Situationists For Open City Makers

Amongst the “avant garde” revolutionary intellectuals, the situationists were one of a kind. Though they were few, they often were waging battles under the leadership of a young Guy Débord to surpass other contemporary movements such as letterism and surrealism.

Quoting Carlos Granés about situationists: “in a society that annihilates adventure, the only adventure is to annihilate society”. With such an overwhelming enterprise in mind, it is not surprising that this avant-garde group quickly suffered from their own contradictions, for their fondness of purges and procrastination rather than practical action. However, their intellectual footprint in the arts, politics and urbanism has filtered through to our times, through movements like the Spanish 15M or America’s “Occupy”.

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Sentimental Urban Planning

Translated from its Spanish version by Nicolas Cook

Android theme “The Sentimental City”

I watched “Interstellar” a while back, a movie in which the human race escapes from climate disaster using an artefact of theoretical physics known as a “Wormhole”. I once wrote that que the most sensible way of avoiding an environmental “Armageddon” would be to put intelligent urban planning into practice as soon as possible, which encourages cities of certain densities, with mixed uses, and with active public spaces. Intelligent urban planning is rational, or perhaps enlightened. It provides a basis for a sustainable mobility, for energy savings in building construction and management, and for an economy that is less intensive in its use of materials and energy – more circular.

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El urbanismo sentimental

The English version of this article can be found here

Hace algún tiempo – acababa de ver la película “Interestelar”, que mostraba cómo la humanidad escapaba del colapso climático mediante un artefacto de la física teórica llamado “agujero de gusano” – escribí que la manera más sensata de evitar el “armaggedon” medioambiental era poner en práctica cuanto antes un urbanismo inteligente, ese que preconiza ciudades de una cierta densidad, usos mixtos, espacio público vivo. Un urbanismo inteligente es un urbanismo racional o, si se prefiere, ilustrado, que pone las bases de una movilidad sostenible, de ahorros energéticos en nuestra manera de hacer y gestionar los edificios, y de una economía menos intensiva en uso de materia y energía, más circular.

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Innovation Districts: From Barcelona to Dublin, This Is What I Know

Elections for Mayor are a-coming. With the aim of shaping my contribution to the approaching campaign, I have been reflecting lately on innovation districts. Ours, the Digital Mile (Milla Digital) is unfinished. One tends to think that all innovation districts are, by definition, unfinished. But, seriously, the Digital Mile must be one of the more unfinished innovation districts in the world, and I’ve known a few. Planned ahead of its time, built too late, never fully understood.

District layout at Poblenou and Barcelona's 22@

District layout at Poblenou and Barcelona’s 22@

I know that innovation districts are big real estate operations in the first place. Land owners, developers and construction companies are the first and primary beneficiaries. To shift the urban economics from construction to innovation we need bricks, glass and concrete. And a delicate urban planning, too. See the delicacy in Barcelona’s 22@ urban fabric, the first innovation district I knew back in 2002 and a place I have visited many times since.

In it, the legacy of Cerdà’s urban layout serves as a landing track for Castells’ discoveries about digital economy. Jane Jacobs would have approved: perfect block sizes, mixed uses, walkability. And a focused management structure, that soon shifted its efforts from urban development to economic development. The result: more than 100.000 new jobs (many of them high-skilled) and an overall impact of 15% in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the city. Continue reading


Dublin’s Declaration on Smart Districts

Dublin’s Smart Docklands District

Last month I was invited to participate in the Harvard Smart City Accelerator, which, organized by Harvard Tech and hosted by the great Smart Dublin team, took place at Dublin’s Smart Docklands, the thriving smart district of Ireland’s capital.

