Canals of New York

What New York Doesnt have any canals?

Last year CIVITAS, a non-profit that works to improve land use in East Harlem and the Upper East Side, working with local politicians, they staged an ideas competition to redesign a section of the waterfront that runs from 65th Street to 125th Street,.  This builds on an initiative of Mayor Bloomberg launched in 2012 a Vision 2020 plan has already seen some of the city’s 500 miles of shoreline transformed into parks.

The winning entry is quite extraordinary.   Syracuse University architecture student Joseph Wood proposed a network of Venetian canals woven through the Manhattan street grid.  Fastcodedesign

Wood’s sepia-toned renderings describe a sinuous series of promenades, streams, and pathways threading through the existing urban infrastructure that runs along the island. Pedestrian bridges rise over FDR Drive, while bike paths rise over slower-moving foot traffic.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial canals cut into the city grid all along the East River waterfront, moving goods and waste in and out of Manhattan. These inlets were long ago filled in, but Wood’s design would see the them reemerge – this time for public use.

Interestingly FDR drive has an interesting history, it is built on top of Bristol Town Centre.

During World War II, the Luftwaffe savagely bombed the city of Bristol, England, a major port for American supply ships,” …“After the supplies were unloaded, the American ships had no British goods to replace them on the return trip, and needed ballast for stability. So they loaded up rubble from Bristol’s bombed-out buildings.”“Back in New York, the ships dumped the ballast from 23rd to 34th Street as landfill for whatwould become the East River Drive, now Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive Michael Pollack in his FYI column in The New York Times June 2009.


Wood said he was stunned that the jury selected his design, which was assigned as part of an architecture studio. “I was very surprised because they presented the competition like a basic nuts-and-bolts problem,” said Wood said by phone. “I think they took a step out of themselves to allow such a conceptual idea to win.”

Of course what New York Really needs to do is replace FDR highway with an East River Waterfront connecting the city back to the East River and creating a tramline along the waterfront which could move far more people with far less land, it would be extraordinary, especially in combined with Wood’s visionary masterplan.

A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 3 – Formal and Informal Beauty

Today well cover chapter 3 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909.  Chapter three follows on from the themes of Chapter 2 which looked at different forms of town plan through history.

There are today two schools of town designers. The work of one being based on the conviction that the treatment should be formal and regular in character, while that of the other springs from an equally strong belief that informality is desirable.

He also stated that landscape architecture had exactly the same division between formality and informality.

In a key passage Unwin then sets out how nature far from being ‘random’, disordered and wild is the outcome of natural laws and evolutionary processes

[the] vague belief that the beauty of wild nature arises from the fact that it is free, not subject  any constraint, and that the fault of formalism lies in its imposing order, and introducing fixed rules which must be obeyed. It is true that the beauty of wild nature is usually informal in the sense in which we have used the term, but this does not mean that it is the result of chance, or of freedom from restraint. On the contrary, the forms which we find beautiful in wild nature are the result, so far as we know, of obedience the most perfect to laws the most complex, so much so that we may call the forms inevitable. Th…the slopes of the hills and valleys, the bend of the river, the curve of the bay, and the forms of the trees and the  shrubs could not have been otherwise than as we see them…It seems probable… that adaptation to place and function or, as we have called it, rightness of form, if not necessarily resulting in beauty, is at least the basis upon which it is most likely to flourish.

We saw in previous chapters how modernist were Unwin’s ideas rather than backward looking as some caricature him.  Design was about unifying creativity and production of space.  But it was a particular brand of modernism, here we see how it equally was based on designs that grew from place rather than from the Zeitgeist view of modernism of an imposed industrial design everywhere.

As in the previous chapter where Unwin Criticises informal housing layouts for the sake of it Unwin now attacks a similar vice in landscape architecture.

beauty which we find in many landscape gardens arises mainly from the successful accomplishment of definite purposes ; not only does it not depend on the informality of the forms and lines, but in many cases arises in spite of this…The most beautiful gardens of all I believe to be those in which some of the aims of the landscape gardener have been carried out on a simple and orderly plan, where the formal frame or setting has been provided for the display of the informal beauties of trees and blossoms and still or running water. …

The formalist needs to remember that his design is subordinate to the site, that the undulation of the ground and the presence of natural features of beauty worth preserving will frequently require some departure from the regu- larity of his treatment. His formalism must be regarded as a method of carrying out definite ^ms, and not as an end in itself justifying either the destruction of existing beauty or the creation of formality for its own sake.

