Could self-build help tackle homelessness in the UK?

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by James Andrew Cox

A lack of affordable, good quality housing in the UK is affecting everyone; thousands of people are being priced out of their homes every year. For more than 78,000 households (a city the size of Wolverhampton), this means living in temporary accommodation — and for many more, on the street.

With a record number of homeless people dying on the streets or in temporary accommodation (a figure which has doubled in the past five years), its critical to look at innovative approaches to help alleviate homelessness. One approach is to explore the potential of self-build accommodation, supported by additional social infrastructure and training.

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A common misconception of homelessness is that lifestyle choices are a fundamental cause. According to recent research undertaken by Homeless Link, in England some 4,750 people sleep rough on any one night, an increase of 15% since 2016 and 73% in the last three years. This steep rise in homelessness reflects structural changes relating to housing provision and welfare reforms, including but not limited to the end of assured shorthold tenancies (2010), the introduction of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ (2012), the tentative rollout of universal credit (2015), cuts to young people’s housing benefits (2017), a shortage of affordable housing more generally, and ever-soaring rents.

Despite this inexcusable rise, responses are slow, as we have seen with the £28m rough sleeping fund still remaining unspent and recent comments made by the new homelessness minister, Heather Wheeler, that she ‘does not know’ why numbers are up.

As professionals in the built environment, we can use our influence to create homes, places and cities that are designed to work for everyone. This belief was the main driver behind my post-graduate research project, ‘Forgotten Land, Forgotten People’, at The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL.

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In partnership with Trident Group, a Midlands-based organisation which aims to help the most vulnerable by providing good quality affordable homes, services and support, my thesis proposed a new way in which housing associations could better use small under-utilised pieces of land within their ownership (for example garage sites), as self-build sites for groups of ‘self-build ready’ homeless individuals and families.

With the pressures currently faced by housing associations (such as the 1% Rent Reduction, Right to Buy Extension and introduction of the Value for Money Standard) alongside the need for more affordable, adequate and secure housing, self-build may present an innovative solution for tackling homelessness through the built environment.

The process of self-building also has the potential to help alleviate many of the consequences of homeless­ness; it can equip participants with tools and skills that can enable reintegration into the job market. New technologies and systems such as WikiHouse have the potential to help support this outcome, through lowering the skills’ thresholds needed and the costs involved in building homes.

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The process of taking a ‘self-build ready’ group and enabling them to build their own homes is not a short-term quick win for housing associations. However, the benefits would be felt widely across the both the development and health sectors — and beyond — through providing new homes and opportunities for homeless people, cleaning up a previously under-utilised or unused and resented site, and delivering a marketable ‘product’. Whilst my project focussed on garage sites for permanent homes, further discussions indicate that this prototype solution could work for many stakeholders even if only on a temporary basis, for example as a meanwhile use for a development site which aligns with the new Draft London Plan policy (H4) on meanwhile use for a development site that responds to local need.

James Cox is a senior planner at Lichfields UK and recently completed a MSc in Urban Design and City Planning at The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL. This blog post is an edited extract of a post originally published on Lichfields’ Planning Matters blog

 

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The Romantic City

London

by Francesca Perry

As it’s Valentine’s Day, let’s think about love. Or more specifically, how do urban forms – if at all – affect and even shape attitudes towards and behaviours surrounding love, sex and romance? I’m not seeking a claim of outright environmental determinism, but I do think it’s interesting to consider possible connections. Romantic and sexual behaviours are part and parcel of social practices – something that most agree the built environment plays a significant role in. How we live our public lives, in the public realm, is coordinated by how a city is built and organised. The ways in which we work and play, in which we come together or separate ourselves off – the city both reflects and perpetuates this.

A fascinating article by Abigail Haworth, exploring the current social phenomenon in Japan in which young people seem to be decreasingly interested in sex and relationships,has long stuck in my mind. It is well known that Japan is a conglomeration of mega-regions – which is to say it is a country of endless cities. For me, then, this social phenomenon seems to be a particularly urban one. Haworth cited the pressured economic and work culture as primary reasons in this attitude shift. Her mention of urban conveniences-for-one, however, particularly grabbed my attention. In a city like Tokyo catered towards the individual, where apartments are tiny, density is high, products are sold individually-wrapped and visual stimuli is excessive, is the notion of togetherness designed out or made unappealing?

