URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The accessibility brings me to tiers…

Zhongshan Avenue

While Los Angeles was spending over one billion U.S. dollars this summer to add a lane to the already impossibly congested 405 freeway, the people of Guangzhou were enjoying their brand new Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT).  The system, which includes 22.5 kilometers of segregated bus lanes, 26 stations, and 40 bus routes which enter and leave the BRT corridor (which runs along Zhongshan Avenue, see section through street), has only been open since 2010 and already services over eighty thousand riders at each station per day.  In just one year, people have embraced the BRT wholeheartedly, and by choosing it over cars or taxis they are thus helping to improve overall traffic speed and flow.  Moreover, what is merely the icing on the cake is that the system has helped eliminate fifty thousand tons of CO2 emissions in its first year due to fewer bus kilometers driven.

As it was only possible to build the BRT by dedicating five lanes of Zhongshan Avenue—a major east-west thoroughfare of Guangzhou—to the project, the system made use of the ‘old’ and turned it into the ‘new,’ requiring that barely any new infrastructure be built.  The entire project only cost about ¥1.3 billion (just under $190 million), just one tenth of the initial cost that was required to build the metro.  Planning was begun in 2005, and the system was already in full swing by 2010.  Conversely construction on the Los Angeles County Metro Rail, which is a comparatively inefficient system, was not begun until 1985 despite having been conceived a whole nine years prior.  Today, the eight year to twenty-one year old LA system has an average weekday ridership of fewer than four hundred thousand, while the BRT enjoys a daily rate of 2.08 million users.  And yet, with only three on-grade crosses, the BRT affects the flow of traffic very little.  (In fact, it is essentially an aboveground subway system.)

Successful transportation systems move their users through tiers, and the new orange busses of the Guangzhou BRT are level two of a five-tier configuration.  To compare, Los Angeles is primarily a one-tier arrangement—the car—with even the pedestrian level being obliterated.  If tier one of Guangzhou’s approach to public transit is the city’s metro (three BRT stations have direct transfers to the metro), and three is the existing city bus, then

BRT bike station

four, which is perhaps the most innovative component of the BRT, is the bike share component.  Every BRT bus stop neighbors a bike station filled with recognizable orange bicycles (to match the busses, of course) where riders holding a transit pass can check out a bike which is free for the first hour, then only ¥2 ($.31) for each additional hour.  The idea behind this is that the system can branch into areas of the city (i.e. the urban villages) that public transit could not previously access.  In the future, these electronically-monitored ‘satellite’ stations will be installed deep within the villages, so that migrant workers can get off the bus, ride a bike home, and then ride one back to the bus the following day.

In one example after another, it is proven that not only is the BRT beautifully engineered for expediency and efficiency, but that it also provides mobility for the populace, not the rich.  By collecting and incorporating the existing city lines into the BRT, the existing system had to change very little, which was both civically cost effective and socially sensitive in that it did not upset the routines of the regular users.  And, although car users are said to dislike it, the traffic congestion in the car lanes does not seem to have changed much since the segregated bus lanes were introduced.  Moreover, at a cost of only ¥3 ($.47) per journey no matter how far one is travelling, these lower class migrant workers who reside within the aforementioned villages truly can afford to utilize the BRT.

The new combined arrangement covers over ninety kilometers. One can travel about 29 kilometers in one hour, and at any point along the BRT segment of Zhongshan Avenue one can get off the bus to enjoy a meal at a number of fast food restaurants that have opened up since the BRT stations were established, then get back on quite soon if so inclined, since there are busses every ten minutes. It seamlessly connects to the urban fabric in spite of its young age.  In fact, my exploration of the BRT and its surrounding parasitic program was the first time I understood Guangzhou urbanistically, despite having already been there for a week.  And the whole activity only cost me ¥6…

Section through street

R.

Filed under: Automobile, Car, comparison to Los Angeles, Infrastructure, innovation, Los Angeles, Parasitic, pedestrians, Public Transportation, traffic, Urban Village

The Dark Knight of Guangzhou

A hero, a villain, a facilitator, a complexity, a connector; Guangzhou’s Bus Rapid Transit system is all these things. It is the bane of the rich and the automobile enthusiast, eradicating almost half of the formerly 16-lane Zhong Shan Road. Yet it is the savior of those who have no means of transportation, provides a sigh of relief to the sustainable thinkers, and induces wide-eyed wonder for the young aspiring architect. Inspired by one of the world’s most robust public transportation systems located in Bogotá, Columbia, the behemoth spans 29 kilometers with 26 bus stations along its length, as well as bicycle stations, to make even the narrow-alleyed urban villages accessible. This feat was accomplished in just over 5 years.

