Thursday, 19 May 2011

Building a New City - Saving the Planet


It hase come a bit out of fashion to build new cities. It sort of comes in waves or trends when suddenly a lot of cities are being planned and built, but then the ide dies out again. The Romans build a lot of cities, then it was quiet in Europe until the Medieval times when cities came back into fashion with market rights and privileges but really was a topic during the renaissance period. Of course during the industrialisation cities were all the topic again but for all the negative reason, leading to the planning of new cities, the garden city idea. Later on during the 20th century the New Town movement brought us some new settlements. Since then with the acknowledgement of the associated problems, the conflict between structured objectivity and perceived livability.

Skolkovo Innovation Center
Image taken from Univers Utopia / A drawing of the city of Palmanova near Venice.

The ver idea of a new city and the theories around building a new place however are kind of persistent. Its a sort of statice vision. With the search for better conditions and the idealistic vision of the sustainable city, the beginning of the 21st century was marked with a few city planning projects mainly in connection with the boom in the Middle East. One of the projects Gateway City with the Dead Star by OMA and the other project, Masdar City by Foster and Partners.

Russia has not hada prestigious urban planning project for a while and has now after the Middle East boom relaunched the idea of planning a new city. Here again the focus is on technology and innovation with the promise of better quality, better conditions and of course peace of mind with numerous sustainability promisses.

The new development lead by French planners AREP Ville is branded as the Russian Silicon Valley (Press Release) using big global companies to demonstrate the attractiveness of the plans. Amongst them are according to the Fast Company Intel, Nokia, Siemens, and Cisco

The new city will be planned in Skolkovo just outside Moscow. The project came out of competition that also featured for example OMA, Foster and Partner, ARUP or Albert Speer.

In their article the Fast Company puts it as: "The 15,000-person, $4.3 billion city will feature five zones, each focusing on a different area of research: IT, nuclear, biomedical technologies, energy, and space research. Residents will get the benefit of picturesque tree-lined walkways, bike paths, and foot bridges. And, presumably, free-flowing vodka." The cities project manager, Viktor Maslakov, is quoted as saying: "The pedestrian will come first, followed by cyclists and public transport. It will be linked to Moscow by high-speed trains taking 17-20 minutes." This will mean a very drastic change in Russa, where the car is very much still the dominating the traffic landscape.

Architects plan for the town to generate its own electricity using solar panels, wind farms and wells that tap into geothermal energy.

Skolkovo Innovation Center
Image taken from the Fast Company - Overview of the new planned innovation centre by AREP.

With the latest series of cities, from Masdar to Skolkovo, the talking of new cities has change quite substantially. It is now about figures and performance, about technology and numbers. The city has become a product in a sense, usually branded as a science park with inovation cluster promoted to save the global problems. Where New Towns still had this strong Garden City ideology to improve peoples live, enable them to live in their individual house and play a role in the local community. The science cities are positioned as global hubs for urban nomads on business trips bringing fresh ideas and reinventing the wheel. These new cities are promoted as entities in a global market with very little concept of locality beyond icons.

Urbanisation is however still trending to increase and as Mike Batty discusses in his Commentary in the latest Environment and Planning A volume 43 is likely to increase. Batty discusses the urban growth from looking at the historic development and out of this developing a longterm perspective. He calls it 'When all the World is a City' as the predictions are that everybody will be living in cities by the end of the century, but also points out the there are indications that it is likely not all will be connected to the giant cluster.

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