I often quote Georg Simmel, whose seminal essay ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ in 1903 suggested that the busier our cities and the greater the level of stimuli in our urban environments, the more likely we are to retereat into ourselves and adopt a blasé attitude to the external world. I am not saying that Simmel’s extreme conclusion is what is going on here, but it is an interesting psychological context to consider.

This got me thinking about other cities, other romantic practices. Paris may be known as the city of love, but beyond tourist rose-tinted glasses, what is the reality of romance there? From both first- and second-hand experience, it seems to me that some romantic attitudes are as stuck in their ways as the obsessively-preserved architecture. In this snow globe of a city, where the real diversity of modern life is pushed out beyond the Boulevard Périphérique, one can find very male-dominated traditional attitudes that result in an imbalance not palatable to any feminist. Monogomy is rare; men peacock around the metropolis, as sure of their virility as Paris is of its legendary status. Paris in its elegant beauty certainly encourages romance – but it is often a fleeting act, an ongoing merry-go-round that sparkles as brightly as the Eiffel Tower’s light show, and burns out just as quick.

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In London, we can’t help but feel that the sprawling size of the city plays a role in our romances. When it can take as long to travel to a (potential) partner’s house as it would to fly to another country, does the sheer dispersed bulk of London form a barrier to sparking – and sustaining – romantic connections? What, then, will happen when tube lines are opened around the clock in 2015 – could transport infrastructure be the facilitator of love? Prague seems to have taken this one step further, with dedicated ‘flirt trains’ which encourage romantic connections. In London, whilst our public spaces become ever-more privatised, and our social spaces ever more commercialised and unaffordable, our places for pursuing romance seem to become increasingly restricted – perhaps flirt trains are next on our agenda too.

Can a city’s form be more ‘intimate’? Think of Barcelona, where in the close-quarters of the central Gothic Quarter, life is certainly lived more in the public realm: togetherness is enabled, encouraged, celebrated by every square and every pedestrianised street. Does it follow, then, that facilitating social interaction affects romantic connections? Or is this rendered meaningless in an age of digital encounters via dating and hook-up apps?

In dense, concentrated cities, apps such as Grindr and Tinder are more successful. The more people in your immediate location, the more options and opportunities there are to you. Perhaps facilitated or reflected by this, the high-density city of New York seems to be known as a ‘dating’ city, with a culture of hook-ups and romances that seem to be yet just another activity slotted in the queue of consumption. Whatever you want, whenever you want it, you can pretty much get it in New York, whether it’s a hamburger delivered to your door, a person to walk your dog in the middle of the night, or a hook-up (or all three).

What of the city of sex? Whilst some define Amsterdam by its Red District and associate it with sexual indulgence, the real picture is a more wholesome – but happily liberal – one. As a city, Amsterdam is low-density, low-stress, open-plan, beautiful and with generous and inclusive public spaces. Fitting, then, that a life-long resident (and friend of mine) should call it ‘tolerant, progressive and liberal’ in terms of sex and romance, with a focus on equal and settled partnerships: ‘the culture is just quite open, practical and sober about sex, it isn’t something taboo or forbidden so there’s no ‘exciting’ cultural fixation on it.’ IMG-20131006-02351

Of course, I have somewhat set myself up to fail. Urban form cannot dictate sexual and romantic activity – culture, economy, social norms, even laws will always play a more dominant role. In Singapore, a single person is not eligible for a HDB (public housing) flat until they’re roughly 35, meaning most people in their twenties still live with their parents – or have to get married in order to move out and achieve any romantic privacy. A culture of dating, as you can expect, does not blossom under such circumstances. And it can get even more extreme: in Purwakata City in Indonesia, unmarried couples are forbidden to be seen on dates after 9pm – and as the (reported) story goes, those found to be defying this law are forced to get married ‘on the spot’. Yes, seriously.

Whilst, then, other factors are more critical, as urbanists we must always consider how the design of cities enables or hinders social interaction. And social interaction, of course, is the start of it all. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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This is an edited and updated version of an article originally published on this site in 2014. Thank you to some truly wonderful women who helped me with this piece: Anna Berezina, Zing Tsjeng, Natasha Lennard and Rosie Haslem.

