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Bottom up for masterplanning

Masterplanning is changing and will have to develop further, as our cities evolve and new challenges emerge, such as how to house increased populations, regenerate specific post-industrial districts and build new ecological infrastructure.

For most of the 20th century, city administrations drove development through top-down masterplans. Now citizens want bottom-up development that can address local issues, and contemporary masterplanners need to accommodate this. The explosion in scale of many cities is accompanied by increasing social divisiveness. If our cities are to be healthy organisms in the future, masterplans will have to address this complex mix of factors in an integrated way.

Tools that the masterplanners can use include an expansion of internet-generated participatory planning, as well as a newer, 3D, geo-referenced approach to landscape design and environmental engineering, with very fine-scale spatial data relevant to such design routinely available as 2D GIS linked to 3D CAD packages. Spatio-temporal spread models can simulate anything from human migration and weather to human ideas, and this convergence of different types of data, including social, appears in the form of dynamic area atlases based on a range of environmental data. It has also spawned bottom-up design processes incorporating mediation games such as Play Noord!, for a neighbourhood of Amsterdam, a layered approach which can create a better speculative understanding of the city. While such activities may not always be part of an overall masterplanning exercise, key examples of masterplanners addressing the gritty issues of urbanization through environmentally integrative models include James Corner, founder of James Corner Field Operations in New York, whose latest project is a plan for Waterfront Seattle. Creating 27 acres of linked public spaces along the water, it will also reconnect the city with the coastline of Elliott Bay. Corner describes his approach as ‘a systems-based way of understanding such an environment and its flows, energies and dynamics.’

Groundlab, a studio of architects and urban designers, made adaptable design integral to its scheme for Longgang, northeast of the Pearl River Delta, in China. With a projected population of 350,000 the design transforms the polluted and neglected river, a backwater and waste-water sewer, into an ecological corridor. Existing urban villages are retained to form nuclei that lend identity, vitality and human scale to the new development.

The team created a relational urban model that can simultaneously control built mass quantities, as well as a 3D model of the built fabric, based on sets of urban relationships. This makes it easy to generate options and allows the designers to combine variables related to density and typologies, assisting the production of diverse urban patterns with simple controls. Changes in variables such as location and number of density nodes, or particularities of the building catalogue, can be added almost in real time, allowing discussion of the urban fabric and architectural qualities during the decisionmaking process.

Technological tools can bring clarity and flexibility to new ways of seeing entire metropolitan territories. Metrogramma, the Milanese architects and urban designers responsible for the Milan Urban Development Plan, have eradicated zoning and other old policy that blocked the development of a new sustainability system with an ethos of mixed use. They redefine the city map with 88 new ‘Local Identity Nuclei’ in a multi-centred, networked lattice array, with outlying areas of the city now perceived as part of the metropolitan network. This concept replaces the traditional hub and spoke city of nine administrative zones built up over centuries, since the team decided that it no longer reflected local identities.

This approach has its roots in Raggi Verdi (green rays), an environmental strategy developed, before the city awarded the official commission, by LAND, an Italian-German practice of landscape architects. It linked the city’s green belt to each of its urban districts with a system of green rays connected by a network of cycle-pedestrian paths. Urbanism, looked at this way, is regarded as inseparable from living systems, and makes landscape its basic building block, and an active tissue of a socially nourishing identity, with the city’s post-industrial voids encouraged to become open-hearted spaces rather than enclaves.

Other architects, such as Burgos + Garrido in Madrid, shift the focus on traditional masterplanning towards a concentration on the design of public realm and landscape, positioning their work somewhere between landscape architecture, urban design and social research. This was a key strategy in the realization of Madrid Río, a major urban scheme with West 8, Porras La Casta and Alvarez-Sala. The project rehabilitated the banks of the Manzanares River and used multiple means to reorientate the city towards it, including parks and boulevards of pines and cherry trees.

MVRDV and Gras’s scheme for Montecorvo, outside Logroño in northern Spain, is designed to be a city extension that will have a CO2-neutral footprint achieved by the production of renewable energy. The mixed-use plan occupies only 10 per cent of the site. Most of the rest of it — 73 per cent — will become an eco-park, mixing park facilities and energy production, with a museum and research centre for renewable and energyefficient technology.

The pressure to have a plan that can produce an ecologically advanced solution is increasing and, with increasing urbanization, it is vital to understanding the impacts of climate change on the urban environment. Each approach must be individual, because no single policy suits all cities. So future tactics must include a mix of ideas and procedures rather than the abstract uniformity imposed in the past, or the replication across cultures that is still prevalent in the most narrowly commercially focused urban masterplans.
Lucy Bullivant Hon FRIBA is an author, critic, curator and consultant, and the author of Masterplanning Futures, published by Routledge, 2012.

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