I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town

by Alex Schafran

Growing up in a small-town cum suburb, the edges came in two forms. There was the amorphous and imperceptible line drawn on the map, that line between the town on the east and the town on the west. It was seemingly arbitrary - this was nothing like crossing the border between Oakland and San Leandro, Detroit and Grosse Point, New Orleans and St. Bernard's Parish. It might mean a different school, a different "downtown", some minor cultural or political difference, but it was all one valley.

The other line wasn't political as much as urban. Like much of the Bay Area, my town had edges that bled into foothills, protected open space and vestigal grazing land which gave you a sense of both the real and imagined past. Life and homes and land out here was different, but since we were only talking a distance of a few miles, and a handful of people, it was more quaint than anything - the outskirts of town would never be confused for the other side of the tracks.

I now inhabit another edge, not one one side of town, but on the outer banks of the grand archipelago that is the San Francisco Bay Area. Brentwood, CA, 94513, population 52,000 and change, a postmillenial hybrid of central valley farm town, bucolic suburb and struggling node of middle and working class diversity in the face of foreclosure. It is oddly beautiful, especially at dusk, when the central valley light bounces off the foothills of Mount Diablo and almost makes you forget that most of the people and families in the ubiquitous subdivisions are underwater (although this was once an inland sea, I mean they owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth).

This region is still technically part of the Bay Area, but there are moments when I forget where I am - tea party tablers are the major political force at the weekly farmers market; the suburban landscape quickly, and sometime haphazardly, gives way to orchards, grazing land and fields - not the preserved agriculture of my native Marin but the patchwork remnants of the most productive agricultural region in contemporary human history. The trucks are massive, and the car culture is unreal - more than once I have had to guess when to nod and laugh as people talked car with me, much as one does when trying to learn a new language in a foreign land. It is diverse, middle class, struggling, proud, beautiful and ugly at the same time, and undoubtedly a little swath of red state America on the edge of the bluest region of them all.

Or so it seems. On June 8th, Brentwood voters went to the polls to vote on Measure F, a classic example of California ballot box planning where citizens were being asked whether or not to expand the urban limit line to accommodate a 1,300 new homes. The "Yes on F" campaign had been intense - the measure was backed by four of the five city council members, the major local newspaper, a who's who of local politicians, and the developers and landowners who managed to outspend the opposition $279,972 to $5,992.

The rhetoric was brutal - letters to the editor attacked old friends and allies, lines in the sand were drawn, outside politicians, newspapers, interest groups and organizations weighed in. My doorbell rang with eager teenagers primed to get out the vote for F, and the literature around town, on my car and in my doorway was so overwhelmingly pro-F that it seemed impossible for it to lose.

But it did. By 17 points, more than 1,000 votes out of only 8,000 cast. In a town that had grown more than twelvefold in three decades, whose political economy and actual economy rested on turning farmland into subdivisions, residents changed their their tune. It was a poorly-conceived proposition at a terrible time, as the limits to rapid growth as political economic urbanization strategy are evident everywhere. But it caught me by surprise - a newcomer from the core, caught unaware, as times may be changing on the outskirts of the metropolis.

Invisible Infrastructure

by Andrew Wade

In keeping with our collective exploration of The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles along with mammoth, this post will discuss the chapter by Ted Kane and Rick Miller - "Cell Structure: Mobile Phones".  The chapter's brief thought piece on the overlaid strata of technology and landscape is a densely packed rumination not only on mobile communications but on the network society at large and its urban implications.

A pervasive thread of the 'private corporation v. public/government control' debate appears throughout the writing, warning that telecommunications companies demonstrate a dangerous "corporate model of urban planning" in which the location and placement of cell phone towers are largely determined by market demand rather than regional planning control. This recognition of corporate authority in the development of urban communication infrastructure leads to a critique of the resultant provision of services and prominence of "dead zones" without cellular coverage in areas of more scattered and impoverished populations. Meanwhile, a cursory glance at the different incentives and accountability of public and private sector organisations provides an intriguing explanation for the resultant myopic perspective of private telecom companies.

The text held the most resonance for me in its contemplation of border zones and the ruptures of conflictual policy that occur in them.  This was made evident in the marketing strategies of telecommunications corporations in the region:
"Even as federal policy solidified the boundary of the United States against illegal Mexican immigration, an American corporation dematerialised the very same border to increase its appeal to a particular population that lived on both sides of that line . . .
Like cellular networks themselves, today's cities must form connections beyond their distinct geographic boundaries, carving new systems of interaction and collective space on a regional scale.  Only in a borderless, regionally scaled city plan organised by purpose rather than geographical boundaries, can the public realm hope to compete with the smooth surfaces of corporate control"
Perhaps it is within the elimination of illogical borders in scaling up that we can utilise the neutral technological advances in communication and transportation networks as positive tools of community building rather than privately controlled instruments of divisive planning.  How might corporate interests be invested in creating a more inclusive and integrated city and regional plan?  If the processes of corporate decision-making and their impacts on urban infrastructure were creatively mapped and demonstrated, could it influence a recalibration of such procedures?

Credits: Image of cell phone tree from Kazys Varnelis.

Comparisons of Public Space

by Peter Sigrist

Over the next two months my posts will be kind of rough, as I have very slow and infrequent internet access, and none at home. This has prevented me from reading blogs lately, and even much news, both of which I really miss. Maybe it's worthless to blog while I'm so disconnected, but since I'm scheduled to post, I'll write about the way this time in Russia is changing my perspective on public parks in Moscow.

Vladimir, where I'm currently living, is a few hours east of Moscow by train, and much smaller, with a population of around 315,000. Although the ornate wooden houses and elaborate brick buildings in the center of town are worth devoting a lot more time to, I've been especially interested in the large apartment blocks outside the center city. These areas provide an interesting contrast with the neighborhood where I lived in Moscow last summer. The main difference is maintenance. Around Moscow State University, crews of workers clean the streets each day, while the microdistrict where I'm staying now is run down in the way of project buildings in the US (i.e., visible problems with litter, graffiti, and structural decay). However, it still looks like a lot of thought went into filling the space between buildings with greenery. There are all kinds of playgrounds, fields, courtyards, and sports facilities. I didn't have my camera while walking through them, but I'll post more photos as soon as possible. The ones in this post are of nearby neighborhoods, except for the one at the top, which is from the balcony in my room.

Public space is generally enclosed by buildings, creating varied environments and a comfortable feeling of protection from the streets; almost like being inside with a nice breeze and open ceiling. Besides maintenance, which is far worse than the only microdistrict I visited in Moscow, the buildings tend to be made of low-quality materials. These neighborhoods reinforce the vague impression I had that certain parts of Moscow draw resources away from the rest of the country, resulting in some incredibly beautiful settings in the midst of decreased public spending overall.

To kind of bring these thoughts together, I'm beginning to see more than ever the importance of maintenance, semi-enclosure, variety, and quality construction. These are all things that policymakers, designers, and all kinds of citizens can collaborate on. Focusing on them -- and not only in the wealthier neighborhoods of the wealthiest cities -- could really add to the quality of life in cities.

Credits: First four photos by Peter Sigrist. Last photo by Beth Sullivan.

‘After Neoliberalism: Cities and Systemic Chaos’

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

In November 2008, the Modern Art Museum of Barcelona organized a seminar called After Neoliberalism: Cities and Systemic Chaos. This event gathered Neil Smith, The Metropolitan Observatory from Madrid, Raquel Rolnik, Andrew Ross and Mike Davis. On the occasion of this event, the texts of the seminar were published in the book with the same title (in Spanish).

This great book and texts can only be found in Spanish, but one can find similar articles in English by the same authors. This seminar happened to take place in the perfect moment, when Neoliberalism was beginning its collapse. Indeed, the ongoing economic crisis is a clear sign that neoliberalism has failed. Even self called neoliberal leaders have had to nationalize banks and large companies. The effects of more than 20 years of neoliberal domination worldwide has had its impact on most cities, which have become the space where coexist levels of opulence and unlimited power that had not been seen since France's Louis XIV, with the most extreme imaginable poverty and environmental destruction.

Change is not an option; it is a necessity for survival. The predominant individualist, greed-based society is realizing (perhaps too slowly) that it needs to change in order to survive, in order to avoid entering into a vicious cycle of systemic chaos predicted by Immanuel Wallerstein. Social and green entrepreneurship are quickly growing, also in the developing world. This situation reinforces the need to debate degrowth and the way we measure progress or prosperity.

Credits: Image from Uncyclopedia.

Mytown: Youth, Change and History in Boston

by Melissa García Lamarca

The Multicultural Youth Tour of What’s Now (Mytown) aspires to use the power of community and cultural history in Boston to inspire youth to be leaders for social change.
Mytown’s creator Karilyn Crockett founded the organisation in 1995 as a young African-American woman growing up in Boston and feeling disconnected from the city, only learning about mainstream history such as the ride of Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party, stories that never addressed the lives and struggles of so many people that have sought social justice in the city and broader American society for generations. Upon hearing about stories of community organisers creating the first African-American labour union in the country in 1925 (the Pullman porters, image above right) and struggles against urban renewal in the South End and Lower Roxbury, Karilyn began to understand the legacy of people that have struggled to positively transform the city and beyond over the past 350 years. She started to feel a sense of ownership and belonging to/in the city, feeling that Boston was indeed a city shaped by the experiences of her family and neighbours, a place that she could call “my town.”

A grant from the Echoing Green Foundation enabled Karilyn to realise her vision of a programme using the process of sharing local history to empower young people and build appreciation of urban neighbourhoods. Youth Guides, aged 14 to 18, research their local and personal history and then teach what they have learned to the public by developing and leading tours of various parts of Boston. Since the start of Mytown this work has led to the creation of more than 200 jobs for Boston teenagers who in turn have educated over 10,000 residents and visitors in neighbourhoods across the city.

History is almost always told through the eyes and by the experience of the ‘winners’, the richest and the most powerful in societies at all scales, from local to global. Mytown creates an amazing space where youth can take this back, an empowering process that inspires themselves and most definitely others about the legacy and potential of socially just and sustainable places and spaces in the city.

Credits: Photo of the Pullman Porters from discoverblackheritage.com. Photo of Mytown youth guides Jasmine, Joe and Katiana by Carolina Rovetta. Photo of Mytown youth guide t-shirt by Carolina Rovetta.

Looking for the Post-Postmodern City

by Hector Fernando Burga

Ed Soja's exploration of Los Angeles set forth a new agenda for the study of Postmodern urbanism at the dawn of the 20th century. How does Soja's interpretation of Los Angeles as a paradigmatic site reverberate today? Does the hyper-reality of LA apply to the hyper-growth of the metropolises of the Global South? Do social network technologies challenge the notion of control, incarceration and dislocation? Where and how do we start looking for the post-postmodern city?

Featured Quote: Oran R. Young

“The villages of the Circumpolar North suffer from serious social problems. More often than not, individual communities appear to have lost control of their own destiny; many of them lack both the capability and the will to regain that control.”

Oran R. Young, from Arctic Politics: Conflict and Cooperation in the Circumpolar North, 1992

This is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don’t necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We welcome you to add others.

Credits: Photo of Henningsvær from Ezioman.

Filming the Real California

by Katia Savchuk

California is a place. As chronicled in an eponymous new blog, it’s one where skateboarders reclaim abandoned pools in cities devastated by foreclosure. A filmmaker and photographer have teamed up to tell true stories from the Golden State by pairing mini-documentaries with raw images. One of four pieces up so far, “Cannonball,” is the story of youth in a disillusioned age rebuilding — in their own way — on the graveyard of the American Dream.

Credits: “Cannonball” video from California is a place.

World Cup Redux

by Vivien Park

"Refait" is a contemporary remake of the last 15 minutes of the 1982 World Cup match between Germany and France in Seville, Spain. The scenes were re-enacted shot-by-shot in an urban setting and were shown alongside the original footage. By putting the legendary 15 minutes of overtime into a new space, French artist collective Pied Le Biche has shifted football history into a temporary urban experiment.

Credits: Video of Refait by Pied Le Biche.

Of Human Billboards and Dignity of Work

by Min Li Chan

User experience researcher Jan Chipchase writes of human hoardings or billboards in Sao Paulo carrying advertisements for jobs - which provoked me to consider a few things:

1. What function does the human vehicle play in the context of a high-density urban environment, in comparison to a regular billboard? Mobility, for one, to spread the message over a larger geography - but does the bearer then unwittingly become the ambassador or representative for the jobs and announcements advertised?

2. For external observers outside of the cultural context of Sao Paulo, do jobs like the human billboard grate against some ethical compass of what constitutes dignity of work? Or perhaps we shouldn't be perturbed by this scenario altogether -- it is not unreasonable within the cultural circumstances and after all, the boon of having work and income is not to be taken lightly. How is the human billboard different from say, the traditional methodology of hiring someone to hand out flyers in high-density areas, and why would it inspire a sense of dehumanization among some groups of observers?

I recall touching down in the Bengaluru International Airport a couple of years ago and having a moment of ethical crisis when confronted with an airport staff member who offered to pick up my meager baggage from the conveyor belt for very few rupees -- baggage that any able-bodied traveler such as myself could move without much difficulty. Is the appropriate response then to deny a service, under the belief that we should be able to pick up after ourselves (and refute the realities of socioeconomic disparity), or to partake in the service because there is value and benefit in supporting such micro-enterprises?

3. Can we further innovate on the medium? In the case of the human billboard, if the bearers were given the responsibility to be mavens and experts for the various points of advertisement, or even curators of new happenings and going-ons, if may make the work more interesting and the service more helpful . Can just a little bit of innovation lift the perceived quality of an enterprise?

Credits: Photo from janchipchase.com.

Featured Quote: John Holland

“Buildings are always changing, so that a city’s coherence is somehow imposed on a perpetual flux of people and structures. Like the standing wave in front of a rock in a fast-moving stream, a city is a pattern in time.”

John Holland, from Emergence, 2002

This is part of a collection of quotes related to cities. They don’t necessarily reflect our views, just topics of interest. We welcome you to add others.

Credits: Image of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover from Amazon.

Transitional Landscapes

by Peter Sigrist

Walking along the Arbat in Moscow, from Study in Hard Photography by Sergei Leontiev, 1990-1991 (source).

Sixth in a series on public parks in Moscow, this post focuses on the period of economic and political transition between 1985 and 2005. It is a brief visual overview, bringing together a variety of processes that shape urban landscapes.

Title unknown, painted by Sergej Basilev, 1983 (source).

Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev (source).

After coming to power in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev initiated a period of restructuring (perestroika) in hopes of promoting incentive and growth through decentralization. This was accompanied by a new openness (glasnost) in governance, media, and the arts. Public criticism of the state was suddenly allowed, and artists who had been working underground became a kind of vanguard in this era of tentative freedom. Unlike the Constructivists, they didn't show much faith in Utopia. They tended toward harsh realities and iconoclastic parody of Soviet rule.

Shchi (Cabbage Soup) by Sergey Bugaev, aka Afrika, 1991 (source).

Lenin Mausoleum Project by Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid, 1993 (source).

With few creative outlets during the mass housing drives of the Khrushchev-Brezhnev years, Russian architects developed a unique "paper architecture" that blossomed in the 1980s. Their whimsical, erudite, often ironic drawings and narratives proved remarkably successful in international design competitions. This allowed them a degree of independence from state-sponsored commissions.

Villa Nautilus: Bulwark of Resistance by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, circa 1987 (source).

As the government released some control over building design and development during perestroika, new opportunities emerged for architects. Gorbachev encouraged people to move out of large cities, and increasing automobile ownership fueled speculative development in Moscow's green belts (French, 1995: 200, 104). Within the city, new plans emerged for Kitai Gorod, Lenin Library, Moscow State University, and the Arbat. After thirty years of stark modernist buildings, there was a renewed interest in detail and historical style. Many of the designs reflect the influence of paper architecture.

Restoration and development of the historic Kitai Gorod neighborhood in central Moscow, 1987-1990 (source).

Plans for an addition to the Lenin Library, 1987-1990 (source).

Competition entry for a new complex at Moscow State University, 1988-1989 (source). In comparison with the overall plan (below), here is what the area looks like today (the view is rotated almost 180 degrees clockwise).

Plans to close the Old Arbat to traffic, 1985 (source).

This was a popular meeting place in the Old Arbat for artists during perestoika. It is now called Tsoi Wall (source).

Viktor Tsoi's performance at the end of the 1987 film Assa (source). Another clip from the film shows the use of semi-abandoned space for unsanctioned activities.

Tearing down this wall, 1989 (source).

Perestroika and glasnost shook the already tenuous foundations of Soviet rule. As the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern European states began to assert their independence, conservative party members saw a need to regain control. They attempted a coup while Gorbachev was vacationing in August of 1991. Boris Yeltsin (former Moscow party secretary and recently elected president of the Russian Republic) remained at the parliament building, and popular support on the premises helped prevent the coup leaders from taking decisive action. Following the coup, Yeltsin pushed for more political and economic restructuring. Gorbachev resigned as head of the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union came to an end on New Year's Eve.

Boris Yeltsin in front of the parliament building in 1991 (source).

Yeltsin adopted intense market reforms, which exacerbated the post-Soviet economic crisis. People gained property rights to their homes, but many state assets were turned over to corrupt oligarchs. Yeltsin appointed Yury Luzhkov as mayor of Moscow in 1992, marking a new era of aggressive business promotion and urban renewal. The Russian parliament attempted to check Yeltsin's power by encouraging a violent takeover in October of 1993. After some equivocation, the military sided with Yeltsin, firing on the parliament building with tanks and reestablishing control.

Parliament building after the constitutional crisis of 1993 (source).

Yeltsin's administration became increasingly associated with corrupt, uneven, and short-sighted business practices amidst the economic crisis. Many people grew their own produce on Soviet-era cooperative garden plots to supplement their diets (French, 1995: 90). Public green space came under increasing threat of development. Between 1991 and 2001, nearly 22% of the green belt within 30 km of Moscow was used for new construction — most often in the form of private housing in gated communities (Blinnikov et al, 2006). As Yeltsin's health declined, he chose former KGB officer Vladimir Putin as his successor.

Yeltsin and Putin greet the public on New Year's Eve, 1999 (source).

Putin took over on the last day of 1999, and was elected president the following May. He is credited with reestablishing economic stability and reining in the oligarchs of the Yeltsin period, while developing a reputation for brutal authoritarian rule.

Genplan 2025 map of highway construction (source).

Under Mayor Luzhkov, a new master plan for Moscow was ratified in 1999 and updated in 2005. Deemed Genplan 2025, it was designed to organize the city's growth for the next twenty years. It is ostensibly less prescriptive than the plans of 1935 and 1971, focusing on the support and regulation of private initiatives. However, plans to update decayed housing stock appear highly proactive. According to a public site dedicated to monitoring the plan, 1 in 5 Moscow residents will be displaced from their homes and a 4th highway ring will surround the city. These plans face opposition from historic preservationists and residents of neighborhoods slated for redevelopment.

Protests against Genplan 2025. From left to right (rough translation of the signs that are fully or mostly legible): "Genplan 2025 — Death Sentence in Moscow!", "For the Preservation of the City's Historical Character", "Let's Preserve Moscow for Our Children", "[Illegible] and Not for the Construction Mafia", "Don't Allow Moscow to be Covered with Asphalt". Perhaps strangely, this picture is from the website of Right Cause, a center-right political party reputedly in favor of business, democracy, and human rights, with close ties to the Kremlin (source).

While Genplan 2025 is posted online, the format doesn't allow for machine translation, so it will take me some time to go through the entire document. The plan focuses on rebuilding within the city instead of on greenfield sites in the suburbs. This is to occur primarily in Moscow’s industrial “middle zone,” eliminating 16 of the 66 industrial sites currently inside the city, and reducing the area of an additional 20 (Journal of Real Estate and Investments). Reclaimed land is slated for housing, business, and parks. Like previous plans, Genplan 2025 calls for an integrated system of green space linked to forests around the perimeter, increasing urban parkland from 30.3 to 35.1 thousand hectares (ibid).

A meadow in Moscow's Krylatsky Hills. Photo by A. Klochkova (source).

Much of Genplan 2025 is reminiscent of previous plans, with obvious ideological differences. While the 1971 Genplan was explicitly dedicated to building a model communist city, the new plan focuses on guiding Moscow's transition to a market economy. The private sector has a relatively high degree of autonomy, and public-private partnerships appear to be the favored development model. Based on past experience with privatization and corruption, it is uncertain whether plans to reuse former industrial sites will be realized, or whether current green space will be protected.

A drive through the nearly abandoned ZIL automobile factory in Moscow (source).

Despite the expansion of suburbs into the green belt, there is reason to believe that most public parkland will survive the transition to a market economy. In 1986, "Gardener's Day" became a public holiday, and green space seems to be closely tied to national identity. This is particularly evident in Moscow, where the old Apothecaries' Garden near the heart of the city is being restored with sensitivity to cultural heritage (Hayden, 2006), the biology museum offers urban ecological tours, and the government boasts of a national park inhabited by elk within the city limits. Thus it is not likely that the state or city would cede valued parks to private development. However, the threat of gradual encroachment is ever present.

Buildings overlooking the Apothecaries' Garden (source: one of my own photos, I wish the quality was better, please feel free to use it if you'd like).

Greenhouse at the State Museum of Biology, which offers tours of "the forests, meadows, and marshes of Moscow" (source: also one of my photos, no restrictions).

Elk Island National Park, nearly a third of which is within Moscow's borders. Photo by V. Zabugina (source).

Reviewing Moscow’s public park system today, the longstanding influence of Garden City ideas is clear (especially shared courtyards, links to railways, buffer zones, and green belts). It also reflects the consequences of virtually limitless state control over the urban landscape. Some I find positive (kvartal * housing, efficient public transportation, accessible green space) and others not at all (giant roads, overbearing buildings, industrial pollution, loss of cultural heritage). With hope, Genplan 2025 will provide equal rights for all citizens to participate in decisions that lead to healthy and attractive living conditions.

Balkan Baroque by Andrei Filippov, 2005 (source). Although this title refers to the former Yugoslavia, Filippov was an important part of the Russian conceptual art movement in the 1980s-1990s, and the double-headed eagle is the Russian coat of arms.

While this brings my historical exploration just about to the present, I'm planning one more post to reflect on the series in light of current events. After that I'll begin fieldwork in Moscow. This will involve archival research, analysis of demographic data, interpretation of geographic images, interviews, and direct site assessment. I hope it will result in a comprehensive, historically informed study that integrates political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological processes. My overall goal is to contribute to policy decisions that improve the quality of life in cities.

* The Stalinist Urbanism post includes a brief description of kvartal housing. I imagine it looking something like this.

Cities and Climate Change: The Case of Quito

by Jordi Sanchez-Cuenca

On the 28th, 29th and 30th of May took place in Bonn the first World Congress on Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change, organized by ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives). ICLEI is an international association of local governments and national and regional local government organizations who have made a commitment to sustainable development. This congress responds to the fact that there has been a lot of talking about mitigation and comparatively little to adaptation, despite that Climate Change is already affecting most cities, mainly the urban poor. It is widely assumed that killer landslides, unpredictable floods and catastrophic hurricanes, among other climate-related disasters, are becoming more frequent and deadlier. Debating and taking measures to adapt to Climate Change is, in fact, a step beyond mitigation, as it enhances the sense of urgency in taking mitigation measures.

Quito, Ecuador. Photographer unknown. Source: Skyscraper City

This is what Quito has been doing since 2007 in a participatory manner, as a response to rapid city area growth with increased risk of landslides, extension of agriculture to high mountain ecosystems (locally known as paramo, which is the main natural source of the city's drinking water), increased virulence of rains and droughts, loss of biodiversity and retreat of the surrounding volcanoes' glaciers. Today Quito has a Climate Change Strategy, which combines mitigation and adaptation. This combination comes from the realization that many mitigation measures also strengthen the city's resilience to Climate Change. One easily understandable example is reforestation and forest protection in the city's borders, which contributes to reducing CO2 and, at the same time, it reduces the risks of floods and landslides. The strategy establishes the principles, criteria and guidelines to how Quito's citizens and all sector's organizations have to face Climate Change.

Quito at dusk, photographed by Andreas Kaiser. Source: TrekEarth

That is why Quito was chosen with other 3 cities to present their case in the ICLEI congress. Quito is the only city in Latin America that designed its strategy with a clear balace bewteen adaptation and mitigation (Mexico D.F. and Sao Paulo's strategies are essentially about mitigation). Quito's Climate Change Strategy has four strategic lines: information; technology and good practices (addressing both mitigation and adaptation); Climate Change-related communication, education and citizen participation; and institutional strengthening. One of the main tools in the strategy presented in the congress that I'd like to emphasize is a map combining the poorest city areas with the areas that are most vulnerable to climate disasters. This map has defined the priority action areas, in which the city will be implementing the four strategic lines.

Calling All Street Artists

by Katia Savchuk

Living Walls: The City Speaks, a grassroots urban colloquium that will take place in Atlanta on the weekend of August 13, has put out an international call for artists to submit posters, which will ultimately be wheat-pasted on public walls and in a gallery in Atlanta. This is part of an effort to engage the public via street art and connect Atlanta to urban citizens across the globe. Submissions are due July 13.

The organizers of Living Walls have also put out a call for speakers. They are attempting to provide a platform for local people to discuss their neighborhoods and the use of public space.

Living Walls is striving to be a counterpoint to the Congress for New Urbanism, a large annual conference that took place in Atlanta in May and charged a $200-a-day entry fee.

Credits: Photo by Miso from Living Walls.

Politics and Consultation in the Reform of Barcelona’s Diagonal

by Melissa García Lamarca

Avinguda Diagonal as it is officially known in Catalan – Diagonal Avenue – has been at the centre of much debate in Barcelona in recent months. The 11 kilometre long, principle avenue of the city that cuts the Exiample, as designed by Illdefons Cerdà in the mid 19th century, has stayed largely the same for the past 100 years despite the fact that transportation needs have changed dramatically. Now there is so much traffic congestion of all sorts and public transport is so battered that riding one of the many buses traversing the Diagonal takes (in record time) one and a quarter hours to cover 8 kilometres. Considering that mobility studies have shown that 46% of movements within Barcelona are by foot or by bicycle, 35% by public transportation and 19% by car, in recent years it has been recognised that reforming the Diagonal would benefit the majority of the city’s population.

In February 2009 a city-driven citizen information and communication phase began around transforming the Diagonal, where, according to the Barcelona City Council website, from June to September 2009 sectoral round tables, neighbourhood round tables, and debate workshops in schools were held, with 30,000 people participating providing 175,000 contributions. Such inputs were used to prepare the March 2010 launch of two proposals for the reform of the Diagonal: option A (image above) with lateral boulevards, a tram in the middle and one way lanes for cars on each side and option B (image below) with a central promenade, trams on the sides and two lanes for cars in each direction (here is a video illustrating both the designs in more detail). Both proposals give preference to public transportation, pedestrians and cyclists, relegating the car to second priority. 70,000 more journeys per day would be permitted with these new plans, up from the current 400,000. Total reubanisation costs for both options, a total of 260,000 square metres, would be around 70 million Euros, where the tram infrastructure adds another 54.5 million Euros in option A and 65.5 million for option B.

Yet the final phase of public consultations culminating in a vote on options A, B and C (that the Diagonal stays as it is) recently held from 10 to 16 May have been judged by many to be a failure: option C was selected by 80% of the 172,161 people who voted – just 12% of residents registered with the municipality as of 1 January 2010, 16 years or older. An outcome foreseen through surveys in September 2009 as well as March of this year, where the 65% and 86% respectively felt that the Diagonal should be left as is, it has sparked a political crisis with the socialist mayor Jordi Hereu firing the deputy mayor and in recent days many asking for Hereu’s resignation.

A serious concern for many residents of Barcelona is the cost of such a project when Spain is in the midst of a major economic crisis, as well as, according to Joshua Silva from Ecomovilidad, the political motivation behind such a project with elections coming up in Spring 2011. Most of the 15% unemployed workers in Barcelona are in the construction sector, and clearly such a project would stimulate and generate work in this area of the economy. Furthermore the project kept moving forward and over 2 million Euros were spent on the consultations when various surveys months before the official vote illustrated that most people want the Diagonal to stay as is – or that they perhaps want the development of an alternative transformation project?

According to Greenpeace Spain, there was an important deficit in communication about the project that meant that residents of Barcelona were not well informed, with focus placed on costs, how long construction would last or how traffic would be re-routed rather than key issues such as the capacity of the new public transportation system, how non-motorised transportation would absorb a significant amount of actual demand or how the proposed options would reduce pollution, carbon emissions contributing to climate change, accidents and noise. At least for now, it looks like the Diagonal is staying as Cerdà planned.

Credits: Photographs of the Diagonal then and now from Fotos de Barcelona.com. Images of Option A for the reform of the Diagonal from Plataforma Diagonal per a Tothom. Images of Option B for the reform of the Diagonal from Plataforma Diagonal per a Tothom.