Infrastructure

Songdo – South Korea’s New Smart City Is Worth Emulating

The face of modern day business is fast changing. It’s fast, agile and ubiquitously smart. Songdo, South Korea’s Smart City, is setting new benchmarks in how the future of business looks like…

WORDS: AMOGH PUROHIT

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ONGDO, meaning Pine City or Pine Islands, is nothing like what its name suggests. Songdo International Business District is a sustainable smart city set to change the way business is done. It is built from scratch on 600 hectares of reclaimed land from the Yellow Sea, along Incheon’s waterfront. It is 65 kilometers southwest of Seoul, South Korea and is connected to Incheon International Airport by a 12.3-kilometre reinforced concrete highway bridge, called Incheon Bridge. Along with Yeongjong and Cheongna, Songdo is part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone.
Not many know but music videos for the songs “Gangnam Style” and “Right Now”, by Korean pop star Psy were shot in Songdo International Business District.
Its primary goal is to push boundaries in the way cities dealt with technology, environment, business and education. Built within 40 kilometers of Seoul, it is billed as the antithesis of the suffocating, over-populated capital.
The Songdo International Business District is going to be the home to the much-awaited Northeast Asia Trade Tower and the Incheon Tower. The city is designed in a way that one is never far from a school, hospital and cultural amenities. Among residential and office buildings, replicas of architectural hallmarks, including New York City’s Central Park and Venice’s waterways, will also be built. This project was estimated to take about 10 years and a whopping $40 billion to finish. This makes it one of the most expensive development projects ever undertaken in the history of mankind. The New York City architecture firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox designed the city’s plan, with developer Gale International serving as the majority partner in the project. When completed by 2020, the district will span 100 million square feet.
But on the plus side, when residents of the International Business District (IBD) in Songdo, South Korea go to work, pick up their kids from school, or shop for groceries, they don’t have to take their cars out.

In fact, Songdo aims to eliminate the need of a private car. The business district has been designed to prioritize mass transit, like buses, subways, and bikes, instead of road traffic. On paper, Songdo boasts an impressive public transportation system, built in anticipation of that car-free free future. The subway here connects to both Incheon’s existing system and Seoul’s intricate rail network.
Buses link hubs like Triple Street to neighborhoods and university campuses. Other bus routes ferry commuters directly from

Songdo to trendy Seoul neighborhoods like Hongdae and Gangnam.
To promote walkability, developers placed venues like shopping malls and convention centers within a 15-minute walk from Central Park and are building out an extensive biking infrastructure; they also promise a bus or subway stop within 12 minutes of every neighborhood.
Though the city is not yet complete, Songdo IBD is home to 106 LEED certified buildings that fall under 12 projects, or 22 million sq. ft. of LEED-certified space.

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This number includes several ‘firsts’ for LEED in Korea and Asia, including the first LEED-certified hotel in Korea – Yhe Sheraton Incheon, the first certified residential tower in Korea, Central Park 1, and the first certified convention hall in Asia, Convensia. The 50,000 sq. ft. clubhouse for the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea which hosted the Presidents Cup in 2015 is also certified. Songdo IBD alone represents 40% of all LEED-certified space in South Korea.
And since the city is being designed from scratch, it allows a lot of new and futuristic technologies to be implemented right from the start. Songdo has been designed with sensors to monitor temperature, energy use and traffic flow. These sensors can – in theory – alert you, personally, when your bus is due. Or let the local authority know about any problems. Computers are built into the buildings and streets. So its people can video conference with neighbours, or even attend classes remotely.
Many of these innovations are designed with the environment in mind. There are charging stations for electric cars, monitored bike paths and a water-recycling system that prevents clean drinking water being used to flush office toilets. But what really takes the cake is the waste disposal system. First thing you’d notice is the lack of garbage cans dotted around blocks of flats and garbage trucks crowding the streets. Instead, all household waste is sucked directly from individual kitchens through a vast underground network of tunnels, to waste processing centers, where it’s automatically sorted, deodorized and treated to be kinder to the environment. Somewhere in the future, some of this household waste will be used to produce renewable energy, but like many of Songdo’s technological innovations, it isn’t fully operational yet. And that’s because the city is currently less than half full. Less than 20% of the commercial office spaces are occupied, and the streets, cafes and shopping centers still feel largely empty. Despite being next to South Korea’s main international airport, transport links into the capital itself are rudimentary, and the incentives for companies moving to a new smart city don’t always outweigh the costs.
Songdo is nonetheless attracting families and young couples away from Seoul, though not necessarily for the futuristic technology or commercial district. The city has been planned around a central park, and designed so that every resident can walk to work in the business district. Families that have moved here have done so mostly for the better standard of living and for the shorter commutes to work and other places.
But while the residential flats are being occupied, Songdo hasn’t really attracted large business houses and companies. But this is one of the challenges of building a city from scratch. Business and economic growth tends to go hand in hand with the city’s population and its people.

