer floods, while trees filter pollutants from the air and alleviate heat waves. All these services are most effective when nature is close to where people live, making it crucial for cities to preserve their nature.

3 December
Xueman Wang: Our program Cities4Biodiversity under the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities just finished its meeting in Paris on Urban Nature and Biodiversity with the participation from 50 cities in 22 countries. We were all impressed by Paris’ green vision and the commitment to bring nature to cities and convert the abandoned railway to a green belt that enriches biodiversity.
Nov 28 – Dec 02
C4B 2nd Deep-Dive Learning
– Theme 1: What are urban nature and biodiversity?
– Theme 2: How to manage urban nature and biodiversity & How to manage “urban trees”?
– Theme 3: How to incorporate urban nature and biodiversity into spatial planning and urban form
– Theme 4: How to incorporate urban nature and biodiversity into project financing

16 November
Global climate finance leaves out cities: fixing it is critical to battling climate change
Astrid R.N. Haas, Fellow, Infrastructure Institute, School of Cities, University of Toronto
(The Conversation) Climate finance …is being discussed as part of the Paris Agreement negotiations, and is a key theme of the COP27 conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
This finance can come from a variety of sources – public, private, or other. But it is specifically earmarked for activities and investments linked to mitigating or adapting to the effects of climate change.
The current architecture of the institutions and funds that provide climate finance is, however, not designed to work at a sub-national level. Therefore across the globe, cities are being left out. This situation is even more pertinent for African cities as Africa is both the fastest urbanising continent in the world and among the most vulnerable to climatic change. Yet the continent is receiving, by far, the lowest climate finance flows overall.

12 November
Putting a price on nature can help municipalities adapt to climate change
How a small town is saving millions on climate adaptation by embracing nature’s services
(CBC What On Earth) … In 2012, Gibsons changed the definition of infrastructure to include “natural assets.” By putting a value on things like wetlands, forests and coastlines, a municipality like Gibsons can make a financial case to invest in, protect and restore these ecosystems while also benefitting from the services they provide.
The town valued the water management services White Tower Park could provide at $3.2 million — which was about the same cost as engineering an equivalent system.
“It’s not about putting a dollar figure on the environment,” said Emanuel Machado, the town’s chief administrative officer. “But the reality is that decisions are made with data, particularly with financial data, and if you want to provide … a business case in this for a natural alternative, then you have to understand the value of that service.”
As communities across Canada face increasingly frequent and severe impacts of climate change, some are turning to nature as a way to help adapt. Gibsons has inspired other municipalities, including a Canada-wide Municipal Natural Asset Initiative, to look to local ecosystems as part of the solution.

The Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI) is changing the way municipalities deliver everyday services, increasing the quality and resilience of infrastructure at lower costs and reduced risk. The MNAI team provides scientific, economic and municipal expertise to support and guide local governments in identifying, valuing and accounting for natural assets in their financial planning and asset management programs, and in developing leading-edge, sustainable and climate resilient infrastructure.
To provide community services in a cost effective and sustainable manner now and in to the future, local governments are looking for ways to improve management of the critical assets that supply these services.
Asset management—the process of inventorying a community’s existing assets, determining the current state of those assets, and preparing and implementing a plan to maintain or replace those assets—allows municipalities to make informed decisions regarding a community’s assets and finances.

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