Affairs / Americas
A school of cities in Toronto, São Paulo tries to do dockless bikes right and can a park in South Carolina bridge racial divides?
USA — Urban renewal
Greenville in South Carolina has revealed ambitious plans to transform an area of the city – one with a painful history of racial division – into an inclusive green space. The Unity Park project will incorporate the sites of two parks that were once segregated by race. The city has allocated a budget of $40m (€34m) to convert the land and a section of the Reedy River into a spot for recreation.
Included in the designs are reconstructed natural wetlands, playgrounds, a public gathering hall and a 10-storey observation tower. The park acknowledges the city’s strained social history by incorporating nearby Mayberry Park – historically a hub for the city’s African-American communities – into the new space.
“Parks are one of the most equitable investments that a city can make,” says Darren Meyer, a principal landscape architect at mksk, the firm leading the project. Given the polarisation and racial tensions that have defined US politics in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, well-designed public spaces are increasingly important. “They can become these great common grounds where people can come together to build community and civic life.”
Santiago — Urbanism
What was meant to be a temporary car ban on one of Santiago’s most traffic-clogged arteries during the construction of a new subway line has become so popular that the city’s mayor Felipe Alessandri wants to keep it car-free. Transformed by 20 muralists under the stewardship of artist Dasic Fernández and architect Juan Carlos López, the street opened in December 2017, with long swirls of colour and installations strung between buildings. The Ministry of Transport will soon make a decision on whether cars will be allowed back on the Paseo Bandera. Many are hoping that the temporary pedestrianisation continues.
São Paulo — Transport
The mounds of discarded bicycles in Shanghai a few years ago were an alarm bell to other cities mulling their own dockless bike-share programmes. But Brazil’s largest city thinks it can do things differently. Brightly coloured dockless bikes will be making their way to São Paulo from July as part of a scheme called Yellow, the first of its kind in the country. Brazil doesn’t do anything by halves and Yellow’s initial launch of 20,000 bicycles is no exception.
What sets Yellow apart, according to the team behind the privately run scheme (which won a city council bid), is that its network reflects São Paulo’s complicated layout in a considered way. The locations of the bikes have been plotted to correspond with the entry points to the city’s Metro lines. While there are no guarantees that users will leave bikes in places as convenient as those at which they were found, Yellow plans to track popular areas to ensure they are well stocked. According to co-founder Ariel Lambrecht this will give the São Paulo scheme an edge where others have failed: “We’re a Brazilian start-up, with a Brazil-led mentality that recognises the city’s structure.”
President, University of Toronto
Toronto has long been home to vibrant urban debate – this is the city where influential urbanist Jane Jacobs launched her most potent campaigns against the thoughtless development of the mid-20th century. This resistant tradition is about to get a formal forum for the first time, in the form of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, which opens its doors in July. Here the university’s president Meric Gertler explains the aims of the new institution.
What will the School of Cities offer?
The idea is to create an interdisciplinary platform from which to work on the biggest challenges facing our cities – which demand collaboration. It will bring together more than 200 faculty members working on different aspects of cities. We’ve got architects, urban planners, civil engineers, economists and people in public health and environmental sciences.
What will the focus of the school’s research be?
The top issues will be things such as affordable housing. You want to make sure that different kinds of people can afford to live in cities such as Toronto. Then there’s transportation. What is the right mix between public and private? Another pressing concern is the environment – Canada’s ability to meet its Paris Agreement targets is going to be made or broken in cities.
What makes Toronto such a good setting for the School of Cities?
More than half of the people who live in the city were born outside Canada and that’s been a fascinating and largely successful social experiment and has produced unbelievable cultural life. Toronto has also resisted higher densities. Yet we know that global cities are defined by density. So this is a city still grappling with that: how do you learn to love densification and do it well? I hope that our school will be centrally involved in those discussions.