Can cities heal through 'urban acupuncture'?

With massive urban renewal more difficult in the current economic climate, a theory of urban redevelopment could help revive cities without large investments. Find out how.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

With massive urban renewal more difficult in the current economic climate, a theory of urban redevelopment could help revive cities without large investments.

It's known as urban acupuncture. And rather than focus on large scale redevelopment of urban space, it targets specific smaller-scale projects in the urban environment to help heal cities.

Leon Kaye explains more at The Guardian:

Watch for the "urban acupuncture" movement to transform urban life in the coming decade. Traced to Finnish architect Marco Casagrande, this school of thought eschews massive urban renewal projects in favour a of more localised and community approach.

"Urban acupuncture is a surgical and selective intervention into the urban environment," said Los Angeles architect and professor John Southern in an interview, "instead of large scale projects that involve not only thousands of acres, but investment and infrastructure that municipalities can no longer provide."

Southern explained that the urban acupuncture approach treats cities like a living organism. Such micro-targeting, low-cost, democratic, and empowering tactics provide urban residents the much coveted green space that they desire without driving to a specific location. Although city politicians want to score points from the creation of enormous parks or even large building complexes that score a green certification, those projects often run over budget and even take away space that could benefit local communities in other ways.

Like acupuncture, knowing the right spots to poke (develop) are crucial for success. With new technology it's easier to trace urban blight and make decisions on the best spots to invest in redevelopment projects.

Now mapping software has accelerated the identification of urban spaces that beg for renewal and reveal head-turning statistics. In another interview, University of California professor Nicholas de Monchaux described how software from companies like JAS Digital and Autodesk can locate several thousand blighted or abandoned sites in a few minutes. Such software packages use geographic information systems (GIS) to map unused spaces throughout big cities.

The results are stunning, and present countless opportunities for both green space development and the construction of low-cost, sustainable, and energy efficient buildings. De Monchaux's project Local Code, with the help of GIS technology, located 600 sites in San Francisco that together are two-thirds the size of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's largest park that works as the city's urban lungs. On America's eastern seaboard, empty lots in New York City cumulatively add up to space larger than Manhattan's Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park combined.


This type of urban renewal just makes sense on so many levels. It can make for beautiful, green, people-centered urban environments. It also makes use of precious underutilized, or unused land and turns it into something useful again. But other than just beautification -- with pocket parks and other small-scale projects -- the economic payoff of making a place into an attractive destination point can be huge for a city. And these types of investments come with much less risk compared to a large scale project. You just need to know where to poke.

[h/t Grist]

Photo: whiteknuckled/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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