I am not sure if I ever truly leave the polis, but sometimes one has to try. Feliz 2010.

Credits: Image of incredible light in Joshua Tree by Bill Wight CA, one of flickr's finest.

Urban Intersections: Flagler Street and Miami Av: Miami Fl, USA.

This intersection marks the gateway of a physical trajectory that defines South Florida’s perilous ecological balance: Miami’s booming metropolis vs. the Everglades’ pristine natural environment. It also represents the zero coordinates of Miami’s urban grid. Its view frames Flagler Avenue, Miami’s emblematic “main street”. From this point, a cyclist can traverse the whole peninsula. She would first ride by Little Havana through Calle Ocho, eventually reach Miami’s urban growth boundary, penetrate Everglades National Park through Alligator Alley and culminate her ride in the city of Naples and the placid waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Taken during the Bike Miami Day’s event, this photograph captures a key moment in an emergent sustainable consciousness sweeping Miami. Planners and politicians have taken aggressive steps to brand the city as a sustainable city. Fomenting bike culture has come to the forefront in the implementation of this top-down planning agenda. Organized mass events such as Bike Miami Days stand in contrast to bottom-up events like Critical Mass. In this way, planners and politicians aim to provide a social space which complements the implementation of new urban infrastructures.

Credits: Image of Flagler and Miami Ave. from Hector Fernando Burga.

Urban Intersections: Hagonoy, Philippines

In September, 2009, Manila and the surrounding region was hit by a number of serious tsunamis and hurricanes. Hagonoy is a few hours drive south of Manila and consists of a number of small fishing villages. The streets often overflow because of the nearby coastline and the many fishing farms throughout the villages, but during the summer of 2009, they experienced severe flooding. This intersection was near the City Hall in Hagonoy.

Credits: Photographs by Anna Fogel.

Urban Intersections: San Pablo Ave. with Filbert St. and 32nd St., Oakland Ca., USA

the documented intersection is at the end of this video

San Pablo Avenue runs a straight course from Oakland in the south, to San Pablo in the north. If there is one street along which one can find the breadth of experiences and cultures of the East Bay, this would be it. Although it has had much more glamorous histories, the section of the street in Oakland is largely home to prostitutes, addicts, and their dealers. Garages and liquor stores are sprinkled between vacant lots and abandoned buildings. This particular intersection (more of a triangle, few streets actually cross San Pablo cleanly) has always interested me as a kind of bustling hub of illicit activity. Generous bus stop seating and low planters offer plenty of space to sprawl out for the day, so many do. I was clearly in someone else's public space. But at the same time, some of the people I spoke with there conveyed a sense of raw vulnerability--that this public space was not wholly theirs either.

Credits: Images and video by Ivan Valin.

Urban Intersections: Calle de la Acequia and Callejon de San Francisco, Santa Marta, Colombia

Santa Marta is the oldest city in South America, founded in 1525 by Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas. This intersection is part of the Old City, which is currently undergoing restoration. The narrow streets were obviously not made for the automobile. Now some of them, like the Callejon de San Francisco, are being converted to pedestrian use. The white house on the background was where my grandmother grew up.

Callejon de San Francisco

Credits: Image of Santa Maarta from Natalia Echeverri.

Urban Intersections: Emniyet Cd. and Ismet Inönü Cd., Istanbul, Turkey

Emniyet Cd. and Ismet Inönü Cd., Istanbul, Turkey

It is fascinating how two views from the same point can capture such different cities. Both are take from a busy intersection near the 4.Levent metro station in Istanbul, just off of Büyükdere Blvd., which has become the major center of modern skyscrapers and finance capital in this rapidly growing metropolis. One of the many reasons this city fascinates so many urbanists may be this tendency for stark juxtaposition, for the ability to see older and newer forms of the modern city living on top of each other.

Credits: Image of Istanbul by Alex Schafran.

Urban Intersections: Stewart Ave and Williams St, Ithaca, USA

This is a row of houses overlooking the intersection of Stewart Avenue and Williams Street in Ithaca, New York. I love the sunlight they get in the evenings, also the view over the hill into town, the nearby gorge, and the Carriage House Cafe just around the corner. This is one of my favorite places.

