Transformational Neighborhoods

This is the third blog on issues to be addressed at the 55th International Making Cities Livable Conference, May 14-18, 2018, in Ottawa.

Barcelona's density of 16,000 inhabitants per square kilometer is one of the highest in Europe. In many neighborhoods around La Sagrada Familia the density is higher than 50,000 per square kilometer. This density is achieved thanks to the six-story mixed-use grid plan urban fabric laid out by Cerda in the 19th century. 

Until recently, the public transit system was unable to handle the volume of commuters, so cars dominated the streets, causing major air pollution. Now, the network of commuter rail, metro, trams and buses has been vastly improved and interconnected, making it easier, less expensive, faster, and more convenient not to take the car. But old habits need to be changed.

To encourage people to walk, bike and take transit, the city is introducing the “Superblock” program, whereby two out of every 3 streets will be transformed into a traffic calmed street (woonerf), or pedestrian and bike street, and intersections will be turned into green plazas. This will make every neighborhood in Barcelona more healthy, livable, sociable, walkable and bikeable. Salvador Rueda, Director of the Office of Urban Ecology, responsible for this program will explain it at the Conference. This is a model that may be relevant for many grid-plan cities.

Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau will receive the IMCL “City of Vision” Award for this radical improvement to walking and biking conditions throughout the grid-plan neighborhoods.

A new Metro line through the eastern neighborhoods of Warsaw, Poland is sparking development of these older sections of the city. Having seen rapid high-rise development and international style modern architecture destroy the identity of some western areas in Warsaw, the new city government is now focusing on maintaining the neighborhood’s character by human scale infill and renovation rather than high-rise. In a keynote address Marlena Happach, Director of Architecture and Spatial Planning will explain the actions they will take to create quality of life and a good place to live.

Economic Development Manager Jenni Grafton will describe the integrated approach to multimodal transportation, parks and recreational amenities, utility infrastructure, and outdoor gathering spaces for a brownfield development in Westminster, CO. This public investment is now supporting active redevelopment that is bringing mixed-use and mixed-income projects to the area.

San Antonio’s Pearl has been transformed from an old brewery district into one of the most popular neighborhoods in the US. Jennifer Herriott, Assistant Director of Health for San Antonio will tell us how this revitalization came about.

From David Ahrens, Common Council Alderman for Madison WI, the conference will hear how a 26-acre blighted corridor with a contaminated brownfield and empty strip mall is being turned around, using a Special Area Plan requiring mutually supporting land uses and integrated design. Local residents proposed a mixed-use site of apartments, single-family homes, a public library and stores. Featured elements include a complete street, bike path to downtown, LEED-Gold 129-unit affordable-housing project, plus a 300 unit residential development (80 apartments for elderly) above the new $14 million library.

Small scale neighborhood improvements are also important to a community, and may be achieved within a shorter time span. The Capreol 2018 Community Improvement Plan will be presented by Greater Sudbury’s Mayor Bigger.

The future of our cities lies in the hands of students still in urban design and planning schools. It is heartening to know that some schools of architecture are teaching students to understand the complex organism of an urban neighborhood, and to begin to think holistically about transportation modes, urban design, land uses, and community participation. Hiro Hata, Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the University at Buffalo will present a student project, Planning for a 10-minute Transit-Oriented-Development for the University Station, UB South Campus, Buffalo, NY.

Professors John Pittari and Alex Krumdieck will also present the student-driven projects at Auburn University’s “Urban Studio” to help shape 10-minute neighborhoods in Downtown Birmingham, AL. The design goals emphasized enhanced connectivity among the distinct downtown districts, and more varied housing options downtown.

In previous blogs we have described guiding principles, and some of the new human scale neighborhoods from around the world, that will be presented at the 55th IMCL Conference. Future blogs will describe some of the visionary opportunities and challenges to be discussed, as well as strategies and tools that can help achieve Healthy, 10-Minute Neighborhoods. Join the discussion!