Midtown section of the plan with building labels
Freeways have sliced through the hearts of many communities, creating derelict wastelands that destroy neighborhoods and sever connections. Our cities have buried, covered, or dismantled the massive structures required for high-speed automobile infrastructure. With our virtual vacuum of public finance for such projects going forward, we need to ask: What’s the prognosis for more such transformative, big-budget efforts? And what methods work best to integrate ribbons of concrete into our communities?
Let’s look at some instructive examples. Seattle’s Downtown Freeway Park, designed three decades ago by Lawrence Halprin, bridged Interstate 5 with five acres of green space; the city’s more recent Olympic Sculpture Park by Weiss/Manfredi Architects and Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture, spans a waterfront arterial with an art-filled urban park. In San Francisco, removal of the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake produced a grand boulevard, designed by ROMA Design Group, offering transit, bike lanes, promenades, and revitalized real estate. And the nation’s most expensive highway project—Boston’s Big Dig, which rerouted I-93 into a 3.5-mile tunnel through the heart of the city—left behind a 27-acre urban greenway reconnecting city to waterfront, a $15 billion price tag, and a mixed legacy of design flaws, accidents, and cost overruns.
Emerging projects continue to explore ways to tame the freeway. Dallas’ 5.2-acre Klyde Warren Park, designed by James Burnett and Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc. and due to open this fall at a cost of about $100 million, will bridge downtown’s below-grade freeway with new urban green space. Los Angeles is contemplating two plans for capping portions of the 101 Freeway with planted concrete lids—the 44-acre Hollywood Freeway Cap Park and the 80-acre Downtown 101 Freeway Cap Park. Funding is not yet secured. Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Santa Monica are also considering plans.
Atlanta Connector Transformation Project Overall Plan
The Atlanta Connector Transformation Project provides another, less costly approach. Rather than burying, removing or covering up the I-75/85 Connector—a five-mile stretch famous for its snarl of traffic and frequent flooding that brings Atlanta to a standstill—the project acknowledges that the Connector will remain the city’s most significant and visible infrastructural corridor for the foreseeable future. Because of the realities of transportation funding, the project will not seek to make the Connector disappear; rather it will use the Connector as a transformative piece of the city’s open space network.
Cities everywhere are entering a new era of unprecedented collaboration as well as competition. If they are to thrive, they need to be great places. Knowing this, local governments are working with architects, urban thinkers, technology mavens, and other key players in the private sector to design and construct sustainable buildings and districts as platforms for the future. A synergistic symphony of urban design and development is commencing, harnessing creativity, lowering economic barriers, and generating productive energy with healthy, inspiring environments. Cities, much like states in the past, are now becoming the laboratory for innovation and change.
A new initiative, Cities as a Lab, is under development by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), with a full rollout planned for 2013. The project grew from the realization that policy experimentation and implementation has migrated downward from states to regions and municipalities that have become the powerhouses of democracy and experimentation. Our cities project aims to demonstrate through research findings, case studies, partnerships, and potential demonstration projects the power and importance of urban areas in a fully functioning polity. The melding of innovative design with the increasing power of technological solutions will be a key feature of this program.
The WarRoom inside Brightcove’s office in Boston.
Photo courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects; © Jasper Sanidad
For this program to work, we must tap into the talents of technology startups and innovation companies that have become the new post-industrial districts of the knowledge economy. At the forefront of this change is Boston’s new Innovation District boasting some 100 firms and 3,000 new jobs. The district hosts the largest start-up accelerator and competition in the world; its Innovation Center offers a supportive environment for entrepreneurs. The city’s once stagnating waterfront is rapidly becoming an economic powerhouse, a place to be, with livable mixed-use infrastructure, micro housing, restaurants, and cultural venues to attract a high-energy workforce.
Center for Green Schools
Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle for our very first Day of Service project. I joined the Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders and Seattle Storm, alo…
In the winter of 2010, I moved back home to my small hometown on the coast of Washington State, having just spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chuprene, a tiny village in Bulgaria. While there I had been mostly insulated from the realities of the recession in the U.S., so I was shocked to return to a job market similar to that of Eastern Europe. It quickly became clear to me that even with my college degree and international work experience I needed to get more specialized education to be competitive in a tough job market. I also felt that I needed more practical experience to interest potential employers. While looking for a job during the day and researching graduate programs at night, I came across a new graduate program at Tulane University, called a Master of Sustainable Real Estate Development (MSRED). It appeared to combine the kind of advanced studies with practical experience that would strengthen my resume in both these critical areas.
After a visiting New Orleans and Tulane’s campus to meet with MSRED’s director, Alexandra Stroud, I confidently enrolled in the inaugural class. The one-year professional graduate degree program focuses on sustainable real estate development by cultivating practical skills in business, economics, community planning, and environmental design. This holistic approach, enhanced by being located within the School of Architecture, recognizes that real estate development is physical and tangible; that it’s difficult to understand the nuances and long-term impact of physical property only in a business sense. While Tulane’s program does emphasize core business skills, it’s presented in concert with the culture and environmental impacts of buildings. In addition, the city of New Orleans served our laboratory, attracting a diverse group of students to the MSRED program. My classmates came from Fortune 500 companies, event planning, city government, school teaching, and construction and project management with a range of prior academic degrees that included planning and architecture, liberal arts, accounting, and even forestry degrees.
One video on the Inside Out website explains how to make a homemade glue from flour, sugar and water. Another shows the best way to plaster paper portraits onto outside walls. The website suggests finding approved locations for the exhibits, but doesn’t seem to insist on it; the mission of Inside Out, which prints and ships oversized, black and white photographic portraits, is rooted in activist public art, and its m.o. is akin to writing graffiti, only tamer.
Living in a big city can be hard. If you live in New York, you have probably quoted the famous song, “If I make it there, I can make it anywhere.” But Portland-based developer Gerding Edlen recognizes the need for giving a softer side to the city.
They develop buildings that, from my perspective, promise to be soft on communities, soft on the environment, and soft on residents.
Gerding Edlen has spoken with Metropolis before, but now they are considering bringing rental development to the east coast, potentially to New York City. I spoke with Mark Edlen, CEO, about their development plans and how those plans fit into cities like ours, “the city that never sleeps.”
“We’ve seen a movement to the cities. Cities are the solution to our global population growth,” said Edlen. His firm recognizes that people see city living as a way to help solve global problems. They also see how it’s becoming more popular to live a mobile and sustainable urban lifestyle.
I’ve always liked to build stuff. When I was a kid, I had something going at all times. Tree forts, go-carts, lots of projects that were more or less useful. In my formative years, I worked as a carpenter and builder with the happy result of getting paid for doing what I loved. Upon entering the profession of architecture, with the requisite reduction in compensation, I remained involved in the construction industry. I created, collaborated, and administered construction. But I did not build stuff.
This is changing.
As a partner in LMN, a 100-person architecture office in Seattle, I’ve been fortunate to take part in transforming our practice, a transformation that has broader implications for our entire profession. Innovations in design technology are changing the way we work. In the first posting of this series, George described how LMN was Re-Upping on Design Technology by starting Tech Studio in 2009. While the decision to start Tech Studio was borne out of opportunity, the business case for it has proven to be sound as our work progressed and our skills got sharper.
Brett PhillipsDirector of Sustainability, Unico PropertiesBoard Chairman, Seattle 2030 DistrictBrian GellerExecutive DirectorSeattle 2030 DistrictThe green building movement has made great strides in recent years, but it’s not enough. In order to pu…