Credits: Photo by Peter Sigrist.

Urban Intersections: Oxford St. v. Regent St.

Oxford Street & Regent Street, London, UK

This intersection lies in the heart of the City of Westminster, in London's West End. It is a major juncture between Oxford Street, home to the major department stores, and Regent Street, which was carved through the city fabric in the early 19th century by John Nash. In 2009 a diagonal pedestrian crossing was introduced to relieve the growing congestion in the area, giving the UK a decidedly less delirious version of Tokyo's Shibuya Crossing. The impression in the space is one of frantic consumerism and disorientation.

Credits: Intersection images by Andrew Wade.

Urban Intersections: 18th and Paulina Street, Chicago

The mixed imagery in this intersection, to me, captures the transitional state of Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. Formerly Czech, now predominantly Mexican, recent years have seen an increasing amount of artists moving in to establish studios and galleries. The experimental and do-it-yourself spirit here are strongly felt and appreciated by many who seek an alternative from the commercial art district located about a mile away east on Halsted Street.

Credits: Image by Vivien Park.

Urban Intersections: Plaça de la Reina, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Plaça de la Reina, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

This roundabout, known as the Queen's Plaza, is a key intersection connecting the avenue leading to the oceanfront to the downtown historic core of the city. The former is the Avinguda d’Antoni Maura, united by la Plaça de la Reina to the Paseo de Born (image below, day and night, looking towards the Plaça de la Reina), one of many pedestrian promenades in Palma. The Plaça also takes one east (left in the above photo), up towards the famous 13th century La Seu cathedral.

Paseo de Born, pedestrian street moving directly north from the Plaça de la Reina

This area is the heart of the city, with classy and largely expensive shops leading north up the Paseo de Born towards the Avinguda Jaume III - a street that did not exist 30 years ago but today could be caracterised as one of the many upscale shopping meccas of the city, so dependent, like the rest of the city and the island, on the millions of tourists that come through each year.

Credits: Images by Melissa Garcia Lamarca.

Urban Intersections: Clement St. and 7th Ave., San Francisco

Clement St. and 7th Ave., San Francisco, USA

This intersection is typical of San Francisco's Richmond district, the foggy, immigrant-heavy neighborhood I grew up in. Clement St. is San Francisco's unofficial second Chinatown, with bustling and inexpensive markets, restaurants and house-ware shops. Asian and Russian immigrants, whose delis pepper the next street over, replaced the Irish-Americans that dominated the district before World War II; one of the neighborhood’s many Irish pubs is in the back of the top photo. Gentrification has begun to creep up Clement St. a few blocks to the east, but hasn’t reached 7th Ave. – close to some of the city’s best independent bookstores, cafes and bakeries. "The Avenues" are sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the city's two largest green spaces, Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, but feel far away for many San Franciscans. The denizens of this intersection give the sense that they know where they’re going and can walk home.

Credits: Intersection photos from Katia Savchuk.

Urban Intersections: A Group Post

Inspired by Camilo Jose Vergara’s recent photo essay on a Harlem intersection in Slate, the polis team decided to try our hand(s) at urban photo-documentation. In our first group post, we present a collage of street corners and crossings from our urban environments across the globe. This is where our cities intersect.

Credits: Photo of 125th and Lexington by Camilo Jose Vergara from Slate.

Urbanism in the Information Age 2.0: The CLOUD

This post continues to explore the possibilities of digital technologies in shaping our cities by investigating a proposal for the London 2012 Olympics: The CLOUD. The Olympic Games provide one of very few opportunities for the real-world implementation of futuristic and highly creative proposals such as this. The proposal imagines the potential of digital technologies in its cross-disciplinary and global design methods, its funding, and its communication of information.

The CLOUD is an observation deck proposal for the 2012 games that draws on the expertise of prominent professionals and advisors from across the globe, such as Google, Arup, the MIT SENSEable City Lab, and Umberto Eco. The networked nature of such a collaboration in design and information exchange is something that builds upon the unique digital communications resources available in the 21st century. This project welcomes the idea of drawing on knowledge capital on a global scale for implementation in a place-specific project.

