Tag Archives: Urban Planning

Sustainable Urbanism Beyond Stockholm: Harvard’s Ed Glaeser talks at KTH

Last month KTH – Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm had the distinction of installing world-leading Harvard scholar, Edward Glaeser, as an Honoury Professor. To mark the occasion Ed Glaeser visited KTH and gave a lecture titled: Cities and the Post Urban World.

The recording is available here:

As always, Professor Glaeser gave a sparkling performance spinning data, method innovations and insights together like the premier craftsman of contemporary urban studies he has become. The great thing about watching his lecture on YouTube is that you can pause it (!) to let the impact of his many powerful observations and interpretations sink in. This is a Master’s course in contemporary global urbanism delivered in a little under an hour.

Sustainability for Stockholm – and Beyond

In the context of prosperous and beautiful Stockholm, Ed’s core message really hit home. The global battle for sustainable urbanism will have its front-lines in developing world cities. It is here that the majority of the world lives today and will live in the future. It is here that the greatest urban challenges are being faced – around housing, transportation, healthcare, energy provision and, vitally, equity. And, it is here that we must find solutions.

For a university like KTH in a city like Stockholm that is, perhaps, the world’s most sustainable capital, there is a responsibility beyond ensuring our own future. Those insights we establish in Stockholm and technologies we develop here must be taken forward and made use of in cities around the world. Sustainable urbanism is a global, shared challenge. Many of our projects (and projects developed in other European capitals) would benefit from having this perspective in mind from their initiation. Great for my city AND great for the world should be our mantra.

KTH was also honoured to welcome Professor Fran Tonkiss form LSE Cities and Professor Peter Nijkamp from VU Amsterdam as respondents to Ed Glaeser. Their excellent and insightful lectures are included below.

Professor Fran Tonkiss, LSE:

Professor Peter Nijkmap, VU Amsterdam:

 

The KTH Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment blog will take a break over the Christmas holidays, returing in the New Year with a blog theme of Smart and Sustainable Cities.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

 

The DIY Street and the Significance of the Ordinary

Researchers and practitioners in London have begun to reveal the processes and value of the “DIY street”. Should their insights change our approach to city centre planning?

Over the past month the role of the street in making the city has been addressed by two worlds I feel part of. The approaches taken to the street in each are markedly different.

In the city where I studied, London, the London School of Economics, has released a short film reflecting on the use of an unremarkable street, Rye Lane, in the wider context of the city’s development. It can be viewed above.

Meanwhile, the city where I live has published a new strategy for its principal inner city streets. This strategy is everything you would expect from a city planning authority, full of comprehensive maps, of-the-moment concepts – “the walkable city”, “activating the ground level, “the 24hour city” etc. – topped-off with pictures of cyclists and street cafes. Many similar examples cross my desk, so the exact location of this city is not relevant.

A fresh contribution

The LSE City film, by contrast, is unexpected. It is both gritty and dazzling, revealing the lightly-regulated (ignored?) street as a powerful site of integration, creation, community and change in the city. The street can be seen as raw DIY urbanism in action.  (If DIY Urbanisim isn’t a phrase you are familiar with, please take a look at the first blog in this series where the idea is explored here).

At first glance unremarkable, Rye Lane plays a powerful role in London's adaptation to globalism.

At first glance unremarkable, Rye Lane plays a powerful role in London’s adaptation to globalism.

Rye Lane, the street in Peckham, south east London, the LSE team follows, is worked through with “gaps”, sites on pavements where casual market shops can be set up and shops that can be sublet in to smaller units, creating a porous and flexible urban structure. This allows a diverse multitude of people to establish themselves in it and, it seems, thrive along it.

Rye Lane, located towards the south east of London.

Rye Lane, located towards the south east of London.

What do we learn from the film? At first it seems that the London film suggests planners neglect the street and abandon it as a site for DIY urbanism in the raw.

Including the Ordinary

The insights of the film’s creator Suzi Hall and her colleagues are more subtle. The film portrays the ordinary street’s potential as a city-maker, an active site of integration and development. The film also challenges our “vocabulary” of “who counts and what matters” when streets are developed.

It reminds us that as planners we must understand, indeed, simply see, what is there already – what is ordinary and DIY, in the un-hip sense of the word. In particular we must see people and appreciate the power and sophistication of interaction with each other and the built environment. There is much urban poetry already on our streets – as Jane Jacobs noted many years ago.

It also suggests that gaps and footholds be designed into our plans. We should be confident in the abilities of our city residents thrive on street that leave opportunities for them to take.

RyeLanePlan

Ironically, Rye Lane has become subject to a glossy, “transformative” urban plan aimed at intergration – in an aesthetic, physical and commerical sense – when it is alreay a vital site of cultural intergration.

In rapidly expanding and diversifying cities, the type that publish glossy strategies for their inner cities, schemes that helped recent immigrants get access to cheap shops or market stalls, for example, would open an opportunity for people to make the vision of the city as a thriving, human-orientated hub themselves.

Before we plan with maps, we must plan with people.

Emma Read Källblad, KTH Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment

The street images used in this blog come from LSE Cities.

An Incremental Approach to Re-Making the Million Homes

In this week’s video blog, KTH architect Erik Stenberg discusses the contribution research can make to the renovation of Stockholm’s “Million Homes” housing areas that were built during the 1960’s and 70’s.