From Athens to Anfield: the successes of community-led regeneration

In extracts from a new book, Fiona Shipwright looks at two inspiring projects where people power has positively transformed city neighbourhoods

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NAVARINOU PARK, ATHENS, GREECE

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, as Joni Mitchell once sang. Located in the somewhat typecast “anarchist” Athens neighbourhood of Exarcheia, Navarinou Park exemplifies something of a reverse scenario. The initiators and users of Navarinou are not working with something so static or “complete” a state as paradise though; rather, they are attempting to sustain this rare patch of open space amidst the density of the Greek capital via an ongoing process of autonomy and self-management that is not without its challenges.

The site has had a variety of former lives since a clinic was built there in 1907; at one point intended to host a new public building, then a new city square, it instead became a car park in limbo. Its most recent metamorphosis as a piece of urban commons was set in motion following the riots of 2008 that took place in a number of Greek cities, which amplified the feelings of many regarding the country’s precarious economic situation and government corruption. As authorities attempted to curtail tensions, those seeking modes of resistance that didn’t entail rioting were compelled to consider what Italian anthropologist and activist Anna Giulia de la Puppa describes as “new ways of using public space, new experiments [regarding the] occupation of space.”

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On March 7, 2009, the Exarcheia Residents’ Initiative, who had been working on ideas for the site for 18 months, and the collective Us, Here and Now and for All of Us initiated this particular experiment. Alongside local residents and supporters, they arrived at the car park armed with tools and began breaking into the cement and planting. Maintaining this commons ever since has highlighted that despite external misperceptions about Exarcheia, the principle conflict associated with the park is not about street fights but the perception of city space.

Hosting urban gardening schemes, community events (both political and cultural), as well as sport and leisure activities, Navarinou’s status lies somewhere between park and occupation – meaning that the dynamics of the responsibility that apply are distinct. Open, collective meetings take place every Wednesday evening at 7pm, in which no expressed idea is declined without discussion but with consensual decisions binding for all. Autonomy remains a process, not an end result here; a continuing practice of urban communing that fosters connectedness, centred around a space produced by people and used according to their needs and preferred forms of control.

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HOMEBAKED, LIVERPOOL, UK

In recent years, the words “urban” and “intervention” have increasingly been coupled together alongside that most ubiquitous of phrases: “pop up”. Whilst short-term tactics can be effective in their own right, it is the employment of intervention as a long-term – and evolving – strategy that really results in the effective, sustained involvement of residents in city making. Homebaked, in the Anfield district of Liverpool in the UK, is one such example of intervention taking place at a large scale, in terms of both duration and vision.

When Mitchell’s Bakery opened on a residential street corner in the neighbourhood (home to Liverpool FC’s stadium) in 1901, it was at the centre of a vibrant community. By 2010, thanks to multiple failures associated with wider regeneration plans for the city, the family-owned business had sold up and the empty bakery found itself marooned within a landscape of boarded up houses in the cross hairs of demolition trucks. That same year, Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, working with Manchester-based architects URBED, initiated the 2Up2Down project as part of a Liverpool Biennial commission, putting the notion of community autonomy centre stage.

Whilst the Biennial itself ran between September to November 2010, the 2Up2Down project ran for two a half years, during which time around 60 young people worked with the artist and architects and made use of the empty bakery space to devise a scheme of re-use for the premises and two adjoining terraced houses. In contrast to the top-down, birds’ eye view of the city’s regeneration plan, this model allowed for the completion of manageable, tangible achievements, demonstrating to participants the power of their own instrumentality whilst lending a sense of momentum for scaling up such efforts.

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In 2012, the project found a new durational trajectory, when participants established the Homebaked Community Land Trust, a membership organisation that allows local people to collectively buy, develop and manage land and buildings (and which exists alongside the community-owned Homebaked Bakery Cooperative). The CLT then set its sights on extending the community-led intervention further into the wider cityscape.

In 2015, when the houses directly next door could not be saved, the group set in motion a project called “Build your own High Street”, underpinned by an extensive community-led design process. The community chose the architects, Architectural Emporium, and the resulting proposal is a scheme that includes 26 flats situated above shops on a community-led and owned high street development. The “brick by brick, loaf by loaf” approach will begin with the flat above the bakery. Once ready for occupancy in early 2018, this first step will allow the group to secure the council support and loans needed to build the scheme.

Homebaked is testament to the fact that whilst long-term interventions are undoubtedly complicated, it is precisely this quality that can bypass the reflex reactions of speculation-driven development, bestowing a value that goes beyond the purely financial.

