Sunday, April 8, 2012

Urbanized

Urban ReThink hosted a collaborative event between Rollins College Urban Planning Department and the Congress of New Urbanism. The room was packed full of scholars, students and urban planners. The evening began with a screening of "Urbanized" a documentary about urban planning. The film highlighted the pit falls and triumphs of how people use urban spaces. The success of bicycle transportation in cities that plan for and support such an efficient mode of transportation was highlighted. I remember reading once that Orlando is one of the most dangerous places to bike in America, but now bike racks are appearing here and there. I believe there is even a "bike to work day" once a year.

New York City was horribly designed because developers literally cut off access to the waterfront on all sides of the island. A rusty old elevated rail line on the lower west side was slated for demolition. Citizens banded together and the idea was proposed to turn the Highline into a park in the sky. The citizens won and an amazing vibrant green elevated park is the result. In contrast the film showed how a developer wanted to redevelop a rail yard in Stuttgart Germany. This project known as 21, involved building a modern terminus in which the rails would be underground. The problem was, the development would involve cutting down several hundred very old trees in an adjacent park. The city had suffered devastating destruction from bombings in World War ll. Fuel shortages meant people had to scavenge for anything that would burn to stay warm in the winter. No one even considered cutting down those ancient trees. With the trees threatened by the 21 Project, people demonstrated in force. The protests turned bloody when the first trees were cut down. The project was approved and financed. Citizens had mobilized to late.

As an art project, an artist printed name tag labels that said, "I wish this was." She posted these name tags on abandoned buildings along with a sharpie to get feedback on what people thought of the blight. In a talk back after the film a local suburban planner pointed out that the labels had little hope of affecting change since the buildings were abandoned. He pointed out that such feedback is actually beneficial when development is proposed. I was intrigued by the premise that the American dream of owning a suburban home on a 1/4 acre plot was actually a way to sell more cars. Rather than give up on the suburban dream, cars are simply being redesigned to be more fuel efficient. I need to bring my bicycle to the repair shop.


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