Category Archives: Infrastructure

City of Water – Article in Nakhara: Journal of Environmental Design and Planning

Shelby Elizabeth Doyle


The following is a summary of ongoing research conducted in 2011-2012, funded in part by the Fulbright Program and entitled City of Water: Architecture, Urbanism and the Floods of Phnom Penh. This work documents the relationships between water, architecture, and infrastructure in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The objective of the project is to record the architectural and urban conditions sustained by and subject to the cyclical floods of the city’s rivers and the challenges faced by Phnom Penh as it rapidly urbanizes in a flood plain.


Full Text: PDF 



Table of Contents


Thermal Comfort in the Traditional Rural Bangladesh House PDF
Rumana Rashid, Mohd. Hamdan Bin Ahmed, Sayem Khan
The Architecture of Batak Toba: An Expression of Living Harmoniously PDF
Himasari Hanan, Surjamanto Wonorahardjo
Anthropological View of Architecture: An Alternative Approach to the Study of Architecture and Built Environment PDF
Supakit Yimsrual
Ecological Architecture with Vernacular Character: Contemporary Mud Architecture Practices in Bangladesh PDF
Rumana Afroz, Mohammad Zakaria Ibne Razzaque
Significance of Implicit Socio-cultural Values in Housing Transformation PDF
Tareef Hayat Khan
Suburban Self-sufficient Living: An implementation of the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy PDF
Sirimas Hengrasmee
Suan Nai Bangkok Suan Nok Bangchang: Emergence and Transformation of the Chao Phraya Delta’s Orchard Based Floating Markets, Thailand PDF
Luxana Summaniti, Wannasilpa Peerapun, Khaisri Paksukcharern
The Ghostless Garden City: Evaluating the Clean and Green Movement in Singapore PDF
Jun Yi Ong
Study on the Fire-Protection: Characteristics of Green Spaces in Central Sakai City PDF
Misato Kagioka, Yuji Hara, Kazuaki Tsuchiya
Embankment Settlement in Bangladesh: A Study of the Self-generated Pattern of Vernacular Architecture PDF
Masud Ur Rashid, Naimul Aziz
The Future Needs the Past: Problem and Challenges of Post-Cataclysm Heritage Management in Kotagede, Jogjakarta Special Province, Indonesia PDF
Widjaja Martokusumo
City of Water: Architecture, Urbanism and the Floods of Phnom Penh PDF
Shelby Elizabeth Doyle
What I have learned and what I would like to be transferred: Interview with His Excellency Vann Molyvann, Ph.D. PDF
Brian McGrath

ISSN: 1905-7210

Chinese Companies to Invest Billions on Cambodia Projects

Source: NY Times

By REUTERS Published: January 3, 2013

PHNOM PENH — Two Chinese companies have reached a deal to build a 400-kilometer rail line, a steel plant and a seaport in Cambodia, worth a combined $11.2 billion, in what would be by far the impoverished country’s biggest-ever investments.

Cambodia Iron & Steel Mining Industry Group has hired China Railway Group to build the 250-mile railroad to link a steel facility in Preah Vihear Province, in the northern part of the country, to a port on the southern commercial island of Koh Kong, Zhang Chuan Li, the Cambodia Iron & Steel chairman, said Wednesday.

The rail link and port are expected to cost $9.6 billion and the steel plant $1.6 billion.

The deal is the latest sign of China expanding its footprint in the frontier economies of a booming Southeast Asia as the United States vies for influence in the region.

Loans and investment have won China some useful political allies in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is set to become an integrated trade community by 2016.

All three projects in Cambodia will start this year and will take as long as four years to complete, Mr. Zhang said.

“There is an important demand for transport of mined materials for export to China and to the world,” he said.

Cambodia Iron & Steel is a Chinese company based in Phnom Penh and established in 2006.

The agreement was made Monday and came three days after Sinomach China Perfect Machinery Industry and Cambodian Petrochemical announced that they would jointly build a $2.3 billion oil refinery, Cambodia’s first, capable of processing five million metric tons of crude oil a year.

Chinese companies are also planning to build a separate $7 billion, 400-kilometer high-speed railroad through the neighboring country of Laos and are trying to win contracts to build new lines in Thailand.

Mr. Zhang did not provide details on where the billions of dollars for the Cambodian rail, steel and port projects would come from.

Mr. Zhang said that a groundbreaking ceremony for the railroad would take place by the end of this month and that construction of the steel plant in Preah Vihear Province would start in July.

A three-kilometer bridge will connect an island in the southern coastal province of Koh Kong with the mainland, and the project is expected to bolster the economies of the four provinces the link will pass through, the company said in a news release.

