Thursday, January 22, 2009

Follow UrbanWilderness on Twitter

You might have noticed the Twitter feed on the sidebar is updated about twice as often as the blog; Twitter is a micro-blogging ideal for short posts sharing news and other content. Keep checking for the latest Urban Wilderness news, or follow the updates directly through Twitter here. Thanks for reading!

The housing development that kids built

How do we make cities, neighborhoods, and housing developments more livable? Well, start with asking the inhabitants. And who spends more time living, exploring, and being active in the physical space than children?

A construction cooperative in a northern Italian town decided to explore this idea the early 1990's. They wanted to create space for inhabitants, rather than making habitations, and wanted real participation in the project with an actual sense of community as the goal. Architects and engineers worked with nursery school children on building models, drawing, and discussing what they would want in an ideal house.

Completed a couple of years ago, the Coriandoline housing development has 20 homes organized around a center plaza. Each building has a theme, including the "castle-house" and the house with "the-roof-held-up-by-trees." Features such as kid-height windows beneath the regular window sills and space for playing built in the communal landscape helps make Coriandoline livable for residents of all sizes. Garages are buried in mounds and hills with play areas above and monster-like murals on the garage-cave opening. Read more about Coriandoline, and listen to a podcast from Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

(Photo courtesy of Radio Netherlands Worldwide)

As a society we continue to underestimate the role of the built environment in defining our behavior and lifestyles. Many of the great failures of our suburban communities to sustain healthy livestyles and livable communities stem from honest, well-intentioned efforts to plan responsibly. Maybe we need to throw out the old manuals and let the kids have a go at it...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

On bikes and transportation alternatives

We all need a reminder from time to time that people bicycle for many different reasons. Some bike for fitness and racing, others commute by choice, and still others bicycle commute by necessity. Some of us can decide when and where we will ride, but not everyone has an option.

A New York Times editorial discusses bicycles in the suburbs, on the highways along Strip-Mall-America, pedaled by immigrant workers relegated to the margins.
Such sights are evidence of a valiant adaptation to a hostile environment. For immigrant workers, as with so many of us in the suburbs, life boils down to the job, the bed and the travel between. But when you live in a landscape designed for cars, and you are poor, and it is too far to walk to work, and there’s no bus to take you there, the only option is two wheels. This is what is cheap and effective. It can also be deadly.
This is not a safe place to ride. Drivers (frustrated with suburban transportation in their own right) have little compassion for bicyclists here. The editorial discusses several recent bicyclists' deaths around NYC where the drivers kept going after the collision. "Transportation alternatives" usually means alternatives to cars, but many people lack alternatives other than bikes. Let's keep this constituency in mind when building bike infrastructure and planning our overall transportation grid. And especially when we're behind the wheel; slow down a bit and give the guy on the old mountain bike a wide berth.