Apple City and other company towns

Apple City was an idea for a walkable urban center in the heart of Cupertino, CA – the city that houses Apple’s headquarters. It was designed after Steve Jobs proposed his own Apple City in 2011, but Jobs’ idea centered around a huge building designed to house 12,000 employees. Critics compared it to the Pentagon, and many people decried it as furthering the suburban sprawl problem.

So in response to Jobs’ idea, architect Hillel Schocken proposed to Jobs himself via email the idea of an urban center that focused on the individual. He wrote:

It is odd because even in the USA people are beginning to realize the ills of suburbia and urban sprawl, both concepts belonging to the middle of the last Century. A project the size of yours could mark the beginning of a new era in American urbanism, an era that puts human beings before the car, pedestrians before drivers. It could invest in creating a lively public realm, in the shape of streets rather than roads, where the people of Cupertino, including Apple employees, could meet, connect, do business and interact for their mutual benefit. Instead, your project replaces parking lot placelessness with ‘green’ placelessness.

I personally think this idea is leaps and bounds above Jobs’ idea for Apple City, seen here. His Apple City just seems so disconnected, and I just wouldn’t like to work in an eerie, spaceship-like structure like that. Jobs never replied to Schocken’s email, and he died just a few months later.

Even though Jobs never approved it, Schocken and his students decided to design Apple City anyway. His city was dense with stores, museums, and libraries, and it boasted the ability to easily travel through the city by foot.

The idea of a company town got me thinking, and I was reminded of Hershey, Pennsylvania. The city was built in the early 20th century in order to integrate community and employment, as the Hershey factory, completed in 1905, was located in the area. The town is similar to Schocken’s proposed Apple City – Hershey had an amusement park, trolleys and trains, a community center, a large hotel, and a stadium all before 1910. Even though the town essentially exists now for tourism purposes, the idea when it was built was that employees would not have to break their backs to make it to work every day, a stunning insight for the era, as sprawl and suburbs were on the rise at the time.

Orlando, Florida is in a similar position as Hershey. Orlando’s economy is boosted by the fact that it is essentially Disney’s company town, with DisneyWorld being just a few miles away. However, Orlando is a bit different than Apple City or Hershey. Orlando was an established town long before Disney came around, whereas Hershey was built specifically to house employees of the Hershey company, as Apple City would do similarly.

It is undeniable that Disney makes up a huge part of the Orlando area. This blogger points out that you can hardly go anywhere without feeling Disney’s presence. He makes another interesting point – if Disney were to fail, what would happen to Orlando?

We’ve seen what has happened to industry-reliant cities like Detroit when their industries fail. It’s not difficult to imagine what would happen if the Hershey company went under – the city of Hershey, PA would likely experience some harsh times, as nearly all of their tourism relies on the company. It’s not so much about housing employees anymore, but more about keeping the city afloat. The company does not rely on the city as was probably the intent in Hershey in 1905, but rather the city relies on the company. If something drastic were to happen to the Disney company, it is sure that Orlando would face serious hardship, even though the city came well before Disney did.

And Apple? Luckily there is not a lack of tech companies in the area, so if something happened to Apple and they went bankrupt, surely somebody else would pick up the tab. In fact, Jobs bought the site of his enormous Apple building from Hewlett-Packard. Regardless, a building of that size would have to be insured by some staying power – it would be a shame to see that building abandoned when it is likely so finely-tuned to Apple’s specifications.

All info and images via Co.EXIST, brandchannel, and Wikipedia. 

Abu Dhabi’s website has a great street designer, too

Last week I wrote a post about StreetMix, an interactive website that lets you design street layouts. Today I discovered that the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council’s website has a similar interactive street designer, with a plethora of different options to change widths, heights, and even speeds of vehicles. It even has the ability to animate the street from a bird’s eye view so that you can really get a good picture of how it would work.

The designer has a ton of options to start with. The image at the top of this page is an example of the simplest street, the Town Access Lane. But it can get much more complicated. The image below is one of the most complicated streets you can make, the “City  Boulevard”:


The interface of the website takes some getting used to, but once you figure out how to edit each lane, you can change nearly everything about the street. This includes creating a bike lane that is elevated 10 feet above the others, and bringing a sidewalk 10 feet into the ground. There are no limits, as you can type in any value you want,  so you can really make some pretty wacky creations.

You can even save your street and open it up again later. Abu Dhabi and the UAE in general are well known for their innovative city planning and high-rise development. It’s not at all surprising that they have a great interactive street designer, too. Check it out here.

StreetMix lets you create the perfect urban road

Here’s a cool website for those interested in urban planning and transportation. It allows users to design a street exactly to their specifications by adding sidewalks, bike lanes, parking lanes, car lanes, bus lanes, as well as medians and trees. This is a nice way to visualize the capabilities of streets and how they can best serve the public good.