Peter Brimble, senior country economist at the Asian Development Bank, said he was surprised by the size of the rail project.

“It must be the largest-ever project in Cambodia,” said Mr. Brimble, who has been involved in the bank’s rehabilitation work on 650 kilometers of disused railroad lines in Cambodia. “Perhaps it’s easier to build a new one. Let’s wait and see.”

A version of this article appeared in print on January 4, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune.


Urban Air

Our City Festival in Phnom Penh next year? Source:


Urban Air transforms existing urban billboards into living, suspended bamboo gardens. Embedded with intelligent technology, Urban Air becomes a global node — an open space in the urban skyline. An artwork, symbol, and instrument for a green future. Urban Air has been designed, engineered, and has secured the billboards to carry the flagship project. With your help, Urban Air will be towering above the LA freeways to ring in the new year. The vision doesn’t stop there. Upon a successful launch, it’s our plan and intention to transform the steel and wood of outdoor advertising to the infrastructure of urban sustainability in cities around the globe — actively, publicly, and collectively generating a green global future. This first one is the Kickstarter!

New Circular Aims to Shut Down Internet Cafes in Cambodia



December 13, 2012 – The government has issued a new circular (Khmer copy available here) ordering the closure of all Internet cafes within a 500 meter radius of schools and educational institutions – an order that, if implemented, would amount to a near-complete ban on such businesses in central Phnom Penh.
The circular, issued by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications on November 12, 2012, also provides for further restrictions not limited by this school buffer zone. All Internet cafes are also required to forbid playing “all kinds of games,” essentially equating such activity with viewing pornography or committing crimes.

“This heavy-handed effort to shut down affordable and accessible venues for using the Internet in Cambodia is not only legally unfounded, it is a transparent attempt to block part of the population’s access to independent sources of information through news sites and social media,” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge.

The penalties for violating the circular appear to be forced closures, the confiscation of equipment, and arrest if a crime is committed. There is no legal foundation for instituting such penalties based on shop location or on playing computer games. Under article 1 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, a statutory instrument issued by the executive branch may only define petty offences punishable by a fine – not by arrest or confiscation of private property. And facilitating access to pornographic material and other criminal activities described in the circular are already covered under Cambodia’s Criminal Code and additional laws.

“This circular is as unnecessary as it is improper,” said Naly Pilorge. “The crimes it purports to address are already illegal. All that remains is the creation of unjustifiable obstacles to Internet access, with the burden to be borne by legimitate business owners and their customers.”

The circular also makes no mention of any judicial process related to closures and confiscations, in direct violation of the Cambodian Constitution’s protections for private property and multiple legal commitments to ensuring due process.

“The circular’s invocation of concerns about students and speculation about the harmful effects of their internet practices are outrageous, particularly in light of its limitation to Internet cafes,” said Naly Pilorge. “The Internet in and of itself is not criminal or disproportionately susceptible to abuse. Students can access an enormous amount of information online, some of which can be crucial to their studies, not to mention the necessity of computer proficiency for future employment prospects.”

The circular echoes similar restrictions in China and Vietnam – two countries notorious for their lack of Internet freedom. It also follows another controversial circular issued earlier this year which requires Internet cafes to film and collect detailed identifying information about their clients. LICADHO is concerned that these circulars are a preview of provisions that may be contained in the looming Anti-Cyber Crime Law, still in draft form, which the government continues to keep under wraps despite repeated demands for its release.

“In a country where traditional media such as TV and radio stations are for the most part into the hands of the ruling party, the ability to access independent and critical voices through the Internet is crucial,” said Naly Pilorge. “This vehicle to free information and speech should be protected, not attacked.”

For more information, please contact:
• Mr. Am Sam Ath, Technical Supervisor Tel: (+855) 012-327-770 [Khmer]
• Ms. Naly Pilorge, Director of LICADHO Tel: (+855) 012-803-650 [English, French]

Download full statement (PDF;English)
មើលសេចក្តីថ្លែងការណ៍ជាភាសាខ្មែរ (PDF;Khmer)

Sewage Flows After Storm Expose Flaws in System

Hey Phnom Penh, You hearing this? Billions of dollars…

Source: NY Times

Uli Seit for The New York Times

Workers this week replacing pumps at the Bay Park sewage-treatment plant in East Rockaway, N.Y., on Long Island, that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. More Photos »

By  Published: November 29, 2012

EAST ROCKAWAY, N.Y. — The water flowing out of the Bay Park sewage plant here in Nassau County is a greenish-gray soup of partially treated human waste, a sign of an environmental and public health disaster that officials say will be one of the most enduring and expensive effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Uli Seit for The New York Times

The home of Jeff Mitchel Press, in Baldwin, N.Y., was engulfed with raw sewage during Hurricane Sandy after the nearby Bay Park plant shut down.More Photos »

In the month since the storm, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and partly raw sewage from Bay Park and other crippled treatment plants have flowed into waterways in New York and New Jersey, exposing flaws in the region’s wastewater infrastructure that could take several years and billions of dollars to fix. In New York State alone, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has estimated that about $1.1 billion will be needed to repair treatment plants. But officials acknowledge that they will have to do far more.

