John Whitelegg interview

John Whitelegg, Green Party Spokesperson on Sustainable Development. John is also Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at York University’s Stockholm Institute of the Environment.
A transport campaigner of global stature and reputation, John has written ten books on transport and is editor of the journal World Transport Policy and Practice.

In addition, Professor Whitelegg is the Managing Director of Eco-Logica Ltd., a Manchester-based transportation consulting firm. He is the founder and editor of the Journal of World Transportation Policy and Practice. He has also been named a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce.

John Whitelegg from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

Marco Steinberg interview

Marco Steinberg is founder of Snowcone & Haystack (www.snowcone.fi), a strategic design practice focused on helping governments and leaders innovate.

Prior to that he was Director of Strategic Design at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund a government fund to help develop the economic prosperity and future success of Finland. There, he helped built the Fund’s capability to shape & deliver strategic improvements through design. Initiatives include Helsinki Design Lab, a global initiative to help address today’s large scale strategic redesign & transformation needs; Design Exchange Programme embedding designers within public sector organizations; and overseeing the design of Low2No, a transitional strategy to create national carbon free urban development in Finland.

 

In his other responsibilities, Marco is currently the Chairman of the Board of the Museum of Finnish Architecture & serves as advisor to many organizations. His previous experience includes: Professor at the Harvard Design School (1999-2009); advising governments on SME & design funding strategies; and running his own design & architecture practice.

We had the great pleasure of meeting Marco Steinberg in 2010 at the time head of Helsinki Design Lab, the workshops were part of a much wider research the Marco led. We were really impress by the Strategic Design approach, the essence of which we believe is captured in this video

 

About HDL from Sitra- Finnish Innovation Fund on Vimeo.

The transport industry is a great example of Knowledge Silos, car industries have developed incredible complex technologies but often have none or very little concern about the environment where this object will move, architects and planner have inner looking approaches unable to initiated a dialog with traffic engineer often focused only on car capacity matters. Mobility iper-specialised structure is definitely an area in need of Strategic Design

 

Flow-n interviews Marco Steinberg from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

A Monster in the City

by Federico Parolotto and Francesca Arcuri

 

Aerial piazzale maggi

 

 

It is 7 a.m. on an August morning. An empty Milan wakes up to the sound of chainsaws which in Piazza Maggi, to the south of the city, begin cutting down the trees that have populated the area for over thirty years. The plan entails the elimination of over 70 forest trees and shrubs to make space for the worksite which in two years should radically change the face of the junction.

In this regard, the plan certainly achieved its goal: in 2001 citizens, politicians and local associations took to the streets to create human chains around the trees to stop them from being cut down but now it seems like decades have passed since that August, so much so that few can remember what the piazza looked like before the work championed by the Albertini Council and, in reality, actually approved back in 1999.
As stated by the planners and local council, the project promised to create a junction on three different levels which, thanks to soundproofed underpasses and flyovers, would have ensured the smooth flow of traffic along the Famagosta-Cermenate road and heading towards the A7 motorway that goes to Genoa.
In reality, over the years the approval process of the project, conceived as part of the construction of the ‘Gronda Sud’ and the work to streamline access to the south of the city, has been anything but linear. The principle of transforming the urban nature of the road network into a series of express connections, in line with the parameters of the nearby motorway infrastructure, actually dates to the mid-1990’s with the approval of the highway that runs between Piazza Maggi and Piazza Kennedy.
Over the next four years the construction of a new 3-level junction in Piazza Maggi was approved. The local community and civil society reacted immediately with the Piazza Maggi – Gronda Sud committee set up in 1999 rejecting the project and requesting that it be withdrawn. Their reasons for rejecting the project were mainly connected with the impact that the work would have on living conditions in the surrounding neighbourhoods and the fact that the local communities were not involved in defining the planning proposal.

piazza1

 

 

One month later, in December of the same year, the committee lodged an appeal against the Restructuring Project for the Piazza Maggi road junction with the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy. As well as outlining some flaws in the design, the motion also called for minor, less invasive measures that would not change the face of the area and, as well as being more economical, would maintain the correct relationship between public and private transport.

