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  1. A bridge in Mumbai Halfway to paradise A half-built bridge symbolises the urgency and the frustrations of improving India’s infrastructure Dec 22nd 2012 |From the print edition N 1988, when V.S. Naipaul arrived in Bombay, now known as Mumbai, and drove south from its airport, he could tell something unusual was happening because the traffic was so bad. It turned out that a festival of Dalits, the former untouchables, had led to crowds that blocked the roads. The Nobel-prizewinning writer complained of “fumes and heat and din” in his taxi to the Taj Hotel. The chaos was novel enough to form the opening passage of his book, “A Million Mutinies Now”. Today greater Mumbai’s population has almost doubled to 18m, and transport bedlam has become as integral to its psyche as the stockmarket, films and slums. Millions endure commutes that would qualify them for post-traumatic-stress counselling in rich countries. Rush-hour trains get so crushed that a phone or pair of glasses carried in a breast pocket will smash under the pressure of bodies. Every year perhaps 500 people perish after falling off trains in the city and 6,000 die on the tracks. If, like Mr Naipaul, you can afford a taxi, it will reek of sweat and honk and buck for inches of advantage against bigger cars, which under a Darwinian highway code have bullying rights. After monsoon storms the sewers overflow and the roads flood. On nights like this endless lines of vehicles crawl in the dark and you can hear the slop lapping on your car’s underbelly, like waves on a dinghy’s hull. But if you divert from Mr Naipaul’s route, by a creek at a place called Mahim, and turn west, you can take a different trip. Time leaps forward. India becomes China, or even Singapore. The swarm of autorickshaws fades and, after pausing at a toll booth, you find yourself on an eight-lane motorway running parallel with the coast, floating high over the sea on 120 piers, and suspended on wires from two 128-metre towers. The bridge is called the Sea Link and opened in 2009. If you open the window the air is fresh; if you put your foot down you can hit racing speed. From the bridge Mumbai’s berserk skyline seems hazy; the 23 sets of traffic lights and 40 minutes of furious traffic you are bypassing are like a bad dream. The Portuguese fort and aboriginal fishing village that you zip past feel about as real as the scenery of a Disneyland ride. For that matter, can it truly be possible that after just 4.7km, or about five minutes, all eight lanes of this glorious bridge stop in mid-air—as if King Kong had bitten them off? But alas, it is. If you keep going you will plunge into the Arabian Sea. Instead a narrow slip road delivers you back to the city. The shift is disorienting. As your car battles for space again and you pass a Dalit slum, perhaps housing the children of the folk Mr Naipaul saw, it is tempting to look back. What just happened? Viewed from the Sea Link, Mumbai seems like a mirage. But seen from the chaos of the city, it is the Sea Link that is improbable, like a giant hologram. Decent infrastructure and this megacity, maybe this country, do not belong together. Do they? Dream on If any country needs better infrastructure, it is fast-urbanising India. The government hopes a trillion dollars will be spent between 2012 and 2017, although with a creaking banking sector and jumpy investors that is optimistic. If any megacity needs better transport, it is Mumbai. Formed from seven islands, the city was given by Portugal to Charles II of England in 1661 as dowry for his marriage to Catherine of Braganza. It is a long spit whose hub is at its southern tip. Manhattan has 16 bridges, four underwater tunnels and a ferry system linking it to the mainland. Mumbai has just six bridges, all but one at its northern extremity. Two main roads, three railway lines and an airport besieged by shanty towns are its fragile links to the outside world. The city centre is like a head on a long, strangled neck. The difficulty of commuting is partly why Mumbai is so densely populated, with property prices driven high and migrants forced into slums, which now house over half the population. There are only a handful of successful state-sponsored developments: a satellite city on the mainland called Navi (New) Mumbai, some flyovers and a new office park built on marshland near the airport. What Mumbai has been unable to do in practice, it has done in theory. The first master plan to relieve the city’s woes emerged in 1948, the most recent in 2011. In the six decades in between some fine minds, from J.R.D. Tata, a revered industrialist, in 1981, to McKinsey, a consulting firm, in 2003, have had their say. There is widespread agreement on what is required. First, a road round the city’s perimeter—probably a series of Sea Link-style bridges along its entire west coast, and on its east coast a highway partly to be built on land occupied by the city’s dying old port. Second, to link this ring to the mainland, a 22km road over the sea, an idea known as the “trans-harbour link”. Third, near the end of this putative bridge, on the mainland, a new airport. And fourth, at least nine