5 provocative ways to think about cities & neighborhoods | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

5 provocative ways to think about cities & neighborhoods | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.


Urban Renewal 2.0

Motivated by an interest in the environment, a group of young Chileans created Fundación Mi Parque, a dynamic company that impresses with its social innovation.

Walking through Santiago on field studies when he was an architecture student, Martín Andrade, 27, learned a lot more than planning buildings. He discovered that improving quality of life in the capital’s most vulnerable areas implied more than simply proposing public policies for housing solutions. Something was missing in the larger scheme of things, and Andrade felt that the secret lay in adding new plazas and parks to the common areas linking these new homes, a basic component that hadn’t been given any real weight. The idea was to create spaces where children could play freely, while simultaneously promoting a more pleasant and positive neighborhood environment. The goal was to improve living standards through green spaces used by everyone. In October 2007, Andrade enlisted architect Julio Poblete (now the president of the company’s board) to create Fundación Mi Parque, an institution operating out of Santiago that today has active projects throughout Chile. “We were willing to work for free as along as we had the corporate support needed to sustain our efforts,” recalls Andrade, the foundation’s executive director. His idea, which began as a combination of enthusiasm, conviction and youthful energy, has bloomed into a successful program. The “urban renewal” practiced by this non-profit organization has two objectives: to create parks and plazas (financed by the foundation with the help of private contributions) in low-income areas and to actively involve the families who benefit from the program.

Mi Parque began by planting trees and making minor improvements to small plazas in Santiago, but the project expanded exponentially. The foundation now boasts a team of ten professionals plus a group of 800 volunteers able to plan and execute a project in two months. Originally, a single project could take more than a year to complete. The foundation accepts aid in many forms, from the full sponsorship or “adoption” of a plaza to donations financing a day of planting. Two years along, the strategy is bearing fruit. In economic terms, Mi Parque has received nearly US$50 million in support, planted nearly 4,000 trees and created more than 322,000 square feet of parks in different parts of Chile. In 2010 alone, corporate contributions and municipal support for green areas in Chile increased by 600%. No strangers to the ecofriendly spirit, they recently expanded their plan of action to include making outdoor furniture out of reused materials and installing children’s toys crafted from recycled tires in plazas and modular schools. “We also took the term ‘participation’ seriously, creating a methodology of community involvement that makes people feel that the public space is theirs. We are not obligated to make the plazas for them, we do it because we want to, and we do it under the condition that they will commit to caring for the space,” says Andrade. The families feel such a sense of ownership that they even name the trees. “Thanks to our project, children go outside to play in the plazas more often, neighborhood committees are stronger, and there is a feeling of optimism that things can be done well.” In late October 2010, Fundación Mi Parque received the Avonni award for innovation in social entrepreneurship (given by the Foro Innovación, Televisión Nacional de Chile and the newspaper El Mercurio) for this year’s 14 initiatives and their future impact.

What was your inspiration?

“The work done by Trees for Cities in England was great source of inspiration. They have a very attractive image and campaign strategy for attracting donations from companies and volunteers.” Is there anything you would have liked to know before starting the project? “Despite our lack of experience in developing this sort of project, we had a very good grasp of the reality of the situation of green spaces in Chile. So it wasn’t very hard to come up with a strategy that would get families involved. The key was working through the more problematic aspects from the beginning, so that we could eventually turn them into strengths.”


An Urban Mosaic

Liberal economic reform, an increase in per capita income and the cultural transformation of Western society are producing some shared socio-spatial elements in several Latin American cities, despite the overall historical and cultural diversity.

Over the next few decades, we will encounter cities that are more complex, diverse and ultimately more interesting to explore and discover, which is great news for those of us who cherish urban life. Contrary to the predictions of academics and city planners, urban centers are not only growing but are also increasingly fashionable. For years, we were told that the future of the Latin American city was in the suburbs, where a segregated and modern remoteness would hide the deficiencies of the States and the decadent urban centers. Today, suburbanites are interested in returning to the central areas – to enjoy their advantages in terms of entertainment, shopping and transportation – and they appear to be in the majority.

But the city that is now so fashionable is very different from the one that for a while seemed on the brink of collapse. While crime is still a concern for authorities, in general Latin American cities have seen an increase in safety, but without sacrificing public liberties. It’s this sensation of informality and disorder that differentiates them from the impeccable cities of northern Europe.

At the same time, the growth of national economies and peoples’ increased geographic mobility have created economically and ethnically diverse cities. As was the case in Chile during the 1990s, poverty is being reduced in a number of countries, giving way to an economic mosaic no longer comprised of a small elite and large working-class masses, but rather various social groups with their own interests, tastes and values. This greater heterogeneity is also due to an increase in immigration, which not only produces a more varied landscape, but also cities in which the cultural, culinary and artistic heritage has multiplied exponentially.

This socio-economic diversity can certainly be seen in spatial expressions. Modernity is no longer restricted to districts, neighborhoods and communities like Miraflores (Lima), Las Condes-Vitacura (Santiago), Urdesa (Guayaquil) and Barrio Norte (Buenos Aires). Instead, it has gradually begun to spread throughout the city as a whole. Shopping centers, supermarkets, restaurants, movie theaters and other cultural arenas – along with certain members of the elite – have come to the urban peripheries traditionally populated by the relatively dispossessed. Segregation is being reduced through spaces that differ from those traditionally reserved for high-income groups. As a result, cities like Bogotá, Santiago and Buenos Aires are seeing condos and apartment buildings for the upper-middle classes spring up in unexpected places, adding value and cultural density to these new areas.