During three days we launched urban challenges, discussed on subjects such as economic growth, privacy or openness, learned from multiple stakeholders’ views, from industry to academia, walked the district under Irelands’ chilly winter and toasted with Irish beer for the success of our respectives innovation districts and strategies back home. Continue reading


Descifrando la estrategia urbana de Zaragoza

Aunque en Open Your City hablamos de ciudades, en general, uno de los objetivos “fundacionales” de este blog era ayudar a comprender nuestra ciudad, Zaragoza, sus proyectos y sus retos. En el apartado estratégico, nos hemos dado cuenta de que no hay un único lugar donde aparezcan todas las piezas, todos los planes estratégicos sectoriales que marcan el presente y que marcarán el futuro de nuestra ciudad. Por ello, nos hemos tomado el trabajo de buscar todos ellos y mostrarlos en un único lugar. De esta manera el lector, planificador urbano, político, académico o simplemente ciudadano curioso, puede tener una visión integral acerca de adónde se dirige su ciudad, así como del trabajo que a la ciudad le queda por hacer desde el punto de vista de su estrategia urbana.

Empecemos por arriba. Continue reading


El centenario de Jane Jacobs

Se cumplen 100 años del nacimiento de Jane Jacobs. En OYC lo celebramos recopilando en una sola entrada tres de los artículos inspirados por esta pequeña gran mujer, cuya figura no hace sino crecer al ritmo que lo hace el interés por esa gran invención humana que son las ciudades. Economistas como Edward Glaeser, geógrafos como Michael Batty, ingenieros como Anthony Townsend o arquitectos urbanistas como Jan Gehl, citan a Jane Jacobs como una de sus principales fuentes de inspiración. Cumpleaños feliz.

jacobsJane Jacobs: “Muerte y vida de las grandes ciudades”. La autora analiza, con precisión de entomóloga urbana, cómo funcionan las ciudades a escala microscópica, cuáles son los procesos que las revitalizan y las hacen más “vivibles” y cuáles los que las destruyen y empobrecen. Imprescindible para todo aquel que piense que, para conseguir un mundo mejor, necesitamos ciudades mejores.

theEconomyCitiesBNJane Jacobs: “La economía de las ciudades”. Casi una década después de su revolucionaria y atemporal obra “Muerte y vida de las grandes ciudades americanas”, Jane Jacobs publicó en 1969 “La economía de las ciudades”, un intento de explicar de manera sencilla los procesos de generación de riqueza que, desde el principio de la humanidad, han hecho de las ciudades poderosos imanes de atracción de gente y de generación de oportunidades.

jane-jacobsDetroitJane Jacobs’ predictions about Detroit. El proceso de caída de Detroit analizado bajo el prisma visionario de nuestra urbanista de cabecera. No nos cansaremos de recomendar la lectura de la urbanista y activista canadiense siempre a todo aquel apasionado de la innovación urbana.


Marshall McLuhan. Understanding media (and cities)

McLuhanI first new about Marshall McLuhan in 2011. José Carlos Arnal, former Director of the Zaragoza City of Knowledge Foundation, had introduced me to Mariano Salvador, a young local journalist who had just co-organized a remembrance exhibition about McLuhan at the Pratt Center in New York City.

I had no idea at the time that, under such resonant name, terms we were already familiar with, like “global village” or “the medium is the message”, had been coined and so acutely described. Those were the times when we were a small “guerrilla” of avid learners pushing for a shift in the economic model of our city, Zaragoza (Spain), and insanely committed to the launching of the city’s innovation flagship: Etopia Center for Arts and Technology. When Etopia Center finally opened two years later, in June 2013, a 600 square meter media façade wrapped around one of its three gigantic cubes illuminated with digital artworks the departure side of the city’s central station.

I stumbled upon McLuhan’s book Understanding Media on that very same summer of 2013, buried in a heap of books at the old, wood-and-dust smelling Venice’s Libreria Aqua Alta, just a week after having imparted a workshop on open place making with M.I.T. professor Michael Joroff as part of the inauguration activities of Etopia Center. I was so into the reading of place-making urbanists like Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl at the time that I decided to put momentarily McLuhan aside. I stubbornly wanted to understand cities. Understanding media could wait.

Here is what I was missing. Continue reading