How do we determine why and under what conditions investments in transit contribute to the economic growth of cities? Many planners and theorists argue that better public transit solutions have a clear correlation to improved urban economies and better opportunities for people living and working in these regions. And indeed, some evidence suggests that transport improvements do enable the growth and densification of cities, downtowns, or industrial clusters, providing better accessibility to ideas and labor and thereby returning a net benefit.
But, the relationship is not simple. There is also evidence to the contrary — that transit may just redistribute benefits. By reducing transport costs, public transit improvements could even lead to cheaper land, sprawl and de-densification, and reduced proximity of firms, workers, and consumers to each other.
So how do cities make the right decisions about funding public transportation improvements that are intended to bolster the local economy? To get to the answer, several fundamental questions need to be addressed. What effect does public transit have on physical agglomeration measures like employment density? What effect do any such changes have on economic productivity? Are local development changes near transit stops just a shifting-around of residents and workers, or do they signal genuinely new economic activity?
In his current research on the impacts of transport improvements on agglomeration economies, Assistant Professor of City & Regional Planning, Dan Chatman, points out that the scarcity of both readily available data and good theories about transit and economic growth make answering such questions a challenge.
Building on a body of previous research that showed the connection between employment density and higher wages, Chatman and his colleagues sought to trace the links between transit, agglomeration, and productivity, and constructed models based on data from approximately 90% of the 364 metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Supporting advocates for the benefits of transportation improvements, the study found significant indirect productivity effects. For example, in the case of central city employment density, estimated annual wage increases across metropolitan areas averaged $45 million for a 10 per cent increase in seats or rail service miles per capita. However, since the costs of providing new transit service or improving existing transit service can be quite high, the productivity benefits associated with transit-induced agglomeration may not in many instances swing the balance to a positive benefit-cost calculation. But the study results do suggest that there are unanticipated benefits from densification and growth due to transit improvements. Particularly in large cities where roads are congested, space is at a premium, and rents are high, the additional benefits may provide a justification for transit service improvements.
In a separate study that took an in-depth look at the economic impacts of New Jersey’s River Line, a less positive picture emerged. Originally proposed in the 1990s, the River Line broke ground in 2000 and began operation in 2004. From its conception, there were arguments both for and against the proposed project. Public officials hoped that it would help to revive the adjacent towns’ economies, bringing visitors to local tourist attractions and capturing commuters to prime destinations or transfer hubs, while the inevitable not-in-my-backyard protests came from residents who feared that the rail line would drive down property values.
Specifically focusing on single family homes near the 34-mile stretch of rail service between Camden and Trenton along the Delaware River, Chatman analyzed home sales values before and after the line opened, comparing properties of different types near the River Line to a large set of properties sold in the four-county region, between 1989 and 2007. For low-income area properties near stations, property values appreciated significantly. But for properties farther than one-quarter mile away, the net estimate was neutral and, in the two to three mile radius, the estimate was negative, suggesting a redistribution of property appreciation gains. For the small number of houses in higher-income areas, having a River Line rail station within a quarter-mile was also associated with slight reductions in value.
It is important to recognize that these findings only reflect relatively short-term impacts. With the River Line now operating at near to full capacity, there is evidence that new higher-density development could increase, eventually leading to a more positive outcome.
For urban planners and cities debating the economic value of public transportation investments, these results suggest that large cities with significant road congestion should expect large economic benefits from public transit expansions that enable central city densification. At the same time, while improvements to transit service in other locations may benefit lower-income households and other groups with higher reliance on transit, they may not confer the same levels of generalized economic benefit. Nevertheless, as cities and metropolitan areas become more congested, it is critical that we continue to strive to understand the complex relationships between transit, urban growth, and productivity so that we make the wisest decisions with the greatest overall benefit.
The College of Environmental Design began its fall 50th Anniversary celebration in a packed Wurster Hall auditorium on Friday, September 25, 2009. The fall program, tracing the past fifty years at CED, started with two fascinating lectures: the first from Dell Upton on the histories of the environmental design professions, which was followed by Sir Peter Hall on planning 20th-century cities.
The evening was introduced by CED’s new dean, Jennifer Wolch. She informed the audience of CED’s long history, and defined the College’s function as an institution. “(William) Wurster wrote, ‘Our first duty is toward our students, of course, but we have another and very pressing duty. That is our duty to California, as a fast-growing and increasingly urban state, and we must serve her well in creating beauty, preventing disorder, and making the best use and preservation of her natural resources. Hills, water, land, and forests must all be carefully conserved as the structures of man compete for the space they occupy.’”
