Causality and Hierarchy

By Jan Dolezal

I was thinking whether there are some frameworks for ranking and organizing different initiatives, for example those on the menu of PlaNYC (here).  PlaNYC is not conveyed with costs (or benefits) and it’s only part of the overall approach of the City and State of New York so it’s hard to quantify the components, but here are some qualitative thoughts:

Hierarchy of Needs

One is a pyramid mirroring Maslow’s pyramid (’s_hierarchy_of_needs) with a similar pyramid for cities (e.g. you don’t care about energy efficiency if you don’t have energy. You don’t care about climate change if you don’t have housing…) On the bottom level, there are basic infrastructure needs (housing, transportation, water, energy). If this is not met, nobody will really care about what is higher. Above that initiatives that improve immediate quality of living, such as Air quality or Parks. Only when this is met, people might be thinking more about recreational Waterways and problems that are not troubling them directly such as Solid waste management. At the top of the pyramid is climate change that people will be more willing to address only when their lower needs are met.

This pyramid also demonstrates why cities in developed countries care more about the higher levels than in developing countries where even the lower levels are not met.   We could place the PlaNYC (or KAEC or Tianjin or Dharavi) initiatives in such a pyramid.

Dolezal's Hierarchy

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Decision Rules: New city vs. Retrofit/Expansion

By Bryan Mezue

An important debate in our class has centered on the relative benefits of building new cities up from the ground up versus retrofitting old cities for growth. It is clear that we have no choice but to do one of the above to accommodate for the great urbanization trend, especially in the developing world. I do not think one model is always right. Instead, this blog post seeks to propose a theory of decision-making to support a choice between the models. I believe the choice should come down to an assessment of three key factors. Continue reading

We’ve forgotten the ‘land’ aspect of sustainable cities

By Ruchi Jain

In all our discussions on the replicability and segmentation of ‘model’ sustainable cities, we have assumed that the land has been available for the four ‘actors’ in Professor Macomber’s framework. Living PlanIT was granted the exclusive rights to purchase land in Paredes by the government, Phu My Hung received the land as capital contribution by the state-owned enterprise it was partnering with, and Masdar and KAEC were monarchy-led initiatives.

Step #4 from Professor Macomber’s Overall Framework for Sustainable Urbanization

The ease of availability of land is a critical assumption for some emerging markets, especially democracies such as India. The Law of Eminent Domain is a tough lever to pull for a democratically elected government, as officials often adopt populist policies which have short-term views. West Bengal has seen widespread protests over farmers being forced to sell their land at below-market rates for the Nandigram SEZ and for Tata Motors’ car manufacturing plant in Singur.[i] Reliance Industries’ SEZ planned as a satellite city outside Bombay has also seen farmer protests.[ii] Continue reading

Is sustainability of vertical cities just a fad?

By Jan Dolezal

In many discussions and articles, “sustainable cities” and “vertical cities” are used almost as synonyms and many imply that floor-space-ratio correlates with sustainability. In this post I present arguments to challenge this popular belief.

Look at China for example. Shanghai Tower – the world’s second tallest building under construction boasts to be “sustainable best practice” and Broader Group’s Sky City which would become world’s tallest building is all intended as a role model of replicable sustainability.

Yes, there are clear energy efficiency advantages of going vertical. Less surface area per usable floor space results in less heat loss and less material required for enclosure. Large scale HVAC systems are more efficient. High density reduces the need for transportation.

But there are also numerous disadvantages to offset the gains. Bottom floors need to carry the full weight of all the upper floors, resulting in significantly more materials for primary structural systems. High buildings require extensive foundations to achieve stability in high winds and earthquakes, which drives material requirements further up. Less surface per floor space may result in less natural light. Smaller roof area versus equivalent horizontal buildings provides fewer opportunities for solar installations. Smaller parcel area does not provide opportunity for geothermal heating and cooling, which can sustainably reduce energy demands of a family house by 40-70% with ~10 year payback. Vertical transportation also requires additional materials to build and energy to operate. Given all these drawbacks the real resource efficiency advantage of vertical construction is at best questionable. Continue reading

On Density and Happiness 2


Springing off from my last post (here) in which I identified an “ideal” density of 3800ppl/km2, I decided to directly chart population density against happiness for a selection of cities that belong to the following three categories: most livable, most global and most emerging.

A clear converging tendency can be observed, almost as a funnel, reaching to that “ideal density” zone. From this tendency and the selection of cities we can extract a series of observations that relate to some of the issues that we have seen in class: Continue reading

The Entrepreneurial Urban Planner

By Ted Oberwager

Our recent class discussions around greenfield cities like King Abdullah Economic City and Masdar have illustrated the difficulties in executing hugely ambitious development undertakings. However, the issues experienced in each city have also highlighted the opportunities in applying core management concepts to the world of city planning. So what lessons can we draw from the failures experienced in each of these cities? I offer a few ideas: Continue reading

Atlanta’s BeltLine: Ambitious Plan Fit for Atlanta

By Anonymous

Between 2000 and 2010, Atlanta was the 3rd fastest growing city in the country (behind Houston and Dallas).[1] Attracted to a cheaper cost of living and temperate climate, Atlanta added over 1M people to a population of 4M. However, the rapid increase has worked to tax an already strained city transportation infrastructure.

This suburban-centric view has started to change in the last few years with the ambitious Atlanta BeltLine project. The project, based on a Georgia Tech graduate student’s 1999 thesis, will be, by many accounts, the “most expensive rails-to-trails project”[i] in the country.[2] Advocates of the new emphasis on walkable cities, led by Charles Leinberger of the Brookings Institute, highlight the numerous advantages of investing in the infrastructures at the center of cities around the country – mainly lower transportation costs [and] higher transit access.”[3] Atlanta’s BeltLine project will connect 45 neighborhoods, increase parkland by 40%, and add 22 miles of transit lines to a geographic expanse that covers 22% of the city’s population and 19% of its landmass. Continue reading