The completion date for the city keeps being pushed back. It was meant to be fully functional by 2015, then 2018, now it’s 2022. Despite the delays in reaching the project’s earlier population benchmarks, the developers are thinking long term. Their goal is to create a resilient city, one that can last for centuries to come. And, well, that can’t be rushed. The pace of Songdo’s emergence might look slow if one were to compare it to other industrially advanced cities in world.
The developers say that a project of this scale and vision would take its time. A paced out and strategized development plan is much better than breakneck development speed that is found in other parts of Korea and Asia.

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Masdar City, UAE

A city with state-of-the-art infrastructure, British design and a motto that goes – Live-Work-Play, Masdar City in the UAE is the gold standard of planned cities

WORDS: AMOGH PUROHIT

In 2008, the Government of Abu Dhabi laid the foundation to a dream city; one that is sustainable and has zero waste and carbon emissions. Introducing Masdar City, a city that combines state-of-the-art technologies with the planning principles of traditional Arab settlements to create a desert community that aims to be carbon neutral and have zero waste.
Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s state-owned investment company, pledged financial support to the estimated US$22 bn experiment in urban design.
Through smart investments, Masdar City is successfully pioneering a ‘greenprint’ for how cities can accommodate rapid urbanisation and dramatically reduce energy, water and waste. Its first tenant was the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which has been operating in the city since it moved into its campus in September 2010.
The 640-hectare project is a key component of the Masdar Initiative intended to advance the development of renewable energy and clean-technology solutions for a green, thriving ecology that is beyond oil. The city aims to become a centre for the advancement of new ideas for energy production, and provide a space for businesses to network and grow organically. Pun intended. These businesses will also aim at sustainable growth, aiding the development of Abu Dhabi’s ‘Estidama’ rating system for sustainable building.
Designed by the British architectural firm Foster and Partners, the city relies on solar energy and other renewable energy sources for its energy.

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Masdar City is constructed 17 kms east-south-east of Abu Dhabi, and besides the city’s international airport.
A mixed-use, low-rise, high-density development, Masdar City includes the headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency and the recently completed Masdar Institute. Strategically located for Abu Dhabi’s transport infrastructure, Masdar is linked to neighbouring communities and the international airport by existing road and rail routes. So everything a business requires to function well is at a stone’s throw distance.
In fact, the city is so green that it will be the first modern community in the world to operate without fossil-fuelled vehicles at a street level. With a maximum distance of 200 mts to the nearest rapid transport links and amenities, the city is designed to encourage walking, while its shaded streets and courtyards offer an attractive pedestrian environment, sheltered from climatic extremes.
The land surrounding the city will contain wind and photovoltaic farms, research fields and plantations, allowing the community to be entirely energy self-sufficient. Jetsons-style driver-less electric cars shuttle around taking you anywhere around the city in almost no time. Masdar is a sustainable development project designed to be friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. The development is divided into two sectors, bridged by a linear park, and is being constructed in phases, beginning with the larger sector.

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The master plan is designed to be flexible, to allow it to benefit from emergent technologies and to respond to lessons learnt during the implementation of the initial phases.
Expansion has been anticipated from the outset, allowing for growth while avoiding the sprawl that besets so many cities. While Masdar’s design represents a specific response to its location and climate, the underlying principles are applicable anywhere the world. In that sense, it offers a blueprint for the sustainable city of the future.
At the city’s core is an innovation engine. The city is growing its neighbourhoods around the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. The institute is Masdar City’s

nucleus, which extends a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship throughout. Companies can foster close ties with the university and partner with it to spark economic growth and accelerate breakthrough technologies to market.
Masdar is powered by a 22-ha field of 87, 777 solar panels with additional ones on roofs. There are no light switches or water taps in the city.
You enter a room and movement sensors light it up. Same with the taps – move your hand away from under a tap and water stops gushing out. This is supposed to cut electricity and water consumption by 51 and 55 per cent respectively.