The protests continued throughout 2000 and for a part of 2001: marches and demonstrations brought hundreds of people into the streets but they found themselves up against a political machine convinced of its actions and – at this point on the verge of beginning work – less willing to enter into dialogue.
In the second half of 2001 with the project now a year-and-half behind schedule, the “eco-monster”, as local residents called it, began to take shape.
Today, the junction created at Piazza Maggi remains a magnet for traffic arriving directly from the motorway and bypass on the way to the city centre with inevitable repercussions on the urban quality of the area.
In fact, if you look at the road network of South Milan, you can see how this complex infrastructure constitutes the endpoint of the A7 motorway, whose axis continues to resemble a motorway right up to the junction, largely isolating this area of land. This break is further confirmed by the recent extension of the Green line of the Milan Underground as far as Assago.
As such, the A7 retains the features of the motorway infrastructure found upstream of the bypass, maintaining three lanes on each carriageway with an emergency lane right to the end, underpasses and flyovers to prevent the interruption of the traffic flow by B roads, and a fixed speed limit of 100 km/h up to the entrance into the city, with a road sign indicating the end of the A7 just 20 metres from the roundabout which, in Piazza Maggi, should help the flow of local traffic.
This sudden change in the nature of the highway, together with the visibility problems at the end of the road, has also resulted in a high accident rate at the roundabout because of the high speeds of vehicles arriving from the A7.

 

percorsi pedonali

 

 

As regards the junction, it is highly discordant with the surrounding context, overwhelming it and radically altering the urban landscape.
Indeed, the three levels of the junction allow traffic to three-dimensionally overwhelm the existing geometries with a vertical development of the infrastructure that comprises the Famagosta-Cermenate underpass, a roundabout, higher than the road surface, which mainly filters traffic arriving from the ring road heading for the city centre, and two flyovers that act as a quick connection between the city – both the centre and the east/west – and the motorway.
This complex structure, which cost 33 billion Italian lira, compromises local relations and public transport routes relegating them to the periphery, spaces undigested by the “monster” that do not meet the requirements of busy areas like Barona, Chiesa Rossa and Morivione.
The permeability of the area by foot, already limited by the substantial number of intersections along Viale Famagosta and Viale Cermenate (approx. one every 200 m) and the direct nature of these roads, becomes a secondary issue for good as you approach the junction where there are no street-level pedestrian crossings for a kilometre.
The only exception is the system of pedestrian crossings that form part of the junction project which, as mentioned, are located at an intermediate level, a residual space between the levels of the underpass and the raised roundabout. The hedge and the pedestrian space, a potential subway for the hundreds of people that every day have to walk from the Underground to one of the busiest bus routes in Milan, are isolated and visibly closed in by the volumes of the surrounding architecture.
A similar destiny befell the public transport stops, two of which were located on the roundabout by the project with obvious problems in terms of safety, buses rejoining the traffic on the roundabout, and visibility.
Finally, it should be noted how the construction of the two raised link roads, particularly the one that joins the Schiavoni flyover which led to the doubling of the section, has taken the infrastructure right up to the buildings, also modifying residents’ perceptions of their private space.
In terms of traffic, it is interesting to note how the junction, through the separation of the traffic flows, permits the continuous movement of vehicles before immediately breaking up the flow with traffic lights to the east, north and west of the junction.
In order to maximise the capacity of the junction Piazza Maggi is developed on three levels but this solution, unacceptable in itself, could have been avoided if this part of the city had not only been observed from an angle purely concerned with traffic and increasing traffic volumes.
The history of Piazza Maggi is emblematic of this type of approach to town and transport planning, an exclusively functional type of planning that takes no account of the specific features of the local area.
This type of planning approach can also be seen in numerous other structures that have been planned or which are under construction such as, for example, the new bypass to the north of the city and the junction on the East Bypass heading to Lambrate.
What we should be doing is observing how the use of private transport in Milan is gradually falling, as it is in other Western capitalist cities, despite the largely stable number of workers and residents in the city.

 

relazione edifici2

 relazione edifici1

 

This information, reported in the recently published update of the Milan ‘General Plan for Urban Traffic’, shows a downturn in the number of vehicles accessing the city, a downturn without doubt connected with the economic recession and strengthened by the activation of Area C, the Milan congestion charge launched in June 2011.

