Pros and Cons of Wind Turbines

Wind turbines, also called wind turbine towers, create wind energy. There exist “Onshore” and “Offshore” wind turbines. Onshore wind turbines are installed on land and Offshore wind turbines are the once located in the sea.

Onshore and Offshore wind turbines. Source:

A great advantage of wind turbines is that they basically only need wind to produce energy and wind itself does not have a cost. Moreover, wind turbines are build high and thus do not use up a lot of space. Concerning space, potential areas still can be found – especially Offshore – where more wind turbines can be installed. In addition, when producing energy with wind turbines, no emissions are emitted and the country in which the turbines are situated, can reduce the import of other expensive energies, like oil. Another benefit is the creation of new jobs because the business of wind turbines is still growing.

Nevertheless, wind turbines also have cons. Firstly, wind is not a constant resource and wind can only be turned into energy when it occurs at a speed up to 25km/h. Secondly, so far it is impossible to store wind. Furthermore, the turbines can only be installed in certain areas of the world and the installations as well as the maintenance are rather expensive. Until today, wind turbines have to be renewed after 20 years (at least in Germany). This destruction process and the recycling are expensive and inconvenient. Another problem refers to the environment in which the wind turbines are build. In both cases, Onshore and Offshore, the existing biodiversity might be influenced and destroyed.

Creating something out of nothing – the power of people


Nowadays, more than half of the people are living in cities. Talking in numbers, a percentage of 54, one the United Nations is expecting to increase to 66% by the end of year 2050. That is a hell of a lot. Therefore, creating and managing sustainable cities has become one of the most important challenges we are facing today.

Other than in the past, where western countries such as London, Paris and New York were the ones growing the most, today the biggest urban growth is taking place in the less developed countries. What is fascinating to me is that, according to the United Nations Habitant, one third of that population is living in slums. Meaning, there is a major demographic event happening.

Simultaneously, the rapid enlargement of these slums and favelas around the globe is driving a new wave of innovation by urban planners. Ideas and innovations worth telling, that might hold the key to the future of human development. A future that is built on top of the densely populated and most resource-intense areas.




Source: The Guardian


Let us look at the example of Brazil, one that I am very curious of. Brazils cities are growing at an uncontrollable rate. A country of great contrast. Although, Brazil is one of the leading economic powers with an economy that continues to boom, poverty is still widespread and most of the population is excluded from the countries wealth and social participation.


Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 11.44.06 PM



This can be observed in the rapidly growing of the outskirts of the big cities or even in the middle between the richer residential areas in one of the most famous slums called favelas. About 20% of Brazils population is living in the favelas of Rio, therefore in order to be able to fully understand its people one has to take a closer look to their communities.

Favelas have very little to with the common image we have of slums. Many of the favelas in Rio today have good level of urbanisation, are full of normal people, like you and me, who have work, but who are of course very much exposed to poverty and social inequality.

One of the biggest challenges favelas communities are facing is the lack of basic attendance. The state is not really present there and therefore, people are lacking of services and commercial activities. The only constant institutional presence they have is the police, due to the ongoing drug war between police and the gangs. So on one hand, the people are exposed to a very limited presence of the state but then on the other very heavily controlled by the security forces. As a result, the lives and development of its peoples is characterised by the almost non-existent social advancement opportunities through high levels of violence.



Source: The Guardian


What I find very interesting about the favelas is how much one can learn from them. Observing on how to create innovative solutions from restricted resources under challenging environmental requirements. While facing the challenge of urbanisation, these communities have learned on how to adapt, use and reuse resources and commodities more sustainable than we have.



Source: The Guardian


The favelas are seen incredible resilient and work in approximation, they grow and adapt together. Rio is extraordinary in their omnipresence and in its survival in the same location. Some parts can be reached by road, but most houses are on top of each other on hillsides, difficult to reach, overflowed in storms and lacking of sewage and other municipal utilities. Even though the neighbourhoods are high-density, they are easy to access and combine commercial and housing areas, and most of its residents walk or use two-wheeled vehicles. Also, compared to other municipalities they pollute far less.



Source: The Guardian


A study of the London School of Economics investigated how favelas communities, despite harsh conditions of living, have been able to mobilise local resources to resist exclusion, fight off marginalization and rewrite relations between the favelas and the city.

As communal participation is one of the most important contributions towards sustainable development, numerous of local NGO`s are promoting civic engagement, empowerment of the most vulnerable to create better quality of life and positive change in the favelas of Rio. It is important to not only view them as slums, but as self-generative and green communities from which we can learn how to the challenges of the future.




Source: The Guardian


In order to try to change the perception of  favelas, two dutch artists, Haas & Hahn, have started a project in 2007. With the use of colour they tried to create a new perspective of Rio`s shantytowns. The project mobilised these communities to paint all their houses in a unified design in order to make the neighbourhood look more beautiful and ask for attention in a positive way. The goal of the project was to make people stop to look at these neighbourhoods differently and show the outside world what proud and vibrant communities they really are.

santa-marta-haas-hahn-portrait-pano-1024x425 Source:

The project highlights the importance of including the communities in the process of understanding the constraints, the need to start a participatory design process and to learn new ways on how to create cheap, high-impact innovations for millions of people. Streets full of life where communities stick together during times of hardship, where over-population allowed ideas to be developed, deprivation produced productive solutions and the chances of survival have been improved.