Professor of Architecture Paul Groth followed Wolch, introducing Dell Upton, professor and chair of UCLA’s Art History Department. Groth commended Upton for his distinguished career and original research and publishing.
Upton’s lecture, titled “Architectural History and the CED Idea,” traced the role of Architectural History in relation to the conception of CED. Upton expounded on Wurster’s idea of CED by saying, “Part of the insider/outsider discourse in architecture is that architectural education should be both integrative and disruptive.”
Professor Emeritus of City & Regional Planning Mike Tietz brought Sir Peter Hall to the stage. He said, “Peter is probably the preeminent scholar and historian of planning and urbanism perhaps in the world today.”
Sir Peter Hall, Professor Emeritus of City and Regional Planning who currently teaches at University College, London, continued the enlightening retrospective on CED’s past fifty years with his talk, “Planning Past and Future: Early 21st Century Reflections.”
“I would like to commemorate the college as an example of what a college truly is and should be,” Hall told the crowd, “and that is an assemblage of scholars pursuing their individual lines of research, but in a form of deep exchange of ideas and knowledge. That is what CED was founded to do fifty years ago and so triumphantly continues to do today.”
In a special ceremony, UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer awarded Professor Emeritus of Architecture Sam Davis with The Berkeley Citation, Berkeley’s highest honor to its faculty. The honor is given for distinguished or extraordinary service to the University. The Berkeley Citation remains confidential prior to being awarded, which made for a touching scene as Davis was called to the stage. Breslauer read some of the nomination letters received for Davis. Professor of Architecture Mary Comerio wrote, “His work on housing the homeless demonstrates the importance of social responsibility and ethical professional practice as an example for our college and university.”
The evening concluded with a lovely reception outside in the Wurster Hall Courtyard.
On Saturday, the celebration continued with two engaging panel discussions. Russ Ellis led the first panel of emeriti professors, including Clare Cooper Marcus, Stanley Saitowitz, and Michael Teitz, in a conversation about the historical and philosophical roots of CED’s approach to design and planning education. Harrison Fraker then led a panel of some of our most accomplished alumni, including Ray Kappe, Carol Galante, and Mario Schjetnan, in a discussion of the impacts of CED on the professions.
I think the abiding sense I have at the end of this morning is how we reconcile the CED vision, what this college was founded for 50 years ago, and what it continues to practice, with the changes that occur in the outside world, which have been, as we’ve seen in various presentations, so profound over half a century.
— Sir Peter Hall
The Professors Emeriti Panel, “History and Traditions of Design Activism,” focused on the development of CED as an academic institution and a place for creative endeavor. Professor Emerita Marcus succinctly put it near the end of the panel, “We should be getting people out of Wurster Hall. As teachers, I think we need to get out of this building — sorry to those who currently teach in this building, as I did for most of my life — and get out into the real environment … and teach something different. Be creative in how we teach.”
The second panel, featuring some of our most gifted alumni out in the environmental design fields, was titled “Legacies of Environmental Design Education at CED.” Carol Galante, of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Ray Kappe, founder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture; and Mario Schjetnan, founder of Grupo de Diseño Urbano, discussed how their time at the CED helped them develop the ideas and impulses that led to their success.
“We had one studio in which landscape, planning, and architecture came together to do a project — A Planning Study of Berkeley,” Ray Kappe spoke of his time at Berkeley. “And that was one of my best experiences here. This one (project) was really very, very important to me.”
Sir Peter Hall returned to give the Concluding Remarks for the fall program. He said he had a hard time summing up an incredibly rich set of discussions. He did so marvelously, though, with some final reflections about understanding how differently things were done fifty years ago as compared with today.
“What are we up to in CED?” Hall asked the audience. “What should we be up to? All that I’ve heard this morning tells me, and I’m sure it’s told you, that the essence of what CED is for, is to really understand the relationship between people, nature, and buildings.”
“I think the abiding sense I have at the end of this morning,” Sir Peter Hall said, “is how we reconcile the CED vision, what this college was founded for 50 years ago, and what it continues to practice, with the changes that occur in the outside world, which have been, as we’ve seen in various presentations, so profound over half a century.”
