How design is responding to wellness trends

Rising consumer demand for health-focused services means that the design infrastructure must adapt accordingly, as demonstrated by Space Popular for Infinity Spa.

Houston Attaches Community Benefit Strings to Public Subsidies

Houston City Hall. (Photo by Ed Schipul)

Last summer, the Texas Organizing Project issued a report card for the City of Houston’s economic development programs, and found what school teachers often euphemistically call “room for improvement.”

Basically, the city was failing miserably at the task of making these programs work for the public, the group said. It gave failing grades in six “subjects,” from job creation to setting and achieving equity goals to workforce development and community engagement. The city’s programs performed slightly better in a seventh subject; the group gave them a “D” for transparency. The report card was part of a larger report called Tax Breaks for What?, which sought to assess the city’s tax abatements and development grants, explore their return on investment, and discuss policies that could improve the situation.

“From a community-based perspective, we argue that if economic development tax breaks are not addressing a community need in the service of advancing equity, then they deserve to be called out for what they really are—a windfall for the private sector and a drain on our city’s cash-strapped budget,” the report said.

Now, Texas Organizing Project and other advocates are celebrating the first fruits of their labor. Last week, Houston’s city council voted 13-2 to raise its standards for development projects that receive money from the city.

Under the new guidelines, applicants for tax abatements will be required to commit to providing community benefits in at least one of eight areas: local job recruitment, public improvements, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), affordable or workforce housing, job training, participation in re-entry programs, or paid internships for low-income students. In addition, all applicants would be required to meet six other criteria, including making good faith efforts to hire from low-income communities and advertising jobs in the city’s Community Re-Entry Network Program.

Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, says that a coalition of advocacy groups began pushing for more effective and beneficial tax abatement programs and other economic justice initiatives in Houston during the last mayoral election, in 2015. The group endorsed Democrat Sylvester Turner, who ended up winning in a runoff. (Though the Texas Organizing Project is a statewide group, it focuses on city issues.)

“Because we live in the state of Texas, so much of our work is focused on moving the needle at the local level,” Tremillo says.

The group focuses on two things: organizing campaigns around criminal justice, immigration, healthcare and other issues, and supporting elected officials who it believes will move adopt their causes.

“Increasingly, we are able to make progress on our economic and racial justice agenda, so we keep doing those things,” Tremillo says.

More cities are reassessing the ways they incentivize private development, with an eye toward extracting more public benefit in the process. In 2016, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority began requiring developers to outline the “social impact” of their proposals when responding to RFPs for publicly owned land. Detroit began including community benefits provisions in negotiations over big projects in 2015, as Next City reported. Minneapolis is considering requiring an affordable housing component in projects that take advantage of tax increment financing. And the principle behind the proliferation of inclusionary zoning is much the same: If developers are going to receive public financial support, they should provide clear, enforceable benefits for the communities they’re building in.

In Houston, a task force on equity issues appointed by Mayor Turner cited the Texas Organizing Project’s report card in a report that recommended, among other things, wage requirements, local hiring, and apprenticeship programs for companies that receive tax abatements or other subsidies. It also recommended strong reporting requirements and compliance measures for subsidized projects.

The mayor’s development office says that abatement agreements will be monitored for compliance and subject to yearly audits by city staff. The ordinance allows the city to back out of abatements if companies don’t live up to their commitments and recover funds that it has paid out, the city says.

Workers Defense Project, a membership-based group that supports better conditions for low-wage workers in Texas cities, was hoping that the mayor and city council would support a stronger set of regulations. Specifically, says Sasha Legette, the business liaison for Workers Defense Project’s Better Builder program, the regulations should mandate higher wages, workers’ compensation, and better monitoring of worksite safety conditions.

“I’ll say this,” Legette says. “I think we’re pleased that Mayor Turner is willing to take a step in the right direction, and we’re hopeful to continue the conversation, but we definitely intend to push forward for additional standards. We’re happy to see the shift, but we still have so much further to go.”


british pavilion at the venice biennale features a rooftop piazza and no exhibitions

the elevated public space is accessed via a scaffold staircase that runs the length of the building.

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New York City Debuts Regional Mapping Tool

The NYC Department of Planning's new tool includes this map showing new housing units permitted from 2010-2016, revealing that new housing has been heavily centralized in the NYC region. While in line with population growth and shifts in the region trending toward the center, new housing production has not kept pace with population.

New York City’s planning department has launched a new mapping tool that harnesses population, housing and economic data and makes it available for exploring by the general public.