To conclude, the favelas of Rio are a remarkable surviving pattern of urban living. But survival is not enough. As Social inclusion is one of the most important contributions towards sustainable development, there is an enormous need for communal effort. Together with the people, cities will be able to adapt to the challenges of urbanisation.



Underground Sociabilities – UNESCO

The Guardian .Rise of social entrepreneurs in Barzil

UN News Center – UN urges widespread improvement of world`s urban slums

The Guardian – Vision of the future or criminal eyesore: what should Rio do with its favelas?

Citylab – Just how much neighbourhoods can you get from an art project?



Responsible Design

Residential is probably the sector with highest environmental impact, due to its direct and indirect implications: use of land (deforestation) spread of utilities (energy, water, waste) conditioning certain lifestyles (for example: long distances and consumerism)… Focusing only on the construction sector, the high reliance on other industries such as material providers (steel, wood, ceramic), machinery, technology, workforce, sums a huge impact on the production of a country and its environmental footprint.


Urban planning’s social impact is also huge being a tool able to zone and discriminate or mix and integrate. It can also provide public facilities for free common use or restrain properties to private uses. While it is clear that maintenance of private properties is private, public facilities are more complex: Involving public workers but also private business and the former citizens. We will analyze this with three examples of the city of Madrid: The parks of Madrid Rio and Valdebebas, and the urban plan of Azca.

Society and over all decision makers, have to be educated on urban impacts and implications in order for them to distinguish real effective solutions from science fiction projects that promise sustainability and development but trigger environmental or social disasters. It is essential to use critical thinking and analyze apart from the benefits, the entire cycle of the project in order to value its efficiency. In this matter, the life span of the project is the most important parameter to take into account in regard of the maintenance costs, added to the initial investment of its creation.

Madrid Rio 2006 – 2011   (101 hectares)

By burying the high way underground, an extensive degraded area has been recovered, but the design is very artificial demanding a constant high maintenance effort.

“It is a great entertainment area for the capital but it risks falling into abandonment due to its high cost” Edelmiro Rúa , president of  Colegio de Ingenieros.

Madrid’s major established a contract with Urbaser for 41.6 millions until 2014. (866.000 E per month, around 250 workers) After, a new contract for the next 8 years with ‘UTE Parques Singulares’ was signed for 111 million regarding maintenance of this park and other 7. This halved the number of workers,  which led to strikes. Still there are 2,5 workers per hectare, while in park Juan Carlos I y Juan Pablo II, there are 0,95 and 0,59.

Artifcial Design: demands higher maintenance, more vulnerable to degradationparks

-Species planted: If the species chosen are able to survive in the wilderness under the zone’s climate and soil conditions they will need less maintenance than those that are more vulnerable to the climate and demand a higher amount of water and specific nutrients. For example maintenance of grass in Madrid is a major issue, there is a need of implementing new less-water-demanding species of grass.

– The care of the vegetation demanded by design: This is for example geometrical designs in shaping bushes or in flower patches that obviously need constant mending.

->Degraded vegetation areas dissuade citizens from using these spaces becoming a fail public project.

On counterpart to artificial designs we can find the following example:

Valdebebas 2007-2015 (470 hectares)

Maintenance cost per year: 1,5 millions of euros. (almost 12 times less  with 4 times more land than  Madrid Rio)

The design of this space was performed according to environmental sustainability guidelines, using native species, resilient in the city and recreating characteristic ecosystems of the interior of the Iberian Peninsula. We should also take note that part of this park is considered forest so it is expected to follow its natural cycle and demand no maintenance. There are also public patches for growing vegetables which creates a win-win relationship between the gardens and the citizens that will be involved in its maintenance.

It is true though, that the fact that Madrid Rio’s park is inserted in a city landscape and means to connect effectively parts of the city while providing security (visibility, night lights), makes it more difficult to implement such a natural design as Valdebebas which blends with the natural scape of the metropolitan area.  Anyways, an in-depth previous cycle-analysis could have helped diminish its artificiality.

Stepping away from parks, public paved spaces are also very affected by uses and the detriment of maintenance, incurring into social issues.

AZCA 1964-1975

azca2Abbreviation for: Asociación Mixta de Compensación de la Manzana A de la Zona Comercial del Paseo de la Castellana.  Also known as Madrid’s first skyline and one of the most important commercial and business sectors in the city.

Antonio Perpiñá won the 1954 international tinder with a design inspired in the Rockefeller center of New York. The purpose of the plan was to build a huge office block with a total separation between road traffic, which would be buried, and pedestrian circulation in the surface, with a large railway station. The project underwent several reforms until its final approval in 1964.

What in the beginning of 80’s was a public-space triumph serving the business and commercial scene during the day and a high-standard clubbing scene during the night,  turned out  to be one of the most degraded spaces with highest criminality rate in downtown Madrid.