Motors and electrical equipment must be raised above newly established flood levels, and circuitry must be made waterproof. Dams and levees may have to be built at some treatment plants to keep the rising waters at bay, experts say.

Failure to do so, according to experts, could leave large swaths of the population vulnerable to public health and environmental hazards in future storms.

“You’re looking at significant expenditures of money to make the plants more secure,” said John Cameron, an engineer who specializes in wastewater-treatment facilities and is the chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council. “There is no Band-Aid for this,” he added. “This is the new normal.”

When the plants are fully functioning, they treat incoming sewage to remove solid waste and toxic substances and kill bacteria before it is discharged into the ocean or a bay. When the plants are shut down, the raw sewage goes into waterways in the same condition as when it comes in. At least six sewage plants in the New York region shut down completely during the storm, and many more were crippled by storm surges that swamped motors and caused short circuits in electrical equipment.

In New Jersey, workers at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission plant, the fifth largest in the country, had to evacuate as floodwaters surged in and wastewater gushed out.

The Middlesex County Utility Authority plant in Sayreville, N.J., let about 75 million gallons of raw sewage a day flow into Raritan Bay for nearly a week before power was restored, said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the State Environmental Protection Department.

Operations at both plants have not yet been fully restored.

The damage to the plants did not cause contamination to drinking water, which is run through separate systems, officials said. In some areas, officials imposed restrictions on water use to reduce strains on plants.

Bay Park, a sprawling complex off Hewlett Bay near the New York City border, serves 40 percent of Nassau County.

When the storm arrived, its force blindsided workers. They had spent days shoring up the plant with emergency measures, but did not anticipate the surge.

In less than 30 minutes, engines for the plant’s main pumping system were under 12 feet of water, and sewage began to back up and overflow into low-lying homes. In one low-lying neighborhood, a plume of feces and wastewater burst through the street like a geyser.

The plant shut down for more than 50 hours, and about 200 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into channels and waterways.

“Never, ever, ever has this happened before,” said Michael Martino, a spokesman for the Nassau County Department of Public Works. On Thursday, Mr. Martino said that the plant was back in operation and that the treatment of sewage was improving day by day.

Two other plants on the South Shore of Long Island, in Lawrence and Long Beach, were knocked out of service by the surge. Both are now working. And the Rockaway Wastewater Treatment Plant in Queens had significant damage.

Others, including the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant, which serves another 40 percent of Nassau County, and Bergen Point, another large plant in Suffolk County, escaped relatively unscathed.

Still, even those plants may not fare so well in the future, said Mr. Cameron of the Long Island Regional Planning Council.

Almost all facilities in the region are close to sea level and are vulnerable to storm surges, he said. Many were built decades ago to serve fewer people.

Even before the storm, the Bay Park plant in Nassau County needed new equipment.

When it was completed, in 1949, the county’s population was half what it is today. The plant now serves 550,000 residents and has struggled to keep up with demand.

During heavy rains, there are occasional sewage leaks, particularly in low-lying areas, residents say. Last year, the county was fined $1.5 million for, among other violations, illegally pumping about 3.5 million gallons of partially treated sewage into East Rockaway Channel. Edward P. Mangano, the Nassau County executive, has invested $70 million to improve the sewage system, but officials said damage from the storm was a major setback.

For the residents of Barnes Avenue in Baldwin, a low-lying stretch about three miles from the Bay Park plant, the failure during the hurricane was the culmination of their worst fears, though hardly a surprise.

They said they had long complained to Nassau County about sewage that flooded streets and occasionally homes during heavy rains. After Tropical Storm Irene sent human waste splashing onto lawns and front porches last year, residents said, the county bolted manhole covers shut to prevent them from opening.

During the storm, the manhole covers stayed in place, but the force of wastewater rushing up through the ground around them washed away part of the road.

