Cover

Should the Experiment City Be Revived?

I find it fascinating how the writings and sketches of visionaries like Le Corbusier, Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Clarence Perry, to name a few, have influenced the development of cities around the world. I think that is the reason I was drawn to planning and engineering: I love how visions and ideas become tangible.

In late February, I had the opportunity to watch Chad Freidrich’s documentary “The Experimental City.” The film is about the Minnesota Experimental City (MXC): a planned domed futuristic city for 250,000 residents to be placed in the isolated woods of Swatara, Minnesota. Envisioned by Athelstan Spilhaus, a scientist and futurist comic strip writer, the purpose of this experimental project was to tackle the problems affecting urban centers in the 1960s (and today): pollution, segregation, sprawl, and aging infrastructure. The city was supposed to pilot the latest technologies in communications, transit, pollution control, and energy supply, learn from the mistakes, and ultimately, provide solutions to create more livable cities for the 21st Century.

“Our New Age” Comic (1966) by Athelstan Spilhaus. Climate change was identified as a future problem by  Athelstan Spilhaus' "Our New Age" comic. Source: Archdaily

“Our New Age” Comic (1966) by Athelstan Spilhaus. Climate change was identified as a future problem by Athelstan Spilhaus’ “Our New Age” comic.
Source: Archdaily

Things did not quite go as planned despite the support from public and private stakeholders (spoiler alert!). To Spilhaus and his backers’ surprise, the community of Swatara and many environmental groups, like the Izaak Walton League, rallied against the project. MXC was seen as a source of pollution; not a way to tackle it. As such, Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency did not grant a permit and the project ran out of funding. MXC became a thing of the past.

However, after watching the movie, I wonder: should MXC be revived? Personally, I do not like the idea of having a domed, segregated city placed in a pristine environment. I do believe that these unspoiled areas should be conserved for the public’s enjoyment. However, I like the idea of establishing pilot cities in previously impacted areas, such as brownfield sites, to evaluate the effects of new technologies at a faster rate.  This will not be an easy task. It will require strong public-private partnership and community support as well as regulatory oversight.

We are faced with many challenges, such as the effects of climate change and aging infrastructure, which require the development of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles. Pilot cities may promote the proper advancement of technologies and its consequences at a faster pace. There is always a risk in experimentation. However, trial-and-error is how humankind has advanced over the years.

Jimena Larson is an environmental engineer and urban planner from Bogota, Colombia interested in water, infrastructure, and urban design challenges

LAGI Willimantic_Presentation (1)

Imagining Art for a Site in Willimantic, CT

I love public art, especially art that is functionally integrated into infrastructure. I believe that public art has the capacity to activate public spaces, generate conversations, and educate the community.

During the past months, I have had the amazing and unique opportunity of using my engineering and urban planning skills and combine them with my love for public art. In December 2017, our team -composed of Höweler+Yoon Architecture, Gray Organschi, PUSH Studio, and Nspiregreen- was selected to be one of the three groups to participate in the final round of the Land Art Generation Initiative (LAGI) Competition. The purpose of this competition is to imagine, create, and develop an art piece for a specific site that captures energy from nature and cleanly converts it into electricity. This artwork should also be constructible, use market-available technologies, and respect the natural ecosystem of the design site.

Our specific challenge was to envision a public art piece for a parcel in Willimantic, Connecticut, located 30 miles southeast from Hartford. Willimantic is commonly known as the Thread City given its history with threading manufacturing in the 19th Century. In fact, the old Smithville Cotton Mill used to be located on the property and used hydropower as its source of energy. Today, Willimantic has a vibrant cultural scene and is home to Eastern Connecticut State University.

The 3.4-acre triangular site is a blank canvas as seen in the following pictures. The parcel is located beside the downtown area, just a few minutes from the town’s commercial area. The site is owned by the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership and was recently remediated for the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons. In addition, the site grading provides beautiful views of City Hall and the rapids of the Willimantic River. The site also includes a stretch of the river, a deteriorated dam (installed when the site used hydropower), and a retaining wall.

lagi

View from south side of the site towards City Hall (left) and view of amphitheater, river, and change in grading (right). (Picture owned by Gray Organschi)

After doing research, visiting the site, having a series of internal discussions, and talking with the community, we developed Eddy Line (an eddy line is the shear plane between two directions of water). As seen in the following pictures, our proposed design is a vertical structure, visible from many areas of town, that captures the water currents seen in the river, as well as the movements of threads in historic textile processes, while harkening back to the smokestacks of old textile factories. On the south side of the structure, a 1,250 square feet array of flexible thin-film solar panels capable of generating 94 MWh of energy annually is being proposed. Some of this energy will be used to power LED panels at the back of the structure which will change in color, allowing the community to know how much power has been generated. In the addition to the public art piece, our team is proposing an overlook and an amphitheater. With this design, we hope to transform this blank space into a place for the community of Willimantic to enjoy, create recreational and economic development opportunities, and trigger conversations around renewable energy, especially solar.