-The underground road was cancelled into a pedestrian walk, so the initial high flow rate projected for this area was significantly reduced leading to isolation, affecting citizen security. The lack of this road along with the design at different levels makes it more difficult for the public cleaning services to access frequently leading to a fast degradation.

-The labyrinthine design due to the structure pillars from towers above along with deterioration of many of the needed nightlights created a dark criminal paradise. Adding to this, due to these issues nightlife lowered its quality but not its activity and keeps fouling the space.



To conclude mentioning one of the great fathers of architecture:

Roman author and architect/civil engineer Vitruvius (1st century BC) stated in his all-time referential guide-line ‘De Architectura’  three main principals:

Urban planning designs the course of humanity and it has been dangerously trivialized without regarding its consequences.  It’s utterly important to re-design a more sustainable future for the world.

Let the flood come!; Dutch Urban planning

There is a saying that says: “God created the world, but the Dutch created The Netherlands”. The Netherlands (literally, “The low countries”), has approximately one quarter of its surface below sea level, which comprises 60% of the inhabitants of The Netherlands. Some points reach as low as 6.76 meters below sea level. But how does the Netherlands cope with this and make an enjoyable living environment for its inhabitants? For more than a century this has been the case. The Dutch are used to “Think the unthinkable, and prepare for it”.

Before talking about Dutch Urban planning, we need to understand the roots water management in the Netherlands and how it has affected its urban planning. The Netherlands has to deal in terms of water, with 4 rivers and the North Sea, having the risk of flooding due to its low sea levels. Let’s look at one experience of the past and how the Dutch have learned from this and have implemented mechanisms of water management, (highly in demand due to climate change and the rises of sea level that this might bring), that work up to today. The way they have planned to protect their cities and the protection of one of the most important seaports in Europe, are worth looking at.

Examples of a situation where the Dutch had to deal with water management and their cities was in 1287 and 1916. One most remembered , is the North Sea storm of 1953, which caused serious flooding, leaving over 1800 casualties.

This resulted in the setting up of a flood protection program, including adaptation to climate change, incorporating it into the urban planning. Some examples are the building of sand dunes and beaches at the coasts of The Hague and also the many dikes and dams.

Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier

Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier

According to Vleuten & Disco (2004), this is a defensive mechanism against the water. A concrete example is the building of the “Afsluitdijk”, literally “The closing dike”, from 1927 to 1932, being 30.5 km long. The building of this dike resulted in the reclaiming the land of the IJsselmeer. This is how, in 1986, the new province of Flevoland was born. Some other examples are the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier and the Maeslantkering, a storm surge barrier, among others forming part of the Delta Works, to protect the Netherlands from flooding.

Maeslant Barrier

Maeslant Barrier

An offensive mechanism can be, according to Vleuten & Disco (2004), land reclamation (reclaimed land also being called “Polder”), considering the high population density of The Netherlands (488 people per km2). Without precise exact numbers of  “landfilling” the Dutch have done, it is clear that it is a substantial quantity of land. Here is where it gets interesting to look at how the Urban Planning of this land is done around water management. More than a decade ago, Dutch architects studied the possibility of building houses, so called amphibious houses, that would resist possible flooding and adapt to the low level conditions of the vulnerable cities, even creating new neighbourhoods: maritime cities. The way these houses respond to flooding, is simply by floating on the surface and are made with a more advanced technology than simple regular boat houses. Growing cities demand more living space, and for a country like The Netherlands, this seems like the perfect solution, considering that in 1995, 250.000 people had to be evacuated from Rotterdam due to serious treat of floods.

Maritime city.

Maritime city.











It is also interesting to observe how water management is incorporated in the urban design of the Dutch cities. A study from the University of Delft, entitled: ‘Water in Amsterdam’s South-East District”, tries to integrate water storage and water discharge directly into the urban planning process. Due to the growth of cities, additional water storage is needed. Attractive water designs should be integrated in the designs of the future cities, contributing to public realm. The picture below shows how water has been included in the design of new neighbourhoods.








We have seen some defensive and offensive mechanisms The Netherlands has been implementing, and has been experimenting with. One thing is clear. Dutch water experts have shared their ideas with among others New Orleans, Dubai, Mozambique, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam. And they have to keep on developing new ideas themselves in order to meet new demands on the area of for example housing, offices and ports that are immune to rising water levels.  As a water management expert from the Dutch ministry of infrastructure and environment puts it in an article by The Guardian“There is no end to this. It’s a continuous process. We do not want to be surprised again.”

Mobility as a solution for urban planning difficulty – Hamburg

Urban planning can touch on issues regarding the use of land, waste management, smart city, mobility, water management, energy supply and others. Taking a closer look at Hamburg (Germany) demonstrates that these issues are in good conditions.

Hamburg port 620

Hamburg City and the Harbour

In the following text I will point out what role the mobility plays in Hamburg, how it has developed and if mobility can help integrating the newly built “Harbour City”.

Hamburg is centre of northern Germany both economically and culturally and the nation’s second largest city. It has 1.8 million inhabitants and is located at the river “Elbe”.