As well as the economic reasons, the diminishing tendency to travel by car also seems to highlight a structural change in society that is largely related to the younger generations, which have significantly changed the relationship of dependence that previous generations had with private transport.
In this respect, projects like that of Piazza Maggi are anachronistic in terms of their attempts to increase traffic speed and capacity in the city as they lead to oversized structures that compromise urban quality in favour of a mode of transport that is becoming less popular.
It is also an internationally recognised fact that increasing the capacity of infrastructure leads to an increase in traffic and, therefore, a quick return to the original levels of congestion, rendering the modification of the work pointless.
Bearing in mind that every user of public transport is also a pedestrian, it should be noted that another consequence of this planning approach is the compromising of environmentally-friendly methods of moving around and footpaths, the reduction of which also leads to the weakening of public transport.
Put together, all of these elements undoubtedly have an influence on transport choices, confirming the close relationship between supply and demand, in recent years also recognised at international level.
Milan is a clear example of the influence of cars in Western cities, which have witnessed the retrofitting of the urban fabric and the road network in order to accommodate them. This process of retrofitting has involved all kinds of roads, from local roads that are often too small to major urban roundabouts (for example Piazzale Loreto http://www.flow-n.eu/2011/07/milan-and-the-invisible-space-revolution/) and genuine motorway junctions located in cities, as outlined in this article.
In response to this state of affairs we need to begin a process of cutting back on the infrastructure in cities, of gradually reconfiguring our road networks in favour of networks dedicated to environmentally-friendly modes of transport and pedestrians in particular.
Through an incremental process that gradually redistributes the urban space and lessens the impact of the road network it is possible to visualise a systemic change that enables us to re-establish the quality of space as a key factor in urban planning.

Remembering Paul Mees

by Federico Parolotto

Transport for suburbia cover

I first got to know of Paul Mees through Amazon, I was looking for some books to read and I ended up finding a title “Transport for suburbia – beyond the automobile age” that had a comment in the back by John Whitelegg.
I knew John Whitelegg work and I really liked it and I knew he is a little reluctant to appear on media, the fact that he was spending his name for Paul was definitely intriguing.

I read “Transport for suburbia” about 2 years ago, and I was wiped away, all the questions I had been asking to myself were answered there, from the origin of the magic minimal figure of people/hectare to make PT viable to the analysis of the super quoted (but a little dubious) curve that shows the relationship between energy and urban density produced by Newman/Kenworthy

After reading the book I started thinking about a project call “Conversations across mobility”, a series of interviews with different influential people from all over the world on the future of mobility.

Paul was the top of the list and I managed to retrieve his mail, I wrote to him asking for an interview and he immediately answered to our request ( http://www.flow-n.eu/2013/02/paul-mees-interview/)
I met him only digitally, through that skype conversation, but it was a privilege for me to talk to Paul, among other things we discussed about Europe and Milan and the possibility of him coming to visit us.

We then exchanged a couple of mails and then he told us it was not going to be available due to health reasons for a while, I often thought about writing to him but I was not certain about his health and so I waited…

I learned through twitter of is death a few days ago, the news left me shocked and sad, although I never got to know him personally I felt it as a huge loss.

As professionals in transport planning we try to change cities for the better, we often find the friction of reality difficult to overcome and we constantly have to compromise.

Paul came across as an uncompromising person, and we looked at him and at his writings for directions in our work…
Without him now we feel weaker and lonely.

Donald Shoup interview

Donald Shoup is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, where he has served as Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies. In his landmark book, The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup argues that minimum parking requirements in zoning ordinances distort transportation choices, debase urban design, damage the economy, and degrade the environment. Shoup recommends that cities should instead charge fair market prices for on-street parking, use the meter revenue to finance added public services, and remove their requirements for off-street parking.

Donald Shoup is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, an Honorary Professor at the Beijing Transportation Research Center, and the Editor of ACCESS magazine.

Flow-n interviews Donald Shoup from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

Digital management of supply and demand: San Francisco Park

by Federico Parolotto and Francesco Maria Cerroni

The dawn of digital and wireless communication over the last 15 years has spawned a number of radically different scenarios for the future, some of which let some experts to predict a decrease in personal mobility by imagining that the potential for remote interaction would reduce the need to physically move from place to place.

However the opposite has happened: rather than decreasing out need to move, digital communications have increased our desire for face-to-face interaction.

In the near future, after a staggering growth in people to people communication a further growth in envisage in machine to machine communication, this new breed of communication will possibly open a new scenario of more integrated efficient way of managing our cities and transport.

Digital communication opens up very immediate ways of living the city differently.  Cities could be managed much more efficiently, providing the possibility of exploiting infrastructure and dynamically managing supply and demand.

San Francisco’s recently activated SFpark scheme is a prime example of how cities’ transport infrastructure, in this case on-street parking, can be addressed through technology, allowing optimisation of its use through real-time information management.

The system allows the charging of different rates based on time of day and location in the city, as well as using real-time information regarding supply to direct drivers to available parking spaces. This dramatically lowers the time spent searching for a car park, increasing the comfort of the user and reducing congestion on the road network.

