Taiyuan

Fen River and Taiyuan

Fen River and Taiyuan

Straddling the Fen River, Taiyuan is the capital of Shanxi Province. It is notorious for air pollution, though coal burning in Shanxi has been reduced slightly in response to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and economic downturn. Taiyuan is home to 3.2 million official urban residents, plus another million who have rural hukou registrations. The latter group consists of a floating population of migrant workers, typical of those who provide much of the labor for China’s construction and manufacturing sectors, as well as long-time residents of “urban villages,” small settlements that have been engulfed by the expanding city. The focus of our urban design studio was Wucheng, one such urban village in the center of Taiyuan.

Wucheng’s small apartments and boarding houses are a source of affordable housing for laborers and students at Shanxi University and other nearby education institutions. While there are some nearby regional parks, neighborhood green spaces and basic municipal services are lacking for the urban village’s 38,000 inhabitants.

Social tensions stemming from the hukou system, poor working conditions, and an economy transitioning from mining and heavy manufacturing to high tech, lie just below the surface. South of Taiyuan, a Foxconn plant with nearly 80,000 workers in what amounts to a company town saw a riot in 2012.

The new mayor of Taiyuan, Yanbo Geng, has spoken about environmental priorities:

“碧水蓝天映衬唐风晋韵,良好生态扮靓魅力龙城。”
“Beautiful water and blue sky are an integral part of our province’s history. A good ecosystem is central to beautifying Taiyuan City.”

Planned ecological corridors seem like a promising step on paper, and the metro system under construction could help make transportation in the city more sustainable. But concurrent efforts to widen streets and construct highway flyovers will counteract these steps.

By 2030, it is projected that more than 40 other cities in China will, like Taiyuan, have populations that exceed 4 million people. Unless major shifts emerge to address social concerns and improve the energy performance of transportation and neighborhood systems, the environmental vision espoused by Mayor Geng may be only wishful thinking.

Beijing Night Ride

Video of a night bike ride with a few friends.

Beijing is a beautiful city at night. Instead of casting a brown tinge on everything like it does during the day, the air pollution diffuses the bright city lights below. Traffic is slightly less overwhelming, and the range of spaces for bikes, from narrow hutongs to bike lanes on the widest highways, is fun to explore.

Route of a 30 mile ride through Beijing

Route of a 30 mile ride through Beijing (click for interactive map)

Bike Ride across Beijing

Folding bike at the Olympic Park

Folding bike at the Olympic Park

I spent last Saturday riding 32 miles across Beijing. A video of some of the highlights is below. Or, to see selected excerpts, click on the yellow icons on the map below.

Yuanmingyuan

Pictures from a Sunday afternoon stroll in Yuanmingyuan, a complex of imperial gardens northwest of Beijing:

Arriving in Beijing

Two weeks ago, I landed in China to start work on a clean energy and urban design research studio. This project involves a new tool to model neighborhood units’ energy performance — operational, embodied, and transportation energy use, as well as the potential for on-site clean energy production — in the context of rapidly urbanizing Chinese cities. Flying the approach into Beijing Capital International Airport gave me the first taste of the scale of the problem we’re considering…

More Interstate 710 Extension Discussions

Zócalo Public Square will be hosting what promises to be an interesting forum this week –

The 710 is one of the most important freeways in Southern California. It’s also shorter than originally planned: For nearly 50 years, legal and environmental challenges have stalled the freeway in Alhambra, 4.5 miles short of its intended destination, Pasadena. Over the decades, discussions about extending the freeway have cast its future as a local issue. But the 710 causes traffic, produces pollution, and affects commerce across Los Angeles and even beyond. How broad are these impacts, and what role might the stalled extension play in them? What would the five options now being debated for dealing with the Alhambra-to-Pasadena gap–implementing new surface traffic technology and strategies, new rapid bus transit, light rail transit, a freeway tunnel, or building nothing at all–mean for our region?

The $780 million set aside for the project in Measure R would go a long way towards transit, but most of the alternatives being considered, especially a highway tunnel, would require major additional funding. With Caltrans so heavily involved, and with the clout of port traffic, it’s hard to imagine the advocates of expanding the “concrete commons” won’t win out. Though maybe continued strong community opposition and a winning Braess’s paradox argument could be successful in finally killing the project.

On a related note, the release of draft environmental documents for the project has been pushed back to February 2015.

Northeast Corridor from the Air

Pictures from an unlimited-visibility flight up the Northeast Corridor, from Washington DC to Boston. The density of this megalopolis makes it perfect for real high speed rail.

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FIDAE – South American Airshow

Pictures from FIDAE 2014, an international air show in Santiago. Highlights included seeing a A-380 flying and maneuvering low, watching people pose with the Air Force pilots from Gringolandia, and chatting up private pilots from Chile and Argentina.

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