The exterior wood used throughout the city is palm wood, a sustainable hardwood-substitute developed by Pacific Green using plantation coconut palms that no longer bear fruit. Palm wood features include the entrance gates, screens and doors. Water management has been planned in an environmentally sound manner as well. Approximately 80 per cent of the water used will be recycled and waste water will be reused ‘as many times as possible’, with this grey water being used for crop irrigation and other purposes.
The city captures prevailing winds and is naturally cooler and more comfortable during the high summer temperatures. But the sun is also a blessing to this sustainable city. Harnessing the sun’s rays, Masdar uses clean energy generated on site from rooftop solar technology and is one of the largest photovoltaic installations in the Middle East.
With a few thousand people living and working in Masdar City, it is on its way to realising its vision. But this is only the beginning. Masdar City continues to add new businesses, schools, restaurants, apartments and much more, creating the diversity of any major, modern city. When complete, 40,000 people will live in Masdar City, with an additional 50,000 commuting every day to work and study here.
The original master plan envisioned a city functioning on its own grid with full carbon neutrality. However, the development was later hooked into the public system, and by 2016, its managers determined that the city would never reach net-zero carbon levels.

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Ten years on, however, only a fraction of the town has been built – less than 5 per cent of the original six sq km ‘greenprint’. The completion date has been pushed back to 2030. Some skeptics are concerned that the city, even when completed, will be only symbolic for Abu Dhabi.
However, this is a brave step toward living in an oil-free world; a world where cities are future-ready. Sustainable and renewable are the keywords here. Where businesses, people and nature can thrive in absolute harmony.

AUROVILLE IN A GIST

Auroville or the City of Dawn is a unique experimental township situated in Puducherry in South India. Named after Shri. Aurobindo, India’s renowned freedom fighter, this community was founded in 1958 as a township where people from all over the world could live in harmony. The Matri Mandir dedicated to The Mother from the Aurobindo Ashram is a futuristic, spherical temple covered in gold discs and form the epicentre of the township bringing all together as one

WORDS: SEJAL MATHUR

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IF one is to imagine a picture of people belonging to 52 different nationalities residing in 100 settlements lying scattered alongside an idyllic avenue in the countryside all in one frame, well, that’s Auroville!
Popularly known as the City of Dawn, Auroville is a destination that catches the fancy of those inclined toward idealistic learnings. The sanctity of this international community lies in its dedication to peace, sustainability and divine consciousness.
Located down south, inland from the Coromandel coast in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, Auroville is now set to become a universal township.
The Aurovilians hail from about 50 different countries, differing in culture, age, caste and creed, yet bonded by a common purpose, that is to represent humanity which resonates with Auroville’s vision to attain unity within diversity in the mankind.
Initially designed to accommodate half a lakh people, this serene haven now caters to a population over 2,500, with residents from across the world and nearly 60 per cent foreigners. About 12 kms to the northwest of Puducherry, Auroville was instituted in 1968 by the co-founder of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, referred to as ‘the Mother’.
About 5,000 people came together near the banyan tree at the centre of Auroville for an inauguration ceremony attended by delegates from over a 100 nations and from all over India.

The representatives brought with them a handful of soil from their motherland to be mixed into a white marble urn in the shape of a lotus that now stands at the heart of the amphitheatre.
The notion behind Auroville was to develop it into an ideal township, dedicated to an experiment in human unity. In the mid-1960s, the model was conceived and put forth before the Indian government, which gave accorded support and furthered it to the General Assembly of UNESCO which then, in 1966 passed a consensus, acclaiming it as a project of significance to the future of humanity, with a strong backing from their end.
Today, Auroville is acknowledged as the foremost internationally recognised continued experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness. Moreover, it also incorporates conducting practical research in sustainable living with regards to prospective socio cultural, economic, environmental, as well as spiritual needs.

The Aurovillians are engaged in a wide variety of projects, right from organic farming, renewable energy and handicrafts production to education and information technology, employing 4,000 to 5,000 local villagers.
Over 5,000 people, mostly from the nearby localities, are employed in various sections and units of Auroville. Other activities include afforestation, organic agriculture, basic educational research, health care, village development, appropriate technology, town planning, water table management, cultural activities, and community services.

