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If it ain’t broke…

Global — Reverse urbanism

Urban development is, by definition, meant to make improvements to our cities with new measures, models or infrastructure. But occasionally new ideas complicate matters. From projects that proved disastrous before they even got off the ground, such as London’s ill-fated Garden Bridge project, to decades-long trends that ultimately caused more harm than good – think urban sprawl – there are numerous examples of plans that weren’t sound.

So when new developments miss the mark, sometimes the best option is to try to undo the damage. In these examples, switching into reverse turns out to be the best way forward.

01. New Delhi’s bad BRT
New Delhi’s bus-rapid-transit (brt) system should have improved the city’s transport. In practice, the infrastructure, which was launched in 2008 and spanned about six kilometres, was so poorly planned and implemented that accidents, congestion and lawsuits plagued the brt. City officials, realising their folly, chose to scrap the system; the brt corridor was dismantled in 2016. Proposals for a new system are now being considered.

02. New York returns to its roots
As devastating storms such as Hurricane Sandy batter the city, the Regional Plan Association (rpa) has proposed taking the surrounding wetlands back and stripping them of any development so they act as a natural storm run-off. “We are a coastal region,” says rpa executive vice-president Juliette Michaelson. “We have been building over every wetland – without consideration for the harm caused by storms.”

03. Milan’s covered canals
Venice is not the only Italian city with waterways. Landlocked Milan once had its fair share of canals yet most have been covered up over the past century to make room for roads and railways. After sprucing up its canal-side Navigli area, the city is now set on bringing back further sections of the canal network.

University of life

Australia — Education

Suburban universities are self-contained islands. So administrators keen to make campuses feel more integrated are experimenting – and Australia is leading the charge. In Canberra the Australian National University is building a new pool that will be open to visitors; in Melbourne, Monash University commissioned John Wardle to create a bus interchange that acts as a transport hub.

Perhaps the most ambitious plans are at Perth’s Curtin University: over the next 20 years it intends to reinvent itself as a “city of innovation”. The blueprint includes working space for entrepreneurs, parkland and a high street with grocery stores and independent retailers. “Our planning focuses on leveraging the convergence between academia, government and industry,” says Lisa Spiers, commercial director. “To succeed, the campus needs to be an accessible, modern and vibrant destination.”

Strijp joints

Amsterdam — Urban renewal

Dutch technology giant Philips moved its headquarters from Eindhoven to Amsterdam in 2001. But in the Strijp-S neighbourhood, the firm’s former home, historic Philips’ sites such as the Clock Building, Natlab and Hoge Rug factories have been transformed into office spaces, shops and restaurants. A recent addition is a co-working space in the Glass Building space for young entrepreneurs; Strijp-S also hosts Dutch Design Week. Good to know the spark hasn’t died.


Kakha Kaladze


Former AC Milan football player turned Georgia’s energy minister, Kakha Kaladze was elected mayor of Tbilisi in October 2017 after winning 51 per cent of the vote.

What’s on your agenda?
The major challenges are the environment, traffic, parking and urban-planning. We are establishing the Department of Urban Development, which will be a driving force for change.

During your campaign you said that you want to turn Tbilisi into a healthy city.
The urban policy will be focused on developing a green-city concept. Tbilisi is overloaded with surface transport so our goal is to turn the metro into one of the main means of transport.

You are planning to restore the old part of the city. Why?
Our aim is to restore historical districts, museums and cultural spaces to give them a new lease of life. But these districts are not just historical monuments: our citizens live there. It is important to restore their homes too.

Any other priorities?
From a pragmatic point of view, attracting tourists will improve our citizens’ life and encourage development of small and medium businesses.







  • The Foreign Desk