The different options for street design

You can even specify street size. For example, a 40-foot-wide street can only fit two car lanes, a median, and sidewalks on either side. There’s simply no room for a bike lane on both sides, as seen below:

However, if that street is widened to 60 feet, you can add a bike lane on either side, and some nice shrubbery between the road and the pedestrians, as seen here:

Or, if the city needs a larger street to accomodate more vehicular traffic, you can remove the bike lanes and shrubbery and add an extra lane for cars in that same 60 foot width:

The possibilities of road design are pretty endless, and StreetMix is an awesome site to play around with. You aren’t even restricted to 40-foot, 60-foot, and 80-foot roads. there is a setting called “Adaptive,” where you can make the road as wide as you want. Here’s one I made with two car lanes, bus lanes, parked cars to keep cyclists safe, then a bike lane on either side, some shrubbery, and then pedestrians. The idea is not incredibly practical, as it requires a street that is almost 120 feet wide, but the idea is pretty nifty.

I’m definitely going to be using this site a lot! It seems like it would be a nice tool for urban planners as well.

Check it out: StreetMix

Curitiba is a model of citizen-first urban planning

Curitiba, the capital of the state of Paraná, is one of Brazil’s largest cities with a population of 1,764,540 people. In 1964, city officials had to face the fact that the city’s population was growing quickly and that there would have to be changes made to the master plan. The way they did it was incredibly innovative and should serve as a model for cities large and small across the globe. City planners rejected the past several decades of sprawl and favorability towards cars and went with a more ecological approach – their main goals for Curitiba were moving away from urban sprawl, reducing vehicular traffic, creating a cheap, convenient public transportation system, and preserving the historical sectors and green areas of the city.

The new Curitiba relied less on cars and thus reduced pollution in the city. In fact, they even took a large street and made it pedestrian-only, which is something I think many larger cities could benefit from doing.  Transportation in Curitiba should be a model for other metroplexes – and their bus system has been an inspiration for many others currently in use, including the highly-acclaimed TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia, the Orange Line in Los Angeles, and the upcoming MetroRapid in Austin, Texas. The similarities among these transportation systems is that they are essentially above-ground subway systems that use buses. These buses have their own lane, so vehicular traffic is never a problem, and they cost significantly less than a typical subway system. There are no rails to lay down, no subway tunnels to dig, and oftentimes the buses use roads that were already built. A highlight of Curitiba’s public transportation system is that all trips cost the same amount. Whether you’re traveling from just one stop to the next, or if you’re going across town, ticket fare for a single trip costs exactly the same no matter where you get off. Citizens love the system, too. Roughly 75% of Curitibans use public transportation to get around.

Now, these ideas are nothing new. Saying that traffic reduction and affordable public transportation are end results of your plan is one thing, but finding an effective way to do so is an entirely different animal. Many changes to city infrastructure result in a very high price tag, but the planners of Curitiba managed to change their city very economically. Jaime Lerner followed the philosophy of urban acupuncture, which basically states that a city can undergo radical and meaningful change if one focuses on a few specific “pressure points” that need change rather than overhauling large urban areas. The city decided to reuse, rather than rebuild, and they gave incentives like meal and bus tickets to citizens for doing things that would help the city, such as recycling and disposing of trash appropriately. They even took old buses that were no longer in use and transformed them into mobile schools and offices.

Curitiba was ranked 3rd in an analysis of the 15 greenest cities, and a recent survey claims that 99% of Curitibans are happy with their city. If I lived in a city that put the happiness of its citizens first, I think I’d love my city as well. More about Curitiba’s amazing trash system, social programs, and green areas can be found here.

All info from Wikipedia, Grist, and CAPS.

Philosophy of urban planning

After writing my last post about the history of urban planning, I wanted to learn more about Hippodamus of Miletus, the “father” of urban planning. He lived from 498 to 408 BC, and he helped design such Greek towns as Piraeus, Olynthus, Priene, and Miletus. Urban planning at this time was not at all an established discipline, and it wasn’t until Hippodamus came around that even the idea of a city grid was commonplace.

In Hippodamus’ time, urban planning would have been more properly identified as “the philosophy of urban spacing.” It took deep philosophical and rational thought to come to a theory of the best way to plan a town, and it wasn’t immediately obvious that a grid would be a highly effective format.

Aristotle himself was a critic of Hippodamus’ idea of straight streets and a gridded layout. He argued that, while a town planned in a grid is certainly more visually appealing than a haphazardly planned urban area, the latter is better for deterring invaders. If a city is infiltrated, the trespassers would easily be able to navigate through the streets if they are planned out in an orderly way. However, poorly planned streets are much easier to get lost in, and intruders not familiar with the city would be at a loss in such a place. Basically, orderly planning is good for beauty, haphazard planning (or lack thereof) is better for security. Here it is in Aristotle’s own words:

“The arrangement of private houses is generally considered to be more sightly, and more convenient for peacetime activities, when it is regularly planned in the modern style introduced by Hippodamus. For reasons of military security, however, the very reverse is preferable — they should follow the old-fashioned manner, which made it difficult for strangers to make their way out and for assailants to find their way in.” Politics, 1330b17

Aristotle’s Politics goes on to say a lot about the planning style of Hippodamus and about Hippodamus himself, stating that he was “the first man without practical experience of politics who attempted to handle the theme of the best form of constitution” (Politics, 1267b22). The question of the best form of government was a hot topic of philosophy at the time and I think it’s interesting that Hippodamus was cited as the first non-political person to theorize on the subject.