The funding of the CLOUD is to come from donations from anyone in the world, allowing a democratic participation in supporting the project, which will be scaled appropriately based on the achieved funding levels. In this way both the size of the final built structure and the amount of information broadcast on the surface of the bubbles depends upon the collective financial support received.

While the marketing behind this project, including its integrated use of digital processes and technologies, attempts to sell a seductive idea, it opens up a debate on the potential of the information age in urban projects. Could this network be utilised by less glamorous pursuits such as effectively scaling up housing solutions for the poor? If humanity came together in such a democratic and participatory way, facilitated by the technologies and approach of the CLOUD project, but focused on alternate problems, what solutions might we devise?

Credits: Images of the CLOUD project from online gallery.

Imagining the Socialist City

Design for Children's Games by Vladimir Stenberg, 1928.

This is the third post in a series of visual studies on public parks in Moscow. The period following the October Revolution of 1917 to the early 1930s is the current focus. I begin with a brief historical overview and then concentrate on processes of envisioning a socialist city. As with the previous posts, this will keep evolving as I gather more information.

Wood engraving from the Revolutionary Years series by Vladimir Favorsky.

After the October Revolution, Russia was still embroiled in international and domestic conflict. Despite prompt withdrawal from World War I, insurrections among the former ruling class (White Army), peasants (Green movements), anarchists (Black movements), and other factions threatened the survival of the Bolshevik state. Lack of stability and resources made it nearly impossible to proceed with new urban development. However, the revolution ushered in a rush of ideas on city planning in the new socialist era. The government sought to reinvent society in accordance with Marxist principles, including communal ownership of resources, universal education, income and gender equality, an end to global imperialism, and the unification of town and country.

Panels of rural and urban laborers by N. A. Tyrsa, 1918.

The ideas that emerged were rooted in different strands of social organization and utopian thinking from Russia and abroad. On the domestic front there were the traditional village communes, worker soviets, and longstanding traditions of nihilism, anarchism, and communism. in addition to Marx and Engels, international influences such as the Paris Commune and the Mexican Revolution inspired visions of a new social order. In city planning, Ebenezer Howard's garden cities (inspired in part by the Russian communist-anarchist Peter Kropotkin) played an important role. Popular science-fiction of the time uncannily resembled many of the city planning ideas circulating

Cars vs. Quality of Life in Quito

Quito, capital of Ecuador, is a city dominated by cars. Walking is not considered a means of transport, but an unavoidable problem between the car and the building you’re coming from or heading to. Cycling is simply too dangerous. Public transport is good only through the North-South trolleybus corridors, and it is a total mess if you’re moving along East-West directions. Moreover, as in most cities in the American continent, there is a vicious mix of real insecurity and an exaggerated collective paranoia about it, which prevents many from walking simply to get bread or the newspaper. In this situation, cars are seen by the great majority as THE means to moving in the city, and any other means is simply the result of not having a car. This product of “modernity” and “prosperity” is not just environmentally unsustainable, but it also undermines the quality of life of most citizens.

This ill situation might seem impossible to improve, however, the city is showing some indicators about positive change in the future. And they are quite amazing. Perhaps the most impressive one is the “Ciclopaseo”. It all started in 2003, when a local NGO (Biciacción), with the support from other international NGOs, organized a seminar-workshop on city cycling. This event convinced the city Mayor to close the main city artery (avenida Amazonas) to traffic on the following Sunday to be used only by bicycles. It started being once in a while for a few Km. Today it takes place every single Sunday on 30 Km, crossing the whole city from North to South, and with 40000 cyclists simultaneously. It really is a beautiful scene after having to swallow heavy fumes, being constantly intimidated as a pedestrian and standing so much noise during every previous 6 weekdays.

Credits: Image of one typical Sunday on Av. Amazonas in Quito, from

Integrated Urban Rehabilitation in Camp Redó, Palma, Spain: Process and Product

Mention Palma de Mallorca to most, and reactions tend to be complimentary. Located on a lovely island in the Mediterranean, about 200 km off the eastern coast of Spain, southeast of Barcelona and due east of Valencia, Mallorca attracts over 7 million tourists per year due to its average 300 out of 360 days of sun and excellent beaches, among other attractions. Almost half the island’s population of 800,000 lives in Palma, a tranquil city founded by the Romans in 123 BC with a picturesque historic core containing one of the most famous Gothic buildings in Europe, the La Seu cathedral.