metro lines in the city itself. You can get a flavour of this Utopia in the offices of one of the many government agencies responsible for projects in Maharashtra, the state Mumbai belongs to. A huge, Lego-for-adults model built by a Singaporean firm shows the city centre bisected by an elevated bridge that sweeps in from the ocean. Vast new skyscrapers tower over the Art Deco and colonial buildings. Today’s shabby military cantonment is a nature park. Metro stations are everywhere. Jetties for ferries are abundant. A slum has become a “heritage village” with yachts moored beside it. The sea is blue, the grass is green and the buildings are spotless white. All of it is made up. Indeed of all the transport mega-projects planned for Mumbai, after decades of reports and committees, only one is in use: that surreal 4.7km stretch of the Sea Link. Kafka in Bombay What has gone wrong? One view can be heard on the wasteland at the north abutment of the Sea Link. A ragged family are smashing reinforced concrete rubble. They say they get about a dollar for every two kilos of steel inside—roughly the cost of a one-way Sea Link ticket. Nearby, dogs and feral pigs sniff around abandoned machinery as Girish, aged 52, hits the bottle with his colleagues. The pals work nights in a call centre selling Americans an erectile-dysfunction drug. “You get a quick recharge,” is the sales pitch; the most common response, they all agree, is “Fuck you”. They also agree that this derelict land is a fine spot to unwind. Yet the rumour, which seems to have originated in the nearby slum, is that it has been grabbed secretly by a tycoon to build a mall, or luxury flats; the details vary. A local priest (a church was built nearby in 1575) talks suspiciously of the “fantasy” that any such project could ever benefit the common man. In fact, the land is still owned by the government. But the conspiracy theory that Mumbai is essentially a stitch-up by the rich is not propounded only by drunk cold-callers and men of the cloth. It may be the most widely held belief in the city. Its grandest iteration is that the city’s elite has deliberately sabotaged its transport infrastructure to enrich themselves. The argument goes like this: better transport would lower the scarcity premium on land and property in downtown Mumbai, hurting builders’ profits, and in turn curbing the flow of bribes to India’s political parties. The idea that the rich control the city’s fate was fuelled by a battle in 2005-08 between Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, and his estranged brother, Anil, over a tender to build the trans-harbour link. After a legal tussle Anil undercut his brother by bidding for a concession of nine years and 11 months. The tender process was eventually abandoned. Mumbai is certainly corrupt in other ways. The chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, who wants to clean things up, speaks of a nexus of builders and politicians. One official reckons illegal gains of $5 billion a year have been made by builders bribing their way around planning rules. “Those bastards have ruined everything” by scaring off legitimate firms, says one boss. But the grand conspiracy theory is silly. Mukesh Ambani owns a chunk of land near the proposed new airport, the value of which would soar if the trans-harbour link were built. Builders are buying space near proposed metro stations. And without good transport links the population of south Mumbai has begun to decline, which should be bad for property prices. Most businesspeople say the city’s decay is an embarrassment. The truth is fiddlier—as the half-built Sea Link demonstrates. The bridge was commissioned in 1999 but took ten years to finish, instead of the planned two and a half. Ajit Gulabchand, the boss of HCC, the construction firm that won the contract to build it, says the project was “a Kafkaesque struggle”. He describes himself as a “south Bombay boy” and drives a Bentley through the city to his office in the north-east (he does not use the Sea Link because there are no good connections between the west and the east). He is also subject, like all tycoons, to a secondary conspiracy theory, which is that he gained by being close to Sharad Pawar, who heads a Maharashtrian political clan. Mr Gulabchand says this is rubbish. “I’m not going to deny my friendship,” he says. But, “If I’m so powerful, how come I lost money?” One recent fiasco involved a military convoy doing a U-turn, a naval ambulance, a man in flip-flops with a red flag, and thousands of angry drivers The bridge’s original budget was $74m at current exchange rates, which rose to double that (officials verify these figures). Mr Gulabchand says he is still owed around $100m. The rising cost reflects a deep problem: delays. After construction began the cash-starved road agency in charge, MSRDC, changed the plan from eight lanes to four and back to eight again. The council took an age to release the land needed to house machinery (near where the call-centre employees relax). Maritime rules banned work during the monsoon. Customs held up the import of a 5,400-tonne floating crane. Subsea telecoms cables were found in the wrong place. Old folk living