SFpark constitutes a different way of using existing infrastructure –  in this case the city’s roads- to reduce volume of traffic and provide better service to residents through the use of technology.

We are living in a world of new opportunities – innovative technologies will allow a better understanding of traffic patterns, enabling more efficient movement of vehicles on the road network, allowing us to make the most of existing infrastructure. The increasing interconnectivity of objects moving within the urban fabric will allow better performance of transport systems in general.

SFpark Overview from SFpark on Vimeo.

Paul Mees interview

Paul Mees began his career as a lawyer, later becoming an academic. He has a BA and LLB (Hons) and qualified as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Mees’s work is largely concerned with the planning of public transport in cities. He is a strong advocate of public transport, but less keen in urban cycling as a realistic mass transport solution. Current research is on planning decision support tools for multimodal urban transport systems, and improvements to urban public transport planning in Australia. His work provided the basis for the European Union’s 2005 HiTrans project on improving public transport in medium-sized cities and towns.

Mees has been a high-profile contributor to public debates on transport planning in Victoria, Australia over the last decade. Some of the most notable issues have been his legal actions attempting to prevent the construction of expensive transport projects contrary to his views on good public transport policy.

Flow[n] interviews Paul Mees from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

A dialogue with Federico Parolotto

london

 

Interview by Nicola Leonardi

from The Plan 063 – 12/2012

In a metropolitan context, architecture, town planning and mobility can be considered as inextricably linked. What development directions are the plans for future cities and metropolitan areas taking?

 

You have to make a distinction between the cities of mature Western economies and those in areas of strong economic expansion, as well as between the so-called megalopolises and smaller cities. The cities of emerging economies will face profoundly different issues compared to the consolidated cities of the Western world, even if emerging–country cities have been planned and continue to develop following Western-style urban models, i.e. with a pervasive presence of private transport. In contrast, urban planning in the West now includes models that are trying to go beyond urban layouts pivoted around private transport. The move away from the car is a phenomenon that cuts across all Western economies and is accompanied by an exponential growth in digital connectivity that should allow more efficient management of cities, and especially of urban and suburban mobility. These trends will allow us to start rethinking and redistributing spaces allocated the automobile. I think that the urban model of the future will be characterised by ‘light’ interventions that will lead to systemic changes such as the overlapping of flexible public transport systems with the existing road network and the progressive removal of the extraordinary amount of parking areas that are a feature of all our cities. Urban mobility flows will become more streamlined and balanced; perhaps the only really new infrastructures will be invisible ones providing ever-greater digital connectivity.

 

What sort of balance is being attempted among the various types of transport – from pedestrian and cycle paths, private and heavy vehicle traffic to public transport above and below ground?

 

As I said, I think the key to improving the infrastructure offering and the quality of our cities must be with functional redistribution rather than adding new infrastructure.

The transport system must mould to the morphology of the city it serves. The problems of cities like London and Paris cannot be directly compared with those of Milan, Barcelona or Zürich.

Zürich has given us an example of how to balance mobility flows. It serves as a role model for cities of similar size and its metropolitan region.

We could imagine just this sort of light, flexible transport system superimposed on the existing network and managed digitally along the lines of what has been developed in Switzerland. It is a system that could be applied to suburban areas of metropolitan regions, in other words, to those segments of a city that are often dubbed as not possessing the underlying conditions to support an efficient, economically sustainable public transport system.

As Paul Mees explains in his “Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age”, this sort of redistribution could also be delivered to low-density areas, where the car is king. It would allow a good balance between public transport and pedestrian and cycle routes that would once again be on a par with the private car.

 

Getting the mobility plan right is key to the success of any real-estate development project, the building of new urban districts or the regeneration of rundown areas. How do you see the relationship between real estate and infrastructure, or the way solid and voids relate in the urban fabric? Is there any sort of ‘urban golden rule’, a perfect balance between built volumes, infrastructure, and urban green? I’ m thinking of the magical amalgam that is London…

 

When it comes to planning transport systems, thinking of the city in terms of solids and voids is only half the story. The presence of infrastructure and especially the density and type of mobility flows will determine the type of spaces that are created. These may be very different and will have direct repercussions on the quality of the open spaces in a given area.

The transport flows crossing spaces or voids radically impact community life in the public spaces between buildings, and directly impact real-estate values.