Even though Aristotle states that beauty is the main advantage of orderly town planning, Hippodamus’ grid system was actually developed with practical implications in mind. The town of Miletus and many other Greek cities were planned so as to make elements of the weather less harsh. In Miletus, the buildings and streets were arranged so that the wind from the sea would flow optimally through the town, providing a cool breeze on hot summer days. In addition, other Greek towns were planned so that houses and other buildings would obscure the sun during the summer and face the sun during the winter in order to receive as much sunlight as possible.

As a lover (and degree-holder) of political theory, I think it’s incredibly interesting that even disciplines such as city planning came from philosophic roots. However, radical change does require a radical change in thought, and there were bound to be dissenters when Hippodamus introduced his idea of a gridded town system. The idea has obviously held strong through the two-and-a-half millenia since its inception, and it didn’t take long at all for the idea to stick. Many ancient writers such as Strabo, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Theano of Thurii, and Vitruvius wrote about city planning in either an informative or critical way. Dinocrates of Rhodes helped plan Alexander the Great’s city of Alexandria in the 4th century BC, and it followed a grid pattern, as captured by the 1899 work of André Castaigne, below.

All info and images via and Wikipedia.

Milestones in urban planning

Urban planning has undoubtedly evolved rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century. The Atlantic Cities wrote an article detailing the latest exhibit put on by SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) called “Grand Reductions: Ten diagrams that changed urban planning” which presents vital changes in urban planning through the use of 10 important diagrams.

The image above is Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City,” a proposed urban development designed to give each landowner one acre of property on a 36 square mile parcel of land. The idea was first made public in 1932 during the rise of America’s shift towards suburbanization and sprawl. Wright’s idea would only have furthered the suburban problem that is currently being beaten down by the new-age urbanism of shared spaces and tight-knit communities in urban centers. As Broadacre City spaces neighbors out and focuses on land rather than community, an America modeled after this vision would leave citizens distant and isolated.

Hippodamus of Miletus of the 5th century BC is often regarded as the “father” of urban planning. From his wikipedia:

His plans of Greek cities were characterised by order and regularity in contrast to the more intricacy and confusion common to cities of that period, even Athens. He is seen as the originator of the idea that a town plan might formally embody and clarify a rational social order.

One can say that urban planning started with Hippodamus of Miletus, as he introduced orderly city planning which was the first to be truly planned. However, the SPUR exhibition begins its history of modern urban planning with Ebenezer Howard‘s garden city of 1903, seen below.

Ebenezer Howard designed the garden city at the turn of the 20th century in order to combat the polluted and overcrowded cities that made up a large part of urban life in his day. The idea was to have a 12,000 acre city with a population of 58,000 in the center with several smaller cities of 9,000 acres and populations of 32,000 connected by canals to the center city. Spreading everything out would reduce pollution and the entire “garden city” would be roughly 66,000 acres with a population of 250,000. The idea was adopted in the planning of two English towns, Letchworth and Welwyn, but neither worked quite as ideally as Howard’s plan, and both contributed to the problem of urban sprawl characterized by the first half of the 20th century.

This is an interesting concept introduced in New York City’s 1916 zoning laws. It basically says that skyscrapers in New York City must taper off as they get taller as to maximize the amount of sunlight the streets below receive. It’s a clever idea that more cities really should implement. Not only does it make the streets of NYC brighter and more lively, but it also results in what I consider to be a beautiful skyline as seen below.

The exhibition closes with the idea that planners are moving more towards environmental planning due to the ever-increasing global temperature. The focus of planning has shifted and planners are now more conscious of the environment and it can be seen in their work. The environment is a priority whereas it was hardly considered during the first part of the 20th century.

SPUR’s exhibition is open until February 28th, 2013 and is held at the SPUR Urban Center Gallery in San Francisco. It’s free so check it out!

All images and info via The Atlantic Cities and Wikipedia

World’s largest underground rail station is an urbanist’s dream

Hong Kong’s “Express Rail Link West Kowloon Terminus,” to be completed in 2015, will be the largest subterranean rail station in the world. Hong Kong’s station will rival Beijing’s West Railway Station, and at 4.6 million and 5.5 million square feet respectively, these stations are nothing to balk at.

The station is also a fine example of modern urbanist architecture – designed by Andrew Bromberg at Aedas, the station’s design blends in well with Hong Kong’s urban setting. The sloping roof of the station features trees and other vegetation, as well as a walkway designed to present pedestrians with a beautiful view of the city. Furthermore, the platforms and railways will be entirely underground, so there won’t be any sort of major redesign to the city itself.

Architect’s site via Weburbanist