Instead of paper and coin currency, residents are provided with account numbers connected to their central account while they are requested to get a temporary account and a debit card called ‘Aurocard’.
Residents of Auroville are expected to furnish a monthly contribution to the community and help the members whenever possible in cash or kind through their work.

The Master Plan strategy at Auroville is to determine how economic and intellectual resources, which are usually associated with urban areas, can advantageously be used to enable a balanced development and in conceiving a socially just and economically sound society.

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Auroville is all set to lay a benchmark in planning settlements with deep rooted urban-rural linkages to provide a setting that vaunts of integrating both under one umbrella for a mutual wellbeing.

The guest contribution which is a daily emolument paid by the guests of Auroville, forms an integral part of the township’s budget. In return, there is a system of maintenance wherein Aurovilians who are in need, can accept a monthly maintenance sum from the community to look after their necessities.
The Indian government owns and manages the Auroville Foundation and finances a small part of its budget, through contributions from its commercial units.
What constitutes a significant part of their profits to the township include building construction units, information technology, small and medium scale businesses, as well as the items sold in Auroville’s own shop in Puducherry – producing and re-selling items such as handmade paper for stationery items and its famous incense sticks which can be purchased or sold in and outside India.
Meticulous planning and thoughtful design is where the peculiarity of this township lies. At the centre of the township lies the Peace area, comprising the Matrimandir and its gardens along with the amphitheatre with the Urn of Human Unity.
Laid over 190 hectares, the residential zone is the largest of the four city zones, girdled by parks on three sides. The crown road is planned to act as the main access to the zone while the five radial roads act as sub routes, dividing the zone into sectors of increasing densities.

This zone is focused on ensuring a harmonised habitat acting as a link between individual and communal living. More than half the area is dedicated for open spaces with the remaining 45 per cent as built up, thus maintaining a balance between urban density and nature whilst following planning standards.
The industrial zone which is located north of the Peace area is spread over 109-hectares. It is earmarked for green industries that aim to help develop Auroville in its endeavour to become a self-supporting township.
It is created to overlook the city’s administration, apart from comprising small and medium-scale industries, training centers, arts and crafts.
The international zone is designed to host national and cultural pavilions, and is a 74 ha wide arena lying west of the Peace area. It emphasises on safeguarding unity in diversity within mankind, aligned with goals of Auroville.

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Another 93 hectares have been reserved as the Cultural zone, a place for applied research in education and artistic expression. It also caters to other facilities, not limited to cultural, educational, arts and sports. The city spanning over a radius of 1.25 kms will be encircled by an equivalent green belt. As a zone for organic farms, dairies, orchards, flora and fauna, this 405-hectare large belt shall not only offer a recreational space but also work as a buffer with habitats for the wildlife besides serving as a source of food, timber and medicines.
Moreover, it serves as a fertile zone for applied research in the sectors of food production, forestry, soil conservation, water management, waste management, and other areas working toward facilitating sustainable development.
Although incomplete, the green belt is quoted as a successful case of transformation of a wasteland into a well-functioning eco-system.
Serving as lungs for the whole of Auroville, its further planned extension with an additional 800 hectares will make it a remarkable demonstration site for soil and water conservation, ground water recharge, and environmental restoration.
Auroville is all set to lay a benchmark in planning settlements with deep rooted urban-rural linkages to provide a setting that vaunts of integrating both under one umbrella for a mutual wellbeing.
It shall act as a model for rapidly urbanising Indian and foreign cities to replicate and emulate. This would help in the formulation of an integrated master plan for Auroville and its hinterland, wherein both city and environment, rural and urban areas would ingenuously complement each other.

The Master Plan strategy at Auroville is to determine how economic and intellectual resources, which are usually associated with urban areas, can advantageously be used to enable a balanced development and in conceiving a socially just and economically sound society. Auroville’s perception is to lay the foundation of a city that will utilise land to meet economic requisites by pioneering development strategies with an optimum density mix, aesthetically appealing urban forms and adequate amenities.
The results of such innovative methods will be available for application in both rural and urban areas everywhere in support of their development.
Rejoicing in an atmosphere of its own, Auroville is a place known for its ‘Beauty in Simplicity’. It’s a place reflecting a beautiful communion of like-minded people from all over the world who believe in mental peace and live with minimal expectations.
One of the visitors quoted his experience describing the beautiful gardens and the inner parts of the unique spherical shaped Matrumandir, where one can meditate in a circular hall with beams of sunlight falling on a clear crystal ball creating a unique environ for meditation.
It is often written about as a thriving spiritual, sustainable and symbiotic society. From the beautiful Auroville beach to the ancient Irumbai temple, from beautiful green villages lined with community farms to wonderful modern architecture and exciting vegan food catering to every taste bud, there are many experiences to be had here. Every traveler must take a solo, solacing trip to this wonderful place.