“With Sandy it was, I hate the cliché, the perfect storm,” said John Malinowski, 54, a graphic designer who lives with his wife in a two-story home on Barnes Avenue. “When Bay Park failed and they couldn’t get the sewage out of the system, that’s when this became a real catastrophic event here.”

The smell of excrement still hung over the tidy neighborhood this week as workers in white hazmat suits tried to decontaminate homes. Sewage, mixed with four- to five-foot-high floodwaters, infiltrated floors and walls, and many homes must be stripped to their wooden frames to be fully decontaminated.

Residents said they were unsure whether their homes could be salvaged, or even whether they were safe to enter. If allowed to remain in walls and between floorboards, raw sewage can breed diseases like salmonella, hepatitis A and giardia, said Vince Radke, a sanitarian at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. He said contaminated items, including drywall and insulation, as well as furniture, should be thrown out.

Residents of Barnes Avenue said they had encountered difficulty getting aid.

“We started e-mailing and phoning everyone in the Town of Hempstead, the County of Nassau, the State of New York and at the federal level to try to get people down here to say is this healthy or is this not healthy and here’s what do about it,” said Jeff Press, 42, a photographer, whose home has not yet dried out.

Mr. Martino, from the Department of Public Works, said Nassau County had been “very aggressive” in informing residents of the dangers.

He said that Mr. Mangano, the county executive, had put in place a plan to clean up the damage in private homes caused by the sewage, and that the county was sending out crews to assist.

He said county officials had gone door to door to inform residents of the program and provide health information.

Elsewhere, officials are still evaluating the environmental impact of leakages.

In Raritan Bay, the Hudson River and the waters around the Bay Park plant, the Environmental Protection Agency has detected dangerous levels of fecal coliform, a bacteria associated with human waste, and has urged people to avoid contact with the water. Bans on shellfish have been imposed in some regions.

The tides will eventually flush much of the wastewater into the Atlantic Ocean, where it will break down. There is concern, though, that some contamination could go into the sediment and be buried, particularly around Bay Park, where the waters are flushed out more slowly.

“This is the largest sewage release in the history of Long Island,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an advocacy group. “This brings to a new level the public health threat and the duration for the contamination, which will have a serious adverse impact on our beaches and our bays.”

Map Shows Block-by-Block Flooding from Sandy

Source: by Jillian Steinhauer on November 26, 2012

A close-up of the Belle Harbor neighborhood in the Rockaways shows the extensive flooding that occurred there.

A close-up of the Belle Harbor neighborhood in the Rockaways shows the extensive flooding that occurred there. (screen shot via New York Times)

Everyone knows that Hurricane Sandy caused major damage to parts of New York City, but if you want more concrete information about how much flooding really happened — how many feet of water and where — the New York Times has published an amazing map that offers precisely that.

Going block by block, and in some neighborhoods building by building, the map uses a color code to break down the flooding into different categories: turquoise for an overall flood zone, and then yellow, orange, and red to represent peak water depths of 0–3 feet, 3–6 feet, and 6–18 feet. You can zoom in on such hard hit neighborhoods as Chelsea, Red Hook, the Rockaways, and Oakwood (Staten Island) to get amazingly detailed and extensive breakdowns of the flooding.

You may find surprises: for instance, I didn’t know that water had reached as far east as 9th Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Streets in Chelsea. And even where you know the story, seeing a close-up of an area like the Rockaways with every little house a different color, all of them floating in a sea of turquoise, somehow drives home the extent of the destruction.

Unfortunately, the damage probably isn’t enough to convince city, state, and federal leaders that what we need even more than rebuilding efforts are preventative measures for next time — or at least that’s what the AP is saying, in a long piece that explores whether the political will exists to implement engineering schemes to protect the city from future superstorms. “[N]early all flood researchers interviewed by the AP voiced considerable skepticism about action in the foreseeable future,” author Jeff Donn writes. Now that is depressing.

Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm


“…the decisions ahead come down to nature and numbers, to density, economics and geology. Our relationship to the water can’t stay the same, and at the same time the city is not worth saving if it sacrifices its principles and humanity.”


Patrick Ward/Corbis

A flood barrier on the Thames, one of the ideas American experts are looking at in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

Published: November 19, 2012

Not a month after Hurricane Sandy there’s a rough consensus about how to respond. America is already looking to places like London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo, where sea walls, levees and wetlands, flood plains and floating city blocks have been conceived.

Tineke Dijkstra/Hollandse Hoogte

The Maeslant surge barrier between Rotterdam and the North Sea. Building similar projects to protect the New York region would test the limits of American democracy

West 8/Rogers Marvel/Diller Scofidio & Renfro/Quennell Rothschild/SMWM

A rendering of a proposed 40-acre park for Governors Island, with a shoreline promenade.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

An aerial view of the Thames flood barrier in London.

MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archives

Robert Moses, about 1938. He accumulated unbridled authority to build major projects.

New York clearly ought to have taken certain steps a while back, no-brainers after the fact. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority ought to have installed floodgates and louvers at vulnerable subway entrances and vents. Consolidated Edison should have gotten its transformers, and Verizon its switching stations, out of harm’s way, and Congress should have ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study the impact of giant barriers to block parts of the city from the sea.

Scientists, architects, planners and others have, of course, been mulling over these issues for years. They’ve pressed for more parkland and bike lanes, green roofs and energy-efficient buildings, and warned about the need for backup generators, wetland edges along Lower Manhattan and barrier islands for the harbor to cushion the blow of rushing tides.

Hurricane Sandy was a toll paid for procrastination. The good news? We don’t need to send a bunch of Nobel laureates into the desert now, hoping they come up with some new gizmo to save the planet. Solutions are at hand. Money shouldn’t be a problem either, considering the hundreds of billions of dollars, and more lives, another Sandy or two will cost.

So the problem is not technological or, from a long-term cost-benefit perspective, financial.

Rather it is the existential challenge to the messy democracy we’ve devised. The hardest part of what lies ahead won’t be deciding whether to construct Eiffel Tower-size sea walls across the Verrazano Narrows and Hell Gate, or overhauling the city’s sewage and storm water system, which spews toxic waste into rivers whenever a couple of inches of rain fall because the sea levels have already risen so much. These are monumental tasks.

But more difficult still will be staring down the pain, dislocation and inequity that promise to upend lives, undo communities and shake assumptions about city life and society. More than requiring the untangling of colossal red tape, saving New York and the whole region for the centuries ahead will become a test of civic unity.

In New York last week to tour the damage, President Obama named Shaun Donovan, his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a New Yorker and former housing official in the city, to spearhead federal recovery efforts. Mr. Donovan is an obvious choice. But then the president reflexively pledged (and the vice president followed up with the same promise on Sunday) to restore ravaged neighborhoods and homes in Queens and on Staten Island to the way they were before Hurricane Sandy.

 That was business as usual, and the last thing the region or the country needs. At this point there’s no logic, politics and sentiment aside, to FEMA simply rebuilding single-family homes on barrier islands like the Rockaways, where they shouldn’t have been built in the first place, and like bowling pins will tumble again after the next hurricane strikes.

“Retreat is a dirty word,” as Robert S. Young, a North Carolina geologist, has described American sentiment, but better finally to face reality and make plans for smarter construction, compensation and even, where necessary, relocation. Elected officials and utility companies shouldn’t just turn on the lights and heat and restore crippled elevators in forgotten public housing projects that were inadequately designed in the first place.

Common sense dictates upgrading many of these projects to withstand floods but also devising new homes elsewhere for some residents. Cost-benefit analyses, long overdue, should answer tough questions like whether it’s actually worth saving some neighborhoods in flood zones. Communities like Breezy Point should be given knowledge, power and choice about their options, then the responsibility to live by that choice.

This means embracing a policy of compassion and honest talk. It’s no good merely to try to go back to the way things were, because they are not.

This sort of conversation is a third rail of American politics, so it’s no wonder all presidents promise to rebuild and stick taxpayers with the tab. That billions of dollars may end up being spent to protect businesses in Lower Manhattan while old, working-class communities on the waterfronts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island most likely won’t get the same protection flies in the face of ideas about social justice, and about New York City, with its open-armed self-image as a capital of diversity.

But the decisions ahead come down to nature and numbers, to density, economics and geology. Our relationship to the water can’t stay the same, and at the same time the city is not worth saving if it sacrifices its principles and humanity.

So the real test post-Sandy will be negotiating between the two.

Faced with cholera and calamitous urban living conditions in the early 1800s, city planners ran roughshod over property rights to install the street grid. Outrage gradually yielded to rising real estate values, Central Park and the modern metropolis.

During the last century Robert Moses, accumulating unbridled authority to get what he wanted done, bulldozed into existence parks and beaches, highways and housing projects by recklessly destroying old neighborhoods, starving mass transit, crushing opposition and “hounding the people out like cattle,” as Stanley Isaacs, the former Manhattan borough president, said of the hundreds of thousands of mostly poor New Yorkers that Moses displaced.

 The defeat of Westway, a Moses-scale proposal during the 1980s to bury the West Side Highway and cover it with parkland and new development, in a sense became the public’s epitaph for Moses. Whether that defeat was bad for the city is a question for another time. But New York became more attuned to community-based initiatives, to preservation, environmentalism and circumspection, all good things in ordinary circumstances.