On Sunday, the celebration continued beyond Wurster Hall with expeditions to locations around the East Bay and Napa Valley. Alumni and faculty led tours of their projects that focused on innovative design, affordable housing, environmental planning, historic preservation and other aspects of sustainability.
The Napa tours included visiting the Parduxx Winery, built by Gould Evans | Baum Thornley, Inc. The tour was led by the firm’s principal, Douglas Thornley, and showcased the traditional agricultural building complex plan with a unique ten-sided fermentation facility, that was inspired by the form of traditional round barns.
The other Napa tour visited Opus One Winery, built by Johnson Fain. Principal Scott Johnson led the group through the 70,000 square foot, low-profile structure, exploring the dual role of iconic structure and functioning winery. Johnson highlighted the role of the architecture as an expression of the wine made there.
Among the several engaging East Bay tours was the visit to William Wurster’s Greenwood Common. The tour was led by Waverly Lowell, author of Living Modern: A Biography of Greenwood Common. Participants on this tour learned the history of how the buildings and landscape came to be and toured three of the exceptional houses and gardens.
Another of the other fascinating tours highlighting CED’s influence on East Bay architecture was Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. This tour was led by the building’s designer, Craig W. Hartman, who is a partner at Skidmore, Owens, and Merrill. With a building form based on an inner wooden vessel contained within a veil of glass, the tour showed, the design conveys an inclusive statement of welcome and openness as the community’s symbolic soul.
The other East Bay tours included a trip to Strawberry Creek Park in Berkeley, which was led by Professor Matt Kondolf and Jane Wardani, with commentary from Carole Schemmerling and Roger Leventhal. Members of the CED community also took a boat trip, led by Caltrans Engineer Brian Maroney, to the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island.
A final group visited the Salt Flats in the South Bay. CED Professor and kite photographer Cris Benton, along with microbiologist Wayne Lanier, led a three-mile hike to their favorite spot at the South Bay salt ponds, an unassuming drainage ditch they have dubbed “The Weep.” At the Weep, Cris got out his kite and showed how he captures surprisingly beautiful images of the landscape using the wind and a homemade remote for his camera. Meanwhile, Wayne set up his field microscopes to inspect the amazingly diverse creatures that create the colors and textures we see in Cris’ aerial photos.
The celebration concluded on Sunday night with a reception at The David Brower Center in Downtown Berkeley. The building’s competition-winning design builds upon the inherent richness in the combination of affordable housing, environmental education, and a venue for the intersection of art and ecology. This reception and talk was hosted by Daniel Solomon, Principal at WRT | Solomon E.T.C. Architecture & Urban Design, the firm behind the Brower Center.
From September 25–December 22, 2009, an exhibit curated by Professor Raymond Lifchez with the assistance of Carrie McDade entitled, Environmental Design/A New Modernism: 50th Anniversary of the College of Environmental Design, 1959-2009 graced the Volkmann Reading Room in the Environmental Design Library. The exhibit focuses on seminal moments from 1959 to 2009 in the evolution of the CED founders’ vision, whereby teaching, research, and practice were informed by the social and natural sciences. In recent decades, this vision has come to include the computer sciences. It features original drawings, photographs, documents, books, and artifacts drawn from the Environmental Design Archives, the Environmental Design Library, the Bancroft Library, the University Archives, IURD and CEDR, and private collections.
In September, Studio Urbis was asked by the Hexi District government in Tianjin, China, to prepare a conceptual design for four sites divided by an intersection of a 12-lane arterial highway and six-lane “local collector.”
We took this project on as “research” into the problems of superblocks with increasingly wide roadways and setbacks that predominate contemporary Chinese development. This current pattern reinforces boundaries between sites, with each development discontinuous from the rest of the city. Our strategy was to extend the pedestrian fabric of the district into the form of the buildings as three dimensional paths that move through multiple levels of all four sites and span the river of cars. The city of Tianjin, agreeing with our analysis of the district, has accepted our proposal for an expanded pedestrian environment.
Cities of the future will need to be ever more interconnected yet also more self-reliant. To accommodate a projected doubling of population by 2018 while resisting further outward sprawl, the Bay Area and San Francisco together will require a new infrastructural network that is able to collect and distribute water, power, fuel, and goods while also accommodating the transport of residents and tourists.
