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Urban Greenery

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Neighbourhood News Roundup

Editors Note:

Recently we made an executive decision here at Urban Neighborhood to revamp the way that we deliver news about what is going on in cities around the world, as you can see from previous Neighborhood News installments we used to provide  the first couple paragraphs of the article in full with a picture and then hyperlink you over to the actual article at its source.  This was all well and good but ultimately a rather labor intensive process for content that was essentially a redirect to other news sites that were not providing any incentive. In order to make it easier to do the round up and therefore be more consistent with our installments we are switching over to a method more commonly found on entertainment websites and some of our favorite architecture blogs. So without further adieu here is your news round up for the week.

Hong Kong has decided to shell out some major bucks in order to build the worlds largest cultural district, the West Kowloon Cultural District is a publicly funded project with a price tag of 2.8 billion to be… well approximate… the intention is pretty simple, its plans on using the development to become Asia’s World City.

Since Dubai isn’t paying the the architectural big bucks any more architects like Rem Koolhaas are looking East and Rem has decided to jump on the aforementioned West Kowloon Cultural District gravy train to pay the bills. Rem has a proposal that is ether cultural appropriation or paying tribute to China’s Village history, depending on how you look at it.

The city of Chicago is about to loose out to New York once more, until now it might not have been the biggest city in America but it has had the country’s biggest building for decades, in a couple years One World Trade center is going to take that title away. There was hope that the title transfer would be short lived with the plans for The Spire, then the firm behind it filed for bankruptcy. At least they still have Oprah.

In Green News India has come up with a novel idea to use children to power its parks and playgrounds, now that we have your attention its isn’t as nefarious as you think, the city of Chandigarh wants to use kinetic energy from playground equiptment and solar power to light up its green spaces.

Skyrise Greenery, a website dedicated to green roofs and green spaces integrated into the built form presents its winners for the Skyrise Greenery Awards 2010.

Most tourist bureau’s concentrated on happy and fun but the Cambodian government has decided to take another route and concentrate on its dark history to pull the tourists in. The Atlantic writes about how the Cambodian government plans to develop Anlong Veng a sun-baked, mine-riddled frontier town into a theme park devoted to the Khmer Rouge. A regime that was responsible for murdering almost every in Cambodia who would be between the ages of 25 to 50 if they were still alive today, just in case yo have no knowledge of world history.

Over in Russia Ivan Marchenko discusses the poor state of architecture and the multitudes of unforgettable places that make up the capital and wonders if the sketches presented by designers for the central city are just tomorrows slums being proposed today.

Mason White presents an essay on ‘The Productive Surface’ for all you academics that discusses the shape of our environment and asks questions like “What does architecture and landscape already produce — intentionally or otherwise? And how is that component managed by design?”

For the cartographers and map lovers among us Think Big has a collection of strange maps that range from proposals  fill in the east river to create a Greater New York, to a composite map of European stereotypes.

Dorchester Square shows off its new look

The Eastern Edge of the Park

Dorchester Square in downtown Montreal has spent most of the past two years behind a fence getting a make over. The square was originally inaugurated in 1878 and has four statues and a kiosk that are arranged to form a five point cross. Originally the Catholic Sainte-Antoine Cemetery for victims of the 1851 Cholera Epidemic, the majority of the bodies were later exhumed and moved to the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery on the Northwestern side of Mont Royal.

The square was long one of the cities preeminent park spaces due to its location adjacent to a number of high profile projects that were built in the late 1800s, the construction of the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (started 1875 and consecrated in 1894) and the Windsor Hotel (completed in 1878) The construction of the Sun Life Building (completed 1931), Windsor Station (completed 1889), and the Dominion Square building; solidified its status. For many years it has been the centre of the central business district in downtown montreal. In later years the park suffered from a lack of maintenance and the city of Montreal undertook a major renovation to bring the square back to its former glory.

Since I work in the previously mentioned Sun Life Building I stepped out the other day to take some pictures. Of particular interest to note are the cross patterns randomly scattered through the paving stones. According to the city of Montreal spokesperson Philippe Sabourin, they were included as a reference to the park’s past as a cemetery and are only found in parts of the park that made up that parcel of land, which is why you wont find any up in the Northern end. The city has further renovation plans next year for the Northern parcel where the loading and unloading area known as Rue Dorchester Square and the kiosk sit.  Rue Dorchester Square is the main loading and unloading stage for the majority of the Tourist buses dropping off shoppers and tourists who visit nearby Rue Saint Catherine.