An Incremental Approach

Erik’s research on the original plans for the Million Homes housing blocks helped him appreciate how apartments could be re-shaped through, for example, joining two or more apartments together. “The modernist, modular design of the blocks makes them surprisingly flexible” comments Erik. “It is relatively straightforward to identify the limited number of load-bearing elements in each housing block – and thus – the other elements that can be changed to adapt to today’s needs”. Some families need more bedrooms; some elderly people now prefer a smaller apartment.

Today, using the research arena provided by the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment at KTH Erik is able to combine his research with that of other researchers such as specialist in building materials, civil engineering, energy management, real estate economics and urban planning to generate fresh, multidimensional thinking.

“Beneath our variety of skills, we share an incremental approach to renovation” comments Erik. “It’s a more gradual approach, based on apartment-by-apartment renovations that adapts to specific circumstances and evolves over time. Hence, it’s more sustainable – in economic, social and environmental terms – than more radical approaches. These often require an entire housing block to be emptied during the renovation process, destroying communities and creating a risk of a “one size fits all” solution”.

Architecture for a Circular Economy

“I hope, also, that this incremental approach inspires the architects we are educating today to reflect on their own practice” Erik adds. “We must be as humble as some the original architects of the Million Program housing areas who appreciated that we can’t envisage the needs of tomorrow’s societies. What we can do instead is leave a level of flexibility, adaptability or sufficient “possibilities” in the morphologies of our buildings so that when inevitable social changes take place, future architects and communities are able to adapt their buildings to their realities with a minimal use of new resources”.

Buildings, like other goods, can be part of the “circular economy”. They should be designed with the re-use of all their elements in mind. “This is a fantastic challenge for young architects to take on – and how our architectural era will differentiate itself from those that have gone before” concludes Erik.

Erik is currently leading a cross-KTH project called BoStad, championing an incremental approach to the renovation of housing in Stockholm. As well as working with owners of housing areas in the Million Homes areas, BoStad is being developed in cooperation with KSL, an organization established by the different municipalities (kommuner) of Stockholm to advance and collaborate on good practice. You can find out more HERE.

In next week’s blog, KTH real estate economics researcher, Kerstin Annadotter, takes up the issue of Swedish apartment rental policies, arguing that these too should be used to support an incremental approach to renovation. To make sure you get this post, subscribe to the blog by entering your email in the field on the right hand column.

You can view Erik Stenberg’s first film introducing the Million Programme era HERE.

 

 

 

The Centre BLOG pre-launch continues with an overview of Stockholm’s transport challenges

Are driverless cars a threat to sustainable cities and transport planning?

Jonas Eliasson, KTH professor in transport and Director of the Centre for Transport Studies, used his presentation at the KTH Attractive City workshop to give an overview of transport strategies for attractive cities. As well as examining current concerns such as better public transport, Jonas looks in to the future, reflecting on how driverless cars might affect urban planning. Its not all good news.

This presentation was given in Swedish  – a sumary of the key points in English can be found beow. It’s recorded by the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment at KTH.

Presentation in Swedish:

Summary in English:

Jonas draws attention to the way in which our cities have spread over the past thirty years, first through the development of city suburbs and second through the development of connected regions where a person might commute into the city from a near-by town. This has led to people making more and longer journeys – both for work and leisure. In turn, this has led to congestion. It is only over the past 10 years that cities have started to build at greater density in their centres; whilst this is desirable for reducing transport congestion, of course, we still have the needs of the existing city to deal with as well as an ever-growing demand for travel.

Jonas puts forward four principles that can help a city address congestion. First he argues for attractive public transport. Public transport must be convenient, safe and affordable so that people choose to use it. Second, “walkability” is vital, especially around public transport interchanges and people must be able to transfer easily from the public transport network to their destination. This leads to the third principle, compact planning. Fourth Jonas adds that, even if the city invests in all these measures, it must also act to limit car traffic so that this becomes a less desirable mode of transport. When applied together these four principles make a substantial different to the accessibility of a city and the flow of traffic. Though it can be argued that cities that manage to solve the congestion problem become more attractive to people and thus increase their populations, bringing about another wave of congestion. Transport and urban planning is a continual process, not a single solution.

Jonas also reflects on the impact that driverless cars might have on urban planning and city transport systems. Whilst he thinks that driverless cars might make long distance travel e.g. on motorways, more efficient, Jonas doubts that they will make city travel more effective as the problem is a simple lack of road space, regardless of who or what drives the car. What could change urban planning is having cars that drive off to park themselves outside the centre after delivering their passengers – this would free up car parks and also roadside parking spaces, allowing for new types of urban development. Jonas is cautious though, commenting that we might make use of driverless cars to extend commute times and spread cities by choosing to live outside of the city and work on our longer commutes as our driverless cars motor us in to the city.

Jonas concludes his lecture by reflecting on the situation in Stockholm. He is keen that we re-think urban and transport planning in the outer suburbs of the city. These suburbs were largely built in the post war period and designed with car use in mind. Today they are dominated by car parking facilities and spread out housing, neither of which are conducive of a productive (or pleasant) environment. Walkable, more compact neighbourhoods that connect to public transport nodes would give these suburbs a new burst of life.          

Note: this presentation was given on a sunny day and occasionally the audience was not able to see Jonas’ slides well. He references this in his lecture – even though the slides are easy to see on the video.