Curitiba, Brazil How a sleeping city became the best-planned one

Curitiba, once called the ‘sleeping city’, has toiled hard to rise and wake up to the title of the best planned city in Brazil and to being referred to as an international model for sustainable development

WORDS: SEJAL MATHUR

The capital of the state of Paraná in southern Brazil, it is certainly more than simply the result of a few successful projects. The city’s achievements talk of its strategic and integrated urban planning with people at the core of urbanism.
Curitiba has its share of innovative and all-inclusive planning geared toward the strategic need of making the city a better place to live, as defined in its Master Plan of 1965. From the 1990s, the city’s key focus has been on sustainable development and inclusion of Curitiba’s metropolitan region.

The principles laid out in the city plan facilitated planning for efficiency and sustainability even in tough circumstances especially during the military dictatorship, times of economic crisis in Brazil, and despite rising inflow of poor migrants into the city.
This all-embracing stratagem has taken consideration all parameters in urban planning including social, economic and environmental aspects. A well-defined plan and foresight coupled with strong leadership has resulted in an effective, long-term implementation of strategy.

What’s most unique about it is how it maximises the efficiency and productivity of transportation, land-use planning and housing development, such that they support one another to improve the quality of life in the city.
The city had no such unique landmarks or rich heritage to vaunt of, apart from a few architectural structures, yet its architects and urban planners have transformed it into a lively town with good quality of life that lures many a tourist. Over the past three decades, Curitiba’s population has grown two folds to reach 1.8 million.

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From chaos to creativity
Curitiba transitioned through this radical innovation right from the epoch when the city was considered a mere outpost for travelers moving between São Paulo and the surrounding agricultural expanses. Its image from a city which earlier offered very few tourist attractions has refurbished to one which is now popular among foreigners, who refer to it as the urban ecological capital of Brazil.
As in many parts of the world, city plans in Brazil are often created but not implemented – particularly when major amendments are called for. The master plan created for Curitiba called for some extensive changes in the city’s natural environment, its public transportation system, and its central shopping district. Curitiba serves as an example of how a modern and progressive city plan can be fruitful.
As a planner first and mayor of Curitiba, Jaime Lerner developed a fundamentally unique vision for Curitiba: “It was a change in the conception of the city,” he told The Guardian, the leading UK-based publication some time back. “Working, moving, living leisure … we planned for everything together. Most cities in South America separate urban functions – by income, by age. Curitiba was the first city that, in its first decisions, brought everything together.”

Curitiba’s master plan focused on transportation with land use planning, calling for a complete physical, socio-economic and cultural transformation of the city. It modified the existing trends in travel and work by regulating growth in the central city, while furthering commercial development along the transport corridors radiating out from the city centre.

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The paper went on to add that while Brasília is appreciated as a white elephant city, Curitiba set the gold standard in sustainable urban planning apart from having acquired the coveted title of “green capital” and often being tagged as the “greenest city on Earth”, as well as the “most innovative city in the world”.
Curitiba’s master plan focused on transportation with land use planning, calling for a complete physical, socio-economic and cultural transformation of the city. It modified

the existing trends in travel and work by regulating growth in the central city, while furthering commercial development along the transport corridors radiating out from the city centre.
It was partly closed to vehicular traffic and pedestrian streets were formed. Linear development along the arteries narrowed the focus and commute to the downtown area, diminishing day-to-day transport activity, thus minimising traffic bottlenecks and the typical peak hours in the mornings and the evenings. Instead, the rush hour in Curitiba now has heavy commuter movements in both directions along the public transportation arteries.

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Success of the transit system
Other policies have also contributed to the success of the transit system. Land within two blocks of the transit arteries is earmarked for high density, as it generates more ridership per square foot. Beyond the two blocks, residential densities decrease proportionally to the increase in distance from transit ways.
Planners dissuade auto-oriented centres and direct new retail growth to transit corridors. Limited public parking is available in the downtown area, and most employers offer transportation subsidies, especially to low-skilled and low-paid employees to de-densify the centres.

