Looking further afield

Today let’s look at some ideas that are perhaps a bit further afield than our usual focus but that can inform our thinking on cities from a broader perspective.

Urban villages for people with disabilities

At Planetizen Blogs, a short article on the idea of urban villages and how such neighbourhoods can positively impact the lives of people with disabilities. “According to the National Household Travel Survey, about 9 percent of U.S. residents are people with disabilities (PWD),” what’s more, it’s useful to realise that all of us should consider ourselves “temporarily abled,” since most everyone “will spend part of their lives with some sort of mobility impairments.”

Better accessibility for people with disabilities is a worthy goal in and of itself and that should always be the first reason, but it’s also a useful argument to remember that better accessibility also often turns out to be good for everyone, from better legibility on websites, to the oft used example of sidewalk curb cuts (originally meant for veterans coming back from World War II, they also help the elderly, families with baby carriage, and everyone really).

Roadway engineers use a design vehicle, typically a fire or garbage truck, to define the minimum size and weight that a road must accommodate. The same concept can be applied to pedestrian facilities. What is the design vehicle for sidewalks? The traditional walkway design vehicle was a single wheelchair, but to accommodate sociability and romance, sidewalks in commercial and recreational areas should be wide enough to accommodate PWD couples wheeling side-by-side. […]

The best way to help people with disabilities and prepare for our future selves is to increase the supply of affordable and accessible housing in urban villages, and to ensure that new neighborhoods are planned based on these principles.

A new model for cohousing

At the Harvard Graduate School of Design, an interview with Jenny French, looking at her studio’s beautiful new model for cohousing in Boston. Not cooperative housing, not co-living, this form of “cohousing follows a fairly narrow definition and is modeled after quite specific Danish precedents from the latter half of the 20th century.”

[C]omprised of individual living units, which are connected to the larger framework of a “common house,” including terraces, yards, a dining room for 100, music room, living room, community pantry, and more—all designed to support a set of shared experiences and resources. […]

Allowing for mutual aid, friendships, and families of choice, and the pooling of certain resources while maintaining individual household ownership and separation of finances is in many ways a subtly subversive counter to normative multifamily housing. […]

The shaping of the community is defined not just by the current situation of each resident, but through envisioning shifting relationships, changing and aging bodies, and future members. [Emphasis mine.]

How Oslo fights climate change

Fighting climate change in cities can have surprising secondary effects, like electric heavy equipment being “so quiet that nearby cafés and restaurants kept their front doors open.”

By using only electric excavators and machinery, the project avoided nearly a hundred thousand kilograms of CO2emissions. But its larger goal was to help drive the market for electrical heavy-construction equipment. […]

Oslo has committed to making all municipal construction projects zero-emission by 2025. Private companies bidding to win contracts now receive extra points if they use zero-emission equipment, and more of these machines are entering the Norwegian market every year.

One important lessons from the work being done in Oslo is that instead of waiting for a miraculous solution, they have set ambitious goals and are finding ways to make progress in realising them.

Oslo’s climate budget isn’t one line item among others. Instead, it’s a process for measuring to what extent different policies reduce emissions, and for guiding decision-making across all municipal departments. Some policies require extra funding: electric excavators are more expensive than diesel machines. Others, such as increasing tolls and parking prices for non-electric vehicles, are money-makers.

More accessible urban villages, new models of cohousing, and unexpected benefits of fighting climate change. Perhaps not the first topics that come to mind when thinking about Fab Cities, but certainly excellent ideas and lessons to learn from.

Illustration: Kevin Lucbert