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.


Ouseburn and the threat of over-gentrification.

2 06 2011

by: Ha mh Thai

The art-led regeneration in Ouseburn since the 1980s has transformed the former Victorian industrial district into a trendy and increasingly sought-after location for creative industries and young professionals. Capitalizing on this success, Newcastle City Council recently initiated a major development drive to greatly expand residential and business capacity to further its “Creative City” economic vision and boost middle-class city living.

Byker Bridge Housing Project on Foundry Lane

Byker Bridge Housing Project on Foundry Lane

However, many of Ouseburn’s artistic pioneers fear displacement from their studios and the loss of the area’s distinctive character as the area may become over-gentrified from Quayside. Recently, many proposals have been put into controversy as more and more private sector developers are focusing on one or two bedrooms flats for yuppies. Protectionists describe the consequence of the new strategy’s implementation as ‘regeneration frenzy’ which may lead to the loss of Ouseburn’s soul. Their anxiety is about ‘classic gentrification cycle’ with over-ambitious developer moving in and threatening the culture diversity of the Valley; consequently, the artists and the creative who brought the development in will get bought out.

How to take the opportunities for housing, business and leisure development without destroying the Ouseburn’s unique environment?

Is the Electric Car the Urban Designer’s Friend?

2 06 2011

By Scott Gibson

Charging Points in Central London

Sustainable transport is synonymous with urban design and in an ongoing move towards low carbon and zero carbon development, electric vehicles are becoming fasionable as an answer to concerns about transport realted carbon emissions,  growing fuel prices and fear that peak oil may be imminent, if not happening already.  So Electric cars it seems appears to be a perfect solution.  Hence, it’s not surprising to see masterplans with images of electric cars plugged into stand-alone charging points.  If electric vehicles do become popular, this will no doubt result in a growing demand for charging point in car parks and on-street parking bays.  Fine if there are a few, but imagine a street scene becoming filled with them at a time when there is growing pressure to improve the streetscene by reducing street clutter?

Personally I have my reservations with electric cars.  Their limited range make them only good for short journeys in towns and cities and these are likely to be the sort of journeys that could well be met by walking, cycling and the current public transport offer.  And with incentives, in terms of free parking, exemption from London’s Congestion Charge, not to mention a huge £5,000 subsidy from government toward the cost of buying one, electric cars are likely to compete more with public transport than conventional cars.  Here it seems that we’ve lost sight of what a car should be used for.  In my view that is for long journeys, ideally with two or more passengers to get to places that are simply impracticable to get to by bus or train.  Unfortunately electric cars cannot meet this role until they deal with issues about range anxiety.  However there are advancements in other fuel technologies that must not be ignored and may be better suited to making personal mobility more sustainable.  These are low carbon synthetic liquid fuels which could be used in existing vehicles, and thus make more of the exisiting vehicle fleet and avoid wasting resources on repacing them prematurely with less practicable vehicles.  They could potentially be derived from non-food sources of biomass (advanced bio-fuels in short), capturing and converting CO2 into hydrocarbons (see for an example), and even finding ways to store hydrogen in a more practicable way (see Cella Energy: ), provided of course we find ways of generating the stuff efficiently.  The point here is that electric cars are not necessarily the answer if they are likely to keep people off public transport, fail to cater for the journeys where the car really does come into its own, and worse still dominate the streetscape with a forest of charging points.

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!


Cohesive communities & walkable neighbourhoods

31 05 2011

By Harvé Dhillon

Recently, seeming a lot of our projects have included residential design, I was reading about cohesive communities and how both architecture and urban design can contribute to the social integration of residents in a positive way. Malaysia is an ethnically diverse nation with three main races and many other ethnic minorities hence the importance of its social cohesiveness and unity of people is important in order to create a stable social and economic environment. Thus, neighbourhood design has had an important impact contributing to the racial harmony of Malaysian suburbs. The simple solution is to encourage walking, by providing local amenities within walking distance such as shops, schools, community centres, health centre the of course there is better health and furthermore reduces the need to use the car. Socially, walking will encourage the meeting and greeting with neighbours and a sense of community. Planners in Malaysia have managed to create these neighbourhoods by simple and inexpensive interventions and as a result forge communities with naturally strong ties and racial interaction and integration.

  • Make pedestrian-friendly pavements mandatory.
  • Make the planting of shady trees mandatory, too.
  • Place wakaf (small huts) and simple furniture along streets to provide resting places.
  • Place schools, libraries, mosques, temples, community centres and some shops within true walking distance of clusters of houses so people are encouraged to walk rather than drive.
  • Promote bicycling by providing proper pathways as well as bicycle parking spaces.

Stockholmsporten master plan

27 05 2011

by Akshay Varma

As I stumbled upon some master-plan examples, this particular one caught my attention. Urban Design as an academic process is restricted as I see it, majorly due to the time factor and the structure of the course being fairly a skill developing one. But it’s the professional firms that give us a leading example of creative designs, within the constraints of budget and policies.

The following is the winning entry of the ‘Stockholmsporten master plan competition’, by the Danish firm BIG. The brief was to design an inviting entrance portal into the city of stockholm at the intersection of a newly plan super-junction.

Birds Eye view of the model   

View through the approach

In order to create an interesting landscape form without majorly altering the actual topography itself, a reflective, self-sustaining hovering sphere mirrors the surrounding area, creating 180º view of the city for the drivers below. 30% of the sphere’s surface is wrapped with photovoltaic film, producing enough energy to keep it floating as well as to supply 235 residences in the neighborhood with electricity. The object serves as a visual icon and landmark that greets the entry point into Stockholm, reflecting the elements of the season and the urban life beneath it.

View of the hovering sphere from the highway

The overall plan features a slight raising of the land to reduce the noise from the center, forming a bowl-like valley between the city and the surrounding neighborhoods. To create a diverse experience when moving in and around the area, the 580 sqm design is divided into multiple pie-shaped sectors that host a variety of different landscape qualities, from pine-and oak forests to wetlands; grass lawns to hilly terrain.

View of the neighborhood

View of the change in landscape