Symbiotic and multi-scalar, SF Hydro-Net is proposed as an inhabitable infrastructure that organizes critical flows of the city. It provides an underground arterial circulation network for hydrogen-fueled hover-cars, removing higher-speed traffic from city streets. Hydro-Net emerges above ground at the waterfront and multiple neighborhood nodal points. Here, new architectures bloom at key locales in the form of opportunistic urban caves, reeds and outcroppings that link the above and below-ground worlds, fostering new social spaces and urban forms fed by Hydro-Net’s resources and connectivity.
Hydro-Net also serves to simultaneously collect, distribute and store freshwater, geothermal energy and hydrogen fuel. Built with automated drilling robots, Hydro-Net’s tunnel walls are structured using carbon nanotube technology. Algae ponds will reoccupy areas along the bay impacted by the projected 5-meter water-level rise of global climate change. This new aquaculture zone provides the raw material for the production of hydrogen fuel that is stored and distributed within the nanotube tunnel walls.
New high-density housing co-exists with this aquaculture zone as a forest of sinuous towers. Hydro-Net becomes a device to tap the vast reserves of water and power housed within the earth below San Francisco, storing and distributing energy and fresh water from existing underground geothermal fields and aquifers stretching from Golden Gate Park to San Francisco International Airport. Replacing today’s street paving that sends rainwater runoff into the sewer, new porous pavement allows rain to recharge the aquifer’s Hydro-Net also links to an array of fog harvesters, diversifying sources of water.
Ultimately, Hydro-Net sponsors new programmatic potentials in its underground nodes and above-ground tendrils, while allowing much of the character of above-ground San Francisco to be served and to evolve organically.
This is a time of unprecedented globalization. While globalization is not new, the scale and intensity of global flows of capital, labor, innovation and information is perhaps unmatched in the history of the world-system.
Equally striking is the emergence of global social movements, global campaigns and global alliances that seek to address issues of poverty and inequality. Indeed, the start of the 21st century has been marked by the globalization of responsibility for the human condition – from human rights to environmental crisis to disease to extreme poverty. What is UC Berkeley’s role in this bold, millennial moment? This is precisely the question that led to the recent establishment of the Blum Center for Developing Economies on campus. How can UC Berkeley train the next generation of global citizens to tackle, in inspired but responsible ways, the world’s pressing problems? In doing so, how will they better understand their place in the world and thus remake the future of America?
But it is important to ask yet another question: what is the role of urbanists, urban planners, urban designers, architects, environmental planners and landscape architects at such a global moment? I do not ask this question simply because urban planning is my professional calling card. I believe that this question has urgency for all those concerned with globalization, its promises, and its stark inequalities. After all, the 21st century will be not only a global century, but also an urban century. Cities are, and will be, a key space of economic development and of material and symbolic citizenship. The “right to the city” will be one of the most important human rights of the 21st century. What role will urban professionals, scholars and activists play in articulating this right to the city? How, in particular, will CED train the next generation of “insurgent” architects and planners?
Let me simply share one lesson that I draw from some of the classes, seminars, studios and workshops that a few of us have been organizing and leading in CED: the act of planning and designing is fundamentally an ethical and political act. We can claim we are neutral technocrats or well-meaning artists, but neither guise fully captures the extent of our impact or paradoxically the impotence of our plans. We produce space. And we do so in a world that, despite what the gurus of globalization would have us believe, is not flat. The production of space thus implicates us in the structural logic of urbanization and urbanism; in the political fields of power and powerlessness; and in the unequal, and often unjust, landscapes of cities and regions. The ethical question is how we choose to participate in the production of space. Are we the consultant who plans the redevelopment of a slum and in doing so fiercely opposes evictions, the one who negotiates resettlement and compensation for slum-dwellers, or simply the one who follows our client’s script? Are we the planner who is commissioned to create a new city for a global elite and in doing so insists the city has to be open and inclusive for all classes, the one who revels in the high-style architecture we can design, or the one who rejects the commission?