nearby griped about noise pollution. Those are the kind of problems big projects face everywhere. But other hurdles were peculiarly Indian. In a 107-year-old house in the fishing village the bridge passes over at its southern end sits Vijay Worlikar, one of the “nine Patils”, or clan chiefs, who in effect run the area. He is a Koli, an aboriginal people who have been there for centuries; he has childhood memories of Iranian boats sailing to the village to trade pistachios for dried fish. “This land is our land,” he says. Mr Worlikar successfully campaigned to shift the bridge farther from the village, and for a second suspended section to be built to create a channel for the fishing fleet to sail underneath. His legal objections, along with other environmental complaints, caused years of delays. Yet he is a modern man: his daughter is a doctor and his son an executive at the airport. He blames sloppy planning. He says he is now helping the state build relations with other fishing villages in the city to try to avoid further fiascos. Cutting red tape and winning public support would be easier with political leadership. The Sea Link was opened, with a firework display, by Sonia Gandhi, the dynast of India’s ruling Congress Party, and was officially named after her assassinated husband, Rajiv. However, consistent with the rule that the more politicians celebrate a finished project, the less they did to make it happen, the Sea Link had earlier been left out to dry. Mr Gulabchand says that after the state government changed in 1999 and an energetic minister left, the plan had no sponsor to bulldoze through bureaucracy. Maharashtra’s ruling coalition since 1999, of the Congress Party and the NCP, often squabbles over who runs big projects. The politicians have rural vote banks and are afraid, as one official puts it, “to be seen to neglect the rural man”. Mr Gulabchand thinks Mumbai needs more political accountability: “The Sea Link would not have been delayed if there was a mayor responsible for doing it. His re-election would have depended on it.” For the time being, such a change in the city’s governance seems unlikely. Mumbai’s biggest secret To grow fast India needs lots more infrastructure. But lately spending has been falling. The central bank thinks that the value of envisioned projects dropped by 52% in 2011-12. The slump reflects worries about red tape, corruption and doubts about the profitability of public-private partnerships (PPPs). In Mumbai it is easy to despair. “The whole spirit of doing things has gone,” says Mr Gulabchand. Five kilometres south of Mr Worlikar’s village is a fenced plot by the sea where men sit on plastic seats, apparently anticipating, like actors in a production of “Waiting for Godot”, the next section of the Sea Link to arrive. It could be a while. The winner of a PPP project to build and run it, Anil Ambani, has got cold feet. A political tussle has erupted, with the NCP keen to build a bridge using public funds and Congress preferring a road on reclaimed land. Nothing may happen for years. Yet, just as the Sea Link manages those 4.7km of elevated bliss, some projects are moving. Beneath a hill owned by an atomic research agency in north Mumbai, roaring diggers have almost finished excavating two half-kilometre-long tunnels. Outside, in both directions, the ghastly task of clearing slums has been accomplished and their residents moved to blocks of flats nearby. This is part of Mumbai’s best-kept secret—the Eastern Freeway, a new road stretching all the way down the city’s east coast, on the opposite side from the Sea Link, using tunnels and stilts. It should open in 2013, about five years after work began. J.R. Dhane, an engineer on the project, says it has been like painstakingly weaving a thread through the city’s dense fabric. Elsewhere the first metro line is almost finished, its platforms inches away from living-room windows, an experimental monorail is coming up, and a new round of bids is set to begin on a contract to build and operate a $2 billion trans-harbour link. These projects are all being run by the MMRDA, a state development body that has stepped into the vacuum. It owns land worth $12 billion, which it sells to help finance projects, and is viewed as clean and technocratic. Its boss, Rahul Asthana, says that progress is being made, but seems cautious about the city making a Shanghai-style great leap forward. In all probability Mumbai will do enough to prevent a crisis, but not enough to fulfil its vast potential or quickly transform the quality of most of its people’s lives. The same is true of infrastructure across India. And what of that 4.7km stretch of the Sea Link, stranded out there, all alone? The bridge is in good nick but seems to be run poorly by the road agency, MSRDC (its chief declined interview requests). Vehicle numbers are thought to be half those expected. The financial impact is hard to assess: the most recent annual report on the agency’s website is from 2008. Waiting for Utopia Meanwhile the toll-booth system has become a slapstick affair, with a maze of concrete chicanes prone to collapse, complex cash fares and overstaffed booths. Usually receipts are printed, but