The winner of the competition will be officially announced on April 24 (here is a link to all three proposals). It would be amazing to continue seeing this vision come to reality. Regardless of the results, this has been a unique opportunity personally and professionally. In addition, it makes me happy that towns are embracing public art and their cultural heritage for placemaking, economic development, and building community.

Jimena Larson is an environmental engineer and urban planner from Bogota, Colombia interested in water, infrastructure, and urban design challenges.

2

Do You Know How Smart Our City Is Becoming?

Washington, D.C. is full of smart technologies, some of which you know about (apps such as Uber, Lyft, Google Maps, Bikeshare, etc.) and others you probably don’t. This past summer, I attended an event called Smart City Symposium- “Solutions for Business Growth and Economic Development” (include a small exhibition) in downtown D.C., hosted by the DC Chamber of Commerce and Verizon.

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 3.46.47 PM

https://twitter.com/vorangedc         @VOrangeDC

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 3.47.35 PM

https://twitter.com/dcchamber        @dcchamber

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer shared some of the technologies the city is already using. Further information on this can be found on their website.

2

https://www.civil.iitb.ac.in/cea/aakaar/archives/sources/theme1.jpg

But “5G Technology” was the key word through the whole event. For people who don’t know about 5G, it is basically 4G with user data. For example, Google will detect the amount of traffic by counting how many people are using their map at a specific location, same as they are tracking the restaurant rush hour by counting how many people are searching for it online.

1

http://www.3glteinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/5g-use-cases.jpg

Verizon is working to engage 5G technology in the D.C. area to make people’s lives more convenient. Here are some of the great products they demonstrated:

  1. Smart trash can

I was really impressed by this new trash can. They look like unimpressive boxes, but can fit four times more than a regular trash can. The smart part is that it can sense how full the trash bin is in real time and send a signal that it needs to be emptied, allowing garbage crews to come only as needed instead of on a set schedule, emptying bins that are not yet full. It can save time, resources, and energy emissions.

3

https://www.bioenabletech.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Smart_Bins_Smart_City.png

4

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8d/b0/9c/8db09cac712bb3fffe2485239a6c0b04.gif

2. Home clinic

Home clinics are long-distance personal doctors. A doctor can talk with patients over video chat and then send devices the patient can use to measure their own vitals, such as blood pressure or blood sugar. After they know the patient’s health information, they can provide suggestions and prescribe medication. This will save patients time and money by allowing them to skip a trip to the doctor’s office if they have only minor symptoms and don’t need to go to hospital. The same methods can be used for other doctors, such as psychologists.

5

https://www.phoneworld.com.pk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Click-to-Visit-Pakistans-First-Tele-Health-Clinic-Sehatyab.jpg

3. Agriculture drone

Agriculture uses more natural resources and has a greater carbon footprint than almost any other sector. Agricultural drones, however, will change the way crops are produced. Drones will gather information throughout the day on weather conditions like temperature, moisture, and wind. As more information is collected, the system will analyze the data and tell other devices how much water different crops need, if a certain action needs to be taken, and so on. This will significantly reduce resource waste and improve production.

drone

4. Smart car

This program is similar to Zipcar, but it’s currently only implemented on some university campuses. It works like Car2go, where the customer can use the app to track where there has an available car. However, Verizon is still testing this technology so I do not have too much information about it.

smart-car-1

https://s.hswstatic.com/gif/smart-car-1.jpg

From what I can see, 5G technology will save people time and help make life easier and more convenient. One of the downsides, however, is that I feel less secure because our personal information is publicized and stored on the internet. The internet will have information on where we are, what we are doing, and what we are talking about. I am excited about how the world is becoming more and more advanced, but I also want to be reassured that our information can be private. This is something people should keep in mind as these types of technologies become more prominent.

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





BEGIN NOW

TELL US ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING PROJECT!



We would love to help you with your sustainability goals.
GET STARTED