During this past semester, I have watched students in the Nano City Super Studio admirably struggle with these issues. How will they convince their clients that a vibrant and just city is one whose value derives from more than simply valuable real estate and global connectivity? How will they make tangible and visible these alternative forms of value, those that are less commodified and lucrative than property capital? How will they plan for the villagers who live on the edges of the site, who are subsistence farmers and eager to sell their land and stop farming? Will they, as benevolent planners, preserve these villages as quaint relics of a lifestyle that the villagers themselves refuse, or will they imagine a different future for the relationship between city and countryside? Most important, the students have known that the answers to these questions are not technocratic or aesthetic but rather ethical and political. While they have been able to utilize their technocratic and aesthetic expertise, this expertise has been shaken and disrupted by the sheer social reality of the site, that encounter between the villager aspiring for a better life and the UC Berkeley student desperately desiring to do the right thing. The site haunts the studio and this is the way it must be – this always tense ethical and political relationship between expertise and social reality, university and community. We mediate this relationship as “double agents,” often complicit in the production of space but also hoping to subvert the cruel calculus of this production.
Of the Louisiana parishes (counties) impacted by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005, Orleans was the last to draft a plan guiding its recovery – a document necessary to qualify New Orleans for its fair share of federal and state resources available for recovery.
Over nearly a two-year period, New Orleanians, both returnees as well as those who have yet to come home, participated in three distinct, but not necessarily sequential, planning efforts, of which the most decisive and important was known as the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP).
While most of projects and policies described in UNOP will never be fully implemented, the plan’s release in January, 2007 marked a new chapter in the city’s recovery. The plan will likely not be physically determinative of the shape of New Orleans reborn, but its psychological impact – a realization that the city must take a hard look at its priorities given a limited set of resources – has allowed policy makers to begin to make the tough choices that will guide the pace and directionality of reconstruction. Based largely on the UNOP document, the city’s Recovery Czar Ed Blakely – formerly the chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning at Berkeley – released in March a priority list of areas to be targeted by the city for redevelopment using local funds. In addition to directly utilizing the preliminary design documents from UNOP, the list also reflects the idea of “clustering” the returning population in nodes and steering it towards places adjacent to already recovered neighborhoods. This approach is designed to both efficiently restore utilities and to target funds in areas where they will be most likely to support economic recovery.
In addition, the energy and interest that coalesced during the UNOP process shone a spotlight on the city that has continued to inspire the design community. Frederic Schwartz (BArch 1973), who led the UNOP effort in two of the city’s fourteen districts, is currently sponsoring a design competition for neighborhood parks in devastated portions of the city. His colleague Allen Eskew, who studied at Berkeley under professor Alan Jacobs and worked closely with Schwartz during UNOP, recently was honored when his locally-based firm was chosen as part of a team led by Chan Krieger Sieniewicz to redevelop the city’s long-neglected riverfront (an effort unrelated to UNOP).
It would be dishonest, however, to describe the recovery planning process in New Orleans as smooth. After FEMA’s early attempts at prioritizing reconstruction projects fell flat, the first local planning effort was Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back (BNOB) Commission, which began immediately after the storm. Much maligned for its top-down approach – the most controversial of its recommendations was a moratorium on rebuilding in certain portions of the city – BNOB fell out of favor with both policy makers and the public at large by the end of 2005.
In the vacuum that ensued, the City Council proposed a process of its own in the spring of 2006. The Council’s plan, overseen by Miami-based Lambert Advisory, involved the participation of thousands of local residents in the drafting of forty-nine separate documents for each of the flooded neighborhoods in the city (approximately 80% of its land mass). Ultimately, however, it was necessary to produce a single document covering all of New Orleans (including the un-flooded central business district and historic French Quarter), and to think at a city-wide level about policies that would prioritize recovery in a sustainable manner. At the behest of state decision makers, the Unified New Orleans Plan began its work in the summer of 2006, almost one year after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
The UNOP process, which divided the city into fourteen districts, each planned by separate teams of nationally recognized planners and architects, proved ultimately successful in bringing together the city’s fractious political establishment and polarized communities in support of a single vision of recovery. The entire document, released in January, 2007, is available online at www.unifiedneworleansplan.com.
During UNOP, community participation at the city-level relied heavily on three “Community Congresses” run by the consulting firm American Speaks. David Campt, a recent graduate of Berkeley’s PhD program in City and Regional Planning, was heavily involved the America Speaks´ local effort. The Congresses were large meetings of over 1,000 participants that included video-uplinks to members of the Diaspora (not adequately represented in other efforts). For most people, these events were the first time they were given the opportunity to discuss citywide recovery issues in a public forum, and the broad-based agreement reached during the interactive polling sessions suggested that the city was more amenable to a guided (and slower) recovery than was previously thought. While UNOP avoided the determinism of the earlier Bring New Orleans Back process, the ultimate vision – a rationalized process of rebuilding beginning with those areas that have been best able to recover on their own – is largely similar.
