A multipurpose hospital in Milan, New York’s glass-skyscraper ban and Belgian bicycle taxes.
For all their importance to the health of a city’s population, hospitals aren’t typically places where people are comfortable spending much time. Milanese architect Stefano Boeri’s project for the city’s biggest hospital, the Policlinico, aims to cure the stigma surrounding these spaces. The plans to transform the antiquated structure were commissioned by the centre and have been in the works for more than a decade – but construction is finally set to begin before summer.
“The Policlinico was founded in 1456; it’s the most ancient hospital in Italy,” says Marco Giachetti, president of Ca Granda, the foundation in charge of supporting the hospital’s scientific development. “In the early 20th century it was rebuilt to have lots of separate wards but this model in the 21st century shows its shortcomings.” As such, the new hospital will be designed as a mono-block that encourages collaboration between different departments and is expected to be completed within three years.
Meanwhile Boeri who is famous for creating tree-covered skyscraper Bosco Verticale, is bringing his trademark green touch to proceedings: under the plans the hospital’s roof will be completely covered by a garden the size of a football pitch. “We thought of it as a therapeutic garden,” says Boeri. “It will have an important play area for children, a meditation zone, an area dedicated to quiet reading and one for workouts and physiotherapy. We’ll also have vegetable patches where you can grow medicinal herbs.”
As well as serving the needs of patients, the garden will be open to Milan’s citizens for readings and events. This willingness to connect with all residents is reflected at ground level, too: the hospital’s hall will transform into a commercial gallery that cuts through the whole building, connecting the streets on either side.
“We want the hospital to have more osmosis with reality and open parts of it to urban life,” says Boeri. “We want to reduce the length of hospital stays and create an environment that’s not strictly clinical. We don’t want to close the hospital off with barriers but instead create permeability.” It’s an inspiring approach that could be a real shot in the arm for the city and its citizens’ health.
New York could become the first city to mandate energy efficiency by banning the construction of new glass skyscrapers. The bill, announced by mayor Bill de Blasio, is part of the effort to reduce greenhouse emissions in the city by 30 per cent by 2030. Such buildings are some of the worst environmental offenders as so much energy escapes through the glass. The plans are part of De Blasio’s Green New Deal for the city, a $14bn (€12.6bn) strategy to tackle climate change.
Belgium’s parliament has moved to lower the sales tax on bicycles and e-bikes from 21 per cent to just 6 per cent. The measure needs to be passed by the European Commission but approval seems likely following its publication of a report last year that supported eliminating sales tax on bikes altogether. Alongside better infrastructure, it’s hoped that making bicycles that much more affordable will encourage more people in Belgium to take to the street on two wheels.
Alain Bertaud is an author, urbanist and former principal planner at the World Bank. His new book, Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities, challenges established urban-planning practice with economic analysis. He tells Monocle how planning laws should be adaptable and why economists should work more closely with planners.
You argue that relaxing planning policies makes for better cities. How?
I wouldn’t use the word “relaxing”: I’d use the word “auditing”. It’s looking at which rules are useful and which ones are not. Planning policies and rules usually come from a specific problem but technology changes, the way we work and travel in the city changes, and the planning rules aren’t adapted. A lot of the problems we have are coming from rules that were established long ago and are no longer necessary.
Why should economists play more of a role in the planning process?
One of the themes in my book is of the position between design and the market. Economists look at cost-benefit – and everything you do has a cost and a benefit. [In cities] there’s a high demand for land and we need to question how we can distribute it in an efficient manner. Economists’ answer will be to allow people to consume less of it – or to build more floors. Only then do we realise that we’ve designed zoning regulations preventing people from building higher [and easing demand].