These are excerpts from the book Explorations in Urban Practice – Urban School Ruhr Series, published by dpr-barcelona    

Urban School Ruhr is a learning platform and pedagogical experiment investigating participative and artistic practices in urban space. An initiative of Open Raumlabor University developed in cooperation with Urbane Künste Ruhr  – find out more here

A city with no more secrets

Digitising urban knowledge means the death of hidden treasures, but the birth of a shared city. So why are we still obsessed with ‘secret’ places? 

By Francesca Perry

I have long held, and will no doubt continue to hold, reservations about the smart, data-led, internet-enabled, hackable city, mostly driven by a mix of demand for greater convenience and desire for maximised money-making, under the banner of ‘innovation’.

Amid all our many apps and digital platforms that aim to make city living seemingly easier and more efficient, showing us the quickest route (Waze), the nearest taxi (Uber), the closest potential dating partner (Tinder), the best local restaurant (Google Maps), and more, there is now an online tool that helps you locate areas of ‘calm’ in your city, for when you just need to find a quiet spot to sit in.

There is a certain joy as a long-time city dweller of knowing your metropolis inside out; of having built up, over years, a wealth of information and experience that gives you insights into a city’s secrets, whether that’s where to stand on a tube platform to get on the right carriage for a swift exit at your destination, when to avoid certain places due to overcrowding, where to find little hidden nooks and gardens to sit and read in, what the lesser-known routes are that get you somewhere quicker, or where to locate beautiful yet uncelebrated buildings.

The pleasure of discovering an off-the-beaten-track oasis of calm in your city — a quiet garden, an empty square, a perfectly placed bench, a rarely used river path — is a great one, mainly because daily life in a large city can wear you down; in an environment where nothing ever seems calm, where noise and crowds and stress is the norm, to find a quiet spot that enables rest and reflection is like discovering a diamond in the rough. Spending time in these places can relieve the pressure of city life, restore a sense of strength that enables you to cope with it.

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My discovery of such places has usually been as a result of a meandering walk, or a wrong turn on the way to somewhere I’ve never been. But now, of course, the process of urban discovery happens mainly through your phone. A few years ago, a now-defunct app called Stereopublic promised to provide a crowdsourced map of places of peace and quiet in cities around the world. Now, the new Tranquil City project seems to do something similar, though it has only tentatively started with London.

‘Tranquil City is a project to find spaces of calm in the city and to promote them,’ the website states. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we can discover new peaceful places while we walk to work? In the near future we aim to link these spaces and design more pleasant and relaxing routes to walk around the city.’ The project uses a collaborative online map called the ‘Tranquil Pavement’ for people to record and locate their cherished quiet spots.

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Don’t get me wrong, the drive behind these specific apps is hugely positive and not about making money: it’s a celebration of experiencing the city and of that I massively approve. What’s more, platforms and resources like these — especially harnessing open source mapping — speak to a democratisation of urban knowledge. Us long-time urbanites (I’ve lived in this beautiful behemoth of London for 30 years and counting) don’t need to be the gatekeepers of the city and its secrets. If there are quieter gardens, quicker routes, hidden treasures, surely everyone should have access to this information.

Of course, the problem is, once this becomes just more data in an app or online map, not only does it become a target as marketable information, but, if it achieves a significant audience, it results in a homogenisation of the city: quieter places become busy, quicker routes become slower, hidden treasures become tourist hotspots, until there is no more hidden knowledge of the city to mine. Hence why the appetite for the ‘unknown’ or ‘secret’ aspects of a city has grown — even a cursory search will reveal the multitude of websites and businesses dedicated to helping people ‘discover’ the alternative, unknown or so-called hidden parts of cities.

The marketing of this is so successful because really there is little about our cities that is unknown these days — it’s all there on Google Maps, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet, blogs, articles, apps, books — but we’re desperate for that not to be the case. Many of the apps, tours or digital tools which claim to unearth a city’s secrets are no longer doing anything of the sort: they are just playing to an audience, marketing place, and attempting to repackage an increasingly homogenised city as they contribute to its homogenisation.

