Between 2000 and 2010, Atlanta was the 3rd fastest growing city in the country (behind Houston and Dallas). 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. 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.” 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 →
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.
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.
For the past 5-10 years, academics, politicians and pretty much anyone who has set foot in China have agreed that pollution is a huge problem in the country. As the world’s largest developing economy, the country is expected to see a rapid increase in its urban population over the next decade—only further increasing their carbon footprint. Most people agree that the Chinese cannot continue to expand using their current cities as a model.
In class, we discussed the merits of the Tianjin Eco-city, Masdar and other green cities. Those cities take years, if not decades, to plan, design and build. The Chinese need solutions now. What is step one of the process? We’ve been talking about China for a long time and have yet to see any policies from the Politburo. I believe the first step towards solving China’s environmental problems is greater public awareness.
The issue of Chinese carbon emissions is being blogged almost everywhere, scrutinized in American think-tanks and discussed in Harvard classrooms, yet aside from improvements during the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has done relatively little. A few weeks ago due to heightened public awareness and outrage, the Politburo for the first time publically addressed the air quality problem in Beijing. Premier Li Keqiang asked for patience in dealing with the problem, saying it was created over a long period of time and will take a long time to ameliorate.1 Unfortunately, China does not have a long time. They need to see action now. Continue reading →
Once you start tying phenomena together, the topics of our course are in the news everywhere. As we head into the last days of the Q3 term, here are a smattering just from the last week or two. It would be plausible to spring from these into an original post that applies some analysis or frameworks or segmentation to add the “so what” utility. Continue reading →
The limited-access highway has deemed by planners, environmentalists and much of the public at-large to be an unsustainable urban form of transportation. The unsustainability is driven by three elements of this facility: 1) non-renewable gasoline to power automobiles that use the highway, 2) the noise, disruption and pollution created by the automobile’s engine and operations, 3) energy-intensive forms of the built environment. These key issues are juxtaposed against the indelible strength of the limited-access highway: point-to-point transportation that efficiently and quickly delivers goods and people. In the US, those arguing against the sustainability of the urban freeway appear to have the day- the country has only added 2% to its 1980 levels of urban mileage. Recent technology innovations have mitigated the negative externalities of the urban freeway. This begs the question: is it time to rethink opposition to new investments in urban highway lane miles? Continue reading →
Every time I’ve been stuck in traffic for hours, I have always imagined myself driving a car like the one Christian Bale drove in the Batman movies. No matter how quickly a city expands geographically, transit can hardly keep up with the exponential growth of population as urbanization progresses. Central areas usually receive the major commuting pressure, and existing infrastructure within those areas is almost impossible to reconstruct. The “TransMilenio” case reminded me of how Beijing, a city with population of over 20 million, has fought for the better functioning of its commuter transit system. Continue reading →