Yet ask people living in Palma about an area in the city called Corea, a group of 26 buildings along Calle General Riera, and expressions will turn in aversion: this is a heavily labeled place no one visits willingly, known for its delinquency, drug use and social conflict among diverse ethnic groups amidst dilapidated buildings and streets. Even most living next door to Corea, in the wider neighbourhood called Camp Redó, openly express that although they live a few blocks away they never, ever come near this area, even during the day.

Due to its poor socioeconomic context and degraded urban fabric it has been highlighted as a priority area for rehabilitation, and a 4-year initiative began in early 2009 through an organisation called Consorci RIBA, where RIBA stands for integrated neighbourhood rehabilitation. The Consorci is a public entity, from Palma’s City Council and the Government of the Balearic Islands, in charge of coordinating an integrated rehabilitation of the most degraded areas of Palma, with multiple millions of euros in funding for the Camp Redó rehabilitation coming from these sources plus the European Regional Development Fund. Integrated rehabilitation in this context means that actions are not reduced to urban design interventions, but strive to simultaneously address economic, environmental and social spheres.

I began to learn about the project through activities in the latter sphere of intervention, as an architect friend working on the urban design component of the initiative invited me to a participatory walk with residents through the Camp Redó neighbourhood, organised by social workers in the social integration and equality of opportunity programme – the social branch of Consorci RIBA with 16 employees. I was impressed with the concept and the content of the walk, which involved stopping at five key areas in the neighbourhood, from the clean, main shopping street with broad sidewalks and bike lanes to the dirty, unkempt streets in the priority zone of Corea, and asking residents participating in the walk their perceptions of these areas, their feeling being in that particular urban space. This activity made up the last of dozens upon dozens of events over the year that engaged the residents of Camp Redó in a time-use study, the first of its kind in an urban project Mallorca, to understand how they distribute their activities during the day, from the domestic environment, their mobility, use of services as well as their perception of spaces in the area. The quantitative and qualitative information gathered during over the year will be used to recommend improvements the urban intervention in Camp Redó, the concept being to marry the urban with the social findings.

In Memory of James Rossant (1928-2009)

James Rossant passed away on Tuesday, leaving us with many great contributions in architecture and planning. His designs for the Butterfield House, the city of Reston, the Myriad Botanical Garden (pictured above), and the 1966 master plan for lower Manhattan are among the most well known. Rossant's international work includes a UN-sponsored plan for the capital of Tanzania.

After studying with Walter Gropius at Harvard, Rossant worked for Gino Valle in Italy until 1965. He returned to the US to take a job with Mayer & Whittlesey, where he worked on a plan that led to the development of Battery Park City. Two years later, he started a new firm with William Conklin. Their many notable projects include the Crystal Bridge in Oklahoma City (a giant cylindrical greenhouse in the Myriad Botanical Garden), Two Charles Center in Baltimore, the Ramaz School in New York, and the US Navy Memorial in Washington, DC. Rossant taught at Pratt and NYU, and served on the New York Public Design Commission. He is also known for his painting, sculpture, and whimsical drawings.

Butterfield House is skillfully integrated within the historic fabric of Greenwich Village. Paul Goldberger listed it among the 10 greatest postwar apartment buildings in New York. The city of Reston has a singular modern aesthetic, and features housing, business, landscaping, and cultural amenities around a central manmade lake. It is described on Treehugger as green, walkable, and diverse (both ethnically and economically). Although the angular concrete seems a little overwhelming from the photos, in comparison with most modernist development it offers strikingly intimate settings. I find the small paneled flats overlooking the water especially interesting.

Since modernist contributions to city planning have been criticized more than sufficiently by now, it's good to remember people like James Rossant, whose creativity and attentiveness to detail outshine the excesses of their time. They help us understand the characteristics of pleasant environments that transcend different eras. Skillful integration of new development, access to amenities, diversity, spectacle, and relationships with water come to mind after reviewing Rossant's work. In light of this, I think his urban environments will continue to please their inhabitants and inform designers for many years to come.