This is not a new game — books and walking tours have been doing this for a very long time  — but of course the internet means the scale of it is unprecedented. We are stuck in a paradox: while we promote a shared city and open information, we simultaneously desire knowledge that only we possess. I am seduced, like most people, by the unknown, hidden, quiet, secret spots in a city, but as an urbanist I also know I want this information to be accessible by all, as cities exist for the many, not the few. But that won’t stop me from musing: have cities lost all their secrets? And once everything is known, where do we go from here?

 

 

 

A compendium of the tools of exclusion in American cities

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by Christo Hall

“Contested space.” I first heard that term in reference to the communities that surrounded the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There — where political, religious and geographic disputes brought about physical violence and an interruption of shared space — the term was apt, but using the language of conflict and competition to describe issues of public space overshadows what is surely the greater objective: harmony.

A new collection of essays, The Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion (Actar Press, 2017), seeks to address strategies and interventions it calls “weapons”, which have been used with the ambition to create both exclusive and inclusive spaces in cities. Weapons that have historically — especially considering the focus of the book on American cities — often brought about racial segregation, such as Robert Moses building low bridges along the Long Island Parkway in New York to prevent poorer black communities — who were travelling by bus — from accessing beaches built for the overwhelmingly white suburbs.

But is the language of weaponisation appropriate in the discussion of public space? My feeling is that to describe the guerrilla attempts at spatial inclusivity like the wide-ranging Occupy movement or the wade-in protests that accessed “private beaches” as examples of public space warfare is counterintuitive. These were peaceful challenges to schools of thought that encourage inequality; they were not looking to inflict harm.

A group of African American and white demonstrators surrounded by police during a wade-in at St. Augustine Beach, Florida, in 1964. Photo: AP/Horace Cort

Nevertheless, as a reader from the UK, I’m aware that many of the tools of spatial exclusion that we see in this country are latent forms of manipulation rarely addressed or understood until recently.

The fact is that many tools of exclusion are covert. Many mixed-tenure developments have one door for private tenants and another for its social housing tenants (something that has become known as the “poor door”). Many public benches are designed with armrests to prevent homeless individuals sleeping on them, while some cities have banned people from providing food to the homeless in public space.

In the suburbs of Cleveland and Chicago, neighbourhoods lobbied to remove basketball hoops from public space to prevent the arrival of “outsiders”, which was code for a white neighbourhood seeking to keep its neighbourhood white. A Baltimore neighbourhood demanded one-way streets along every road that led to the avenue which divided them from a majority black community living on the other side.

Volunteers in Philadelphia distribute food to the homeless outside a public hearing on rules banning outdoor food distribution. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

Examples like these are eye opening, and the book is an excellent resource to spot the exclusive policies that are often executed under the guise of another aim, with more than a hint of sleight of hand. But as a resource it also helps identify those tools of inclusion that might not be immediately obvious: design elements such as detectable warning surfaces or building ramps that work to better include people with disabilities in the public realm, for example.

Not all the tools of exclusion and inclusion are hidden: gated developments, or the proposed bill in US congress that will provide lactation rooms in all American airports, are hard to miss.

The hundreds of listed ‘weapons’ in this book, many in relation to housing policy in the United States, contribute to portraying a situation where access is often regulated by affordability — and, increasingly, desirability. For example, regulations against non-criminal behaviour such as skateboarding, parkour and “loitering” — whether implemented by public or private orders, and often by groups such as ‘block clubs’ and Business Improvement Districts — are prejudices against certain groups of people in the name of so-called “common decency”.

To regulate what is desirable in public space is an ambiguous business, and one that suggests that someone or some authority knows best. And in an era of state relinquishment of public space to the private sector, what is desirable is often defined as what people and behaviour leads to the most profit rather than what can lead to social good, and where wealthy members of the public are privileged over others.

While the book’s essays do a great job of assessing the individual “weapons”, they do little to propose a cohesive thesis as to how to tackle opposing ideas about space and civil liberty. It is, largely, a safe study and an epidemiology of public space disorder. What’s needed now is discussions that weigh up what is needed to accommodate attitudes, whether we should be trying to reach consensus in public policy or instead somehow trying to find a solution that works for all, or if indeed there is such a thing as a city which is too permissive. To crack attitudes of fear and closed-mindedness we don’t need weapons — we need conversation.

