Innovation News November 2012

STUDYING BOSTON’S METABOLISM
Boston ecologists are working through an interdisciplinary project to assess how elements are exchanged between natural and human systems. This project is part of the emerging field of urban ecology in which scientists study ecosystems in cities, including the relationships between artificial and natural elements.

SAN FRANCISCO’S ECO-DISTRICT PLAN
The San Francisco Planning Department has released a framework for the city’s first eco-district where neighbourhoods are directed toward community-driven sustainability and innovative use of public spaces. Initial efforts will focus on the South of Market neighbourhood, currently composed of a mix of land uses and underdeveloped land.

AN ASSESSMENT OF PLANNED UNIT DEVELOPMENTS
While the concept of planned unit development has existed for some time and has been incorporated into many urban planning ordinances, it is not clear how effective these planning provisions have been. Three U.S. case studies  identify some major issues and challenges of planned unit developments. 

THE POTENTIAL OF MICRO-APARTMENTS
New York City’s competition and RFP to design, build and manage a small apartment building of 50 or so, 250 to 300 square foot micro apartment units, has led to the submission of 33 proposals to the city’s Department of Housing and a great deal of interest from cities across the U.S. and around the world. These micro units would serve the needs of both single/two person households and seniors at lower rents in a city where housing affordability is a critical issue.

NEW STREET DESIGN GUIDE
The U.S. National Organization of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) recently released the “Urban Street Design Guidebook  ” as a resource for local governments. The document assesses design principles and strategies that cities are adopting, based on international best practices.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

THE CHALLENGE OF OPEN DATA
Dublin, San Francisco and Chicago are all cities that have created city-wide information platforms to improve the efficiency and sustainability of city services and promote the creation of new high technology businesses. While the concept of city information technology platforms are not new, their development poses challenges for cities in adapting the technology structures that are currently in place. Learn more about some key considerations in this process.

CLEAN ENERGY TRANSFORMS HAMBURG
In Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, 99 per cent of the population lives within 300 meters of a rail or bus stop, that accesses a transportation system connecting all elements of the city’s built environment. Hamburg’s success reflects what can be seen throughout Germany’s “Energiewende” or renewable energy revolution, based on the concepts of energy efficiency and energy conservation.

EMBRACING IMMIGRATION
The U.S. National League of Cities and the Next American City have collaborated on an assessment of innovative city models for resolving issues and strengthening local economies. One area of focus relates to policies that attract and welcome immigrants who can bring new wealth and opportunities to local economies. Learn more about how some key U.S. cities are supporting immigrant integration.

SOFTENING URBAN DENSITY
The “environmental paradox of smart growth,” where a reduction of emissions, run-off and adverse traffic impacts on land regionally is countered by an increase in these effects locally, has led to community resistance to intensification projects and negotiations and concessions intended to save both time and money. A new strategy is emerging, through which planners and developers acknowledge neighbourhood perspectives and address them proactively through changes in the project design and planning processes.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

RECONCILING SMART CITIZENS AND SMART CITIES
As the concept of “smart cities” gains traction through promotion by corporations such as IBM and Cisco that offer city councils pre-packaged technological solutions to improve service delivery and management, there is a growing recognition of the need to include and involve citizens in these developments. A report, “A Planet of Civic Laboratories,” released by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Institute for the Future, suggests that the emergence of app developers, entrepreneurs and “citizen hacktivists” is a competing development that truly smart cities need to accommodate.

THE WORLD’S LEADING START-UP CITIES
A new report  from the Startup Genome rates and ranks those cities with the leading start-up ecosystems throughout the world. The research data is based on their online tool, Startup Compass, which captures benchmarking data from over 50,000 entrepreneurs and start-ups across the world.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT IT BEST PRACTICES
The 2012 Digital Cities Survey highlights local governments demonstrating IT best practices to serve constituents. The survey was undertaken by the U.S. Center for Digital Government (CDG). Learn more about those cities taking the top honours.

NEW MODELS FOR FUNDING PARKS AND LIBRARIES
A new report by the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG) examines some new funding models being implemented by public park and library agencies across North America. These approaches reflect the need to manage pressures on city budgets.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF SMART GROWTH
While smart growth provides an alternative to urban sprawl and the specific benefits of reduced carbon emissions, air pollution, land consumption and runoff, there is a concern that a decade or so of smart growth may not have produced enough quality in what is being built. Learn more  about Kaid Benfield’s (NRDC) perspectives on the need to make better places, not just more compact developments with efficient transportation.