Credits: Photo of the Myriad Botanical Garden from Flickr user jacki-dee. Photo of James Rossant from Photo of apartments overlooking the water in Reston from

Urban Transformations: कुम्भ मेला

Haridwar Kumbh Mela in 1854

Good urban design should accommodate diversity. With terms like open-endedness, improvisation, and flexibility, we are attempting to describe the structure needed to achieve diverse experiences and uses, nuanced economies, or a vital spatial democracy in our cities. Usually, these variations are a daily occurrence--the transformation of urban space is continuous and gradual. At times, however, this change can be dramatic and instantaneous. No urban transformation is as massive as the one that will be sparked next month by the Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar, a small city along the Ganges in the Uttarakhand State of India.

Haridwar Kumbh Mela in 1986

Starting on January 14th, this city of 300,000 people will grow to accommodate an expected 70 million visitors over the course of the 45 day event--a population growth of more than 23,000%. On the most important day of the festival, at least 10 million people will come to bathe in the Ganges or watch the spectacle, making it one of the single largest gatherings of human beings for a single purpose in history. To put this in Olympian terms, it will be as if 110 separate "Bird's Nest" Stadiums full of people have all come to the river for a dip after the game.

The Kumbh Mela Festival occurs every three years in one of four cities in Northern India: Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain. For the Hindu pilgrims, the festival centers around a series of ritual events in which immersion in the holy water grants absolution of past sins. Between bathing events, many visitors settle in to makeshift cities with temporary populations to rival major cities in the US. In Allahabad, even during the slightly less-attended 'half' Kumbh Mela, the figures of this instant city are astounding. According to the BBC, 30 square miles of floodplain (thats 1.3 Manhattans) were filled with 50,000 tents (think wedding tents, not camping tents), secured by 20,000 police (1.3 times the size of Chicago's entire force) and served by 25,000 toilets (that's all?). As in any city, hospitals, marketplaces, downtowns, tourist ghettos, slums and posh areas were also found.

Satellite image taken before and after 2001 Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. One can clearly see traces of previous festivals on the flood plain and the incredible impact the bathers have on the course and boundaries of the river.

Despite their size, these urban areas are still stitched into the fabric of the original cities. These four cities have been born of and evolved along with these events. The ability to expand ten-fold or more is inherent to the evolution of the city. The economy of Haridwar, it seems, is devoted to supplying visitors to the sacred waterfront. Har-Ki-Pauri, the main bathing area or 'ghat'--is at the terminus of the main commercial avenue filled with jug-sellers, icon-pawners, hotels, and restaurants. Har-ki-pauri extends the waterfront with a canal, making three river-fronts where there was once only one. Bridges extending to each of the bathing edges are extensions of the commercial streets, being good places to hawk wares and witness the daily rituals of sacred bathing. In Nashik, a larger Kumbh Mela city, the river has similarly been divided into separate streams, doubling the 'surface-contact' of the city with the river. When not in full use during a bathing event, these edges function quite well as laundering areas. At certain times of the day, the banks are plastered with a mosaic of drying saris.

Nashik waterfront, site of a future Kumbh Mela

The Kumbh Mela events in India demonstrate a capacity for cities to facilitate extreme fluctuations of people and purpose. The particular event described is predictable and more or less known (give or take 10 million souls. . .), but can be considered a 'screen-test' for more unpredictable events having similar outcomes. War, political conflict, natural disasters, climate change, and disease can also displace millions of people and force cities to function as triage centers or campgrounds. In Hollywood, fortunes have been made in visualizing the destruction and subsequent moody transformation of important cities. Since 9-11 and Katrina, city planners--we are told--have become more aware of the possibilities of such extreme transformations, but I have a feeling that the spatial outcomes are quite undesirable (anyone want to live in a football stadium for a month?). Perhaps we should be asking our visionary city planners to take a trip to India next month to see how it is done.

Har-ki-pauri ghat in Haridwar at nightly ritual prayers.

Credits: Historic etching by JMW Turner, found here . Image of Haridwar Kumbh Mela from Historic photo of Haridwar ghat from Wikipedia. Satellite image and photo of Allahabad from BBC news. Images of Nashik and Haridwar ghats by Ivan Valin.