The advantages of the systems include:
• Reduced transportation time: the per capita income loss due to severe congestion is ~ 11 and 7 times lower than in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, respectively;
• Employment creation: The creation of the CIC has generated about 50,000 direct jobs and 150,000 indirect jobs, and about 20% of the state’s exports are from the CIC;

• Reduced fuel consumption: Curitiba’s fuel usage is 3% lower than in Brazil’s other major cities;
• Improved outdoor air quality and associated health benefits;
• Waste recycling: 70% of the city’s residents are actively recycling and 13% of solid waste is recycled;
• Increase in land value: Property values of neighbouring areas have appreciated, and tax revenues have increased;
• Reduced flood mitigation expenditures by promotion of park development in flood-prone areas (the cost of this strategy is estimated to be 5% lower than building concrete canals).

The BRT success story
The bus system of Curitiba typifies a model Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and has played a key role in making the city rank high on the livability index. The buses here run frequently with some as quickly as every 90 seconds and are reliable.
The stations are at convenient locations, which are not just well-designed but are comfortable and attractive.

As a result, Curitiba has one of the most heavily used yet low-cost transit systems in the world. Around 70% of Curitiba’s commuters use the BRT to travel to work, resulting in congestion-free streets and pollution-free air for the 2.2 million inhabitants of greater Curitiba.
The popularity and wide acceptability of Curitiba’s BRT has led to a modal shift from automobile travel to bus travel. Twenty-eight percent of BRT riders previously traveled by car. Compared to eight other Brazilian cities of its size, the city consumes about 30 percent less fuel per capita, resulting in one of the lowest rates of ambient air pollution in the country.
Today about 1,100 buses make 12,500 trips every day, serving more than 1.3 million passengers—50 times the number from 20 years ago. About 80 per cent of travelers use the express or direct bus services. Best of all, Curitibanos spend only about 10 percent of their income on travel,much below the national average.
A clear strategy and vision of the future in Curitiba with smaller positive steps taken over the course of years have added up to a city that’s a model of ecological, people-centred urbanism and today is being read about as a model for sustainable planning.

CENTRAL PARK NEW YORK An exemplary urban design

Central Park exudes quietude amidst chaos of the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York. Planned during the mid-19th century as a recreational space for New Yorkers who burnt the midnight oil and lived in overpopulated dwellings, Central Park is valued today as a serene haven one can visit to do away with the stresses of urban life — a place where millions of residents and tourists come to experience the marvelousness of one of America’s greatest masterpieces

WORDS: SEJAL MATHUR

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THE American Planning Association (APA) named Central Park as one of the Great Public Spaces in America in 2008. A classic model of public space that set a benchmark for park design throughout the US, Central Park stands as the most referred and revered of urban parks worldwide.
The park’s designers, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and Calvert Vaux, submitted their winning entry – the Greensward Plan – to a design competition in 1858. It talked of innovative design approaches including that of sunken transverse roads with a lifelike landscape incorporating grading and plantings to evade the physical and visual disruption of traffic.
Apart from the native woodland on the northwest and notable rock outcrops, the huge 843-acre park was manmade, shaped from an ordinary site. By establishing a complex grading and underground drainage system, swamps were beautified to naturalistic lakes.

PLANNED AS A RUSTIC PARK
Soil was drawn in from New Jersey and molded into meadows while plants were sown and grown to form lush woodland and wild gardens. Initially, the park was designed to be rustic so it could replicate the countryside, but it constituted a few conventional design elements — the Mall, which was intended to attract visitors to the core of the park, and Bethesda Terrace at the terminus of the Mall, planned for as a palace for the people.
Between 1934 and 1960 when Robert Moses, the ‘master builder’ of New York, was the Park’s commissioner, amenities for recreation were focused more than the aesthetics. Informal sports fields were redesigned into baseball diamonds and greens for lawn sports. It was also during this time that the Central Park Zoo and the Conservatory Garden were built.
Moreover, playgrounds, ice-skating rinks, a swimming pool, and concession buildings were either reconstructed or

newly made. The commissioner also supervised creation of the Great Lawn by ordering the filling of the old reservoir.
‘The Father of Central Park,’ as Andrew Haswell Green, a New York City planner was known, served on the commission to create Central Park. He was quoted in a New York Times article in the 1893 edition saying, “Central Park did not happen. It was created, and by years of hard work along distinct lines.”