In his book “Streets & Patterns”, Stephen Marshall invites us to imagine London’s Fitzroy Square first crossed by a bicycle and then by an increasing number of motor vehicles. He describes how the very nature of space changes with the different type of transport flows. When planning built space, you have to somehow imagine what type of traffic flows there will be, because these will determine the quality of that space regardless of the road layout. I should also say that in our consulting work for projects connected with mobility and transport, we always try to ensure an urban environment where there is a subtle relationship between the spaces separating buildings but also that the mobility flow pattern will guarantee urban quality.

 

Today we talk of the urban environment. Seeing things in terms of streetscape means adopting a whole new take on road design. Is this because architecture is increasingly impacting town planning? Or is it rather an acknowledgement that architecture is not about building a single item but rather placing a building in its broader context, in a connective tissue that in turn needs to be planned?

Integrated planning of architectures and their surrounding connective tissue is key to the success of an overall project. In this context, planning the road layout is not just a question of determining geometries. It’s what creates a micro-urban environment.

These seemingly obvious considerations were in fact deeply contradicted by urban planning in the 1950s and 60s when designers came to have less and less say in the quality of urban spaces–the” streetscape”.

With the arrival of cars for the masses, an era that began in the 60s in Europe, we saw the birth of a specialist figure, the traffic engineer, whose job it was to plan the road network. His task was first and foremost to solve issues of road safety. He later became charged with assessing the highway network exclusively in terms of capacity. Reducing the road network to a system for private transport generated the perverse effects on cities we know all too well today. It is essential that infrastructure projects take back the multifaceted complexity that is typical of all urban projects, paying attention to light mobility and public transport, to the micro-environment and the city as a whole.

 

The concept of sustainability has two fundamental aspects: a technical performance factor, linked to energy consumption (for architecture) and soil occupation (for town planning); and a much wider, more complex factor that has to do with society, the urban and natural landscape and the delicate balance between the survival and future sustainability of urban development. In this complex whole how can architecture, town planning, and mobility come together and dialogue?

 

The impact of mobility on energy efficiency and ecological sustainability is huge, and unfortunately there do not seem to be technologies that can, in the short term, make any significant inroads. Nor do I think it possible to change the urban building patterns consolidated over the last 60 years of urban development that have led to widespread low–density urban development. It should be said, however, that the structural reduction in traffic volumes we have been seeing since the middle of the last decade will allow us to rethink mobility spaces in existing cities more appropriately. The spaces in cities allocated to cars are often oversized even for current traffic flows. Architects, town planners, transport planners must all start to confer with one another to ensure that transport infrastructure projects are founded on criteria of urban quality and do not just conform to technical considerations.

Reconsidering the road platform as an opportunity to “redistribute” spaces or voids may even allow us to conceive of diverse scenarios in which the natural world might be returned to places where it has been progressively banished by relentless asphalting of whole urban stretches.

Christophe Loir interview

Christophe Loir is historian and historian of art, Professor of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). He works on cultural studies in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially the history of the urban circulation : the “promenade” (Christophe LOIR & Laurent TURCOT (éds), La promenade aux 18e et 19e siècles, Belgique/Europe, Brussels, Editions de l’Université, 2011), the question of the circulation around the theaters (Christophe LOIR et Mélanie TRAVERSIER (éds), ‘Aller au théâtre’. Pour une perspective diachronique des enjeux urbanistiques et policiers de la circulation autour des théâtres, Antiquité, 18e-19e siècles, forthcoming publication of the acts of the Conference in the journal Histoire urbaine), the problems of mobility during the markets (Jean-Pierre DEVROEY, Arnaud KNAEPEN, Christophe LOIR, Alexis WILKIN (éds), Se déplacer pour (se) nourrir : circulation urbaine et marché alimentaire, 11e-19e siècles, forthcoming in 2013) and the history of the boulevards and rings (Boulevards & Rings in Europe, 18th – 19th Centuries, forthcoming Conference in 2013 in Brussels and Reykjavik).

Flow[n] interviews Christophe Loir from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

Carlo Ratti Interview

Carlo Ratti of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) SENSEable City Lab explains why cities keep on growing and how technology is changing our life in terms of mobility and access to real-time information. The increasing deployment of sensors and hand-held electronics in recent years is allowing a new approach to the study of the built environment. The Senseable City Lab aims to investigate and intervene in the interface between people, technologies and the city, delivering research and applications that empower citizens to make choices that result in a more livable urban condition.
Carlo Ratti is an architect and engineer who practices in Italy (carloratti.com), and teaches at the MIT, where he directs the SENSEable City Lab.

Flow[n] interviews Carlo Ratti from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

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