Art & Culture
March 14, 2019

The Vessel, New York City

Once again, New York City is taking public art literally one step further in the design of the public art piece “The Vessel” by artist Thomas Heatherwick.

This is the first public art installation at Hudson Yards, the old working dock and shipbuilding site on the west side of Manhattan. By square foot, Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in the United States, with 16 planned buildings. Total cost of this megaproject is $25 billion.

The Vessel is fifteen stories high and as Amy Pitt observes in in CurbedNY.com, “The piece is made from 154 interconnected staircases, and is intended to be used by the public—for climbing, running (though probably not too fast), and, most likely, for providing the backdrop for selfies and Instagram photos.”

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What do you do when you live in the small town of Fair Haven Vermont (population about 2,600) and you need a playground?  You pick up on an idea of having a ceremonial pet mayor to raise money  for that play area. There are several cities in the United States with pet mayors, including Omena Michigan where a cat has been mayor for six of her nine years, her election funding the local historical society for this town of 300 people.

The other advantage of having a pet mayor is providing an early introduction to kids of how a municipal election works and how it is held. The town manager allowed pets to be registered for a five dollar fee and had sixteen candidates in the running, with school children writing out campaign messages and voting for their favourite animal.

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It is the opposite of “build it and they will come”-removing the Seattle Alaska Way viaduct has connected the city in a way not seen in decades and  there has been a flush of new real estate interest in the area. Projects that were built before the viaducts were removed now will enjoy unimpeded vistas of the Bay and mountains, plus a shore side park space that has yet to be realized.

As Seattle Times Mike Rosenberg reports “The transformation of an area marked by furniture stores, parking garages and century-old buildings has already begun. In all, about two dozen major projects have launched within a quarter-mile of the doomed section of the viaduct in the past five years, with more on the way.”

Of course many of the projects would have proceeded because of the location in Seattle’s downtown, but viaduct removal appears to be responsible for rising values. As Rosenberg writes “assessed values of commercial property within a quarter-mile of the viaduct have soared 59 percent since 2011, while commercial properties in the rest of the city are up 38 percent in that span, according to an analysis of data from the King County Assessor’s Office.” 

Median building sales prices have increased, as well as rents for office buildings and apartments. Rosenberg calculates that since 2011 a total of $7 billion dollars in property sales occurred within 400 meters of the viaduct, $3 billion dollars more than the cost of taking the viaduct down.

But  the viaducts are being replaced by a controversial tunnel for vehicular traffic, as well as an at grade road up to  eight lanes wide.

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Last month I wrote about the prudent initiative in France where the speed on secondary roads has now been cut back from 90 km/h to 80 km/h on the 400,000 kilometers of these roads. “Fifty-five percent of  all road deaths occur on these Class “B”  roads that have no central divider or guard rail. In 32 percent of the fatalities  on these secondary roads the major factor was speed.” 

And if you were wondering, France has 5.1 road deaths per 100,000 population; Canada has more at 6.0 road deaths per 100,000.

As The Guardian observed “The government has compared the 80 km/h limit…to the laws enacted since 1973 requiring the use of seat belts, and the installation of automatic speed radars in 2002. Those laws also drew the ire of thousands of drivers, but contributed to nearly four decades of declines in automobile deaths in France, which reached a historic low of 3,268 in 2013.” 

The reaction in France was mixed, with motoring and car clubs vehemently against the speed reductions, and in December 60 percent of the speed cameras had been vandalised.

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Did you have  model toys of cities when you were young? Did you have SimCity the computer game? First developed in 1989 this game became a bestseller as “planners” created a city from a postage stamp of land. The Los Angeles Times’ Jessica Roy reviews the SimCity game that is (gasp) thirty years old this year.

I have previously written about Super City, a previous generation’s  interlocking block toy released by Ideal Toy in 1967 that allowed kids of all ages to create their own cities.  Unfortunately the toy was too complex for children, and the product was pulled from the market. Artist and author Douglas Coupland said that “anything made from Super City looked like a Craig Ellwood, or a Neutra or a Wallace K. Harrison“.  But every kid that saw the commercial below wanted a Super City set.