With the culmination of UNOP—and the hiring of Recovery Czar Ed Blakely—New Orleans is beginning its third-year after Katrina still devastated but cautiously optimistic about its future. Schwartz and Eskew both believe that, properly implemented, New Orleans’ recovery can be a model for how our cities in general think about rebuilding their respective infrastructures, many as damaged by years of abandonment and neglect as New Orleans was during a single day. This hope continues to inspire the as-yet-unwritten story of the rebirth of a great American city.
By Jean Eisberg, Master of City and Regional Planning ‘07
To a planner, China is opportunity. Over a billion people and growing; rising skyscrapers and a soaring GDP; poverty, pollution, and potential. The issues are rich, but the place is even richer.
During the spring 2007 semester, I traveled to Jiaxing, China with a group of students, faculty, and professionals for an interdisciplinary design studio. We were fortunate to be able to collaborate with students and professors at Tongji University, located nearby in Shanghai. The Tongji group guided us during the trip and throughout the studio.
I studied China as an undergraduate student and while visiting the country again, I was reminded of why I was initially so intrigued. This is a country whose history, politics and social structures have changed radically over the past several decades. Jiaxing exemplifies this dynamic.
Jiaxing boasts a mix of cultural and historic amenities as well as modern industry and technology. Water defines the landscape; it is, at times, beautiful, but it is also polluted and often strewn with debris. Nearly empty eight-lane roads portend the growth to come. But, today, it is difficult to differentiate Jiaxing from the many other mid-size industrial cities in China. Our group needed to enhance the existing assets in Jiaxing to bring out its unique identity and ensure its competitiveness in the region. The central government’s proposed high-speed rail station offered an incredible opportunity to make this happen.
After returning to Berkeley, it was time to get to work. But, as planners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects, we did not always speak the same language. We spent several weeks sketching, arguing, and jumping in and out of scales. Out of the chaos emerged some great ideas about water, open space, transportation, energy, architecture, and urban design. Our recommendations encompassed all scales — from architectural materials and façade details to a transit plan and renewable energy resources — reflecting the range of disciplines represented among the students in our studio.
The Tongji students helped us to understand the traditions, policies, and culture that define and affect architecture and development in the region. Collaborating with our colleagues at Tongji was one of the highlights for me. With a year of college-level Mandarin muddled in the back reaches of my brain, I got a chance to practice speaking and drew laughter for my errant tones. But even better was the chance to share opinions on what planning means in our respective countries. As one Tongji student admitted, China plans and develops without always considering the repercussions or offering mitigations. I countered that in the United States, legislation and politics often necessitate intense scrutiny and lengthy processes that can prevent projects from moving forward. We both wondered about the middle
I still see opportunity in China in terms of its tremendous growth. But I also see the possibility for China to become a leader in sustainable development, something we can all learn from.
“There is an ecological apocalypse unfolding in China right now.” The statistics bear the point.
Of the world’s 10 most polluted cities, five are in China. A new coal power plant is built every ten days. The effects on the economy, humans and nature are severe. Pollution and environmental damage have created losses ranging from 7 to 20% of the GDP over the last two decades.
There are approximately 300,000 premature deaths each year attributed to air pollution alone. A quarter of China’s 1.3 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. China has the world’s fastest growing auto market, giving it the notorious label of the world’s leader in vehicle fatalities and second in oil consumption behind the US. Currently, the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, China is on pace to surpass the US in 2008 — some researchers even argue that it already has.
During the spring 2007 semester, students at Tongji University in Shanghai, China and the University of California, Berkeley in the United States took on this challenge, collaborating on a design studio in Jiaxing, China, a second-tier city 80km outside of Shanghai. The group included undergraduate and graduate students pursuing coursework in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and urban design, as well as faculty and professionals from both countries.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a private foundation based in San Francisco, California provided a grant to the group to explore international urban sustainability. The Jiaxing City Government partnered with our group and posed a set of urban development research questions to the students. The charge was to develop a plan for the City in anticipation of a proposed high-speed rail line connecting the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Hangzhou, with stops in Shanghai and Jiaxing. As an added challenge, Jiaxing’s station stop was proposed in an agricultural area 10km away from the existing central city. This new rail line could connect Jiaxing to Shanghai in 15 minutes and to the airport in less than a half hour. What would this compression in time and space mean for Jiaxing?