At the same time it lost something of its nerve.

I walked around Brooklyn Bridge Park last week with the landscape architects Matthew Urbanski and Michael Van Valkenburgh, who designed it. We stood by the salt marsh they installed where an old pier had once been. An acre of formerly obscured shorefront opened to the sky. The park survived Hurricane Sandy with hardly a scratch, proving the virtue of soft edges.

In the design process Mr. Van Valkenburgh had asked the state Environmental Conservation Department, which polices the coastline, for permission to float a north-south footbridge, just 12 feet wide, between the embankment where the old pier ended and the next pier over, where the architects are installing sports fields. The idea: People wouldn’t have to walk all the way around the shore to get from one pier to the other.

The department said no. The narrow bridge’s shadow might disturb the habitats of fish. It was the argument that torpedoed Westway.

Now the task is to create a whole new ecological infrastructure for the region. The hurdles go beyond just a single state authority fearful to concede even a footbridge. They include an alphabet soup of agencies and public officials: Congress and the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; the Corps of Engineers; FEMA; the Homeland Security Department; the New York State Public Service Commission (which in principle has the leverage to compel companies like Con Ed and Verizon to safeguard its equipment); Amtrak; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the city’s planning, transportation, parks and environmental protection departments; and the Port Authority, devised as the organization in charge of such epic undertakings, today a shadow of its former self.

 The Australians have a mantra for battling climate change: Protect, Redesign, Rebuild, Elevate, Relocate and Retreat. Guy Nordenson, a New York engineer who has spent years researching the subject, talks about controlling floods and controlled flooding, accepting that the water will ultimately get in. This means thinking like the Australians, long term about evolving nature. Our election cycle tends to thwart infrastructural improvements that can take decades and don’t provide short-term ribbon-cutting payoffs for politicians, which is why it’s a wry commonplace among engineers and architects that autocratic regimes make the most aggressive builders of massive projects.

For New York sea gates alone won’t fix the city’s problems any more than will porous streets with catchment basins and waterproof vaults under sidewalks to secure electrical systems. At the same time this is a golden opportunity for the United States to leapfrog countries that have pioneered innovative architecture like garages doubling as floodwater containers and superdikes serving as parks and high-density housing complexes — a chance for designers, planners and engineers finally to get back, after so many decades, to the decision-making table.

 The question is: Can we accomplish this in time and fairly?

The young Moses was a political savant with the vision to operate beyond the boundaries of municipalities, cities and bureaucracies and get big things done. But that same genius enabled him to extend his power beyond reasonable limits and finally to sweep aside the precious, small-scale urban values and human decency that sustain a civic democracy. His biographer Robert Caro wrote in the 1970s that Moses “bent the democratic processes of the city to his own ends to build public works,” albeit “left to themselves, these processes proved unequal to the building required.”

“The problem of constructing large-scale public works in a crowded urban setting,” Mr. Caro added, “is one which democracy has not yet solved.”

And it still hasn’t.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 20, 2012, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm.

Don’t Rebuild: Redesign


 Architecture Fellow, Akademie Schloss Solitude Posted: 11/13/2012

Perhaps the New York Times‘ Michael Kimmelman said it best, in the concise lexicon of 140 characters, when he tweeted on election day, “Hope post-election, we can finally take big steps as a city, region nation to deal w costs, plans re: climate change. Beyond giant levees.” Now that we have gotten past the election, perhaps New Yorkers and the rest of the country are ready to talk honestly and admit that sandbags in urban flood-zones are just not good enough.

This is not about the disaster response to hurricane Sandy or FEMA or even emergency preparedness. This is about forward-looking infrastructure, urban design and land-use that takes the effects of climate change seriously.

It is encouraging that President Obama mentioned the need for a response to a warming planet in his election night victory speech. This is a welcome shift from presidential debates that avoided mention of climate change entirely. Since the beginning of the hurricane Sandy, New York Governor Cuomo has been emphatic about the need to go beyond acknowledging the threat of climate change toward taking action to cope with it. “I think we do have to anticipate these extreme types of weather patterns. And we have to start to think about how do we redesign the system so this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Why are there so few voices demanding, like Cuomo, that this never happen again? I worry that it may be that the public remains unaware of the array of designs worked out over the past decade to potentially mitigate the damage of a storm like this. Perhaps there is no outrage, because people do not know that with planning and investment — not in emergency preparation, but in the landscape and land-use of the city, itself — this horrific damage could have been largely avoided.