Maples on Mackay

Mackay Maple

View looking south east down Mackay street in Montreal QC next to Concordia University taken as part of a study for the Greening Mackay project. Photo by Jeremy Kloet.

Drainage Ditches as Green Space.

Back when I lived in Ulsan 울산 South Korea I had a studio apartment for the first ten months next to a drainage ditch. About the only time of the year that the ditch was pretty was during Cherry Blossom week, the two weeks that the trees exploded into bloom that was a welcome change from Yellow Sand week. I often thought that it would be great if there was a path that ran down the side and maybe a little landscaping. Well it turns out that the city eventually came up with the same idea, though I have a feeling that the project in Seoul had a lot to do with it.

Thanks to a friend of mine who is currently residing in Ulsan we can see the second life of this former spillway. Cherry Blossom is still when its at its best but now it also  looks pretty good rest of the year. Photo by Deirdre Madden. Check out some of Dee’s city profiles here at Urban Neighbourhood.

The Urban Dinosaur

Tyrannosaurus Rex spotted in a park in Seoul.

Green on Top: Toronto Passes Green Roof Legislation


The city of Toronto has passed the most comprehensive regulations on green roofs of any city in North America. The bylaw puts Toronto at the top of the heap in terms of legislation, though the advocacy group Green Roofs for Healthy Cities points out that Toronto doesn’t make the top ten in terms of the number of green roofs installed in 2008. That distinction goes to the city of Chicago.

“We would have liked it [the Toronto bylaw] to be more aggressive,” said Steven Peck, president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, though he praised council for “exercising leadership” on a tool to fight climate change. s

Of course to some extent that is being picky just for the sake of being picky. Toronto may not be in the top ten of cities previous to the law going into effect, but chances are that will change under the new regulations.  Toronto City Council voted 36-2 in favor of the regulations with only councillors Rob Ford and Doug Holyday voting against. (Boo Rob and Doug!)

greenroof1The regulations will require green roofs on new residential buildings in the city starting January 31st 2010 that are more then 2,000 square meters and 20 meters or higher. Industrial construction will have an extra 12 months to prepare for the requirements. For industrial buildings they will have to reserve either 10% of the roof area or 2,000 square meters, and have the option to choose the lesser amount for sod and other greenery.

The Building Industry and Land Development Association stated that the biggest concern is how to adjust to the new requirements during a downturn. “Cost is an issue,” he said. “The market is so price-sensitive now.” While I can appreciate that the cost of a green roof is something that developers are going to have to get used too but chances are when it comes time to sell the new units  the tune will switch from being about the cost to the forward thinking and innovation that comes with your purchase of a Building Corp (TM) Condo. Heck if  developers are smart about it, they will just start selling penthouses with lawns, green roof requirement check, a penthouse that comes with a yard equals a big fat check with extra zeros for its purchase.

The campaign to institute the regulations was lead by Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), who called the new green roof regulations “an opportunity rather than a handicap.” Joe noted that 21% of the surface area of the city is in its roofs. Roofs that are little better then bare pavement and as such raise the temperature of the urban environment and increase electrical demand in the summer, whereas garden roofs, help conserve rainfall, reduce energy demand and add to the beauty of the city. After the vote Joe stated, “You will see other municipalities now looking to Toronto and emulating us for the greater good of humanity.”

greenroof2Of course one of the dissenters had a complaint; “Why do we have to be first?” Mr. Holyday asked before voting against the measure. “Who are we? We can’t even pay our bills.”

Here is a little math Mr Holyday, more green roofs equals less money spent on electricity, that means more disposable income for fancy penthouse apartments that have lawns, fancy penthouse apartments with lawns mean higher taxes, higher taxes mean more money for the city. I mean sure the math is loose but the principal holds.

Thankfully the other 36 councillors get this math and Councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) praised the decision as “a pretty darn good starting point…I would rather be first than last,” and I would tend to agree.

Green Security

Natural Barbed Wire (c) SINNOVEG

Natural Barbed Wire (c) SINNOVEG

The problem with most security fences and barriers is that they are, to put it simply… UGLY. Barbed wire fences and concrete blast walls are not often referred to as attractive, but when it comes down to a matters of security and safety from suicide bombers, the aesthetics are rarely considered an issue.

But what if there was an alternative? What if you could have a wall of green that would repel those would be intruders and still look nice to anyone not trying to get through?