Christo Hall is a freelance writer, the founding editor of Cureditor, an editor at LOBBY magazine and founder of MagShuffle

Ménage à trois cents: the rise of co-living in Paris

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L’Atelier de l’Arsenal includes co-working, co-living… and a public swimming pool.

by Matthew Lesniak

The current co-housing, or co-living trend is one of many alternatives to the housing crises that exist in almost every metropolitan area in the world. This shared living model is often managed by a startup or other type of service operator that provides a fully furnished communal living arrangement with private bedrooms, common areas, amenities and group activities. The rise of independent freelance workers – 35% of the American workforce are freelancers, 20-30% of active workers in France are independent and 9 million in Europe – contributes to this trend, as individuals are seeking more flexibility in their daily lives regarding where they live and work.

The profile of co-livers are often people who are in a transitory phase such as young professionals coming out of university or freelance entrepreneurs working for multiple clients in cities around the world who seek short to medium term housing offers (they’ve also been called “digital nomads”). Although this trend is prevalent among millennials, co-living is an offer that can appeal and cater to a much wider spectrum.

Co-living can be seen as the sharing economy’s response to housing: living as a service. As a service, it offers a range of all-inclusive amenities and experiences that people seek in different phases of their lives. It’s easy to see the appeal: such a model removes the hassles created by rigid rental agreements and strict landowners, facilitating access to housing for people who may in traditional real estate criteria “tick all the right boxes”.

But obviously, it’s not quite so perfect: the accessibility of co-living in terms of pricing is still not where it should be, to be affordable for a wider public. Most co-living spaces are more expensive than market prices, making already unaffordable housing even that much more inaccessible for many city dwellers.

Saying this, the future of housing and the co-living sector is becoming more focused on designing spaces that attempt to facilitate cross-generational and cross-cultural connections and collaborations, rather than simply providing housing offer for wealthy digital nomads. It is a model that is being integrated into current and future urban development projects and calls for proposals in major cities around the world.

Co-living developments are already taking root outside Paris, such as Art/Earth/Tech.

As a Paris-based member of PUREHOUSE LAB – a do-tank dedicated to informing and enabling the spread of the co-living phenomenon – I have witnessed and participated in these co-living models emerging in the French capital.

The city is a late bloomer when it comes to the co-living industry, but actors on all scales are finally entering the market. With various large-scale international competitions – such as Inventons la Métropole du Grand Paris and Reinventer la Seine – the Grand Paris municipality is working with French developers and local / international architect firms to propose hybrid co-living spaces in the central city and peripheral territories.

Just recently, French real estate developers REI Habitat and Icade, in partnership with French architect firm Laisné Roussel and New York designers SO-IL, have been selected as one of the winners of the Reinventer la Seine competition at the Place Mazas site. This site is located near Place de la Bastille on the crossing of Canal Saint Martin and the Seine River.

The multidisciplinary group has proposed a hybrid space dubbed L’Atelier de l’Arsenal, that includes co-working, fabrication labs, cultural and green spaces open to the public, social housing, co-living, food courts and waterfront activities along the Seine river, including a biodiversity research centre and a public swimming pool. Similarly, the Inventons la Métropole international competition launched last winter – which is a citywide competition in more than fifty sites in the agglomeration of Île de France – has over a dozen proposals that include a co-living element in the project.

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Paris’ Station F (the biggest startup campus in the world) will also launch a co-living hub housing 600 people

Despite these ambitions for large-scale hybrid co-living spaces, independent co-living operators are having trouble launching initiatives in the centre of Paris. Institutional barriers such as high market prices, hesitant landowners and investors unfamiliar with this new housing alternative, make launching co-living spaces difficult for Parisian startups like Colonies (who will be operating the Atelier de l’Arsenal co-living space) and Koalition.

The co-living market in Paris still seems to be in the hands of larger projects such as the new startup campus Station F (the biggest startup campus in the world), which will also launch a co-living hub in 2018, housing 600 entrepreneurs. The market seems to be evolving elsewhere in France, however; rural co-living spaces and shared living spaces that curate innovation and collaboration are being developed in the outskirts of Paris and in the south of France, such as La Mutinerie Village and Art/Earth/Tech outside of Paris, and thecamp in Provence and Lime in Biarritz.

French culture may be more hesitant to adopt the mindset needed to operate and live in co-housing developments. However, the efforts and ambitions that innovative actors are making to integrate accessible, affordable and hybrid shared living spaces into future development projects show that these new co-living spaces could become models for other projects around the world. And once the model is scaled up, prices will hopefully be far more accessible and inclusive.