Certainly, if you are only listening to Bloomberg you would not know that there were any possible alternative. “We cannot build a big barrier reef off the shore to stop the waves from coming in; we can’t build big bulkheads that cut people off from the water,” the mayor said during a press conference.

Why does Bloomberg talk about bulkheads, as if the design possibilities for the waterfront edge to mitigate storms have not advanced since the 1950s? Why does he say we can’t build a “big barrier reef off the shore to stop the waves from coming in”? Indeed, we can. Not only can we, but there is an array of strategies to choose from. The most innovative proposal from MoMA’s Rising Currents exhibit five years ago uses oysters to do exactly that. For years, architects and urban designers in New York have been carefully modelling options to “stop the waves from coming in” — from landfills to ecologically sensitive reefs toengineered flood gates — and the Mayor talks as if he has never heard of any of it.

The worst part may be that New York City under Bloomberg has been encouraging waterfront development without taking plans for flood infrastructure seriously. As someone who worked on the early stages ofQueenswest as an urban designer for the Department of City Planning, I can affirm that the city’s process in waterfront planning prioritized real estate value, public amenities and sheer housing unit numbers. We drew internal maps of projected flood levels creeping up on new parks and potential soccer fields, but that had little significance in the planning process.

A number of the city’s most respected planners spoke to the Observer during the hurricane evacuation, and questioned whether waterfront development should be allowed to continue without serious investment first in infrastructure. Ron Shiffman, founder of the Pratt Center for Community Development, told theObserver, “There has been a disconnect for some time between the actions of the City Planning Department and PlaNYC 2030,” referring to the sustainability plan that the mayor’s office released in 2007 and continued to revise through 2011. PlaNYC 2030 contains a handful of research ideas about flooding, but the actual initiatives are pretty much limited to improving information in the market for flood insurance and requiring new buildings to incorporate flood-proofing measures. The existing city is left to fend for itself.

Urban designers, architects and planners have been working for years on more proactive alternatives to coping with effects of climate change for New York and other coastal cities. If we could generate only half the interest for flood-ready urban design that we can for a sports stadium, it would get done. The architecture and urban design disciplines excel at the sort of long-term forward thinking needed for the complex problems presented by global warming. But the field needs public urgency to push investment toward something bold and purposeful. The conversations cannot only take place in museums and universities. Let’s hope that on this issue, we really do see the region and the country moving forward.

Buckle up for traffic snarls

Source: Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 12 November 2012
 Mom Kunthear

Motorists vie for position at an intersection in Phnom Penh. City Hall has announced that several major roads will be closed during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh later this week. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Two major boulevards and six arterial side streets will be closed starting as early as tomorrow, and more than 10,000 security forces will be deployed for the duration of theASEAN Summit, said city hall officials.

In addition to Norodom and Russian boulevards, six roads extending from Russian Boulevard will be blocked off, according to a Phnom Penh Municipality statement dated Thursday. Venders and shop owners working on the main boulevards are asked to suspend business from November 13 to the 23.

“City Hall expects and believes that the travelers and the sellers along Russian and Norodom Blvd forgive and understand in order to cooperate with this,” the order continues.

While the summit runs from the 15th to the 20th, the extended security measures are needed to accommodate delegates who will begin arriving as early as Tuesday, said the National Police spokesman, Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith.

More than 10,000 security personnel including members of the police, military police, Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, will be posted during the summit, Chantharith said yesterday.

“We deployed some forces already many days ago and more forces will be posted on November 13 when the delegates start coming,” he said. “Authorities will be deployed day and night.”

Chantharith urged understanding over the messy traffic situation expected to ensue.

“We know the traffic will be difficult for the people, that is why City Hall informed them in advance – to make them cooperate and forgive this situation,” he said.

Despite the pleas for sympathy, however, the announcement was met with no small amount of grumbling – especially from affected shop owners.

“It will affect my income, but I do not have a choice,” said Channy, who owns a plant shop located on Russian Boulevard and was told by police she would have to shutter her business for 10 days.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mom Kunthear at

‘Copenhagenizing’ the world, one city at a time


Elise Beacom November 10, 2012 – 08:02

Danish urban planner Jan Gehl explains his succesful blueprint for building cities around people

Every Tuesday for a whole year, a young architect named Jan Gehl sat in Strøget and recorded everything that took place around him. It was 1962, and Copenhagen’s main shopping street had recently been closed off to cars – a move so controversial that the then-mayor received death threats and had to be protected by bodyguards.

“We’re not Italians, we’re Danes; we need our cars” that was how the discussion went, Gehl told The Copenhagen Post in his 8m x 8m x 8m house in Vanløse.