The port of Hamburg is the second-largest port in Europe and the ninth largest in the world. A fairly new district called “Harbour City” is located nearby. Besides the “Elbe”, there are plenty of small rivers and canals. These are crossed by over 2300 – more than in Venice and Amsterdam. The numerous parks of Hamburg are distributed over the whole city. 14% of Hamburg’s area is made of green spaces or recreational areas that make Hamburg a very verdant city.

Some main dates about Hamburg:

– Inhabitants: 1.814.597
– Size: 755,30 km²
– CO2 emission per inhabitant: 10 t
– Cars: 742.320 (in 2014)
– Public Bikes: 1.650
– Environmental protection investments: 41 Million Euros

What role does mobility play?

MobilitätHamburgHamburg has lately invested a lot in the mobility to make the city more liveable and protect the environment. The 1,8 million people that live in Hamburg use 742.320 cars and emit 10t of CO2 per person. Forecasts say that the population will grow and Hamburg wants to improve their sustainability and prevent a high quality of life for their citizens. This is why today there is a wide offer of public transportation with well-functioning metro- and bus-system. Around 1.650 “Stadtrad“-city-bikes for public use are available at 131 stations, 1000 electro-cars can be used and charged at 140 stations as well as car-sharing is offered by different companies.

In addition to these offers, the government of the city has generally improved the infrastructure. Since 2008, many public bicycle-lanes have been built and the goal is to increase the usage of these from 10% to 18% until the end of 2015.

Furthermore, an improvement of the bus system is urgent. There exist 2.070 bus stops but the problem is the traffic. Therefore, the government has started to build so called “fast-lanes”, where only buses are allowed to drive. Nevertheless, it stays questionable if that is the right decision? For the public transport it might be an improvement but there will be more traffic jams for private cars due to less normal driving lanes. Therefore many citizens have been really critically/sceptical about that investment.

Statistics show that the overall usage-rate of the public transport, public bikes and the above-mentioned public offers in Hamburg is continually increasing. This is important, regarding the fact of the growth of Hamburg’s population and their sustainable development.

What is the Harbour City?

The Harbour City is actually an island in the “Norderelbe” River. As a former port area, the Harbour City had its own functioning infrastructure, since it was originally designed for different purposes. The previous focus was on delivering and collecting shipped or produced goods, so that connecting roads did not run in the direction of the city centre.

On foot, the Harbour City can be reached from the existing city centre in barely ten minutes. It’s a new part of the town (building started in 2001) which requires a complex mobility structure to make it accessible from Hamburg down and ensure integration. According to Hamburg’s building-sector, 6.200 flats for around 12.000 people and working space for about 45.000 people is today available. Hence, the challenge is to cope with the resulting traffic volume.

The few on the planned Harbour City (the colored part) Source: Hafencity Hamburg GmbH

What is the goal of Harbour City?

The goal of Hamburg’s government is to combine social, environmental and technological issues with a high focus on mobility and build an attractive, modern district. So far, 10,9 Million Euro has been invested. This money has mainly been spent on buildings and infrastructure.


The unfinished Elbphilarmonie

Additional projects like the Harbour City-University, a new Metro line and the new opera house “Elbphilarmonie” are not included in the budget. Especially the “Elbphilarmonie” has become a financial disaster. In 2005, 186 Million Euros were estimated for the costs of the building and a finish until 2010. However, today it is still unfinished, the costs have expanded to 789 Million Euros and the opening is planned beyond 2016.

The aim is to finish all projects of the Harbour City until the end of 2017.

How accessible is the Harbour City?

The mobility is the major factor of making the harbour city accessible and lively. Due to the fact that thousand of people are supposed to live and work in that district it is of high importance that it is well connected with the city because the harbour city is located south of the city centre. Around 90.000 car journeys were expected which forced the government to action. So far around 26.000 parking slots are available and most of them underground.

Furthermore there are two bus lines going to and leaving the Harbour City. A major project and investment has been the building of another metro lane – the “U4”. It is already running and connects the Harbour City with downtown in only 4 minutes.

Moreover, city-bike stations have been installed and bike lanes have been built. That way, cars, public transport and bikers can reach the Harbour City without disturbing one another.

…and what does the current situation look like?


The Harbour City Hamburg

The expectations were high, the Harbour City is almost finished – except the building of the opera house and theuniversity” – and Hamburg has a new, well-architected and innovative district to offer. The investments and improvements of the mobility were worth it and the usage rate is rising.

Nevertheless, the Harbour City is not yet was it was supposed to be. It is a district where mainly wealthy people live because they are the only once that can afford it. So far, only 1.800 people – instead of 12.000 – live in the Harbour City. In addition, a lot of working space is still empty due to the high renting prices. Quite a few shops have opened and closed again because there are simply not enough customers. What can mainly be seen in this district are tourists who look at the fancy buildings and the famous but unfinished opera house.

To sum up, Hamburg is an attractive, modern city with wide offer concerning mobility. The mobility usage has risen and the connection of the “old” town to the newly built Harbour City has successfully been achieved. Since there is a wider offer of public transportation, the attractiveness to not just visit the Harbour City but also work or live there is increasing.

