The Omnibus Roundup – Obscura Day, Manufacturing, BigApps2.0 and States and the Metro Economy

Obscura Day Poster | Image by Oliver Munday

Obscura Day Poster | Image by Oliver Munday

Happy April Fool’s Day! For a little urban planning humor, be sure to check out Planetizen’s April 1st Edition — who knew those guys were so funny?

For its second annual International Obscura Day, Atlas Obscura offers excursions into unexpected corners of world cities — New York, of course, included. On April 9th, you have the chance to explore the inside of the Catacombs at the Greenwood Cemetery, tour the Ghost ships of Coney Island Creek (with promised tales of rum-runners, whalers and a home-made submarine), or grab a beer and hop on a bike for a bike tour through the historic breweries of Brooklyn and Queens, among other urban adventures.

The Times reports on the place-based future of manufacturing in an opinion piece that heralds a field often assumed outsourced for good as an opportunity to create jobs and strengthen urban communities. The piece profiles the organizations SF Made and Made in NYC, which serve as networks for local manufacturing businesses, provide resources for small start-ups and connect consumers to locally-sourced products. This reinvigoration of the manufacturing sector and the press it’s getting suggest that people are increasingly turning to independently-owned, small-scale enterprises to boost the economy, perhaps hoping that acting local can accomplish the financial resuscitation larger corporations have been slow to spur. It also demonstrates a demand to integrate production with community in what Mike Dwight, founder of SFMade, calls “geographic ingredient branding,” which he defines as “a way to ‘brand’ the history, culture, personality and natural beauty of [a] city as a means to uniquely differentiate local manufacturers.” .

Redefining the “networked city,” urban apps are becoming an increasingly ubiquitous way to connect with a city and its citizens. Last night a committee of technology innovators and municipal leaders announced the winners of the 2011 NYC BigApps2.0 competition, selecting applications that alert users about important urban information ranging from nearby public art to restaurants in violation of health code. Architizer reports on the event, with a run down of some of the winning apps. Roadify, the Grand Prize winner last night, was profiled recently on Transportation Nation. This handy app fuses the urban trends of crowd-sourcing, smart phone navigating and MTA updates, allowing subway riders to update one another on the conditions of their commute and thus provide more immediate transit news than the MTA’s site. While the subway may not be wired, the creators of Roadify hope info from users entering and exiting the station will piece together an accurate picture of whats going on underground.

Over on The Avenue (a collaborative blog from Brookings and The New Republic), Jennifer Bradley asks when states will finally recognize their dependence on metropolitan economies. Her piece summarizes a longer article, co-written with metro-area evangelist Bruce Katz, in Democracy Journal and posits that the reflection prompted by the Great Recession should lead to a restructuring of state government, one that prioritizes the needs of metro areas. The argument is not new, but the historical overview, which reaches back to the pivotal ceding of states’ rights during the 1789 ratification of the US Constitution, is helpful and refreshingly well informed.

Feeling good vibrations in California, State Assemblyman Mike Gatto proposed a bill that will test the use of vibrational energy emitted by automobile traffic to harness electricity. Employing piezoelectricity – a technology that converts the work of physical motion into electricity (which Omnibus readers may recall from Carmen Trudell and Jenny Broutin’s fluxxlab project) — and following the design of similar systems in Italy and Israel, California’s plan will place sensors under roadways and then convert the strain placed on them by cars into an electric charge, which is then channeled into the grid. According to Gatto, a one-lane highway is able to produce 44 megawatts over the course of a year. As a post on the Freshkills Blog points out, piezoelectricity has been used to capture energy in wind, walking and even dancing, so lets hope more permutations of its technology travel to this city.

de Moura's Braga Stadium | Photo by Luis Ferreira Alves via Architectural Record

Eduardo Souto de Moura’s Braga Stadium | photo by Luis Ferreira Alves via Architectural Record

On Monday, the Pritzker Prize Committee announced Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Mora as its 2011 winner. De Mora’s designs, mostly built in Portugal, are softly modernist, employing smooth geometries and a design lexicon that reflects local heritage and a sense of place. As an article in Architectural Record points out, his attention of scale and subtlety affirms a trend among the Pritzker jury in recent years to favor “craft, local scale, and sensibility over architectural extravagance” – welcome values that preserve longevity and strong aesthetics in a time when we need to re-evaluate the impact of hasty, ostentatious building.

High-speed rail has been a hot topic for discussion of late, after the Obama administration committed $53 billion to the construction of a high-speed rail network and set a goal to connect 80% of Americans to its service by 2050. This project will undoubtedly transform the American landscape, and the Van Alen Institute is asking architects, planners and artists to envision what our high-speed future may look like. The Life at the Speed of Rail competition seeks design projects and imagined narratives that will address the impacts of new infrastructure, aiming to better inform the design decisions for the construction of the network. The deadline is May 21st, 2011.

Festival of Ideas for the New City

Over the next month, the downtown landscape will be transformed by a host of artists and cultural institutions – Urban Omnibus among them – leading up to the Festival of Ideas for the New City. Held from May 4-8, the festival is a collaboration between the New Museum, the Architectural League and a long list other cultural institutions, that will host an array of discussions, events and urban interventions to explore the themes of the Heterogeneous City, the Networked City, the Reconfigured City and the Sustainable City. Stay tuned for many more updates from us, including more details about Urban Omnibus’ own contribution to the event.

Next Wednesday, Omnibus Editor Cassim Shepard will be discussing some of the ideas behind and projects presented on Urban Omnibus in the context of other work he’s done at the intersection of urbanism and creative media-making. The lecture, at noon at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge (20 Cooper Square at 5th Street), is free and open to the public.

The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.