As I was riding the B2A line of the BRT back in the direction of our hotel located on the outskirts of the city, I was fully expecting to have to hop onto a taxi for the last leg of the trip. My jaw dropped as the bus pulled onto our street and stopped not a hundred yards from the hotel. That’s what 2 Yuan got me. It’s a pity I only just learned about this phenomenal system the night before we left Guangzhou for Zhuhai. Until next time old friend…

When I first think of strategizing the layout of an urban infrastructure, I would probably only think to connect major city nodes that have the most foot traffic in order for the system to be sustainable and operate at maximum efficiency. Although The BRT may have laid its foundations upon that strategy, its reach has spread beyond simply connecting major nodes. By connecting even the currently obscure outreaches of the city, it creates accessibility to those areas. This encourages the business workers of the city center to live in these cheaper areas by eliminating the problem of commute, which in turn attracts parasitic businesses to line these routes, increasing real estate value, and all in all, stimulating economic growth. The infrastructure has evolved from being the parasite to the predator.

The system reminded me of California and its proposal to construct a high-speed railway from Bakersfield to Fremont. Both systems are, or plan to be, running through a lot of “no-man’s lands,” both hoping that this infrastructure will create jobs. California’s mistake however is that it does not establish a connection between two critical masses, being Los Angeles and San Francisco, to get the foot traffic necessary for the economy to develop along the railway. Guangzhou, as is the case with many Chinese cities, already has that critical mass of people in the sheer size of its population.

So how can such an effective, albeit radical, public transportation system come into being in such a short span of time? A strong central government and a loose set of policies definitely expedite the process. In the United States, our lobbyists hold an iron grip on the speed of any form of infrastructural development. It’s ironic really, that our government, by the people and for the people, is coupled with an individualistic mindset that ultimately does not benefit the majority of its population as far as urbanism is concerned. The everyday in the lives of us citizens really boils down to a product, as Henri Lefebvre states in The Everyday and Everydayness, that is not in our control, but in the control of the “managers of the means of production (intellectual, instrumental, scientific).”

So is a strong central government flawless? Of course not. From the outsider’s perspective, I obviously do not experience the pains and struggles that such a system places on its enormous lower class. But in the end, it is more of a matter of a collectivist versus an individualist mentality. The BRT, as I mentioned, was made primarily for the benefit of the poor, and was in fact supported by many automobile industries in China. In LA, the poor silently cry for an equivalent BRT system as the automobile industry continues to lobby for money to be spent on additional lanes to the 405. The BRT is the system of infrastructure that Los Angeles needs, but not the one it deserves right now. Until our lobbyists learn to sacrifice a little for the greater good, our infrastructure can’t be our hero. It’ll remain a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.

– Muhi

Filed under: Automobile, Collectivism, Infrastructural Growth, Infrastructure

Mobility and The Automobile II

CHINA/ united states

China is currently undergoing rapid rates of development. As China becomes stronger as a nation, we are starting to see quantitative data that is truly jaw dropping. Throughout China, within the next twenty years, they are looking at creating 400 new airports to be built throughout the country, and the talk of airports only begins to touch the surface. With each of these airports, come complex connection systems including high-speed rails, local rails, subways, and intense highways connecting automobile and bus networks. All of these connections happening at a single node create the ability to connect these nodes creating a dense network of fluid transportation from city center to city center. This master plan is also being executed at an extraordinary speed, and if successful the ability for people to move from city to city will better promote larger distributions of people and commerce throughout China. With this robust network of public transportation, the role for automobiles in China starts to become almost insignificant. When you can get from Hong Kong to Shenzhen in approximately 14 minutes, why would you travel the hour it takes to get there by car?

The truth is though that the car is still a very important player in China, and this is mostly due to foreign influence and China’s new “capitalistic” business model. The car is still marketed as a luxury item. In china you see a higher distribution of luxury name brands on the road compared to other countries. These high-class automakers have launched their campaigns across China, and China has bought into their luxury model. In order to get a car in China, you not only have to buy the car, but you also have to buy the limited, distributed license plates. It is through this exclusivity that makes the car a luxury item within itself, through the basic principals of supply and demand. The role of the car in China is not necessarily driven based on transportation needs; rather it is based on image, wealth, and social standing.

These ideas of social standing through materialistic objects are demonstrated in the film “Beijing Bicycle”. The film focused on lower, middle, and upper classes of Beijing, and the tensions that exist amongst the three classes. The story’s true protagonist was actually a bicycle, which literally was passed back and forth through the different social classes. Guie’s character represented the lower class, where he was currently stuck. Guie was the first to obtain this shiny, new mountain bike that allowed him to experience and work for a middle class life. It was through this material object where he literally saw a better future for himself, in which other characters commented on how this Bike will truly raise him out of poverty. On the other hand, Jian represented the middle class in Beijing, and he also obtained the same bike for duration of the film. The bike was used as a way to blend in with his classmates. When the bike was out of Jian’s possession he immediately felt insignificant, and alienated himself from his peers. This contrast on the importance of a single bike to two completely different people and classes shows the power behind materialistic objects in China.

The end of “Beijing Bicycle” framed a street view, and the power of this image really summed up the complexity material objects have in China. The streetscape seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary for Beijing. The difference was the filter that the film set up to view this scene. After watching the impact one bicycle had on two completely different people, demonstrated the power of material objects in Chinese culture. The streetscape then took the idea of the bike and applied it to the automobile. The street was busy with car traffic up and down the center of the streets, and pushed off to the side was another lane of strictly bicycle traffic. This image addressed the idea on how severe social issues are in China, and how obtaining material items for transportation has become one of the key players in determining social standing.