In my opinion, it was the right decision to invest into new mobility establishments to reduce the traffic and make the Harbour City more accessible. Especially regarding the future where sustainability urban planning gains importance.

I am also convinced that the urban planning decision in general, to build that Harbour City was right but some mistakes in implementation have been made. Concerning costs and prices there have been major miscalculations that is why there today there are problems occurring. Big projects like the university would have been important to finish earlier to get students and younger people into the district. Moreover, living space should have been created that is available at affordable prices. Today, the Harbour City is not really living – it’s rather a tourist attraction. The building of the Harbour City has definitely increased the attractiveness of Hamburg and one day will hopefully totally integrated.


Main Sources:

[1] HafenCity Hamburg:

[2] Die Welt, “Trendviertel: Top oder Flop? Die Hafencity an einer Wendemarke”:

[3] Menzel, J. (2010) Kurzstudie: “Wie nachhaltig ist die Hafencity Hamburg?”, Zukunftsrat Hamburg

[4] Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung, “Mobilität in Hamburg”:

Bright lights big cities

The worlds population is growing at an exponential rate. Cities generate 75% of a country’s wealth.Over 50% the world’s population live in urban areas – from small cities like York, to mega-cities like New York. However these problems are not restricted to developed cities but also developing. The bright lights and opportunities are attracting the population from all parts of a country to the major city.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 6.12.56 PM


Africa is transitioning towards a whole new socio-economic and political landscape as a result of urbanization. There is increased pressure on African cities as they are expanding rapidly. By 2050 7 out of 10 Africans will be living in cities. Urban sustainability becomes a major issue for urban planners as they seek to remedy the issues:

African city planners cannot rebuild cities from scratch to deal with these issues, so what is the future for these cities? Could Smart cities be the solution?

“A smart city is one that relies heavily on IT to enhance quality of life. A report by Deloitte characterizes a city as smart “when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources”

Africa has witnessed several surprising examples of a phenomenon called technological leapfrogging, essentially moving bypassing technological steps.  For example, mobile-phone connectivity on the continent has skyrocketed – Africa is currently home to the second biggest mobile market in the world, over 300m people have access to a mobile phone and penetration rising from 1% in 2000 to 54% in 2012, surpassing the number of mobile users in the US, India or Europe.

Most people’s image of a smart city is of high-tech digital infrastructure and perfect public transport. So the question is: How can these technologies be adapted for African cities? 

Nairobi is the capital and largest city in Kenya. It is home to over 3 million people. Like any other city in the world it suffers from mass urbanisation. And as a result there are various slums around the city- Kibera being the largest in Kenya and second largest in sub saharan Africa.

So on the one hand there is a tremendous opportunity for cities to expand into greenfield sites creating new areas for growth – a fresh start, perfectly planned. Konza city on the outskirts of Nairobi is part of Kenya’s vision 2030 to create a technological city dubbed “the silicon savannah” building on the tremendous amount of digital innovation currently coming of Kenya.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 7.35.06 PM

Konza city fits in the smart city mould – “promising potential residents a technologised, data driven future, away from the seemingly chaotic (and unconnected) streets of other parts of the city are emerging and mirroring those well-known global hubs.

However this cannot solve the problem of slums in Nairobi. In developing countries such as Kenya where top-down utilities such as electricity, water and waste removal are unreliable or in some cases don’t exist there is an opportunity for localized solutions to emerge. This technological leapfrogging has created an opportunity for technological solutions to some of the problems they face. Empowering citizens to map their surroundings and impart their knowledge influences the government to make the changes in these environments.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 7.21.34 PM 

Using the mobile phone as a tool, citizens can map and their infrastructure, water and sanitation, to ensure that they receive the services they are entitled to.  It’s the kind of guarantee that never gets granted in this slum. Amazingly, people accepted. The water line was laid. It was as if in a place where no one has a legal right to anything and everything is claimed by force, the map provided some assurance — if not of actual ownership, then at least of a shared record of the past that allowed people to plan together for the future.


So what is the solution? Focus on the new opportunities or enhance and innovate on what is already there? A city like Nairobi has tremendous challenges – and perhaps it is the mixture between the traditional smart city and the power of innovation and technology in the slums where we can find the solution to dealing with urbanisation.



  1. Future State of Africa’s Cities –
  2. The State of African Cities: Re – imagining Sustainable Urban Transitions:
  3. Smart Cities: adapting concepts for the Global South:
  4. Konza city:
  5. In Kenya, using Tech to put an ‘Invisible slum’ on the map:
  6. The rise of Afro-Smart Cities should be viewed with caution:
  7. How Africa’s cities are using tomorrow’s technology:
  8. Increasing Urbanization and Smart Cities:


Shanghai Bund 1928�

Shanghai Bund 1928�

Shanghai, one of the largest cities in China with a total population around 24 million as of 2014[1], it is also the economic, financial and international trading center in East China. The city is located at the estuary of Yangtze River, with East China Sea to its east, Hangzhou Bay to its south, Jiangsu and Zhejiang Province to its west.