An archive of NYC’s public transport graphic design – in pictures

In 2011, photographer and New Yorker Brian Kelley started collecting MetroCards from the city’s subway system. Fascinated by the nuanced variations in design of this simple everyday urban object, he began documenting them and expanding his collection to include other artefacts from the public transport system, from the present day and stretching into history.

His growing archive of objects was shared on Instagram (@the_nycta_project),  positive treasure trove of the design history of the city’s transport, and has now been made into a fascinating book, published by Standards Manual. From tickets and maps to the materials used by transit staff, it showcases (through approximately 400 objects) the design of everyday life that may often be overlooked and which yet is entirely distinctive of New York and its transport, particularly through the use of helvetica that – along with many other graphic design aspects – formalised in use through the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual.

Below is a short taster of the archive – but head to the Instagram page or buy the book to explore it in all its glory.

 

 

New York City Transit Authority: Objects is published by Standards Manual

The Democratic Monument: rethinking Britain’s town halls

by Adam Nathaniel Furman

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What town halls are, their names, their forms, their programmes, and the way they relate to the public and the city has changed dramatically over the centuries, with each new incarnation absorbing lessons from the last, and building up a rich legacy full of successes and lessons that can be brought forward into future manifestations.

The 1800s was an era of dramatic change, tumultuous growth, vigour, and pride for British cities, all of which was anchored and guided by the Victorian town hall. Liberal mayors across the country spearheaded reforms and massive urban improvements that transformed the lives of those living in the new metropolises. Huge resources were funnelled through local government, with half of all national public spending being dispensed from town halls.

As well as directing public improvements, better schools, infrastructural provision and housing programs, these homes of local government themselves became symbolic embodiments of their respective cities. Their eloquent facades spoke of civic pride, communal purpose, economic strength, and artistic verve. Their interiors contained opulent multipurpose halls, which were used for events and meetings whose purpose was the pursuit of public betterment through the spectacle of public art and democracy, rather than the pageantry of an isolated monarchy.

These homes of local government became symbolic embodiments of their cities

After the second world war, in a national equivalent of the pioneering reforms of the great Liberal mayors of the 19th century, Britain was reconfigured into a nation that designed itself into a more equal and opportune disposition, in which infrastructure and opportunity were crafted by the public purse, for the broadest possible demographic. Gone were the vast republican Roman temples competing with the beautiful behemoths of British neo-baroque, the people palaces of competing virtual city-states, and in came modernity, a universal design language that spoke of a shared future, and common values.

The distinctly monumental town hall became the civic complex, and the deliciously florid interiors of pomp-for-the-people became the shining, diamond-cut glass, and rough-hewn concrete collected forms of libraries, sports centres, polytechnics and municipal offices, all carefully orchestrated around and within plazas, spaces slightly removed from the profane life of the city, elevated and set apart as glimpses of an organised, perfected collective destiny.

As globalisation, deregulation, and the European dream reached their respective zeniths in the 2000s under New Labour, architecture once again took on a starring role in the perpetual transformation of our cities. Private capital mingled with state funding to deliver colourful new spaces which mixed consumption and education, and profit and provision, in an apotheosis of an historical compromise between society and the market.

The presence of municipal bodies and of the state was reduced, modified, and rebranded within the context of leisure and shopping, of pleasure and experience. Single function iconic architectural objects, libraries, galleries and music halls, were inserted into the partially-privatised, super-slick new urban environments in a manner that sutured the feeling of growing wealth and cultural expansion, with the idea of an otherwise visually retreating state.

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We are fast moving into another period of profound change in which society is resurgent, cities are once again looking to govern themselves, and there is an expectation that the state will return in a novel and more varied form to give sustenance to a population that has grown tired of the empty calories of shopping, and their sense of separation from the centres of bureaucratic power.

Our cities are expanding at a rate not seen in a century, and as mayors and city councils with muscle and financial independence begin to return to regions clamouring for devolved autonomy, there is an opportunity to reconfigure the balance of our cities. Through reforms and muscular policy agendas these political units will need to reinvigorate the agency of civic authorities, while at the same time there is an opportunity to anchor our expanding urban areas with symbolic social fulcrums that embody a shared sense of progress, of cultural production, of history, and of democratic projection.

It is time for the town hall as Democratic Monument.