The automobile plays significant roles not only in America, but also in China. In America the idea of necessity plays a crucial part on why we have so much dependence on the automobile. In Contrast, China could technically function without cars, but the idea of luxury plays a larger role in why cars have become so widely accepted. When the car gets put up on a pedestal, as the glorified form of transportation there is no doubt that it will create the desire to obtain one. With China pumping out more and more licenses every day, soon supply will meet demand, and we will start to see the car becoming more obtainable to the Chinese people, very much how the car became more obtainable to the American People. With China’s extreme infatuation with the intrinsic properties of materialistic objects, I question how far off they are from becoming another form of a congested America? With their new market driven economy the idea of ego will take larger precedent than with the ideas of a functioning society. Will the automobile become the new bicycle? If this does become the situation, then China will greater influence a two-tiered society, in which the car will act as one of the greater obstacles for the lower and middle class to overcome.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, Automobile, Beijing, Bicycle, Car, China, Circulation, Congestion, Public, Renjilian, Ross, Transportation, Uncategorized, Urbanism, , , ,

Mobility and The Automobile

UNITED STATES/ china

The United States has been criticized for its lack of public transportation, and ability to move around urban centers. This is largely in part due to the automobile development being one of the primary sources for America’s economic and industrial strength. With American automobile manufacturers pumping out new makes and models, the automobile has become a fashion accessory to the average American household. Many times we are not talking about one car per household, rather one car per person, and now we can start to understand why America is having such congestion problems. The truth is though that America is fixated on the car. Even if robust public transportation systems were in play, my guess is that many Americans would still opt to travel by their beloved automobile.

Sprawl has been a key contributor towards the automobile lifestyle. The American model of suburbia has been fully utilized, and has allowed our cities to reach out hundreds of miles from their epicenter. America has the land, which allows us to live in low-density situations. This creates the “American Dream” lifestyle with the two-story house outside of the city surrounded by a white picket fence, and a yard for the kids to play in. This dream has been adopted by millions of Americans, and has contributed to this object sprawl across America. The ability to connect these different objects becomes daunting. Even worse are sprawled cities like Los Angeles with higher populations being scattered over a large area, allowing no hierarchy across the landscape. In these conditions public transportation becomes extremely difficult to make efficient connections to move people amongst the fabric. Public transportation becomes fully utilized when its convenience is greater than the car. This is seen in cities like Boston, and New York where street congestion and parking conditions are nearly impossible. Public transportation also becomes a viable business model in environments with higher density. Higher density equals more people in given areas, which provides quicker turn over rates and shorter distances. Low sprawl environments don’t have enough people per given area allowing for public transportation to be inefficient.

Another reason for this automobile craze is the luxury factor. In America the auto industry is celebrated similar to high fashion. Promoting the idea that the car is a reflection of you, and a tool for measuring success. With so many makes and models, which fall into different value systems such as cost, performance, versatility, and aesthetics, the car has advanced from people mover to a work of art and design. America has literally put the car up on a pedestal, and has shown it not only to the United States as the best way to move, but has also sold this model to the world. The automobile in America has become the most respectable way to not only travel, but to travel in style and “convenience” to the individual.

The success of the automobile also comes from the means of obtaining one. In America having your very own car is as simple as 199 down, 199 a month for 48 months, and a tagged on 1.9 % interest rate. Although this terminology doesn’t sound simple, this strategy of borrowing has made the car easily obtainable. It is difficult for many families to put down $30,000 for a car, but when you spread that cost out over 48 months, the car itself becomes more realistic. The truth is that with our given lack of public transportation, it is nearly impossible to live outside of urban density without a car. This cause and effect relationship is based on the demand for cars, and the ability to get financing for them; the two systems feed off of each other. In retrospect  Oprah’s motto;  “EVERYBODY GETS A CAR” is almost the reality.

It is through these various factors that the “land of the automobile” has been born, and as a country we have strived and became comfortable with the presence of our companions. Houses have been fitted with a two or three car garage, and a long driveway connecting our objects to our overbuilt/ under built roadway infrastructure. City streets are split down the middle allowing people to only cross at intersections. As a country we have accepted to travel 10 miles in either 10 minutes, or 2 hours. Our dependence on the automobile has started to become a burden on our country. The dependence on oil in order to keep The United States functioning has created excruciating tension that makes us enslaved to oil prices. We have to rely on other countries for importing oil, for we cannot even come close to producing as much as we consume. The automobile has given Americans the opportunity to sprawl, and has created new terminology such as rush hour, which focuses on the absurd number of people traveling, within certain time constraints of the day, into and out of the downtown areas. Even with all of these problems, America still willingly depends on the automobile as their primary source of transportation, and many see no other model to be fit.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: America, Architecture, Automobile, Car, Congestion, Problems, Public, States, Suburbia, Transporation, United, Urbanism, , ,

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu