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Beside New York’s Bryant Park this morning, a crowd paired their pre-work coffee with an interview of prolific architect Daniel Libeskind to discuss the future of our urban spaces. While some in the audience were still waiting for the kickstart from their morning java, the aminated designer spoke with an enthusiasm that belied the early hour.  The task at hand: help shed light on what Smart Cities are and how they fit into our future.

As a part of the “Future Of” series hosted by the Wall Street Journal, the conversation was guided by WSJ Financial Editor Dennis K. Berman to dig into this oft repeated concept of the next evolution of dense urban cores. In many ways “Smart City” is still a term in its infancy with many trying to define where it begins and ends (struggling with the same reality as “sustainability.”) Though regularly paired with the technology advances of infrastructural systems and the utilization of big data, in Libeskind’s eyes the crafting of tomorrow’s city has as much to do with looking back as it does looking ahead.   Continue Reading…

render, infrastructure, ecology, permacultureThe majority of the developed, American landscape has been crafted around automotive transport. As auto technology matured, increasing amounts of resources and area have been devoted to expanding and solidifying our road network. The result has often been environments that are built for a monoculture of cars and their passengers rather than an ecology of transit that supports a variety of mobility options. In order for our streetscapes to evolve to cater to pedestrians more than cars, so too must the car-oriented infrastructure evolve in what kinds of services it provides to its municipality. A broader array of roles can allow infrastructure to improve quality of life in multiple ways with systems that complement each other.  Continue Reading…

vermont, wood, furnitureIn the new millennium, Urban planning trends have consistently embraced the practice of turning old industrial areas into new opportunities for residential and commercial development. While this methodology has ushered in the birth of many new neighborhoods, the results of industry-free urban locales may not be purely positive. As we see more communities age through similar transitions and observe their development over time, the fallout of industrial segregation should prompt a second look at the value of industrial program in maintaining a vibrant, diverse and sustainable urban realm.

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nyc zoning astoriaHistorically, zoning codes were written to help guide development with broad strokes of organizational strategy. In dense urban environments this could be to help toggle building height and setbacks to maintain adequate light and air to the street. For suburban areas, zoning has grown to build in aspects of space and privacy by spreading buildings apart. In either case, zoning can have a profound effect on the outcome of the built environment.

When sitting down to map out zoning guidelines, the sky is literally the limit with all manners of stipulation available to codify the amount of space needed for residential units or discourage the adjacency of certain program types–like say residential and manufacturing. However, once zoning resolutions are voted into law they can be very difficult to change, leading to many municipalities that have hardly changed their zoning at all since their inception. Though there are arguments to be made for the existence of zoning codes, it is important that they be thought of as living documents that help facilitate how we live (a reality that is, in itself, constantly in flux). There could be a new breed of zoning code that promotes its own evolution as the landscape fills in with uses driven by the community. Continue Reading…

high voltage wiresWhat was once a broad system of cutting edge technology has grown into an antiquated system that we rely on implicitly. In many ways, the evolution of modern society has outpaced our means for the production and distribution of power to leave the state of our world’s infrastructure punctuated by a list of shortcomings. We are still overly dependent on fossil fuels for power production. There is a growing resistance to the new centralized infrastructure where utilities can rise to a monopolistic opportunity of being the only game in town. The changing nature of our global climate highlights needs for quality and resiliency, a benchmark of performance that much of our landscape cannot currently meet. Not to be forgotten is that we still have upwards of 1.7 billion people in the world without any access to reliable electricity. While there are numerous attempts to try and bolster the breadth of the grid by fixing pieces as they wear down, there is an alternative to making a bigger and more powerful grid: making a series of smaller grids that are more agile, more robust and more adaptable. Very small. Micro.  Continue Reading…

grocery store aisleIn skimming through the recent articles on the Sustainable Cities Collective, I came across one that featured a story about an Austrian “Smart Buildings Program” at the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg. One of the projects for students was probing the design for the most efficient supermarket, effectively built to Passivhaus standards–which any American architect will tell you is ambitious for a retail entity that relies so heavily on cooling. Given that our country’s food system is highly carbon-intensive, a study for how its sale and distribution can be more ecological responsive is certainly worthwhile. Continue Reading…

tiny NY apartment book corner

Imagine a group of dedicated architects banding together to march up to Capitol Hill and lobby for our government to create new mandates to increase the average home size in the country. It is hard to wonder what the argument would be. ‘Two car garages just are not enough.’ ‘That second guest bedroom really comes in handy once or twice a year.’ ‘The survival of the American Dream depends on more space!’ At this point, consumers are supporting purchases along those lines by themselves without the help of architects. Continue Reading…