WAVES OF FALL AND RISE
The park’s history talks of how it witnessed phases of relapse and renewal. The 1920s were the epoch that experienced worn carriage drives because of increased automobile traffic, muddy paths, dead trees and shrubs, neglected bridges and defacement through littering and vandalism.
The 1960s and ’70s marked another period of deterioration which ignited public engagement in a quest to retrieve the essence of the park. The absence of effective management coupled with financial inadequacy, in line with adverse effects of unregulated sports use and events of a scale unprecedented in the history of the park had altogether contributed to an alarming situation by the late 1970s.
The luxuriant lawns had been reduced to mere dustbowls, the paths and architecture were simply deteriorating; benches and light fixtures were damaged, graffiti spoke of vandalism, clogged catch basins resulted in regular flooding that only furthered the degradation of landscapes.
Central Park Community Fund and Central Park Task Force along with many of the civic groups united to battle the decline; they helped gather resources for park related projects and promoted stewardship by means of education, youth programmes, and volunteer initiatives.
Their support gave birth to the Central Park Conservancy, a private non-profit body that functioned to reinstate the condition of park in association with the citizens and took

over the responsibility for its management ever since 1980.
The park’s regulars and vigilant supporters who value their retreat in the concrete jungle of Manhattan have helped in its revival. The fundraising campaign efforts at Central Park were aimed at breaking the cycle of decline-and-restore that marked the park’s history before the 1980s.
Why every city must have a Central Park?
Without the burden of buying a ticket, one can leisurely spend time with friends and relatives on a plaid blanket in one of the fields of the Park. One can get drinks and food to enjoy a picnic whilst basking in the sunshine peeping from the trees above.
While lying on the green grass, one can look around the maples and dogwoods encircling the field to see the rectangle of large buildings, famously called “twice as high as the Great Wall of China” by the park’s designer 150 years ago.
One can also hear the music of the violins and cellos of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra contrary to the humdrum sounds of sirens and bus exhaust. For many of the residents, wherein Central Park is doubles as a shared backyard where they feel at ease, sleep, read, unwind, play sports, and even barbecue. It acts as sheltered escape to de-stress from the pressures of daily life.
The Park was not included in the original plan for Manhattan Island, but for the persistence of surveyor John Randel Jr, who eventually included the current Central Park to give an impetus to real estate.
Central Park is not considered to have been just built; it is considered a continuous development that unfolded in chronology from being a grid design of 1811 to now being considered a standard weave among city fabrics – this is how the Park has had its own share of ups and downs.
President of the Central Park Conservancy, Douglas Blonsky recollected how just a few years back, it had declined to the point where it was impossible to revive it.

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The collective efforts of a citizen-government partnership forged 28 years prior then came to its rescue and breathed life back into the most cherished of New York’s landmarks, rendering it yet again the most beautiful and indeed the best-managed urban park in whole of the US. Well, that weaves the much unheard-of story of the most heard-of park in the world.

QUICK FACTS ABOUT CENTRAL PARK
• If one were to calculate the value of Central Park, considering the average land value in Manhattan of about $1,000/sqft and imagining it were subdivided into small building lots, the total area of the park would come to about 35 million sqft, making it worth a whopping $35 billion
• As per one estimate, Central Park would cost the same as the entire state of Alaska – buying the park cost New York State legislature $7.4 million; Alaska, was bought by the US from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million
• Talking a walk all way along the Park would take around two hours at a normal pace

Amsterdam The bicycle friendly capital of the world

The Dutch capital’s historic canals lined by gabled houses unique in their architecture, candlelit cafes, whirring bicycles, lush parks, monumental museums, vibrant markets, impeccable dining, quirky shopping and the much talked about nightlife make Amsterdam one of Europe’s greatest cities

WORDS: SEJAL MATHUR

EVERY tourist can find his or her own bearing in this beautiful place with something to discover every half a kilometre and making it on foot or bike through the city streets is indeed worthwhile.
A travelogue I glanced through on the city of Amsterdam read: how anyone who has ever tried to make their way through the centre of Amsterdam in a car is abreast of the fact how the city is literally owned by cyclists. It is their sheer numbers that render the motorists powerless, striding their way through the streets, unbothered by traffic snarls or rules, making the most of their precedence whilst of course biking away the calories.

