Tuesday, February 15, 2011

So, No on the Giant Ball Pit?

Edmonton, having tucked its central airport into the ground and scattered the sod, is now looking to re-imagine and reinvent the area into a full community; a herculean task incorporating commercial, family housing that honors the history of the airport, which still looking to become more environmentally sustainable. We have taken proposals from five engineering companies from around the world, and today the concepts were unveiled. I have given them a brief scan, but it is a massive pain to do so online, if Dear Reader is interested, I would highly suggest wandering over to take a look in person.
Alright, as promised I managed to wander on over to city hall and gander at the proposal boards, despite being pretty star-struck from the sky-high windows of City hall. 
A dominant theme in all the proposals seems to be altering the topography, breaking up the large, flat area into ditches to corral water and provide activities, but I am unsure why people seem intent on turning the runways into giant flowerbeds, as though using the available concrete pad would be bad. Another thing no one seems to have tipped  off these dreamers about is that in Canada, a large, flat, pool of stagnant water is a mosquito love-ground. Without adequate measures in place to either spray for pests (which I hate) or constantly break up the placid water, we have a large bug problem on our hands. I also dislike how everyone brings up the LRT connections, as though the City was not going to do that already (Holy smokes, guys, have you heard of this El-Ar-Tee thing?!); No taking credit for our ideas, please. The other problem is that three of them noted how much Edmontonians consumed, saying if everyone in the world consumed as much as we did, mankind would need four planets to sustain ourselves; because nothing starts a proposal off like a lecture about how we are bad, bad people.

The Kansas proposal focuses too much on open space concept, and although the gardens are a nice touch, we run the risk of incorporating too many hobo friendly spaces and initiatives, such as the complete accessibility and the foliage. Carbon neutral by 2020, but a private waste sorting seems a waste of money if it cannot be expanded into a whole-city endeavor. There also is little to suggest comfortable integration into the existing roadways, but further examination may prove this false. A complete review of this proposal confirmed what I was concerned about; it does not really matter how many ravines or interesting hills you have if every building resembles a bunker. Just big block squares far as the eye can see.  Their claim that every point is accessible is 5 minutes sounds like reckless hyperbole meant to compete with other buisness' proposals that any point is accessible in twenty minutes. Also, their concept picture is populated with random people images that I recognize from Google. I searched for 2girls1cup for a half hour, to no avail.  

The U.K proposal bisects the space less aggressively, but  relies more on natural forms of energy conservation, gray water systems and solar collection,  rather than the manufactured ones suggested by Kansas; this would seem to save us money that we can put towards other endeavors. They also offer a greater variety of spaces, public and private, home and business, but the extravagant "main street entrance" runs the risk of partitioning the location, turning it into a gated downtown community. The dominant theme is merging outdoors and city life, but the private spaces, like apartment courtyards, are sort of creepy in a downtown area. Worse, they propose to surround the outside with the highest value properties, which serves to increase the feeling of a gated community, into which no darkness shall enter...

The Netherlanders incorporate the existing roadways into the new space, which would certainly help accessibility, since navigating around that area is mildly annoying right now, and focuses on "magnets" that specialize in certain services, "community sports magnet", "commercial magnet" and "transit" to name a few. They also incorporate a line of wind turbines into the location, however, which is unlikely to ever fly (Har. Har.)but is a nice touch.The eco-houses are quite admirable, and I hope we can incorporate something similar into any winning design, but they still have those wind turbines and the gray water system empties into the canal, where they suggest people can bathe.  Because that is something we really want to encourage in Canada. Outdoor bathing. In public.

The proposal from Vancouver got an automatic boost because it was Canadian, I am shamelessly pro-Canadian, and had me tearing up within a minute by suggesting we name one of the community towers after Margaret Littlewood, the only female flight instructor at Edmonton's old air base. It may be a nose-leading plug, but it totally worked on me. I can also appreciate their emphasis on using local resources, such as local food, in which the interest has been growing, but they do it through community gardens, or hobo-magnets as I call them. This is the first display to suggest a carbon program that can be expanded to include all of Edmonton eventually (other than filling the city with windmills) and so help me, I like this one.
I like it marginally less now that I have read about their "underground vacuum garbage tubes", which I am certain will result in at least a few deaths in their first few years of existence, but with Edmonton's homicide rate where it is, maybe it will lower the risk we suffer of tripping over a body.  And they have windmills. What did we do to piss off Vancouver?

Although I had expected the most from the Swedish proposal, the video is half over before they say anything substantial other than, "Check out our engineering muscles!" and "We should, like, use less energy!" I am interested to know how spaces can be both child and senior friendly, other than simply shoving everyone into giant, soundproof bubbles. (Kids would enjoy it and they would potty-train themselves [sorry for that visual], and old people would both be safe from harm in a peaceful, quiet area.) They also mention gardens, but save themselves with the notion of urban farms. If we are to have urban, sustainable gardens, they are going to have to be professionally done, that is just how it is. As a grand finale, they remind us that we are all going to have to go to school to learn how to be as environmentally friendly as Sweden. I can not make this up. Seeing the proposal in person did nothing to diminish the arrogance of the company; the headline on a board says the proposal was not about "a design competition" or finding "a winning master-plan" to which I wondered, since when? Of course it is.  The design also features a closed waterway which will either become stagnant or run up power bills to artificially move it. The rest of the proposal was confusing, citing things like the "Bohemian index" and the number of patents per capita (Are there any in Edmonton?). It is intended to house people "cradle to grave", but the cost of building the overly ambitious houses may sink us.

Anyway, I hope to go check out some of the actual display boards so I can get a better feel for the proposals, since I think I am missing a lot of the details, unless they were blatantly thrown in my face. I will try to check it out tomorrow, or next Tuesday at the latest.
In perusing them all, I have come to the conclusion that they all need to revamp the gray water system since, if I recall correctly, some medications like birth control are not filtered out adequately.

UPDATE: 24/06/11
It seems that the Vancouver proposal has been selected! We await the vacumn tubes with much anticipation! 

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