Ms. Roy takes a novel approach in this article at looking at SimCity and the real life of  activists, urban planners and architects in asking whether this game influenced their choice of professions.

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Chris and Melissa Bruntlett the fine people of Modacity Life passed on this fascinating article by Tom Parron on the marketing of Coolblue‘s new bike service. Coolblue is an electronics company that has been in business since 1999 in the Netherlands and Belgium. Their creed is to provide excellent response with a good slice of humour interspersed in their customer service. And if you order an item online, you are guaranteed delivery of that item the following day.

With online and 9 traditional retail locations this business delivers bought goods by “CoolblueFietst” which translates as Coolblue bikes.  With service commencing in two Dutch cities last year  Coolblue has expanded to have bicycle delivery of their products in major Dutch and Belgian cities with a fleet of 250 delivery riders. And get this~those delivery bike riders will  “all be employed with contracts and receive fixed salaries.”

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Kudos to the European Parliament who are not messing around about saving lives and reducing injury on European roads. Realizing that simply slowing speed on roads by one kilometer an hour would save 2,100 lives, the installation of  intelligent speed assistance (ISA) in new vehicles is being mandated to all new purchased cars in the next three years.

The ISA does not brake the vehicle, but limits the top speed by throttling engine fuel. Speed sign recognition cameras and a GPS-driven speed limit data system inform the vehicle about traveled speed.

Carlton Reid in Forbes.com observes that even though this technology has existed since the early 20th century speed regulators on vehicles have never been adopted by governments. The use of ISA if universally applied can reduce deaths by 20 percent.

Currently the vehicles with this technology can shut it off.

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We just have to go here because it is a recurring story about personal protectionism versus doing the right thing for the public, sustainability and leading the  change.

I have previously written about Mr. Trump’s Trump Tower in New York City which has a glitzy interior reflective of the 1980’s. But one thing Mr. Trump tried hard to do was to ensure that no public had access to seating as required in the development permit for the building. He was required to create an 8,000 square foot public area with moveable chairs and tables, and insure a 22 foot long  bench was available below the escalator for the public to sit on. The bench originally disappeared, then came back with plants covering it to ensure that no public could use it. Kudos to the City of New York for ensuring that the bench is now available for the public to use.

Mr. Trump also rallied against New York City’s proposal to require the retrofitting of sprinkler systems in all highrise buildings. I wrote about the man who died in a fire in his unit in New York City’s Trump Tower after Mr. Trump got a citywide exemption which meant that buildings like his, which were built before 1990, did not need to conform with the regulation.

And in Scotland Mr. Trump owns two golf courses, one being the Aberdeenshire golf resort which overlooks the site of an 11 turbine wind farm on the North Sea. Mr. Trump before he became President took the Scottish government to court to have the project halted. As the BBC News reported Mr. Trump had argued the wind farm development would spoil the view from his golf course.

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While many cities have undertaken initiatives to make it safer and more convenient for walking and biking, the motor industry has been selling bigger and larger vehicles, with over 1.4 million Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and crossovers being sold in the United States in the first quarter of 2018. What is the difference between these two categories? A SUV is a vehicle built on a truck platform, while a crossover is a unibody construction on a car platform, and is supposed to  be more maneuverable and parkable. Both of these are large vehicles and are outselling sedans.

Indeed trucks and SUVs comprise 60 percent of the new vehicle purchases in the United States, and have been contributing to an increasing proportion of pedestrian deaths. From 2009 to 2016  pedestrian deaths have risen 46 percent and are directly linked to the increase of these large vehicles on the road.

Statistics show that SUVs with the high front end grille is twice as likely to kill pedestrians because of the high engine profile, but this information has not been well publicized. In the United States a federal initiative to include pedestrian crash survival into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers.

So why are people buying these large vehicles?

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