CROWDSOURCING NEIGHBOURHOOD REDEVELOPMENT
Two Washington, D.C. developers have worked out a way to acquire property and finance redevelopment in one of the city’s emerging neighbourhoods. The scheme means that projects that cannot attract traditional capital, can be completed with the support of a network of local neighbourhood investors.

CASE FOR BUILDING HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS
The future of the mid-rise cityscape of Washington, D.C. is currently the subject of heated debate, given concerns with existing height restrictions. Would higher density, taller buildings compromise the city’s views of national monuments or do height restrictions limit the supply of affordable housing and opportunities for better environments and urban spaces?

NEW MASSACHUSETTS POLICY ENCOURAGES LAND USE EFFICIENCY
In late November, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced a new initiative to encourage greater diversity and walkability in neighbourhoods. If smart growth, minimum density, housing affordability and inclusive occupancy criteria are met through “as-of-right” zoning districts, preferential treatment will be given to applications for state funding.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

PHILADELPHIA INFILL DESIGN COMPETITION
The “Infill Philadelphia: Soak it Up!” initiative is a partnership between the city and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to explore how green stormwater infrastructure can revitalize urban neighbourhoods. The objective is to host workshops, exhibitions and a design competition to promote innovative design and investment in green stormwater infrastructure, with a focus on retrofitting existing buildings and sites.

CHICAGO’S URBAN FARM DISTRICT
The Black Belt area of Chicago, once famous for jazz and blues entertainment, will become a green belt with a major focus on urban agriculture. The new plan is a component of the city’s “Green Healthy Neighborhoods” initiative, which promotes redevelopment of Chicago’s South Side. Farms are intended to bring healthy and affordable food to the community and are expected to create jobs and attract new housing and businesses.

INTELLIGENT CITIES VERSUS SMART GROWTH
Brent Toderian writes about his perspectives on the relationship between Intelligent Cities and Smart Growth, in an article in Planetizen. Is the notion of Smart Growth dated in light of the advent of Smart Cities or are the concepts compatible or even inter-connected?

HUMAN SERVICES PERFORMANCE-BASED CONTRACTING
The Rockefeller Institute of Government has recently reported on New York City’s innovative welfare-to-work performance-based contacting system, which pays providers to get welfare recipients off of public assistance in into employment. Learn more about some key lessons from this approach.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

LESSONS FROM SAN BERNADINO – REQUIRED READING
As early as August of 2010, former San Bernadino City Manager Charles McNeely, warned his council that the city was facing financial collapse. Falling home values and loss of major employers had led to reduced property tax revenue, while pressures from unions for employee salaries and benefits led to sharply increasing costs. A recent National Post article  traces the key developments in the city’s demise.

THE REALITY OF EXTREME WEATHER
Major rain events that occurred once in one hundred years in the 1950’s through the 1970’s in the Northeast U.S., have according to some scientists, become one in twenty year events. It is argued that this development reflects increasing average temperatures and related impacts on ocean levels, currents and wind patterns. To mitigate the costs of major storm events, governments at all levels are taking steps toward greater resiliency. Learn more  about what some remedial local government actions.

STEPS TO A SMARTER CITY
Frameworks and protocols are emerging for Smarter Cities, including the “City Protocol” that is being launched at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona. A recent article  cites some key steps for cities in establishing the scope and specific focus for a transition to a Smarter City.

LESSONS FROM FREDERICTON
The City of Fredericton, New Brunswick boasts both the short commute, lower housing costs and cultural advantages of a small city and the large urban attractions of universities and colleges and the provincial government offices, factors that have led to an emerging high-tech sector. The city’s 2007 municipal plan has fostered the community’s knowledge-based economy and walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods.

CHAMPIONING GREEN AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Jonathan Rose is a respected U.S. green for-profit developer who has championed and built green affordable housing projects such as Via Verde in the South Bronx and supported the Enterprise Green Communities program. His many green projects reflect his firm’s mission “to repair the fabric of communities,” in a socially and economically responsible way.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

ONTARIO MUNICIPAL SOCIAL MEDIA DEVELOPMENTS
Redbrick Communications’ Municipal Social Media Survey assesses social media use and emerging trends across all 444 municipalities in Ontario. Learn more about these developments and about a new and interesting strategy adopted recently by the Town of East Gwillimbury.”

“GREEN CITY, GREEN WATERS”
Green City, Green Waters ” is the City of Philadelphia’s 25 year plan to manage and protect watersheds with innovative, green infrastructure. The plan is designed to meet customer expectations for safe and affordable water supply, in the context of increased financial challenges, aging infrastructure and the effects of climate change.