The students identified two major challenges to address: China’s environmental crisis and connecting the proposed rail station to the central city
First, the students proposed a transit corridor between the new station and the existing city center. They recognized the opportunity to create a new hub within the City, but wanted to maximize accessibility to the new station and the central city, to encourage investment in both anchors as well as in the corridor between them.
Second, they proposed an integrated sustainable design strategy for Jiaxing. Adopting the “3 E’s” principles of ecology, economy and equity, they endeavored to improve Jiaxing’s air and water quality, expand renewable energy sources and reduce waste, while maintaining a competitive economy. Moreover, they sought to create an equitable design that would accommodate all types of people, regardless of age, income or other status.
Despite the troubling statistics, there is opportunity to make real improvements in China’s environment, if the government and citizens choose to take on the challenge. Through sustainable design and policy measures, China has the potential to emerge from environmental crisis as an environmental leader. Jiaxing could serve as a model for sustainable development in China, providing its citizens a better life and a more environmentally sound, economically strong and equitable society.
 Porritt, Jonathon. “China: The Most Important Story in the World.” Green Futures. September 2006: 3.
I joined the Nano City Super Studio as a result of my background and interest in development issues in India, as well as the desire to learn about the design process.
As a PhD student my research interests focus specifically on the current trends in architectural practice where architects around the globe often design for sites that they have never been to or have had minimal contact with. As a practicing architect I have lived and worked in Northern India, where I was involved with several development projects that stress local building traditions. The Nano City Super Studio was thus a unique opportunity that helped me develop my research focus and fine tune my thesis topic, which is now framed as: “Bridging the gap between architect and site through technological tools to enhance place-sensitive design.”
So how did a group of Berkeley students bridge the architect-site gap in Northern India? A trip to India seemed to be the logical first step, but a week’s visit there left us with more questions than answers. For example, the most prominent features appearing on our site maps, two rivers delimiting the site, were found to be dry most of the year and flowing with muddy water during the monsoon season. Predominantly, the buildings in the area were concrete structures of poor quality or shabby vernacular dwellings. In contrast the most beautiful visually seductive aspect of the site — a mosaic of agricultural plots of land — was precisely what we were required to change.
Back in the studio in Berkeley, we found ourselves using virtual tools such as Google Earth and aerial photos. The high-resolution images highlighted features that we had failed to notice during our site visit. These included a water source, irrigation tunnels, an avenue of trees along a road, and several other elements which could be combined into a contextualized, practical, and place-sensitive urban environment. And while virtual tools cannot replace the tactile and sensory knowledge gained from a site visit, they definitely complemented it and kept us connected to the site despite the distance.
Beyond my own interests, a project like NanoCity, which combined both theoretical and practical questions, was a perfect fit for an advanced graduate-level studio and influenced all of us considerably. The challenges of designing a new city and the inherent difficulties of bridging geographical and cultural distances, were augmented by the fact this was a concrete project executed together with our client. Working on a real project forced us to deal not only with subjects we are enthusiastic about, but also with those that are usually overlooked in studio-courses such as government regulations, financial feasibility, attractiveness of the solution to potential investors, and of course producing high quality deliverables for our client.
Our experience was further enhanced by the professors who not only taught the design studios but also acted as consultants to the studio team and arbiters with the client. Their expertise in various relevant fields such as transportation, energy, and international development contributed greatly to the design and learning process. The close interactions between the students, professors, and the client resulted in a mutually productive learning process which in turn helped us devise better design solutions. It will probably be several years before we get a chance to take part again in such a complex design process–particularly one where designers, clients and developers benefit from fruitful interactions with one another.
Innovative projects often have unusual beginnings.
In Fall 2006, I received an e-mail from an individual who informed me that he was planning a new city in India. He wanted to meet me to discuss what ideas I may have for such a project. A new city that would be privately built — indeed, the idea made me wonder! Fortunately, my initial instinct to delete the e-mail and to dismiss the idea altogether did not prevail and I agreed to a short meeting with its sender in my office the following week. On the day of the meeting and after a brief Google search, I discovered that I was about to meet Sabeer Bhatia — the co-founder of Hotmail, and one of India’s if not the world’s, most recognized young entrepreneurs.