occasionally they are hand-stamped on the kind of paper used for bingo tickets. Accusations of graft swirl. An electronic swipe system has apparently been introduced but seems to be available only to VIPs. After a suicide jump in August it emerged that the CCTV system to help stop terrorist attacks was not working properly. One recent fiasco involved a military convoy doing a U-turn on the bridge, a naval ambulance, a man in flip-flops with a red flag like a Formula One race official, and thousands of angry drivers. This created a traffic jam along most of the Sea Link, which seemed at last to have become part of the city. Often couples on motorbikes park by the bridge. They are not there to ride on it—two-wheelers are prohibited. They are not seeking intimacy, for the choice spot for that is the rocks around the headland at low tide. Nor are they there for the ambience, for the ground nearby features broken promenades, weeds and rats. They are there for the view. When you see its sweeping cords silhouetted against a dusky sky, the Sea Link is as close to a wonder as Mumbai can offer. And whether this ritual demonstrates low expectations or hope is in the minds of the beholders alone. http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21568582-half-built-bridge-symbolises-urgency-and-frustrations-improving-indias
  2. https://medium.com/@transitapp/the-mini-villages-of-montreal-s-metro-6900e158b2a The metro is the backbone of Montreal. Besides New York City and Mexico City, Montreal’s annual ridership is higher than every other subway system in North America. It’s a feel-good story if you’re from Montreal. But there are lots of big cities in North America. Why has the STM — Montreal’s transit authority — been so successful in getting us to ride the metro? One big reason: Montreal’s metro stations are incredibly well-integrated within the city’s densest neighbourhoods. Would you take the metro if it took you an hour to get there? Probably not. That’s why when urban planners design transit systems, they try to optimize transit station walksheds: the area around a transit station accessible by foot. Just because your grandpa walked seven miles to school (uphill both ways) doesn’t mean you should. Having a metro station within walking distance makes it more likely that you’ll actually use public transit, and not have to rely on a car. This visualization shows the population that lives within walking distance of each Montreal rail station: Montreal rail station walksheds’ population within 800m of stations. The sizes of the circles and the numbers inside them correspond to the population in 1,000 people (24 = 24,000). How does your station compare? In other words, if you were to shout really loudly outside most metro stations, there are lots of people who will hear you. There are thousands — and often tens of thousands — of people living within 800 metres of Montreal’s rail stations. And this is in a city with almost no skyscrapers! To create this graphic, we found the number of people in Montreal who live within 800 metres of the nearest rail station, which represents a 10 minute walk for a fully-grown human with average-sized legs. The Côte-Sainte-Catherine station has the most people living in its walkshed (about 28,000 people), followed by the Mont-Royal and Guy-Concordia stations (about 26,000 each). Mont Royal metro on the left (26,000 people), Montmorency on the right (6,000 people). Where would you rather live? Funnily enough, the metro station with the most foot traffic (Berri-UQAM) actually has less people living around it than the areas around the adjacent Beaudry, St. Laurent, and Sherbrooke stations. This is because many people going through Berri-UQAM don’t actually live there — they’re just stopping to transfer between the Orange, Green, and Yellow lines. Tweet at us!On the whole though, areas around metro stations are much more densethan the rest of Montreal: the population density within metro walksheds is more than 10,000 people/km², while population density outside of them is a mere 3,700 people/km². By giving Montrealers cheap, rapid, and reliable access to the rest of the city, metro stations encourage people to live nearby. But when people can’t live near stations (due to zoning or other reasons) you don’t see as much development, and neighbourhoods become much more car-reliant and “suburbified”. Consider Montreal’s AMT stations, which generally don’t have as many people living nearby as metro stations. AMT stations are often next to highways and surrounded by a sea of parking, while others are smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. The lack of dense housing nearby is one reason that the ridership numbers for the AMT (80,000 daily trips) pale in comparison to the mammoth numbers of the STM Metro (1,250,000 daily trips). When people live further away from stations, they have to rely on feeder buses or park-and-ride’s. To avoid that inconvenience, many people simply choose to use cars instead of taking public transit. Altogether, we’re proud that Montreal’s car cravings are comparatively light. When stacked up against similarly-sized North American cities, our public transit mode share is very