Then Unwin sets out how to unfiy these approaches in town plan design

If the designer is to go to work in a right spirit, he must cherish in his heart a love for all natural beauty, and at the same time have always in his mind a clear appreciation of the beauty of the definite design which he seeks to develop. His regard for a type of beauty which it is beyond his power to create will cause him to approach his site  with   reverence, will fit him to receive from it all the suggestions which it has to offer. It will help him to realise the importance of incorporating his design with the site and of so arranging his scheme of laying out that it may serve as a means of harmonising his buildings with the surrounding country. It will save him from rashly destroying trees or other existing features which, with care, might be preserved and incorporated in his design. At the same time, his belief in the rightness and the importance of definite design will prevent him from sacrificing it unduly to quite minor features of the site, which, however charming they may be in their present state, may either lose their value in the new conditions to be imposed or may be of less importance than the completion of the scheme. The designer who approaches his work in this spirit may — no, I would say must — be left to decide for himself in each case how far the lines of his site must be followed and how far his design must prevail where the one or the other must give way.

As well as aesthetic considerations Unwin also considered issues of practicality

a certain degree of orderly design in the main lines of a town plan undoubtedly helps materially to the easy understanding and following of it, and in a town so planned a stranger would more readily find his way about, more easily grasp the main lines of direction. But the practical advantages of such an orderly arrangement of the plan do not require exactitude of symmetry, which often could not be attained without considerable sacrifice of convenience or natural beauty. In such cases it would seem foolish to pay heavily for securing a degree of symmetry only appreciable on a paper plan or from the car of a balloon. The eye with difficulty measures distances and angles, and very great departures from regularity in certain directions may be made without being noticeable.

Unwin stressed the where a place was viewed from would effect the perception of symmetry and regularity.  Unwin was particuarlry concerned with rooflines.

On sites much overlooked from high ground, roofs and roof lines become matters of the utmost importance. In fact, the beauty or otherwise of towns, seen from a distance, depends very often muchmore on the roofs than upon any other part of the buildings.

Civic Exchange – ‘Big Society’ project derailed by cuts and distrust


David Cameron‘s flagship “big society” project is at risk of being derailed by savage cuts to grassroots voluntary groups and a collapse in trust among the very people the government expected to deliver its vision, according to an independent audit of the first two years of the initiative.

The report concludes that the big society lacks a clear vision and strategy and is in danger of becoming “an initiative for the leafy suburbs”, despite the prime minister’s championing of a policy he described at its Downing street launch in 2010 as something he hoped would be “one of the great legacies” of his government.

It says grassroots community groups expected to deliver the big society have been dealt a “body blow” by the first tranche of expected £3.3bn cuts in government funding to the voluntary sector over the next three years, while a support programme, introduced by ministers for charities at risk of going bust, was “too little, too late”.

As a result of the cuts and the government’s failure to communicate or deliver its big society aspirations, much of the goodwill civil society groups initially felt towards the project has now evaporated, says the report, published by the thinktank Civil Exchange.

The report’s author, Caroline Slocock, said it was too early to pass judgment on Cameron’s vision, which tapped into a “genuine seam of public interest”. But she said: “There are real question marks over the vision and delivery of big society.”

The report draws on more than 40 data sources to test progress on the government’s “three pillars” of the big society: enabling people to shape their local area, opening up public services provision to charities, and levels of “social action” such as volunteering. It finds:

• There is a widening “big society gap” in which volunteering and other forms of social capital are strongest in wealthy areas. Cuts have hit charities based in deprived areas the hardest, creating the danger that the project becomes “an initiative for the leafy suburbs”.

• Despite ministerial promises, charities and social enterprises have been sidelined in the market for government contracts, such as the Work Programme, which the report says has “an implicit bias towards large, private sector businesses”.

• The government lacks a common vision and strategy for the big society, while smaller voluntary groups vital to delivering the project have found it hard to make their voices heard in Whitehall. It cites figures showing 70% of charity leaders believed the government did not value or respect the voluntary sector as a partner.



DECC Report on Economic Benefits of Windfarms


The Government has hit back at critics of onshore wind power, releasing a report which showed the industry created thousands of jobs and generated millions of pounds for the economy.

The joint study of 18 wind farms across the country by the industry and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) showed communities benefited from onshore wind turbines to the tune of £84 million in 2011, with 1,100 local jobs supported by the sector. One in three local jobs were in operating and maintaining the turbines, providing long term employment.

The report also said wind farms benefited local people through schemes which pay residents for hosting turbines, community ownership and investment in infrastructure. In total, the research by BiGGAR Economics found onshore wind farms supported 8,600 jobs and were worth £548 million to the UK in 2011.

The report, which looked at 18 different-sized wind farms and analysed the contribution of their development, construction and operation to the economy, is the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter battle over onshore wind power.