Bhatia, a graduate of Stanford University, had come to us in Berkeley seeking our expertise to realize his vision for Nano City — a new, sustainable, eco-friendly, and high-tech city in north India. The 11,000 acre site earmarked for the project is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and within close proximity of the city of Chandigarh in the state of Haryana. By all measure, Bhatia is a dream client: a young visionary whose education and ambition are matched with a social conscience. Having co-founded Hotmail in the 1990s and subsequently selling the corporation for $400 million to Microsoft, he went on to establish other IT companies and develop social ventures beyond technology. Although he came to us mainly for advice about how to pursue his new project, it quickly became clear that his engagement with us was not going to be a passing one.
Stemming from my conviction that successful projects are a product of a close collaboration between an educated client, a competent designer, and an informed public, I convinced Bhatia that we should pursue the project as a college-wide graduate urban design studio, involving a group of faculty from different specialties. Having now become our client, Bhatia also generously funded the studio which included a site visit by 16 students and 6 faculty members for a 9-day trip to India. While in India, the design team also met with government officials in the state of Haryana and other developers collaborating on the project.
The CED has had a long tradition of conducting Super Studios, which are intense design collaborations for a semester-long project and involving several faculty as supervisors. The tradition harks back to studios conducted by Lars Lerup and Stanley Saitowitz in the 1980s as well as those by Mark Mack, Richard Fernau, and myself in the 1990s. It was indeed time to revive this tradition with the Nano City Super Studio. My enthusiasm for the project as well as that of the students was shared by committed CED faculty such as my colleague Professor Susan Ubbelhode — an expert on the architecture of Chandigarh and frequent visitor to India — who agreed to co-teach this studio. Richard Fernau cut his sabbatical short and participated as a studio critic. Robert Cervero, Chair of the DCRP; Chris Benton, former Chair of Architecture; and Ananya Roy, Professor of City Planning and Associate Dean of International and Area Studies, all agreed to serve as studio consultants by delivering lectures on design and planning policy and by participating in all studio presentations.
When we advertised the studio in late Fall as a joint Architecture, City Planning, and Urban Design course we were inundated with applications from students. Since this was a truly interdisciplinary studio, open to students from the whole college, we selected 16 applicants from the M. Arch, M.C.P., M.L.A., M.U.D., and the PhD programs in Architecture, City Planning, and Landscape Architecture.
Our visit to India was an intense experience yet memorable too. We traveled between Chandigarh, the foothills of the Himalayas, and the urban outskirts of Delhi. On a visit to the proposed project site, Berkeley students demonstrated what it means to immerse oneself in the context that they design for. Refusing to simply travel in the confines of an air-conditioned bus or meet government officials, the group visited a few of the villages on the site and spent a session meeting with and interviewing villagers whose fate would be impacted by the project.
From its onset, the studio emphasized both collaborative effort as well as teamwork in the design process. On our return to Berkeley, students were assigned to teams who then delegated individual tasks to each member. Interdisciplinary methodologies were pursued by addressing the multiple scales of design involved in a project of this nature. The studio started with a week-long intense charette where each student produced a master plan. Following the charette the students were broken down into 8 teams and continued to work in pairs for 3 weeks to produce land-use and master plan solutions. This was followed by an intense 5 week session where 4 teams — each made up of 4 students — focused solely on urban design. Finally, the students were divided into 2 teams, each pursuing alternative master plans and also articulating an architectural strategy of which one was selected as a final master
The final design solution for Nano City proposes a three-phase development model which will ultimately include a small educational sector with campuses of major U.S. universities; a business development sector with headquarters of several technology firms (providing biotechnology, informational technology, and nano services); a major housing development of up to 50,000 small, medium, and large size units; and appropriate commercial and recreational services in order to generate a vibrant mixed-use
The end of the semester may have been an ending to the Nano City Super Studio but today the project continues. Nano City Inc. has accepted the general master plan generated by the studio and has officially hired 10 other Berkeley students to further develop it into a more detailed urban design, under the supervision of a few faculty members. The final master plan of Nano City designed by what is now called B-GAP — the Berkeley Group for Architecture and Planning — will be formally unveiled early in the Fall. It stands as a testament not only to the possibilities of collaboration between the different disciplines within the CED but also to the successful collaboration between clients and designers. Indeed, the Nano City Super Studio attests to the creative potential of a paradigm that believes that political position and social responsibility can deliver design excellence. As we continue with design and development, we look forward to the moment when Nano City will break ground in 2009.