The Metro Region Explorer offers trending data on the city’s greater metropolitan region: the five boroughs, upstate New York and Long Island, as well as parts of New Jersey and Connecticut. Collectively, the region is home to 23 million people and the largest foreign-born population in the nation.

In a release, the city said that the Metro Region Explorer “will help New Yorkers understand the City’s relationships, including interdependencies, to areas outside our borders. It enables the public, planners and policy makers to examine the regional context for shared planning challenges. It is the only mapping resource that combines municipal population, housing and economic data across our region.”

The map doesn’t propose policy solutions, but the data it provides will be helpful for planning policy in the years ahead. “It is extremely important when planning for our individual municipalities that we look at the entire region,” Annisia Cialone, director of the Division of City Planning for Jersey City, said in a statement. “Key issues such as housing and affordable housing specifically, transportation, and economic development have impacts beyond our borders.”

The map tracks population density and in/out-migration, housing trends, and changes in the labor market since 2000. It uses all publicly available federal datasets “that have been processed and/or analyzed” by the Department of City Planning, according to the site. The app has data going back to the year 2000, but focuses on 2008-2017, the Gotham Gazette reports.

The population trends show that while New York’s suburbs have typically operated as a “relief valve” for the city’s housing supply, fewer people are leaving the city, which accounted for 60 percent of the region’s population growth since 2010, according to the map. All five boroughs have added jobs faster than they’ve added housing; the city added nearly half a million jobs post-recession. Meanwhile, suburbs such as those in New Jersey have more housing, but fewer jobs in some places.

“We don’t think that can continue forever,” Carolyn Grossman Meagher, director of regional planning at the DCP, told a business group Tuesday, according to the Gotham Gazette. “In other words, as a New Yorker, it is becoming less of an opportunity for me to avail myself to economic resources outside the city because the job growth just isn’t there.”

​In addition to shining a light on the need for additional housing in the city, the trends also underscore the importance of maintaining transportation infrastructure, both in and outside the city.

The regional planning division of the Department of City Planning was formed at the recommendation of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s OneNYC plan. One of the goals of the plan was for the city to think regionally. The city “has, and is dependent on, a regional ecosystem,” Grossman Meagher said.


What Science Says About Mexico City’s New Airport

A detail of a mock-up of the new Mexico City international airport is shown during the announcement of the design of the city’s new $9.2-billion airport, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. British architect Norman Foster and Mexican colleague Fernando Romero have had their design chosen for the new Mexico City airport that will cover nearly 11,400 acres of former lakebed adjacent to the present, over-crowded facility. It will have six runways and capacity to serve 120 million passengers per year when it is finished, Mexican authorities announced. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Fernando Córdova Tapia is an ecologist first and foremost. But as a Mexican scientist concerned about climate change and environmental justice, he doesn’t have the luxury of abstaining from political activism.

By day, Córdova is a faculty member at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Away from the office, he helps lead the nonpartisan Union of Scientists Committed to Society (UCCS for its initials in Spanish). There, he focuses on analyzing government-issued environmental impact studies and communicating their shortcomings to communities in the path of federal infrastructure projects. He says such reports are often politicized and unreliable.

“UCCS was born out of a need for scientists to become more engaged in public life,” Córdova says. “In Mexico, there’s this notion that scientists occupy their own social class isolated from the rest of society, but we have so much information that needs to get back to people.”

Córdova’s current focus is Mexico City’s massive new airport. In reviewing the government’s environmental impact study, he and his UCCS colleagues identified several factors that were omitted (they believe intentionally so) from its analysis. Despite the government’s claims to the contrary, they say the airport stands to exacerbate the city’s ongoing water crisis by inhibiting natural drainage and inducing an insatiable demand for drinking water. In response, UCCS has engaged in a long-term campaign to shift public opinion and force the cancellation of the project in its current form.

While the group has scored some notable victories since its founding in 2006, its effort to block the upcoming airport — a major tenet of outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto’s domestic legacy — is perhaps its starkest challenge yet.

Córdova’s concerns are rooted in Mexico City’s long and complicated history with water management.

Most of Mexico City sits atop the ancient Texcoco lakebed in a valley without much natural drainage. While its original inhabitants developed complex agricultural, transportation, and drainage systems that allowed them to live within their ecosystem’s natural limits, the conquering Spaniards had other ideas. They built dams and canals to divert water away from the basin, thereby allowing them to build on its spongy soil.

