Open Air Library – Magdeburg Germany

21 04 2010

KARO Architekten just recently won the 2010 European Prize for public space with it’s open air library project in Magdeburg, Germany. The space was established in 2005 as an open air library located in the abandoned district centre. The community began the project in that year by constructing a 1:1 scale model of the possible library out of old beer crates and filling it with donated books. Google Maps still shows the site as a vacant patch of grass with a worn path through the centre.

The area of Magdeburg where the project is located is characterized by old industrial warehouses and factories, now bereft of any industry, and vacancy of up to 80%. The city centre of this area is full of closed shops and empty storefronts. From this, the urban experiment that is now the open air library was created.

With a little bit of financial assistance from the federal government, the official library opened in June of this year along with an accopmpanying cafe all run by the local residents. Toted as a pilot project for revitalizing East Germany’s derelict post-industrial cities, the new community centre is now complete and open for use. No registration is required to take out books. you simply take one and bring back within a reasonable amount of time, or bring back another old book.

This project has not only succeeded in adding a patch of green space to the industrial city, it has also established a very community oriented institution based on the trust of one’s neighbours. Sounds good to me. Looks good too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.archdaily.com/39417/open-air-library-karo-architekten/ 





The New and Improved Times Square, New York

16 02 2010

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that the small sections of Broadway that were closed to traffic last spring will become permanent pedestrian-only plazas.

The experiment was conducted last spring to test whether or not closing the section of roadway would improve traffic flow. Despite its inability to truly acheive this goal, Bloomberg states that a large reduction in pedestrian injuries coupled with a favourable response from business owners convinced him to shut the street down for good. And though traffic slowed on some cross-town routes, it actually did improve quite significantly on others. But safety was the defining factor.

From the New York times:

Advocates for the project said it had vastly improved safety in the area, pointing to a 35 percent decline in pedestrian injuries and a 63 percent reduction in injuries to drivers and passengers, according to city data. Foot traffic grew by 11 percent in Times Square and by 6 percent in Herald Square, and a survey of local businesses found that more than two-thirds of the area’s retailers wanted the project to become permanent.

What I find most interesting about this whole thing is the response from the business owners. In all my experience I’ve found that one of the most difficult things to deal with in trying to create a more pedestrian friendly space is business owners insisting that the loss of vehicles in any way will negatively affect their business whether it be shutting down a street on a Sunday, removing a large surface parking lot, redusing on-street parking, etc. Here, in one of the busiest places on earth, we have two thirds of business owners requesting that the area become a permanent pedestrian plaza. This looks to me like a fantastic precedent, not just as a space converted to pedestrian use, but as an example of businesses actually requesting it.

There have been allegations of the city not wanting to expose their traffic data and that Mayor Bloomberg has made another decision for the city without undertaking proper consultation with the city. The decision was made to close the streets permanently before the data was released for public viewing. While this may be true, it is no mystery that Times Square belongs to the pedestrians. If you’ve been there, you know that the sidewalks just aren’t big enough to handle the demand. So lets say this were a highway, becoming increasingly congested because traffic demand is getting higher. In such a case, the road would be widened, or another would be built. Here we have exactly the same problem, except for once it is the people who overpower the cars. I can side with that.

New York times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/nyregion/12broadway.html?hp





We Could All Use a Second Look

25 08 2009
From: CTV, 2009

From: CTV, 2009

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. “

– From the film Dead Poets Society




Better Place: The Electric Car Revolution

19 08 2009
From: Renault, 2009

From: Renault, 2009

As companies like General Motors, Toyota, and Honda plug away at developing new hybrid vehicles in their attempts to ‘go green’ (and I applaud them for doing so!), a group called Better Place has teamed up with Renault to offer fully electric vehicles as well as the infrastructure to go with them to cities across the world. Better Place’s initiative includes:

  • working with battery manufacturers to produce advanced lithium-ion battery technologies with improved performance, range, charge time and battery life, not to mention recyclable and environmentally friendly too.
  • creating networks of electric vehicle charging possibilities including charge stations and battery switching stations
  • assisting in the development of global standards which will hopefully accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles all over the world (http://www.betterplace.com/)

Now what part does Renault play in all this? Well, Renault has committed to providing the vehicles to go along with the infrastructure. They plan to produce tens of thousands of electric vehicles per year starting in 2011. There will be 3 models available: a saloon, a compact city car and a van. Better Places Denmark is developing the lithium batteries for these vehicles. The plan is to have each buyer sign up for a monthly subscription to have access to the batteries. The partnership will initially market the program and its cars in Israel and Denmark where a recent study initiated by Better Place indicated that these 2 locations had the highest percentage of buyers interested in purchasing an electric vehicle for their next car (57% and 40% respectively). Charging of these vehicles will be available through three methods. First, Denmark plans to construct an initial 60 charging stations in parking lots and on streets where you will be able to ‘top up’ your battery charge. You can also plug the vehicles in at home when they are not being used. The third method overcomes the obstacle of the time it takes to charge a battery. 100 swap stations will be available across Denmark for driver to quickly switch their used battery for a fresh one in only 5 minutes. Less time than it takes to fill up the gas tank in some cases. (http://www.betterplace.com/company/press-release-detail/strong-consumer-interest-in-electric-vehicles-bodes-well-for-new-era-of-sus/, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/18/renault-electric-car)

Better Places is also now working with the province of Ontario in Canada. Despite the deep rooted dependence on cars in Ontario established by Henry Ford in 1903, the Ontario Government has acknowledged the need for change. They have partnered with Better Place to move from the current gas powered Car 1.0 model to the electric powered Car 2.0 model which relies on renewable energy. The partnership plans to create an Ontario wide electric vehicle network powered by Bullfrog Power, a renewable energy company in Ontario. This network includes everything from public awareness and education to government incentive/rebate programs to reviving the local auto industry with the production of electric vehicles to a system of province wide charging stations. Finally, a real solution to recover Ontario’s dying auto industry (http://www.betterplace.com/company/press-release-detail/better-place-partners-with-ontario-to-bring-car-20-electric-car-infrastruct/, http://www.betterplace.com/global-progress/canada/).  

Thanks to Sarah English for contributing.