In any case, this phenomenon of dispersion – both of the elite and the “artifacts of modernity” – implies both positive and negative social consequences. Greater proximity among social groups contributes to the integration of more marginal sectors, creating jobs and ensuring better services on the part of the State. Unfortunately, as the cost of living increases in more areas of the city, young, poor families are forced to live in even more peripheral neighborhoods.

Finally, the Latin American city that is beginning to emerge is a place in which entertainment, culture and areas dedicated to these activities will be more and more prevalent. Given the changes in the world economy and the fact that our countries are less competitive in terms of industrial production, the sectors of culture and entertainment appear to be obvious choices for economic development. As such, our culture, national identities, celebrations and local and ethnic distinctions will become a market commodity. The product? A unique urban experience-safe, authentic and ready to be enjoyed in places as diverse as a cebichería in Lima, a beach bar in Copacabana or an independent design shop in Buenos Aires’ Palermo Soho.

Rodrigo Salcedo

Dr. Rodrigo Salcedo is a scholar at the Instituto de Estudios Urbanos y Territoriales of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.


From Landscape to Soundscape in Urban Placemaking

Chuck Wolfe outlines the importance of soundscapes to cities past, present and future, and describes efforts to both document urban sounds and use sound as a planning tool.

Using examples from around the world, Wolfe traces the soundscape movement and sound-based urban initiatives, which appear both as prospective planning tools and as historical, documentary exercises to inform an urban past.

Soundscape proponents argue for assistance from the aural as well as the visual, in order to facilitate the identity of a place through careful, qualitative attention to how it sounds. Similarly, scholars have focused on the recreation of urban sounds to aid in the understanding of historic urban experiences, including the Berlin National Museums’ exhibition about the ancient city of Pergamon, where sounds accompany a panoramic reconstruction.

Wolfe concludes:

“Whether directed to shaping the future soundscape or understanding past examples, one thing is clear. Sight and sound both play roles in understanding cities, and the role of sound is ripe for further exploration.”


The New American Dream: A Sidewalk

Nona Willis Aronowitz reports on a new survey indicating 60% of respondents would sacrifice a bigger house to live in a neighborhood that featured a mix of houses, stores, and businesses within an easy walk.

In addition, 75% of respondents to the survey, conducted for the National Association of Realtors, consider adequate sidewalks and attractive places to walk as a top priority when choosing where to live.

According to Willis Aronowitz, “Regardless of our financial situation, living in walkable areas is just better for us. There have been numerous studies concluding that suburban and rural lifestyles are actually less healthy than cities, while New York City, the mother of all walking cities, enjoys a record-high life expectancy. Urban planners are already trying to figure out ways to design suburbs that necessitate less driving. Things that are good for us all too often require a bit of sacrifice. But in this case, our ideal and our fate are perfectly in line.”

Landscape Infrastructure

spain- and italy-based practice nabito architects has shared with us images of ‘landscape infrastructure’, a multi-level mixed-use building in anagni, italy. situated on the boundary between the city and the localcountryside, the design inserts itself into the landscape to secure views of the valle del sacco while serving as a functional and spatial mediator between the two diverging characters of the site.

read as an overlapping composition of four pentagonal volumes, the design opens up to the south side of the sloping plot with the back of the building retaining the soil of the plot. multiple terraced roofs and gardens extend out of the topography to dissolve the distinction between architecture and land. an open plaza space connects the buildings together with a fluid circulation while providing a public platform for meeting and interaction. conceived with a focus on sustainable design, the project utilizes solar orientation for natural daylighting and cross ventilation, with local stones and travertine for flooring.

Sensational Park in Italy by Nabito Architects and Partners

project info:

client: frosinone’s municipality
authors: alessandra faticanti architetto, roberto ferlito architetto,
luca faicanti architetto, damiano bauco ingegnere, gianluca sanita agronomo
collaborators: davide fois, lucio altana, joanna rodriquez noyola,
agita putnina, furio sordini
contractor: EDILCM

The five human senses are the main theme of the space in which materials and vegetation are related to them.The Goal Of the project is to invite users to a path in which scene are always changing. You will have the sensation to discover always different spaces but with the same kind of characteristics. The Five Human senses are the main theme of the space; the material and the vegetation will be related to them .The user will not have an entire look over the park, but he will do a series of different experiences. The variation of high and inclination, dimensional games are some of the ludic peculiarity of the Park. We use the senses as a big metaphor. We use senses to relate ourselves with surroundings and other people. We would like to give a gift to the city: a relational space in a no one land without any relevant fisical and social context.

 aiming to provide a relational space that fills in the existing social void in a playful, sensorial and interactive manner, the park is the starting point to a masterplan to renew the housing neighbourhood. conceived as a ‘personal living room in a public realm’, the park features both artificial and natural elements that stimulate the five human sense in a sequential manner.the garden is planted with a variety of different materials and vegetation to relate to a metaphor of the space. the ground level changes in elevation, with a network of winding pathways defining an arrangement of conic protrusions. the walkway encourages visitors to take in the park in parts, incorporating a sense of discovery to the experience.