26 May 2011

Humble Apologies...

Apologies to anyone stopping by, posting has been somewhat irregular recently due to pressures of work. I am working up construction drawings for a new house by night, and looking after a major planning application by day. Plus trying to grow a new lawn from seed, and having anxiety issues due to the patchiness of the grass - is that normal (the patchiness, not getting anxious about lawns)? Either way, things will be back to normal soon. Thanks.

16 May 2011

Getting Better by Design


Interesting article written by a colleague from the Design Commission for Wales Review Panel, which appeared in today's Western Mail - health section.

The Bicing on the Cake. Viva Espana, Part 3

We were in the Catalan capital this week whilst Marga was invited to teach at the Barcelona School of Architecture. I continued to be impressed and amazed by the transformation of Barcelona into a cycling city, led by the immensely popular bike hire scheme – Bicing. There are over 6000 bikes and more than 400 stations spread across the more central part of Barcelona – the Barrio Gotica, Eixample and Gracia. I was even more delighted to hear that my family members who live in Barcelona use the system, even though they are normally car users, as it is as fast as driving from A to B in the centre, but without the parking problems. The classic Copenhagenize theory of a-to-bism in fluid motion.

Sadly, due to our working schedule and location I was not able to try out the system – although that is easier said than done, as tourists are perhaps discouraged from using the bikes by way of the registration process and need for a Catalan address. I am luckier than many, having access to a membership card, so next time I am determined to give it a spin. The family currently live just off the Avenida Diagonal at the Zona Universidad end. I would love to give it a go down the arrow straight cycle path that runs for several kilometers along the Avenida Diagonal at the upper end, and also along the lower end to the sea. Two bicycle carriageways, completely separated from traffic and also with dedicated traffic signals. And very, very popular.

So popular in fact that we've had to air-brush out all the cyclists just so you can see the view

9 May 2011

Damn You, Johnny Foreigner. Viva Espana, Part 2

Here is a nice photo of No.1 son on the lookout for some exemplar cycling infrastructure and the signs of a maturing cycling culture. Even at his tender age, his continental blood makes him inherently more sensitive and understanding of urban design and the nuances of public/private space. That and having his parents blather on about it more or less constantly. Poor little thing.

But success! Even in the unprepossessing sea-side town of Sitges, near Barcelona, some plucky planner (probably an architect, let’s face it) has had the guts and gumption to address the problem of finding space for cycling infrastructure head-on. They were not content with sitting back and relaxing in the knowledge that if you can’t find space for bicycles in the leafy avenues of a world class capital city like Cardiff, how could you possibly do it in the cramped medieval streetscape of a small Spanish beach resort. Unless you take away space from the cars of course...

Yes, damn you Johnny Foreigner with your suave easy urbanism and slow, silky football skills. There are rules about this sort of thing you know, and this is not the done thing. OK, so it's not the best (the trees and bollards are a slight inconvenience), but the shocking truth that you can choose which transport methods get priority in an urban area, rather than it being an unquestionable unchanging reality, is what I'm getting at here.

4 May 2011

Viva Espana, Part 1

We've been away in Spain, where we took a trip out of Barcelona - where Marga is currently teaching at the School of Architecture - to Sitges. This was a renowned centre of counterculture in the past, which continues into the present in the form of a Carnival and film festival. Proximity to Barcelona means it is a popular weekend day-trip for the citizens of Barcelona, and the  admirable attitude to city planning that we all know from Barcelona is of course present in Sitges too - as it is all across Spain. I was struck by the simple example of the car park we parked in (there were 9 of us in the car, so an attempt to make an efficient journey was made). The car park has been excavated beneath an existing street, on several levels with simple access ramps, lifts and stairs arriving at pavement levels above - where the street has been re-instated over the parking bays.

I realise it may be heretical for a cyclist to wax lyrical about a car park, but I believe the approach in Sitges to this simple intervention belies a more mature and long-term approach to urban thinking than has ever been the case in the UK. It would be highly unlikley for a similarly sized seaside town in Britain to fund an underground carpark of this scale, preferring probably the above ground or multi-storey approach. And yet this solution in Sitges re-instated and significantly improved the public realm, left the scale of the area intact, hid cars away out of sight and ensured that the people were made to feel important, rather than overpowering them with a massive visible sign of car domination.

What a tragic lack of confidence we have in our own rights as citizens that we don't seem to demand the same quality of urban spaces and experiences that are common in Spain for instance. We deserve better, but we will never get it unless we believe we deserve it.