Boston Update: Trendy Architect Proposes “Carless” Housing

By Matt Bornstein

Architect Sebastian Mariscal has made local headlines recently with a proposed apartment complex in Allston.

At first glance, nothing about the project seems out of the ordinary.  The building would occupy a lot about 1.5 miles from HBS (at 37 N. Beacon St) currently filled by a used car dealership and a private home.  Key features would include modern design bizarrely out of keeping with the neighborhood (see image below), “green” construction techniques, and mixed residential / retail space.


Pictured: Mariscal’s conceptual rendering of proposed 37 North Beacon St project.  Not pictured: nearby anchor tenants KFC, Commercial Cleaning Service (a janitorial service), and New England Rubbish Removal.

What makes this project unique, however, is the parking plan.  Architect Mariscal wants to build exactly zero new parking spaces for residents of the building.  By forgoing parking, he says, he can create a number of “green-friendly” spaces, including a publicly-accessible walkway on the ground floor, private gardens for every unit, and dedicated bike lockers.

Interesting idea – except that it’s currently illegal.  Continue reading


Ecopolis in China: Lab for Idealist or Realist?

By Anonymous

This two weeks we read about two sustainable cities, Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, UAE and Tianjin in China. It is reasonably straightforward to form the overall framework for sustainable urbanization, which consists of four interrelated actors and points of view: investor, government touches, design configuration and business tactics (source: class discussion and Prof Macomber’s chart).

In today’s China, the development of eco-cities has been a hot topic extensively reviewed and discussed by different parties, and the progress of Tianjin draws a lot of attention – particularly because of the failure of its predecessor, Dongtan District of Shanghai. Indeed, the concept of eco-cities has been tentatively utilized to provide theoretical support and planning model for more than 5 cities in China, and in addition to that, more municipal governments are approaching the central government and seeking financial, political and technological support. Nevertheless, there is not even a far cry from a successful in model in practice that can be found to underpin the feasibility of the “eco-city” concept. Continue reading

China’s ghost city of Ordos

By Candy Tang

Ordos has quietly become China’s luxury good capital. Located in once the most impoverished area of Inner Mongolia, Ordos has about one sixth of China’s coal reserves and one third of the natural gas reserves. With a population of 1.6 million people, its GDP per capital reached $20K, twice as much as that of Beijing and Shanghai. The affluent local government began a public-works project, building a district called Kangbashi in the city. The area is filled with office towers, museums, theaters and sports fields—not to mention acre on acre of subdivisions overflowing with middle-class duplexes and bungalows. The only problem: the district was originally designed to house, support and entertain 1 million people, yet hardly anyone lives there. The city is empty. Continue reading

A Formula for Expansion vs. Greenfield Development

By Rami Sarafa

One of the principal norms we’ve extensively explored is the tension between master-planning new developments and the expansion of existing infrastructure or urban areas. If we consider the widely accepted tenant of macro/microeconomics known as “factor conditions,” it is perhaps easier to analyze this dichotomy and achieve a development norm. Succinctly defined, factor conditions are the resources, geographical features and historical attributes of modern states, which are out of their control and/or inherited. These variables shape countries’ respective development needs and thus their respective societies. If you consider the factor conditions of an area, you can more effectively understand if inhabitability should be active or passive, intentional or reflexive, premeditated or dynamic. If a population can benefit from positive factor conditions while alleviating negative ones, then they should be a dynamic part of the process, and mutatis mutandis. Continue reading

Personal Rapid Transport in Masdar

By Anonymous

The concept of personal rapid transport (PRT) is compelling due to the logistical efficiencies, fuel savings, emission reductions and safety improvements such systems can realize. However, their metropolis level implementation remains closer to a science fiction movie than to reality, even in planned cities like Masdar.

PRTs exist in many forms, but their basic principle is to provide shared, autonomous, point to point travel for people in urban areas, allowing travelers to rest or work instead of operating a vehicle. By reducing vehicle size and the number of stops, PRTs use less energy when starting and stopping than traditional trains or buses, which are typically underutilized except during peak periods. Some PRTs use guided tracks, like the one at Heathrow Airport, while others like the one in Masdar rely on subterrain magnets to guide above ground pods that carry 4-20 people.


Continue reading

Sustainable Paths to Economic Prosperity – Charter Cities

By John Clayton

The Phu My Hung class seemed to present several disheartening takeaways. Of the last several cases we’ve examined, Phu My Hung was objectively considered to be the most “successful” master-planned development. And yet, our conversation highlighted many issues that confronted this successful development: the long time horizon for invested capital and foregone returns from alternate investments, the unique (and likely non-replicable) circumstances involving land acquisition and government support, and the disproportionate level of demand catered towards expats with 10x per capita income levels – i.e. the wealthy. If this development could only work under this limited set of circumstances, with evident tradeoffs, and only for the wealthy, then how can we possibly expect to reasonably accommodate an urbanizing wave of 3 billion mostly poor people in the coming decades?

Enter the charter city – a city that’s designed, developed, managed and handled by a business or external entity. Continue reading

Zooming out on energy efficiency retrofits in buildings

By Ilya Minevich

Is it sensible to ask why solar PV installations have not made more inroads in Siberia?  Putting aside the shock of the juxtaposition of two such seemingly dissimilar images, there are lots of factors that make PV installation reasonable in such a cold place: the white snow refracts light allowing panels to capture more sunlight, PV technology depends on actual irradiance rather than ambient temperature, and finally the substitutes are so expensive that it should make the cost surmountable even for a green energy technology.  However, when focusing on these details and asking why there are not more installations in Siberia, we lose sight of several high-level questions: 1) why not first figure out what’s going right with solar in a sunnier place like Spain and then see what aspects differentiate the two geographies? 2) Who needs electricity in Siberia and how likely are they to adopt a new technology? Continue reading