Back then, when the daisies were flying and the acid was dropping around him, the time was ripe for changing cultural patterns, so the curious Gehl did something pioneering: He people-watched, observing pedestrians on Strøget. From summer to autumn, winter to spring. When there was a parade, or a protest, or when the queen waved her gloved-hand, Gehl was there to record it.

And it was largely based on his findings that Copenhagen made the shift towards bicycles and pedestrians, today earning it the right to jostle with Melbourne (another of Gehl’s protégés) for the title of the world’s most liveable city.

In Gehl’s view, making a city liveable means breathing life between the buildings. People will always fill the space, he discovered. And Strøget, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on November 17, is a perfect example of that – every year, the street crams in up to 120,000 people on the last Sunday before Christmas.

Scandinavian tourists and Jutlanders make up a large portion of that crowd, causing most ‘clever’ Copenhageners, including Gehl, to avoid Strøget and wander through its more charming offshoots. In his opinion, the nicest places, like Strøget or Venice, get crowded and commercialised because they are in such short supply. Gehl’s solution: more Venices and more nice streets in cities.

“There is nothing we like more than a city with a flourishing public life, where people use the squares, sit in cafes and stroll on the promenades,” he said.

Legacy of a lifetime

Now 76 years of age, the urban planner spends 100 days a year overseas, teaching others how to “win their cities back from the ‘motorcar’”, as he calls it.

His consulting firm’s résumé includes reshaping post-earthquake Christchurch in New Zealand, advising almost every Australian capital city and, most recently, reinvigorating post-Communist Moscow.

These cities appoint Gehl to improve their public spaces and conditions for pedestrians, or to ‘Copenhagenize’ urban life. While some hurriedly take Gehl’s recommendations on board – “They did the things we suggested for New York before we even finished the sentence” – other plans get shelved, like in London: “They have done nothing. Because that’s not the British way,” he said.

In New York – where his firm’s suggestions included introducing new bike lanes and blocking off parts of Broadway to cars – they even dub the new bike paths ‘Copenhagen lanes’, Gehl said. While cyclists are speedily overrunning the Big Apple’s streets – nearly 20,000 locals, more than double the 2006 tally, routinely cycled to work last year – the change in Copenhagen was far gentler. “If you do it slowly and don’t tell anyone, no-one will notice it,” Gehl said.

And that is exactly what happened. Gehl remembered it being easy to find a car park in Copenhagen’s city centre at the start of his career, but it gradually became impossible for cars to drive through the centre, and car parks started disappearing. “If the cars can’t park, they won’t come,” Gehl remembers one of his former colleagues saying, adding that Copenhagen had come a long way since the ‘70s when the bustling tourist stretch, Nyhavn, was indeed a parking lot.

Planning for people

In his living room plastered with artwork, and with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf stacked full – quite possibly with books that he wrote – Gehl explained everything diagrammatically. He drew maps on the table with his fingertips, and he moved this reporter’s dictaphone to characterise a building on his imaginary grid.

Labelling the layout of central Copenhagen as a “walking system”, Gehl said the speciality of combining cities and people was originally “a Danish thing”. “We were the ones who started to take this interest in people and then export it around the world,” he said.

And Gehl is still exporting his people-focused philosophy today. “I only do it because I love it and I think what I can bring is valuable,” he said.

There were several reasons Gehl first started exploring the ‘people issue’ in cities. One was marrying his wife Ingrid, a psychologist who engaged him in countless conversations about the human side of architecture. They wondered how what we build influence our lives and what we do.

Another was when a Christian man from the firm Gehl worked for in 1962 demanded a home that was “good for people”. “We went into a panic because we thought: what would that mean?” Gehl said. “And we ended up designing something that was never built because it was too progressive.”

Copenhagen has taken a lot of small steps since then. Steps that mean Gehl’s eight-year-old granddaughter can now follow a footpath all the way to school.

Seeing children in the streets is a telling sign of how liveable the city is today, according to Gehl. He illustrated his point by re-enacting a conversation with a Vietnamese woman who had recently visited Copenhagen. “She asked me, ‘Are you having a baby boom? I saw so many babies when I was there.’”

She had seen toddlers in bicycle buggies, kids learning to ride, clusters of kindergarten children and mums and dads pushing prams around while they, Gehl added, “endure a year of parental leave, and what more can you do than push a pram around?”

Though the woman’s hypothesis was incorrect, it got Gehl thinking. “I suddenly realised that what she saw was different from what she was used to,” he said. “I think it was a beautiful way of explaining what a people-orientated city Copenhagen is.”