Monday, 16 April 2007

Car free Helsinki

Could Helsinki be the first major city besides Venice to forbid personal automotive transport? While small scale car-free zones exist such as in Copenhagen, and many European cities (with Gent perhaps the most extensive car-free area), many of these decisions are based on practical considerations within medieval streetplans.

Helsinki already has a small car-free area on the island fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Too often, being car-free is seen as a Luddite, retrograde step, with visions of Amish buggywhips. But Helsinki could show how it might be a progressive, technologically forward step to forgo personal automotive transport in favour of cycling, walking, mass transit. Developments in communications technology are already profoundly affecting modes of working, refiguring the role of a central business district, and lessening the transport strain of a twice-daily rush hour.

Reducing the dominance of the car offers up two exciting possibilities for the development of Helsinki in 2050. Firstly, it would allow the arterial routes to become multi-functional zones, combining transport links, linear parks and high-density housing. Secondly, it could help prevent sprawl and suburbanization, and increase the housing density in the centres. Shrinking the city becomes a positive step.

If this sounds like New Urbanism, don't be alarmed. Unfortunately, most car-free concepts, such as are suspiciously regressive. I'm not proposing an ersatz, cosy Leon Krier-esque townscape, nor the banal, venal pedestrianisation that bedevils the UK's car-free areas. We can explore new typologies of streetscape, intertwined combinations of transport, housing, commercial space and parkland. Streetscape would no longer be defined by a building line separated by 12-20m for a two-lane blacktop.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Tokyo Fibercity 2050

Issue 63 of JA magazine projects possible pathways of development for Tokyo, Created by Prof. Ohno Hidetosh and his laboratory at the Univesity of Tokyo, it aims to create a new planning paradigm that will address environmental problems and demographic changes. The idea of the 'Fibercity' is adopted, describing structures that extend in a linear fashion such as transportation and communication networks - basically referring to speed and movement. This challenges the harmonious atomic model of traditional Western planning by recognising that mobility is now the central characteristic of conurbations and proposing exchange and interaction rather than production as the basis for structure.

The 'Fibercity' concept extends into four urban design strategies, Green Finger, Green Web, Green Partition and Urban Wrinkes, each of which project an attempt to change Tokyo by manipulating spatial fibres. The journal describes and illustrates these strategies in detail, as well as showing various historic, contemporary and projected aspects of Tokyo.

While as a sprawling metropolis Tokyo has a different set of circumstances, many of the design strategies could also be applied to Helsinki. Aspects of these design strategies echo Alexander's Pattern Language - eg number 3 City Country Fingers.

The Fibercity web site describes a Fiber as follows:

"A Fiber can be understood as an organizing grain or thread, in terms of city form it is a linear space."

"Fibers are spaces with velocity."

"Each of four urban strategies for the realization of the fiber city, namely Urban Wrinkle, Green Web, Green Partition and Green Finger is a strategy for altering the character of the city through careful manipulation of existing linear elements, or fibers. It should be noted however that these strategies are not only aimed towards a single purpose, but rather address several interrelated objectives, including: the reactivation of the city, disaster mitigation, amendment of transportation policy, and the enrichment of green space."

"Fiber City is flexible like fabric, made up of many textures, and upon inspection consists of repeating analagous patterns of different scales that have a fractal character."