THE RISKS FOR COASTAL CITIES
Millions of people across the world live in coastal cities in North America, Asia and India, where large mega-regions produce about two thirds of global economic growth and the bulk of the world’s innovations. These areas are expected to continue to grow, notwithstanding their susceptibility to natural disasters. Learn more about the specific risks to these cities and some perspectives on how they can be mitigated.

TRANSFORMING COQUITLAM SUBURBAN COMMUNITY
The proposed Fraser Mills community in Coquitlam, B.C., is being modeled after Nob Hill in San Francisco, Las Ramblas in Barcelona and Vancouver’s West End. The plan calls for more density and open space, mixed residential, institutional and industrial uses and a variety of building types to enable people to live, work and shop in their own neighbourhoods.

100 URBAN TRENDS
The BMW Guggenheim Lab in Berlin has identified 100 hundred of the most topical trends in urban thinking. The glossary is useful for understanding relationships and concepts in urban areas.

U.S. ELECTIONS ENDORSE URBAN INITIATIVES
In the recent U.S. election, voters across the country approved a range of local decisions to fund or implement local land use and funding initiatives. Learn more about some of the most important ballot initiatives passed.

SANT CUGAT SHOWS SMART CITY LEADERSHIP
Sant Cugat in Catalonia, has been engaged for years in becoming a SMART CITY. Its 2011-2020 Strategic Plan focuses on a more efficient, sustainable and livable urban environment and has led to ICT-based services to monitor and control delivery and to continuous improvement through research and analysis and future technology development.

BLOOMBERG URBAN INNOVATION FINALISTS
There are 20 finalist cities in New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s $9 million innovation contest. The finalists were selected from over 300 applicants who proposed ideas ranging from new permitting systems, smart energy districts, approaches to reducing infant mortality and local food initiatives. Winners will be announced in late winter or early spring.

HOW SMART CITIES SAVE MONEY
Greater attention is being focused on measuring how wisely urban areas use energy, water and other resources. Learn more about how some cities are taking advantage of developments in computer and networking technology to meet budget and other resource challenges.

CHINA’S NEW “GREAT CITY” TO BE CAR-LESS
The new 1.3 square kilometer Great City near Chengdu, China will be a massive development that is sustainable and affordable, with everything within a fifteen minute walk. The master plan calls for an 80,000 population urban area served by a large central transit hub, connecting to Chengdu and surrounding areas. Energy use is expected to be 48 per cent less, water use 58 per cent less and landfill waste is planned to be reduced by 89 per cent.

THE WALKABLE CITY
In his new book, “Walkable City,” planner Jeff Speck contends that a walk must satisfy four key conditions to be successful. Walks must be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting and each of these conditions is essential to a favourable walk.

PUBLIC WORKS CONTRACTING
Sound public procurement and contracting strategies are critical for both government agencies and businesses. Learn more about some key practices in managing procurement processes.

TRANSITIONING TO A GREEN ECONOMY
The report, “Going Green: How cities are leading the next economy ,” offers a current overview of the experiences of 90 world cities in moving to a green economy. The report contains survey results and assessments of green policies and smart city technology and case studies of selected cities in promoting green growth.

SMARTER TRAFFIC SIGNALS
Washington, D.C. officials are undertaking a two year test to explore the feasibility of approaches to smart traffic management  to improve commuting times and public safety. Transportation officials will connect traffic signals to high speed network cables to enable equipping signals with video cameras and Wi-Fi hotspots.

SAN FRANCISCO’S TRANSPORTATION INVESTMENT CHOICES
The City of San Francisco has about $3.2 billion to spend over the next 30 years on transportation projects to meet regional long term needs. To assist local taxpayers and city officials in making hard choices on transportation infrastructure projects, a new website  has been developed to present options, costs and potential revenue sources.

SINGAPORE SUPER PARK
Gardens by the Bay , Singapore’s newly opened super park, integrates innovative green technologies and biological diversity on a major scale.

PERSPECTIVES ON SUSTAINABLE CITIES
At the recent Urban Planning for City Leaders Conference in London, a number of urbanism professionals shared their views on planning for sustainable cities and on specific topics including land value, civic engagement and public transportation.

IMPACTS OF URBAN FARMING
Cities around the world are developing initiatives to grow local produce.  Learn more about some leading examples in New York, Berlin and Hong Kong.

KEY URBAN TRANSFORMATION PROJECTS
Architects and urban professionals are reshaping cities and the more traditional approaches to buildings and urban space.  Preservation and rehabilitation of aging buildings and new architectural planning methods have produced projects such as New York City’s High Line and these kinds of initiatives are being replicated in a wide range of urban settings.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

 

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