Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Are we there yet?

Having been at the receiving end of this question many a time, I was surprised to find it popping into my head! The clock ticks slowly when one travels alone, and I was glad to get to Lyon, a beautiful city in the south east of Paris, the first stop on my two-month trip.

I’m here to attend the Global Cities Forum, an international conference for urban planners and decision-makers. Well, things started in great style with the first day ending at Lyon Town Hall at a reception hosted by the mayor.

The Town Hall is a splendid landmark, built in the mid 1600s. The building was designed by architect Maupain, and then restored by Mansart when it burned down in 1674. Its splendid Roman and Baroque design is well loved and cared for.

This grand building sits on a courtyard called Place de Terreaux, where much to my delight, sits a glorious Bartholdi (best known for creating the Statue of Liberty) fountain. Having studied the work of Bartholdi as an undergraduate student, I was delighted to soak in the details. With this sculpture dominating the courtyard, it needs nothing else and is actually quite bare, paved with slate, surrounded by period architecture. Water bubbles ups from concealed jets in the paving giving this historic space a contemporary flair.

Lyon is a city located between two rivers, the Rhone and the Soane. Next to these rivers are two hills around which the city has evolved. Fourviere is the hill that prays, and Crioux Rousse is the hill that works. The Basilique Notre-Dame, visible from all over the city, rises high above the city on Fourviere. This hill is where the hospitals, convents, schools and cemeteries are, and where the original Roman forum in Lyon is located. Sloped meditation gardens surround this impressive architecture. Crioux Rousse is the hill where it all happens – the markets, the merchants, the fabric displays. Small parks are everywhere, with wonderful spaces where kids gather and play. Lyon hosts a world-famous Festival of Lights on December 8th, when all its residents burn candles in their windows – something Nancy Goldenberg from the Center City District alerted me to. It must be amazing that night; I’m thoroughly impressed with how dramatic the night lights are daily.

There is a lot that is going on that is new - Lyon’s recently completed riverfront development including its convention center, a hotel, offices, apartments, and, get this - a casino! I was eager to see how the casino has been incorporated into the design, and almost walked by it. It blends into this modern complex and appears no different than an entrance to the hotel. Upon closer investigation, I noted that jackets were required to enter! All very understated and tasteful. All this is adjacent to an extraordinary regional park call Parc De La Tete D’or with wonderful horticultural treats.

Now to the conference - an impressive gathering of government officials, planners, designers and environmental organizations. I am struck by how much the science (numbers, statistics and scientific facts) related to climate change, sustainable design, and environmentally responsible design is a natural part of any conversation. The dialog is no longer about the need to act, but more focused on the processes and implementation strategies that are being adopted.

Seems to me, every European city is trying to outdo the other with new innovations in urban redevelopment. As I seek out what creates this energy, I find that federal as well as European Union regulations provide a strong framework that guides urban development, energy conservation and effective resource management. Much to soak on in this front, especially when I get to Germany! At the heart of this conference is information exchange and practical application of innovative ideas. When I couple it with the inspiration of Wangari Maathai at our very own Green Cities Conference held in fall 2006 in Philadelphia, I am struck by how important it is to have "heart" and "head" come together in our work.

The news here is filled with the inauguration of President Zarkozy. Meanwhile I’ve been logging in to to catch the latest on Philadelphia’s Mayor-Apparent Michael Nutter!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

On the Road

Hi! My name is Maitreyi Roy and I work with a not-for-profit organization in Philadelphia - the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. In September 2006, I was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship that takes me on a two-month journey through cities in Europe where I will seek out examples of great urban spaces and learn how they are designed, planned, built, used and maintained.

At PHS, I serve as director with Philadelphia Green, its urban greening program. Since 1974, Philadelphia Green has supported the development and ongoing care of community gardens, neighborhood parks and high-profile public green spaces in Philadelphia. Working in partnership with neighborhood residents, community organizations and city agencies, the program uses greening as a community building tool. It educates and empowers people to make the city a more attractive and livable place through horticulture.

This fellowship offers a life-time opportunity for me to learn about urban open space innovations in cities across Europe. My two months will take me to:
  • Lyon and Paris in France

  • Dublin, Ireland

  • Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Zaragosa in Spain

  • The Ruhr region including Cologne, Dusseldorf, Essen and Kassel, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Freiburg in Germany

  • Brussels, Belgium
I look forward to soaking it all in and imagining possibilities back home in Philadelphia. I hope you’ll come along with me on this green journey!