In an excellent NYT story, Sarah Lyall reports on "lights-out London" -- the phenomenon whereby ultra-wealthy foreigners (often from corrupt plutocracies like Kazakhstan and Russia) are buying up whole neighbourhoods in London, driving up house-prices beyond the reach of locals, and then treating their houses as holiday homes. They stay for a couple weeks once or twice a year, leaving whole neighbourhoods vacant and shuttered through most of the year, which kills the local businesses and turns central London into something of a ghost town.
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“Some of the richest people in the world are buying property here as an investment,” [Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour opposition in Westminster Council] said. “They may live here for a fortnight in the summer, but for the rest of the year they’re contributing nothing to the local economy. The specter of new buildings where there are no lights on is a real problem...”
Meanwhile, prices are rising beyond expectation. For single-family housing in the prime areas of London, British buyers spend an average of $2.25 million, Ms. Barnes said, while foreign buyers spend an average of $3.75 million, which increases to $7.5 million if they are from Russia or the Middle East...
The most visible, and also the most notorious, of the new developments is One Hyde Park, a $1.7 billion apartment building of stratospheric opulence on a prime corner in Knightsbridge, near Harvey Nichols, the park and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which functions as a 24-hour concierge service for residents. Apartments there have been purchased mostly by foreign buyers who hide their identities behind murky offshore companies registered to tax havens like the Isle of Man and the Cayman Islands.
John Robb wants us to stop landscaping our lawns, and start foodscaping them -- growing food for our families. And he thinks the way to jumpstart it is for farmers to make house-calls. I love this idea, but don't think I could participate in it: when we applied to Hackney Council in London for permission to add a greenhouse frame to our balcony they rejected it because it would "interrupt the vertical rhythm" of our building. As far as I can tell, "vertical rhythm" is an imaginary aesthetic quality that is more important than real food.
Of course, since most people in the developed world don’t know how to grow food anymore and many of the methods and tools used to grow high quality food are still being developed, we are going to need to some help.
One great way to do that is to join a local foodscaping program.
This type of program is like a food subscription at a CSA. However, in this program, the farmer comes to you. He/she converts your yard into a high performance garden and teaches you how to garden it successfully.
I think that if we are smart, we’ll be spending more money on foodscaping in ten years than landscaping. If so, good food will be available everywhere.
What if Farmers made House Calls? Read the rest
The Camden Council in London removed many public benches, apparently in an effort to chase out vagrants. A group of Guerrilla Benchers were offended by this, and responded by reinstalling their own benches on the sites of the old street furniture.
Camden council in London decided to remove several public benches, for the benefit of the public last year. Along with a scheme to convert all bus stops to be fitted with un-usable benches. The basic plan seems to be to move on undesirables and homeless people away as they don't fit in with the aesthetics of the area. Rather than addressing these problems they have taken the usual tactic of moving them on and hoping that someone else will deal with them...
...Due to the colossal and inorganised nature of local councils, and their cunning disguises the guerrilla benchers were not approached or questioned by anyone as they installed the benches.
Unfortunately however the drills ran out of batteries just after the first bench had been installed. In true workman style it was obviously time for a fry-up breakfast and cup of tea whilst the batteries re-charged.
(via Beyond the Beyond) Read the rest
Step 1, naturally, is to be in Manhattan.
I'm in New York City today and Scientific American contributing editor Steven Ashley was kind enough to reminded me that my visit is coinciding with Manhattanhenge—a twice-a-year event when the sun lines up with Manhattan's street grid. This year, there will be a Manhattanhenge on May 29/30 and another on July 11/12.
You'll note that Manhattanhenge does not actually occur on the same day as the solstice—when the Sun is at the highest point in the sky and the length of the day begins to get either longer (winter solstice) or shorter (summer solstice). That's because Manhattan's grid is rotated 30 degrees east off of true north, writes Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Hayden Planetarium website. That's enough to make Manhattanhenge less astronomically accurate than Stonehenge. But it's still awfully nifty and is supposed to look really, really cool.
Tonight's event should start around 8:17 pm (Eastern time, of course). Here's Neil deGrasse Tyson's advice on getting a good view:
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For best effect, position yourself as far east in Manhattan as possible. But ensure that when you look west across the avenues you can still see New Jersey. Clear cross streets include 14th, 23rd, 34th. 42nd, 57th, and several streets adjacent to them. The Empire State building and the Chrysler building render 34th street and 42nd streets especially striking vistas.
Note that any city crossed by a rectangular grid can identify days where the setting Sun aligns with their streets. But a closer look at such cities around the world shows them to be less than ideal for this purpose.
An architect named Michael Green believes he can make wooden skyscrapers that stand 100 storeys tall, and he's prototyping the idea with a 30-storey wooden building in Vancouver. More wooden high-rises are planned in Austria and Norway. Green uses laminated strand lumber, a glue/wood composite, and has char buffers to give it good safety in fires. He claims that his buildings can be cheaper than comparable structures made from traditional steel and concrete, and will have a smaller carbon footprint.
Wood buildings lock in carbon dioxide for the life cycle of a structure, while the manufacture of steel and concrete produces large amounts of CO2 -- the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimate that for every 10 kilos of cement created, six to nine kilos of CO2 are produced.
Green's "Tallwood" structure is designed with large panels of laminated strand lumber -- a composite made of strands of wood glued together. Other mass timber products use layers of wood fused together at right angels that making they immensely strong and able to be used as lode bearing infrastructure, walls and floors.