We are living through what is perceived to be one of our democracy’s most intense crises in generations, which means it is in fact the perfect moment to build monuments to its rebirth. In crisis lies the greatest opportunity for reinvention. In each island of progress may there rise Democratic Monuments of symbolic sustenance, and practical pageantry, for our sprawling cities, for our expanding towns; beauty, but for everyone.

Adam Nathanial Furman’s project The Democratic Monument was commissioned by the Architecture Fringe as part of New Typologies (curated by Lee Ivett and Andy Summers) under 2017’s core programme and the project was supported by Lee3d. This text is an excerpt from the full version available on Furman’s website and is kindly republished with permission.

 

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Cycling in Mexico City: the good, the bad and the terrifying

The world’s traffic capital introduced a pro-cycling programme 10 years ago, but has anything really changed in the city? Meira Harris explores

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Mexico City is notorious for its traffic and pollution problems – it’s often listed as the city with the worst traffic congestion in the world and the geophysical structure of the city does not allow for smog to easily escape. The average daily commute for those living and working in the city is about three hours, which adds up to a full 45 days each year spent commuting. Congestion on the roads is frustrating for drivers, but public transportation is overcrowded and often requires multiple transfers. So what about cycling?

Arie Geurts, a cyclist mobility expert who lives and bikes in the city, believes its monster traffic problem greatly incentivises biking there. As a commuter, it is easy to look at cyclists gliding through traffic and think, if only I had used my bicycle, I would have saved time and money. While you’re in a packed metro or MetroBus (the city’s bus rapid transit), the freedom that bicycles offer can be incredibly tempting.

Of course, biking in the city is not always simple – or safe. Bike lanes have increased throughout the city – the infrastructure has expanded by more than 45 km in the past four years – but often unofficial “shared” bike lanes can feel hugely dangerous. In Avenida Universidad, bikers share a lane with frequently passing buses, weaving in and out of heavy traffic. While experienced cyclists might be used to this, for those new to the roads it can be nothing short of terrifying.

As a way of helping people get accustomed to their city on two wheels, the city government-led programme Muévete en Bici (Move by Bike) provides a safe and family-friendly opportunity. On Sundays, the city closes 55 km of streets to cars to encourage cycling. The project’s main objectives are to increase bicycle use through the reclamation of public spaces focused on healthy forms of civic coexistence; to contribute to the creation of a cycling culture through education and recreation activities; and to promote the use of bicycles as an accessible and efficient mode of transportation that reduces pollution, presenting it as an alternative to cars in the medium and long term.

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Muévete en Bici

Muévete en Bici, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has become popular with the city’s residents: the highest participation rate to date was one Sunday last July when 75,263 people took part. Geurts considers the project vital to the future of a cycling culture in Mexico City: as an initiation for new cyclists, complete with cycling instructors, the programme helps people grow their confidence so that they are more likely to use their bicycles during the week. But Muévete en Bici is completely recreational; although it promotes the culture of cycling, it is not instrumental in making roads safer for cyclists.

Another government-led biking programme is Ecobici, the city’s bikeshare network. There are 452 bike stations in 42 colonias (neighbourhoods) within the capital and 100,000 registered users of the service. There have been over 40 million trips and the programme has expanded by 400 percent since it began in 2010. It is especially helpful for workers who come from far parts of the metropolitan area by providing a mode of transportation for the last leg of their trip to offices in the centre. With 3km as the average Ecobici journey, the bikes are largely used for getting around the city centre rather than commuting long distances. Many users also end up buying their own bikes – meaning Ecobici can serve as an affordable test run for those interested in biking as a mode of transportation.

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Muévete en Bici

Despite the many advances made in the last decade, cycling advocates still have a long way to go. Some main roads are still missing bike lanes and the smog of the city can mean cycling can be unpleasant and unhealthy. But the more people who turn to bikes, the fewer cars will be polluting the city.

The city government is currently designing a new protected bike lane and a massive parking lot for bicycles, both of which are planned to be built in later this year. Commuters who travel by bike from their home to a metro or bus hub can park their bikes in the massive parking lots.

Policymakers fighting for cycling rights need to fight with pedestrian and public transportation advocates, as they are all campaigning for limited space and funds. Nevertheless, cyclists are confident that by considering the needs of all residents, bike culture will certainly flourish in the Mexican capital.

Meira Harris is an urbanist from New York City currently based in Mexico City