Due to the favorable port location of Shanghai, it was opened to foreign trade in the First Opium War (1839-1842) following British’s victory over China, and the subsequent Treaty of Nanking and Treaty of Whampoa allowed the establishment of the Shanghai International Settlement and the French Concession. Since then on, Shanghai transited from a typical oriental city with city walls and wooden buildings to one that blends of eastern and western, modern and traditional.

It was until 1949, the People’s Liberation Army took back the city from Japanese, Shanghai was then listed as one of the three municipalities under the new People’s Republic of China, which also brought the city into a reconstruction era.

1. The Reconstruction Stages 

The reconstruction of old housing seems to be an eternal theme of Shanghai, since its liberation until now, the city has gone through several different stages:


Small-scale improvements on old housing only, which was not systemically and was interrupted several times due to political issues such as “ Culture Revolution”.[2]


1978 is the year when economic reform started, Chinese government introduced marketing principles to boost the plan economy, what came along was the marketization of real estate that contributing to a large-scale of reconstruction on old housing. [3]


During this period, the municipal government demolished and reconstructed 5 million m2 of ramshackle housing and huts. [4]


The reconstruction before 2005 focused on removing the old housing in old style Lilong areas, especially the grade two old style lilong and those houses without modern sanitation facilities. The total area removed was more than 20 millions m2 with an estimated yearly demolition as 5.13million m2.[5]

The entire reconstruction process actually has been slowing down because of the hiked real estate price since 2003, [6] however with the goal of developing Shanghai into a more suitable city to live in, the reconstruction process is still an on going item on the municipal government’s agenda.

Housing Removed in Shanghai Source: Shanghai Statistics Bureau, 2007

Housing Removed in Shanghai Source: Shanghai Statistics Bureau, 2007


2. The Reconstruction Approaches

Throughout the past decades of reconstruction history, there were mainly three approaches that Shanghai municipal government adopted:


Xintiandi Source:

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 03.55.43

Huileli to Raffles City @哆啦A梦_88



Old French Concession @Benchen518

Old French Concession @Benchen518

What you see next is a typical picture of Shanghai downtown area, where high-rise buildings surrounding a nearly century-old Shikumen. However, with the reconstruction going on for almost 70 years, this kind of Shikumen housing is also gradually disappearing from this city horizon. Fortunately, the government also starts to realize there is a cultural discontinuity issue – that many of the new buildings hardly bear any culture inheritance, and quite a number of the demolished old housing should have been reserved. In its latest urban planning guideline, the government promoted three new principles to address this concern:

What remains clear to all is that there are more problems coming up during the city development process other than city cultural mosaic only, such as highly populated downtown, congested transportation, neighborhood communication and so forth. How to solve those problems, how to develop urban planning strategy, to achieve ” Better City, Better life” and to build a sustainable city should be an all-time challenge and require constant efforts from all of us.



[1] Shanghai Population (2014) Retrieved on Feb. 16, 2015 from

[2][6] Yang, HX (2007) One Of The Biggest Demolition In History- Shanghai, (In Chinese) Retrieved on Jan. 25, 2015 from

[3][4][5] Zhu, Lh & Qian, Z (2003) Urban Slam Report: The Case of Shanghai, China Retrieved on Feb. 15, 2015 from

[7] Shanghai Tongji Urban Planning & Design Institute, Old Housing Reconstruction Challenges Retrieved on Jan. 25, 2015 from


Public bicycle scheme: Madrid and Buenos Aires jump on the bandwagon of environmental-friendly cities

Transport is a key enabler of economic activity and social connectivity. While providing essential services to society, transport is also an important part of the economy and it is at the core of a number of major sustainability challenges, such as climate change, air quality, safety, energy, security and efficiency in the use of resources (EC 2011: Transport White Paper) [1].

Motorized mobility, and especially the widespread use of private cars, significantly contribute to fossil fuel consumption. Not surprisingly, 75% of global oil is consumed in urban areas, especially in the metropolis of western countries (Heinberg, 2006) [2].

The current urban model based on maximizing transport and the use of private cars has already clashed with the biophysical limits of the planet. Regional and National climate change policies, air pollution, premature deaths due to car accidents, among others, are many of the challenges that city councils are facing. On top of it, the use of private cars has failed to fulfill the promise to facilitate an easy and quickly urban travel.

Many cities around the world are aware of the aforementioned challenges and the need to recover a human scale city, returning to the idea of neighborhoods, proximity and thus creating closeness. These cities have been fostering walking and cycling for many decades, while restricting motorized mobility.

Following the track of the most environmental-friendly cities, Buenos Aires and Madrid are two of the latest capitals to boost the bike by launching in 2010 and 2014, respectively, a public bicycle scheme that include, among others, the creation of bike lanes, public bikes distributed around the city and incentives to promote bicycle-buying.

The main characteristics of the incorporation of public bikes both in Buenos Aires and Madrid are as follows:

tabla 3

At first, in both cities this was unpopular, especially among car drivers, mainly because bikes were seen solely as tools for exercise and leisure. However, public opinion seems to be warming the idea, partly because cycling is a quicker way to get about the capitals. In order to have a better understanding of the impacts of the bicycle scheme both in Buenos Aires and Madrid, below we discuss further some of the key elements of its implementation.