Enter ”natural defensive weaved hedges.’ French businessman Jean-Marie Zimmermann travelled to Baghdad with a modest proposal. Replacing the multitude of blast walls and barbed wire fences with green walls made with tightly woven thorny plants. Zimmermann suggests;

“Why not make the Green Zone green? This is the kind of place where we can provide protection. We can remake Baghdad as a city focused on nature, ecology and the environment, with a new concept of security,” S

Its a simple principle really; plant a row of thorny trees and bushes 80 centimetres apart and weave the branches together. As the plants grow they form a dense and razor-sharp hedge that within three years can reach a height of six metres.  Protectionist Roses anyone? For those that don’t think that the plants alone will be enough Zimmmermann says its no problem to place traditional barbed wire, tire spikes, sensors, and other metal barriers within the hedge. Extra protection that is harder to see with the green camouflage over top.

Natural Barrier At Installation with Razor Wire (c) SINNOVEG

Sinnoveg at installation

Natural barrier after (c) SINNOVEG

Natural barrier after (c) SINNOVEG

While the barrier won’t stop a tank, it will stop a truck, and the same holds true for most security barriers.

Hakim Abdel Zahra, the spokesman for the municipality, said the city was studying the concept of plant barriers ‘which was brought to us by a French investor’. ‘The idea of establishing security barriers made of plants has many benefits, both from the psychological side and for the beauty and attractiveness of the city.’

‘When you have five or six rows of thorny trees it will take at least an hour to cross, and that is more than enough time to capture the guy,’ he says.

‘Nothing is insurmountable, not even a concrete wall, but you slow down the infiltration. That’s the principle.’ Mr Zimmermann dreams big, and as he expounds on the product he starts to look beyond Baghdad and its government buildings to Iraq’s long and porous borders with its sometimes antagonistic neighbours.

‘A vegetation barrier on certain parts of the border would be perfectly compatible with sensors,’ he says, and unlike the minefields that criss-cross the Middle East it would not leave future generations with missing limbs.

And if infiltrators try to burn their way in? ‘It would take more than a blowtorch,’ he laughs. ‘These are living plants.’ S

I for one would like to see more of these green security walls. There are plenty of what would otherwise be nice city views that are ruined by the presence of a barbed wire topped chain link fence. If you would like to find out more you can also consult the SINNOVEG website.

Salve for the Urban Brain, rethinking how to integrate nature into urban life


NHPR \’The Aching Brains of Urban Dwellers\’

The City is a loud and stimulating place, the cars, sirens, smells, neon and the ambient noise of being surrounded by thousands of people at any given time. In this episode of ‘Word of Mouth’ on New Hampshire Public Radio Jonah Lehrer the author of ‘Proust Was a Neuroscientist’ discusses how the urban landscape affects our brains.

The show also has input from Andrew Blum an editor for Wired and Metropolis magazines and discusses how landscape architecture is shifting from creating green refuges to actually learning how to integrate nature into Urban life.

Maman in the 'Jardin des Tuileries'


A bronze casting of the sculpture by the artist Louise Bourgeois. The sculpture, which resembles a spider, is over 30ft high.

Seen In the City: The Stairway Garden

So I have to admit that this pic has been pulled from Apartment Therapy, but its such a great picture I had to include it.


Who Owns Central Park?

Image composed from the loop in Central Park. (Peter Funch)

Image composed from the loop in Central Park. (Peter Funch)

New York Summer Guide has a great article on the battle for public space going on right now in Central Park. It seems that there is a turf war going on right now between cyclists, runners, dog owners, and, generally, any other mode of locomotion in the park.

It’s shortly before six on a recent morning in Central Park. Dogs frolic, off-leash, through meadows. Joggers breeze along the roadways. In the half-lit hours just past dawn, the park is the urban idyll that its founders, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, envisioned at the park’s birth, 150 years ago.

But then you hear it, approaching in the distance, a stiff wind rustling leaves. The presence grows louder and crescendos until—whooooosh—they’re upon you: a teeming pack of cyclists bursting around the corner in a flash of neon spandex. Runners brandish their fists—or middle finger. Dogs and their owners scramble across the road, lest they be run down by the onrushing horde. It is every biker, runner, or canine for him, her, or itself. Before many New Yorkers have even had their first cup of coffee, the ongoing battle for Central Park is in full swing. “People think the park is a refuge, when you’re actually going into a cage match,” says Chris Yerkes, a Citi staffer who races on an amateur cycling team in the park. “You can liken it to an area which has no local government, no rules,” Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer told me. The current situation is a New York City case study of the economic phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons, whereby a shared resource is, inevitably, overexploited. Although interspersed with the tragedy are moments of high comedy.

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