Bicycle culture

2 06 2011

by Vlado Kabat

Cycling is a convenient replacement for cars in cities suffering from never-ending traffic jams, not only for families with lower income, it is becoming a trend in a healthy life style. From the cities that I have visited, two of them stayed in my mind as the cities of bicycles.

First of them is Copenhagen which claims that 36 % of people are cycling to work, school or universities. Cycling is integrated into S-train network and the Copenhageners are allowed to take their bikes on the trains for free. The city wants to encourage even more people to use their bicycles. Police started to operate on the bicycles since 2009 to improve visibility and contact with citizens.

The other city is Amsterdam. There is a huge bicycle multi-storey parking right in the city centre. On the roads, cycling lines have their own traffic lights and turning lanes. People are not bothering with stylish bicycles, most of them are all using old ones without many modern features. No wonder, because one bicycle is cheaper than a one day transport ticket. (We saw bicycles for less than 5€) As typical tourists I and my friends bought the transport ticket instead of riding the bicycle. We had an impression that the trams were used mostly just by elderly, injured or people who were not able to ride the bicycles at the time.


Play Now for a Green Tomorrow

1 06 2011

By Sarah Muscat

Browsing through a website, I was startled to read that SimCity is being used in educational curriculums! How can A GAME be considered as a good basis to the future of urban design and planning, even by universities?!

SCEPTIC about it, I started to search out for weak points in the game. Based on the realities of capitalist economies, surely it must be the environmental sector! I was wrong. The latest SimCity Societies is not just tackling the issue, but has worked with BP to provide realistic scenarios for the economic and environmental costs and benefits of different energy options… be used in THE GAME!

No wonder the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change opted for A GAME, ‘Create your MY 2050 World for the UK’, to engage people in the difficult choices that must be made for UK’s Energy Future! I DECIDED TO PLAY THE GAME! It’s fun and does highlight misconceptions and the inadequacy of certain measures to alternative options.

At the end I managed to reduce CO2 below the targeted 20%. Success means that your proposed scheme feeds into the UK’s energy debate ‘2050 Pathways Analysis’. So GO ON AND PLAY!

Create your My 2050 World for the UK

The People’s Supermarket

1 06 2011

By Aaron Murphy

I was really taken with a TV Programme that I saw recently; The People’s Supermarket. Perhaps the reason for my interest stems from the fact that I am a student struggling to get by on under £20 a week! This year I have really noticed an increase in food prices especially in comparison to two years ago when I was an undergraduate. Therefore, early on in semester one I made a pact with myself; not to shop at Tesco! I dread to imagine the percentage of my student loan that I spent in that oh so conveniently located Jesmond store. This year, bar the occasional rummage around supermarket bins with a few friends of a Sunday evening (didn’t you know? it’s all the rage these days – you never know what treats await your dangling hands!),   I have done the majority of my shopping at the Grainger Market, and it is not only my purse that has reaped the benefits. I have found the vegetables to be of a higher standard, the staff a delight to talk to and I have always left feeling as though I have done something to help the independent business person.

Herein lays the motto at the heart of the Peoples Supermarket; ‘For the People by the People’. The concept is simple: members of the community get involved by working voluntary shifts at the supermarket, and in return prices drop. The concept is not new. This kind of thing is going on at much larger scale in cities such as New York.  However, it would be great to see a growth of this kind of community action across England. For this reason I thought a ‘Peoples Supermarket’ would work wonders at our sustainable masterplan for the Freight Depot Site. Let’s hope ideas such as this actually go ahead and don’t get trampled upon by greedy developers!


The Loveliness of Flora

31 05 2011

By Carlie Douglas

I think it’s fair to say that most people enjoy flowers in the natural environment, barring any allergic reactions. I certainly am no exception and whilst I am out taking photos for site analysis or other various projects, I always seem to come away with at least a few photos of flowers. I can’t get enough; I’ve even started growing some in studio! Flowers always seem to have a positive effect on my mood, and definitely on the mood of others around me. So, as I seem to always do, I decided to look in the ‘why’ of it and also add a few fun facts about these lovely mood-boosting growing things. There are various psychological theories as to why we are so positively connected to flowers; learned associations through positive social events in life, food associations stemming from our own evolution, but perhaps my favourite is the one that flowers have evolved specifically to elicit positive emotions in mammals. The idea that an entire division of the Plantae Kingdom has evolved specifically to benefit mammals seems a bit out there, but there certainly are evidence for this theory, such as the apparent adaptation of flower to fit our evolutionary preferences. I won’t go into the evolutionary psychological theories, but if anyone is interested I’ve attached a link at the bottom of this post.