high. Take a look: Originally posted by transit planner extraordinaire Jarret Walker on humantransit.orgLargely because of our city’s metro, over 20% of Montrealers take public transit to work, which is more than double the share in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Washington DC, and Seattle. Still, we can do better. In the STM’s Strategic Plan for 2020, one of the primary goals is to reduce the share of car trips from 48% of total trips down to 41%. To make up the difference, they hope to encourage more Montrealers to take public transit. There are many ways to acccomplish this goal: congestion pricing or better parking policies to discourage driving, increased service to boost transit’s convenience, and real-time customer information (iBUS anyone?). In particular, our walkshed graph shows that denser development should be an important part of the STM’s toolkit — notwithstanding the usual political hurdles. Our team at Transit App is also doing its part to make public transit more convenient in Montreal, and in many other cities around the world. From our Mile End office, our team is giving millions of people the flexibility and reliability of a car — without the burdens of actually owning one. Find out how we can help make your transit experience better: You can download Transit App for free on iPhoneand Android
  3. I am currently in Caracas (actually a nearby city called Los Teques, which is sometimes considered part of Greater Caracas). In the city center of Caracas there is a very new (about 5 years old) office building called "Torre David" or sometimes "Torre Confinanzas" which was occupied by people from nearby slums during its last stages of construction. The government then proceeded to pay the developer for the building so they didn't have to take them out. Here are some photos of the building, which is 190 meters tall (that's 623 feet), making it the third tallest building in Venezuela (the first two being the twin towers of Parque Central): The one on the left is one of the twin towers of Parque Central, the tallest buildings in Venezuela (221m). The one on the right is the slum I'm talking about. The orange bricks seen in the close-ups were put there by the current occupants. I wonder if this is the tallest slum in the world.
  4. Je trouve ça assez épatant !! The project by the young architectural studio Urbanplunger has been recently awarded the third prize in the Night Club Hotel in Hong Kong international competition. The main idea is to create a suspended building structure to comply with the extremely compact planning in Hong Kong. The whole structure is elevated above the ground by leaning on the nearby buildings. The nature of the design allows for a green square underneath the building and increases the area of the existing recreation zone. [...] Source : www.arthitectural.com/
  5. Man Enters Brothel To Find Wife Working There Thursday January 10, 2008 CityNews.ca Staff A Polish man got the shock of his life Wednesday when he did something he knows he shouldn't have - cheated on his wife. The unnamed gentleman decided to visit a Warsaw brothel and take advantage of the services provided in the not-so-legal establishment. But when he walked in the door, any lascivious thoughts he may have had turned to anger, after he recognized one of the people working inside - his own spouse. It turns out his wife had decided to make a little extra money on the side, telling her husband she was working at a nearby store to explain where she disappeared to every day and where her supply of cash came from. "I was dumfounded. I thought I was dreaming," the husband told a local newspaper. The couple has been married for 14 years, but it's unlikely they'll be celebrating a 15th anniversary. After their mutual discovery of what each other was up to, they've now filed for divorce.
  6. http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/12/travel/christmas-destinations-2013/ Quebec City, Canada If you're the type who likes to celebrate Christmas around a tree made from recycled sheet metal, with lights powered by the pedaling of nearby cyclists, Quebec is your destination. A haven for environmentally friendly, outdoor enthusiasts, the city bustles with activity, offering holiday programs for all tastes. Modern-day Victorians can enjoy a candlelit evening of stories from Charles Dickens, recounting the Christmas traditions of yore. Sausage and roast chestnut lovers can browse the wares at the German Christmas market. The more religiously inclined can wander an exposition of nativity scenes from around the world. The nearby Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix offers family-friendly hiking, snowshoeing and skiing, while speed devils can zoom around in a snowmobile from Nord Expe.
  7. The proposal for the new Sculpture Museum of Leganés by MACA is the result of setting a few specific objectives to accomplish. Their main objectives include the importance of providing appropriate exhibition spaces, adapting the new building to the urban surroundings and gardens nearby, and demonstrating flexibility while creating an iconic design for visitors. More images and architects’ description after the break.