Despite being made of wood any worries about towering infernos should be banished, says Green, as large timber performs well in fires with a layer of char insulating the structural wood beneath.
"It may sound counter-intuitive, but performing well in a fire is something inherent in large piece of wood, that's why in forest fires the trees that survive are the largest ones," he says.
Can wooden skyscrapers transform concrete jungles? Read the rest
A press-release from MIT Press describes ReThinking a Lot, a fascinating-sounding book by MIT landscape architecture and urban design prof Eran Ben-Joseph. Ben-Joseph is obsessed with the odd role that parking and parking lots play in our urban landscapes, and ReThinking a Lot looks at the weird world of American parking, where the available non-residential parking spots cover a landmass the size of Puerto Rico, often sitting on prime real-estate in the middle of cities. Ben-Joseph asks 'Have you seen a great parking lot lately?' and recounts a few not-terrible examples of the species, and sets out some general principles for better parking.
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In some places, to be sure, this problem has lessened, particularly with the urban revival in many cities during the last couple of decades. “You look at aerial photography of the downtowns of U.S. cities in the 1950s and 1960s, you’ll be amazed at how many surface parking lots there were,” Ben-Joseph says.
But the parking lot problem is also a suburban issue, not just an urban one. Many huge suburban parking lots are built to accommodate a maximum capacity of cars that is only rarely needed. The largest mall near you probably has a parking lot that only approaches capacity during the holiday season; football stadiums have massive parking lots that may only be used 10 times per year.
Apart from everything else, these parking lots can create multiple environmental problems: More asphalt creates more heat, and leads to faster water runoff — which means plants might not have the chance to extract pollutants from water, as they often do in creeks and streams.
There are too many malls in America, and too many vacancies in them. So city planners are looking for other ways to use all that square-footage. The New York Times has a neat story about some of the different ways derelict shopping malls are being repurposed: As deconstructed residential/retail centers catering to desires for a more "Main Street" environment; as churches and city government offices; and even as community gardens. (Via Dennis Dimick) Read the rest
A UK project called Ekinoid aims to produce free/open plans for spherical houses that perch on poles seven feet off the ground. The goal is a house that can be built in a week.
Ekinoid homes will be designed to be as easy as is pratically possible to fabricate (ideally using no expert knowledge or skills), house a family of three/four, and will take under one week to build. Ideally, the main structure should last over 100 years (and then be recycled).
Build each town using unskilled labour.
All parts of an Ekinoid home will be designed to suit the local climate and terrain, and will be delivered on-site for fabrication. We think one crane (possibly two) and a team of approximately four people (one skilled, three unskilled) would be adequate for the one-week construction of each house; and after, these newly-skilled people (the new owners) might then help to build more Ekinoid homes, and train new owners. This training would, in principle, work exponentially and would therefore service the whole new community in a very short time.
All the land under the houses would remain useful and accessible.
The Ekinoid Project: 2012
(via IO9) Read the rest
Writing in the LA Magazine, Dave Gardetta visits the thinking of the world's top parking theorists, who believe that parking causes people to go insane: "I truly believe that when men and women think about parking, their mental capacity reverts to the reptilian cortex of the brain. How to get food, ritual display, territorial dominance—all these things are part of parking, and we’ve assigned it to the most primitive part of the brain that makes snap fight-or-flight decisions. Our mental capacities just bottom out when we talk about parking."
The whole feature is fascinating, tracing the grim history of urban parking, where neighborhoods were blighted and jobs and businesses destroyed in the rush to add places for cars; up to recent political wrangles over parking in southern California's car-centric metro areas.
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Shoup can often be found dallying around parking meters and brings a camera to photograph illegally parked cars. Not long ago you could have spotted Shoup clicking on the corner of Pico and Fairfax, where the city had quadrupled its meter rates. (“Rates had gone too high there—sometimes there wasn’t a car on the street.”) In Westwood Village Shoup once rode the Raleigh back and forth for weeks tailing cars. He discovered that the average driver had to circle the block two and a half times before locating an open metered space. Westwood became a model for Shoup; the “cruising” he observed there occurs wherever drivers seek out inexpensive metered space to avoid pricier garages and lots. (A similar study in Manhattan in 1995 revealed that New Yorkers spent 11 minutes on average searching for a space.) In a year’s time in Westwood, space hunting by drivers consumed an extra 47,000 gallons of gas.
The whole town ("kit and kaboodle!") of Scenic, South Dakota is up for sale, for the asking price of USD800,000. Dave Olsen, a local realtor, has put the town up for sale, including its two jails (one still fit for use!), train depot, museum, dance hall, saloon and bunkhouse. Also, there's DSL.
46-Acres (approximately 12 acres in town-lots & 34 acres surrounding) U.S Post Office Land Lease…..Longhorn Fuel & Food Convenience Store, World Famous Longhorn Saloon, Very Large Dance Hall with basketball court, Large Museum with knotty pine interiors, Bunkhouse sleeps 8-10, 2 freestanding Retail Stores, Historic Train Depot, One Working Jail, One Abandoned Historic Jail, Many Out-Buildings, Residence Home, Residence Modular Home.
Township of Scenic, SD
Volunteer Fire Department
Scenic Water Department (Rural Water System)
Fees: $15/mo Water for home, hydrant , store, hookup
$ 6/mo Sewer for home, store, hookup (sewer is piped to a lagoon located on the north side of town)
Township Sewer & Water
Golden West (Electricity, Telephone & DSL)
Buy Scenic SD
Got $799,000? You could buy a town in South Dakota (CNN) Read the rest