Ecobici in Buenos Aires

As “porteñas” as tango, 4 years after implementation the public yellow bicycles have become part of the urban landscape. In a city dominated by buses and taxis, cyclist have seen their efforts rewarded after years claiming for a space in the public transportation system. From 3 docking stations, 72 bicycles and 100 trips per day in 2010 to 32 docking stations, 1.000 bikes and over 95.000 registered users in 2014.

This, in part, justify the ambitious future plan prepared by the city council: to expand the system to 200 stations with at least 3.000 bicycles and a new hybrid system where manual and automatic stations coexist to provide a better user experience, improve real time information while reducing waiting times at stations.

What makes Ecobici successful? The government of Buenos Aires believes it is mostly due to the absence of tariffs and docking stations assisted by employees whom receive users and guarantee the return of the bicycles. However, it is worth mentioning other incentives that made the bicycle system attractive:

Based on the above, evidence suggests that Ecobici has arrived to stay.

BiciMAD in Madrid

Although the public transportation system of Madrid is among the best in the world, the challenge lies in seeking future transfer of travelers from private car to non-motorized transport. In this sense, the city of Madrid inaugurated BiciMAD in June 2014, a public bicycle system in which each of its 1,580 bicycles is electrical, distributed in 123 docking stations, covering approximately 30 hectares in the city center. A future enlargement is expected in 2015 by incorporating 400 bicycles and 35 additional docking stations in the districts of Chamberi and Tetuan, located in the north of the Spanish capital.

The electrical nature of the bicycles is a crucial factor in favor of BiciMAD as it makes it more attractive to users by allowing greater flexibility in the traffic lights and crossings, as well as a way to overcome the slopes within the city. On the other hand, the absence of protected bike lanes and the complex tariff system created some uncertainty around the feasibility of its implementation and acceptance among users. In practice, the absence of segregated bike lanes has caused cyclist to circulate in shared lanes with cars where the maximum speed has been reduced to 30 km/h. The overall impact is positive as the traffic flow and the circulation speed were reduced, causing less congestion. The fact that bicycles are electrical and can reach higher speeds has facilitated its integration between cars. In connection with the tariff system, although a payment is required to use BiciMAD, it is particularly cheap for madrileños (not so for tourist and occasional visitors as tariffs differ) and allows large amount of savings on gas, parking, and time spent on traffic jams which discourage motorized transport, especially the private car. As a result, the premise that the payment system was a weakness has not been met. Low prices has encouraged users and attracted new people to cycling.


Ecobici has helped Buenos Aires to obtain the 2014 Sustainable Transport Award. The city received this international honor for improvements to urban mobility, reducing CO2 emissions and improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

In the case of Madrid, the number of users of BiciMAD has significantly increased since implementation, encouraging the use of private bicycles and creating a positive impact on traffic jams. An initial enlargement is already approved for 2015, and future enlargements are likely to occur until the scheme covers the totality of Madrid inside M-30, subject to demand.

Regardless the model of implementation, the truth is that every city adapts cycling according to its needs and characteristics. The key is to adopt a more sustainable mobility approach and both Buenos Aires and Madrid are in the right path to success.


[1] European Commission (2011). White Paper on transport: roadmap to a single European transport area – towards a competitive and resource-efficient transport system. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2011.

[2] Heinberg, R.: Se acabó la fiesta. Guerra y colapso económico en el umbral del fin de la Era del Petróleo. Barrabes Editorial, 2006.

[3] Censo 2010, Indec.

Morales Carvallo, L., Leon, P., Ramis, I., Bravo, P. (2014). BiciMAD y el auge de la bicicleta en Madrid. Congreso Nacional del Medio Ambiente 2014.

Gartner, A. (2013). El sistema mas humano de biciletas compartidas esta en Buenos Aires. Grupo del Banco Mundial.

Ecobici website

BiciMAD website


Tell me where you live and I’ll tell you who you are.

The life in a city involves different forms of lifestyle for the people to live there[1].  All the cities have different space characteristic among them that people feels as they move. So the physical characteristics of a city, like the transport structure or the distribution of space, can tell a lot about citizens’ style of life. Nicholas Wolterstroff wrote in his book, “Until Justice and Peace Embrace”, that the differences between the style of life in The Netherlands and in America is part because they life in different kinds of cities. In some way, the suburbs in America have characterized their life style in the same way that the flats in Dutch cities characterize their way of living[2].

Therefore, the relation between cities and citizens is more complex than the environment where people performance their activities. The spatial characteristics of a city define that lifestyle, “making some activities attractive and convenient, and rendering other almost impossible to perform”.

But, can the relation between the spatial characteristic of a city and the citizens live style be applied also inside the city? There are some studies that relate the neighborhood morphology to the consumption of energy due to the local microclimate as a result of the structure of the neighborhood[3]. And how deeply can the physical characteristics of a neighborhood affect the life style of the people?