In recent months countryside campaigners have criticised the encroachment of turbines on the landscape and 100 Tory MPs wrote to David Cameron calling for subsidies for the technology to be cut. But last month the Prime Minister said he believed renewables were “vital” for the future of the UK and were good for business, not just the environment.

The Treasury has been accused of not backing the drive to develop clean energy sources, but Monday’s report highlights that the technology generates £198 million a year in taxes, not including those charged on electricity. This could rise to £373 million for the exchequer by 2020, the research predicts.

Industry body RenewableUK’s chief executive Maria McCaffery said the study showed that every megawatt of wind power capacity installed generated almost £700,000, with £100,000 staying in the local community. That means each average 2MW onshore turbine could be creating up to just under £1.4 million, including £200,000 for the local area.

The report also looked at future deployment of onshore wind, and found that if it is scaled up under Government plans from current levels of 4.5 gigawatts installed to almost three times as much (13GW) by 2020, it could generate 11,612 direct and supply chain jobs. The figure rises to 15,459 jobs if wider impacts on the economy of the development are taken into account, contributing around £780 million to the UK by the end of the decade.

But the report found that while the majority of the money generated during the development and operating phases of onshore wind farms stays in the UK, more than half of construction spend goes abroad, highlighting the value of developing a home-grown supply chain.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: “Our policies of increasing community involvement will also help ensure the right balance between developers and community interests. With the cost of the technology coming down, there is a real opportunity to reap the economic benefits onshore wind can bring.”

There is no link to the report yet on the DECC website or on the  BiGGAR economics website.  From an economics point of view the key isue is the opportunity cost of the subsisdy and expenditure, internationally other studies have looked at this.

DCLG Select Publishes report on new housing finance and supply

The Government must employ a basket of measures, covering all tenures of housing, if sufficient finance is ever to be available to tackle the country’s housing crisis, says the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee in a report examining the financing of new housing supply.

Launching the report, Clive Betts, Chair of CLG Committee said,

“For decades, successive Governments have failed to deliver sufficient homes to meet demand. The country faces a significant housing shortfall, and the financial crisis has amplified the problem.  232,000 new households are forming each year in England, and yet last year fewer than 110,000 new homes were completed.

There is no ‘silver bullet’. We have to muster all the resources we can.  The Government’s housing strategy has made a useful start and we hope many of its measures will provide a stimulus over the short to medium term. But we need more action if we are to see significant long term improvement in housing supply”

The Committee sets out four key areas for action, which, taken together, could go a long way to raising the finance needed to meet the housing shortfall:

  • Large-scale investment from institutions and pension funds
  • Changes to the financing of housing associations, including a new role for the historic grant on their balance sheets
  • Greater financial freedoms for local  authorities
  • New and innovative models, including a massive expansion of self build housing

Institutional investment

The Committee finds that large institutions and pension funds, which have only ever made a limited contribution to new housing, could provide a substantial source of investment.

“We should be looking to new forms of investment to help address the housing shortfall. Pension funds and large financial institutions have a blind spot when it comes to housing but could deliver a significant number of new homes for rent and achieve a steady return on their investments. Public sector bodies and housing associations must encourage such investment.  The Government should also look to establish a housing investment bank, to channel investment into housing. Expanding the Green Investment Bank to cover housing would be one way of achieving this,”

adds Clive Betts.

Housing associations

The Committee questions the Government’s flagship Affordable Rent model.

“We have a number of concerns about Affordable Rent.  How will it play out in different parts of the country? Will it prove unaffordable in parts of London?  Is housing benefit now expected to take the strain of paying for new affordable housing? Is this model sustainable beyond 2015,”

says Clive Betts.

The Committee calls on Ministers to set out proposals for the future delivery of affordable homes, and to consult on how housing associations should be financed in future.

“We must look to the long-term delivery of affordable housing.  We heard a number of proposals for the future financing of housing associations, including suggestions for the future use of the historic grant on their balance sheets.  This grant is potentially an untapped resource, and the Government must clarify how it can be used to best effect,”

adds Clive Betts.

Local authorities

The Committee concludes that local authorities have an important role to play, but may struggle to fulfil their potential because of centrally-imposed constraints.

“The Government should give councils greater freedom to decide on the best housing solutions for their areas.  Local authorities must also be allowed, within prudential limits, to safely increase their capital borrowing for new housing,”

adds Clive Betts.

New models

Finally, the Committee urges ministers to look to different models of delivery to help meet the housing shortfall.  It sees interesting potential in self build, where people manage the construction of their own homes, and points to Almere in the Netherlands as a useful model.

“Self build schemes could be a major new source of housing in England, but it will take substantial institutional change to realise this potential. Government, local authorities and lenders must work together to remove the barriers that currently restrict self-build and commit to getting pilot schemes underway very quickly,”

says Clive Betts.