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Facts about cycling in Amsterdam
» Amsterdammers bicycle about 2 million km on an average every day and about 57% of them use their bicycle daily even if it snows
» There are 881,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, which equals to about 4 times the number of cars; and the total distance of bicycle tracks in the city is about 400 km
» Amsterdam Central station is one of the most photographed sights in the city
» It has the only museum in the world where one can cycle the way through: the Rijksmuseum
» Bike user share in Amsterdam has risen by > 40% in the last 2 decades and around 35% of all trips within the city are by bike, compared to 22% by car
» The city plans to invest a whopping €120 million on bicycle infrastructure by 2020, €90 million of which is for creating 38,000 new bike parking places
» There are 7,800 official bike parking slots near Amsterdam Central station, but over 8,200 bicycles are usually parked there
» An estimated 100,000 bicycles are stolen in Amsterdam every year whereas between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles are pulled out of Amsterdam’s canals each year

Cyclists indeed rule in Amsterdam and sincere efforts have been taken to adapt the city to their preference which is reflected in the way how it is equipped with an elaborate network of bicycle lanes that are safe and comfortable – so much so that even the kids and the elderly use bikes as the easiest and most preferred mode of transport. And yes, it isn’t just the city of Amsterdam that vaunts of a network of cycle-paths, so is the case in all Dutch cities.
Amsterdammers enjoy riding a variety of bicycles right from the old-style classic Dutch cycle ‘Omafiets’ with a step-through frame to the latest bikes, be it road bikes, mountain bikes or even the reclining bikes.
Many tourists who flock to Amsterdam go around the city by bike as it is the typical Dutch way, while others opt for bicycle group tours through the city. Bicycling, in fact all traffic in general, is relatively safe and hence appreciated by both the tourists and residents alike.
Amsterdam is not just the most bicycle-friendly capital in the world, but with an urban area population of more than 1.1 million, it is also tagged as the most bicycle-friendly city. About 60% of trips are made by bike in the inner city and 40% overall in the greater city area.
Bikes are known as ‘fiets,’ while the cyclists as ‘fietsers;’ the bicycle parking stations are called ‘fietsenstalling’ whereas the bike paths are termed ‘fietspad’.

As is common in Dutch cities, Amsterdam has a huge network of traffic-calmed streets and state-of-the-art facilities for cyclists. They have bike paths, bike racks and several guarded bicycle parking stations which can be used for a nominal fee. In 2006, the total count of bicycles in Amsterdam was around a million.
Owing to their convenience and the city’s small size, the 400 km expanse of bike paths, flat terrain, and the probable inconvenience of driving a car are factors encouraging cycling by all socio-economic groups. Using automobiles is discouraged, parking fees are expensive, and few roads are blocked to cars or are declared one-way for motor vehicle traffic (but not for cyclists). To differentiate the bike paths from both the road ways and footpaths, Amsterdam’s bike paths are demarcated in red.

Peculiarity of the city
There are more bikes than humans in Amsterdam and the city is fully centred around two-wheeled transportation. Interestingly, cycle paths meander from the city’s centre to the fringes, easing travel for cyclists. Although cycling is considered as a recreational sport in many places, the Dutch have incorporated two-wheeling as a way of life for over a century and have in place such excellent road-safety skills pertaining to bicycles that are unheard of elsewhere.

The trend goes on, thanks to Netherlands’ geography and climate, as most of the country lies on flat ground and has a generally pleasant weather, making it a favourable place for cyclists.
Biking is how Amsterdammers commute to work, go to the shop, and meet up for a dinner date in this compact city. Plenty of bike-rental shops make it easy to gear up and get going.
If locals aren’t on a bike, they may well be on water. With its canals and massive harbour, one can choose to either hop aboard a canal boat or ride on one of the free ferries behind Central Station.

Cycling their way forward
Many of the old cycle paths in Amsterdam do not comply with the existing benchmarks and therefore need to be reconstructed. Some are not wide enough to accommodate the large number of people using them.
Newer ways to augment the parking capacity are now being planned so that more space can be dedicated for cyclists and pedestrians.
There are plans for development of more facilities for cyclists. Planners and citizens of Amsterdam now have a huge responsibility to tap the opportunity that lays ahead and to maintain the status quo that Amsterdam basks in: being celebrated as the ‘Bicycle-friendly capital of the world.’