As a consequence, the Mexico City of 2018 is both severely dehydrated and struggling with devastating floods. The city’s massive concrete footprint prevents rainwater from refilling the aquifers beneath its residents’ feet. That, in turn, causes the city to sink deeper into the marshy lakebed, thereby lessening the effectiveness of its gravity-dependent drainage systems. The end result is a metropolitan region of more than 20 million residents in which drinking water is sparse while wastewater collects in the streets. According to UCCS’s analysis, the new airport will exacerbate both of these problems.

The political elite in favor of the project have largely ignored the scientists’ concerns. Mexico has long relied on an economic development strategy of luring foreign investment, which necessitates a competitive intercontinental airport. The city’s current airport, however, has been operating at capacity for about 20 years.

Having seen an opportunity to boost his country’s national economic indicators, Peña Nieto threw his weight behind a replacement airport in 2014. In his zeal to get the project done, his team chose to construct the new airport on federally-owned land atop 11,400 acres of low-lying Texcoco lakebed. The problem: that land is essential to the region’s natural drainage.

Mexico’s Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (known by its Spanish initials, SEMARNAT) was the agency responsible for evaluating the project’s environmental impact. Its handling of the process is what catalyzed action by nearby residents, and subsequently, Córdova and the UCCS, who were concerned by how quickly the project was approved. Peña Nieto first announced his intention to build the airport in September of 2014. By December of that same year, it had been formally given the go-ahead.

“They wanted to approve this massive project as quickly as possible,” Córdova says. “To do so, they buried people under a mountain of misleading information. They talked about how beautiful the airport would be, that it have certain sustainable features, that it would be a source of pride for Mexico. They tried to steer the public’s attention completely toward the design of the airport and away from deeper issues.”

Their ability to do so was aided by a lack of formal requirements for public engagement. Córdova says SEMARNAT used its environmental focus as a pretense to ignore feedback that sought to address cultural or economic dimensions of the project. SEMARNAT, like most federal agencies in Mexico, has broad legal authority to ignore public opinions it considers outside its realm of expertise.

“Imagine an indigenous community wanting to weigh in on a project,” Córdova says. “They’re handed a 1,500-page technical document and asked to respond to it. They’re obviously not being consulted in good faith.”

Fernando Córdova Tapia.

That is where UCCS comes in.

Having identified a number of shortcomings in both the government’s environmental analysis and public engagement processes, UCCS partnered with local organizations to equip nearby residents with scientific analysis and encouraged them to challenge the project through both administrative and legal channels. They also waged a coordinated media campaign to rally Mexicans in opposition to the airport.

América del Valle, a lifelong resident of the area near the new airport site and longtime local activist, said UCCS has become an important ally in her community’s resistance to the project.

“We feel very lucky to have support from scientists who are willing to align themselves with the people,” del Valle says. “The work they’ve done has given us a level of credibility.”

While it’s been an uphill battle, UCCS and its partners have managed to inform the national conversation about the airport’s viability and make it an issue in this year’s presidential election.

“In this election season, the Mexican media has used our findings to inform a critical perspective that’s free of conflicts of interest,” says Omar Arellano-Aguilar, another UCCS member.

Although the majority of candidates for the July 1 presidential election still support the project, they have been forced to defend their views in debates and in interviews with journalists. In March, the front-runner even announced his intention to halt the new airport, citing corruption as his main concern but also mentioning the lakebed issue, Reuters reported.

For Córdova, despite the airport construction moving forward, the campaign has made progress in the bigger picture. By equipping regular people with a scientific understanding of the issues at play, he believes UCCS has positioned them to make their case in spaces that were previously off limits to all but the most well connected and academically credentialed voices. Over the long term, he hopes these efforts will set a precedent for meaningful public engagement and honest environmental analysis in federal infrastructure projects.

“We’re helping the community develop arguments that SEMARNAT is obligated to listen to,” Córdova says. “They don’t love that we’ve done that.”


Chelsom launch new collection

More than two years of in-house design led by Robert and Will Chelsom has resulted in the launch of Chelsom’s brand new collection, Edition 26.

classic style at entry level, fujifilm unveils the mirrorless X-T100

the fujifilm X-T100 uses four tactile control dials, a slim compact body and a 3-way articulating screen to take pictures or videos of yourself.

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nordic pavilion presents ‘another generosity’ at the venice architecture biennale

the exhibition explores the relationship between nature and the built environment, and how architecture can facilitate a world that supports the coexistence of both.

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philipp frank’s trinity video installation in munich church

the central theme of the installation was a geometric shape consisting of triangle and semicircle, which was recorded with 3d projections.

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goodbye runescape: classic version to shut down after 17 years

the original version of the popular MMORPG (that's massively multiplayer online role-playing game for those who don't know), is saying goodbye.

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Architect Mahmood Fallahian

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