Although this relation is very dependent on the communication between the different neighborhood and the cities and how “isolated” they are, there are some examples of how the lifestyle of a neighborhood change due to its morphology. One of these examples is the case of Villa de Vallecas and el Ensanche de Vallecas, both of them neighborhoods in the southeast of Madrid.

Villa de Vallecas was an independent town in the outskirt of Madrid until 1950 when it became part of the city. As a result, it has the traditional morphology of the old Castilian towns. In the 90s the construction of the new neighborhood, Ensanche de Vallecas, started as a result of the expantion of the city of Madrid. Although it still on building, it was planned to have more than 28000 houses in more than 7 millions square meters (Picture 1).

mapa ubicación

Picture 1: Villa de Vallecas and Ensanche de Vallecas neighborhood shape

The organization, and as a result the physical characteristic, of both neighborhood is very different. On one hand, El Ensanche de Vallecas is organized in huge block of flats around a private courtyard. It has also a huge commercial area with a mall (Centro Comercial la Gavia) so there aren’t commercial ground floors and it is divided by big avenues that connect the different part of the neighborhood (Picture 2)


Picture 2: Physical characteristics of El Ensanche de Vallecas

On the other hand, Villa de Vallecas is organized by small flats with commercial ground floors and narrow streets. It also has one big avenue that crosses the neighborhood and two traditional markets (Picture 3)


Picture 3: Physical Characteristics of Villa de Vallecas

These differences in the physical characteristic of both neighborhoods are determent the life style of the neighbors. The difficult mobility by car in Villa de Vallecas and the sprawl commercial make people move around the neighborhood walking or by bus meanwhile the big avenues and the concentrated commercial areas make easy for the people who life in el Ensanche moving by car. More pronounced due to the M-45 that dived el Ensanche in two side working as a barrier (Picture 4).


Picture 4: M-45. Ensanche de Vallecas

Also, the organization of the houses has also a big influence in neighbors’ style of life. In Villa de Vallecas most of the people spend their leisure time outside in bars and parks because of the small flats without common areas inside.

Regarding the differences in morphology and lifestyle in the two neighborhoods we can conclude that one factor that influences the lifestyle of the citizens is the shape and physical characteristic of the neighborhoods. So is an important issue to take into account in the urban planning of a city in order to meet their goals of development of all cities.

[1] Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue. Transportation and the Urban Form (
[2] Wolterstorff, N.(1983) Until Justice and Peace Embrace. A City of Delight (chapter 6, p. 124-140) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing .
[3] Chiria,G. and Ilaria Giovagnorio,I. (2012). The Role of the City’s Shape in Urban Sustainability. International Transaction Journal of Engineering, Management, & Applied Sciences & Technologies (


Water Scarcity – The Main Causes

Do you live in a country where enough freshwater is available? Than, you are quite blessed!

Today, there are already 700 million people in 43 countries that live without a safe and clean water supply (see the picture below). Moreover, according to the UN Water, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries with absolute water scarcity and two thirds of the world population could be under deficient water conditions – these facts are owed to climate change and increasing demand.

Source: World Water Development Report 4. World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), March 2012.

So far, the use of water has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. Although water covers 70% of the planet, a raising number of regions are chronically suffering under water scarcity due to the fact, that only 3% of the planet’s water is fresh water.

As stated by the Living Planet Report 2014 (LPR 2014) of WWF, water, next to food and energy, is one of the natural resources that are essential for human existence. Water is elementary, since it is needed for the production of food and energy.

What are the main causes for the water scarcity?

ethiopia-tap-water_150_600x450Water pollution is one of the main causes. There are many sources, for example pesticides and fertilizers that wash away from human waste or industrial waste and pollute the ground water. Some effects are immediate, when harmful bacteria from human waste contaminate water and others like toxic substances from industrial processes, may take a few years until they effect the environment. This process makes the water unusable.

Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s accessible freshwater, however approximately 60% of the used water is wasted. This is due to absorbent irrigation systems, inefficient application methods as well as a growing cultivation of crops. This insufficient use of water is drying out rivers, lakes and underground aquifers. Especially countries that produce large amounts of food—like India, China, Australia or the United States— are close to reaching their water resource limits or have already reached it. Nevertheless, water is essential for watering the crops to be able to provide food for the fast growing population.

Population growth is another main cause. The population growth already occurred and will continue at an unpredictable rate. As stated by the LPR 2014, around 200 river basins, home to 2.67 billion people, already experience water scarcity. That way, anxiety about water availability grows as freshwater use continues at unsustainable levels. Furthermore, this future population does not just need freshwater itself but also food and energy and these – as mentioned above – require water for the production.

drought-150This water scarcity will have negative impacts on the global public health, the number of people suffering hunger and the development of the population. Moreover, it will lead to a disappearing of wetlands, which are essential for animals, plants as well as the agriculture. Despite these impacts, ecosystems will be in danger because natural landscapes can dry out, change or be polluted. Additionally, economies can decline without enough water.


To sum up, the natural resource “water” – especially freshwater – is already scarce caused by water pollution, agriculture and population growth. Even though some countries are not effected yet, everyone should be alarmed and be thoughtful when using any kind of water. It is clear that urgent action is needed if we are to avoid a global water crisis.