Now, for some fun facts about flowers;

Flowers are most commonly associated with femininity.

The Roman Goddess of flowers, gardens, and the season of spring is Flora. The Greek Goddess of spring, flowers, and nature is Chloris.

Some common vegetables are actually flowers; broccoli, cauliflower, and artichoke.

The most expensive spice in the world, saffron, is made from the dried stigmas of a crocus. Other spices made from flowers are cloves and capers.

Beer is significantly flavoured with Hops, another flower.

Other edible flowers, sometimes used in salads are nasturtium, carnations, honeysuckle, sunflower, and chicory.

Many herbal teas are also made from flowers, chamomile, rose, jasmine, dandelion, and hibiscus.

Flowers often have symbolic meanings that often span across cultures. For instance, Lilies are widely used in burials as a symbol of life or resurrection. They are also sometimes associated with the stars or their petals are said to shine like the sun. In Hindu culture, the Lotus flower carries spiritual significance. Daises are usually a symbol of innocence. Poppies are generally a symbol for consolation in a time of death, and in many countries (including the UK) are worn to commemorate soldier who have died in war. Red Roses, often a symbol of romance, are usually given as a token of love, beauty, or passion.

I hope you enjoy my photos of flowers and maybe the next time you look at a garden or drink a beer, remember the lovely little bit of flora and its possible evolutionary process to please you.

Flowers=Happiness?  The emotional impact of plants

The Royal Wedding and the transformation of urban space

4 05 2011
By Sarah Muscat

Cheering along with thousands of people from all over the world, the atmosphere in Hyde Park was a celebration of a joyous unity, as the newly wed Will and Kate shared a kiss or two in the Buckingham Palace‘s balcony.

It might have been Prince William’s charm, or the bride’s dress, but for many, the transformation of urban spaces in London to celebrate the Royal Wedding was one good reason to visit the city.

The Union Jack featured wherever one looked, the shop windows decorated for the occasion increasing footfall and lingering even in streets outside the main tourist areas, green spaces were enhanced and events organized everywhere, making every part of the global community involved. The sense of inclusivity, of belonging and sharing; gave rise to various positively activated spaces, binding the local communities.

With all the girls competing to marry Harry, the next wedding might take some time! Maybe we could instead continue to celebrate our own communities more often within urban spaces, cherishing every accomplishment towards a better living for everyone.

Kensington Palace Gardens


Shop window decorated for the Royal Wedding


Hyde Park during Royal Wedding

Vitamin G

10 03 2011

By Carlie Douglas

Inaccessible 'Green' Beautification

No, I’m not talking about Riboflavin (should anyone look up the actual medical definition), I am referring to the new term for people’s need for ‘green’ in their daily lives.  And the more interaction, the better.  Because of spreading urbanization, the desire for dense urban areas, and some cities and town’s ‘beautification’ strategies, accessible green spaces are becoming a rarity.  Studies have shown that daily contact with a natural environment positively effects people’s perceived well-being; it lowers stress levels and restores attention spans.  It also encourages physical activity, walking and everyday movements, not necessarily ‘workouts’.  Recent research has exposed not lack of access to healthy foods, but lack of physical activity as the greatest factor in obesity rates as categorized by the World Health Organization; BMI ≥ 30.  And because obesity rates in the US have risen to about 30% (and nearly 20% in the UK), this need for physical activity is greater than ever.

Vitamin G

So, as Urban Designers are shifting focus of neighbourhood layouts to ‘walkable communities’ and implementing cycle networks, perhaps we should begin to integrate green spaces/areas/elements into our designs and use hard surfaces less.  Advances in technology such as high load bearing grass pavers make it possible to even have ‘green’ roads, parking surfaces, walls, etc.  And in our student lives, if for no other reason but a measure of stress-relief, maybe we can try to insert a bit of Vitamin G!

And for a few stats on the green–> The ‘Vitamin G’ effect