Monthly Archive: March 2015

Charred Cedar Wraps A Stunning Minimalist Addition in Norway

Ankersvingen Annex Burnt Cedar Addition in Jar, Norway

A simple black box in many ways, the Ankersvingen Annex succeeds with its simplicity; it adds space without subtracting from the surroundings. “It was a really neat connection between the house and garden, which was totally lacking with the existing architecture,” says architect Thor Olav Solbjør of SAAHA. “We took the stunning views of the fjord as the starting point.”

Image courtesy of Are Carlsen.

Architect Thor Olav Solbjør doesn’t see wood as just another material choice, he sees it as a way to “communicate with the surroundings.” Tasked with building a 750-square-foot addition to a country home in Jar, Norway, set amid pine forests, his team at SAAHA turned to charred cedar, a traditional Japanese building material created with charcoal, to create a simple, striking extension.

NYC Councilman Wants to Preserve Central Park Sunshine

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New York City Councilman Mark Levine, chair of the parks committee, is trying to keep some sunshine in Central Park. Capital New York reports that the councilman will introduce legislation to create a task force that will assess the growing (literal) shadow the city’s skyscrapers are casting over city parks.

Though Levine doesn’t intend to go as far as the way of San Francisco and Boston, where “sunlight ordinances” are implemented to ensure height cap for buildings that line parks, Levine’s proposed legislation is only in the early stages of attempting to form a conclusive answer to the shadow of the “Billionaire’s Row” described in a 2013 New York Times op-ed.

“The shadows of the larger of these planned buildings would jut half a mile into the park at midday on the solstice and elongate to around a mile in length as they angled across the park toward the Upper East Side, darkening playgrounds and ball fields, as well as paths and green space like Sheep Meadow that are enjoyed by 38 million visitors each year,” wrote Warren St. John in the op-ed.

The high-rise buildings under development around Central Park include One57, a 90-story condominium criticized for both its height and its 421-a tax abatement, which is designed to incentivize affordable housing. One57’s units are selling for millions of dollars.

Levine believes regulating building height and keeping park space out of the shadows is a move that favors developers who should want parks to “remain vibrant places” — for the sake of real estate prices at least. Levine’s proposed task force would meet biannually to assess new developments that could potentially cast shadows and recommend methods of mitigating the issue.

Lancashire Insurance Group, London, by EDGE

Fx


Project Info
Client:
Lancashire Insurance Group
Architect: EDGE
Size: 3,054 sq m
Cost: Confidential
Duration: Eight months


Words by Emily Martin.

Photography by Gareth Gardner.

20 Fenchurch Street has been a topic of conversation since construction began in 2009, and with building works completed last year the ‘Walkie Talkie’, as many know it, has dramatically altered London’s skyline.

The building offers spectacular city views, but its greatest advantage for tenants is the enlarged floor space when compared to some of London’s other commercial buildings.

And this was a deciding factor for the Lancashire Insurance Group, which has taken up occupation in the latest landmark structure.

A variety of seating, including bar stools by Muuto, has been provided in the Forum design concept to provide a social space that conveys the characters of both companies

It has dedicated more a third of the floor plate to front-of-house and break-out areas while retaining comfortable and spacious work zones.

‘The floor plates throughout 20 Fenchurch Street are larger than many of the other London skyscrapers,’ explains Michael Fern, project principal and executive director at EDGE, which completed the new interior space for the Lancashire Insurance Group. Located on level 29, the gross internal area is 3,054 sq m.

A freestanding reception desk greets visitors
A freestanding reception desk greets visitors

‘This allowed the company to occupy only one floor and yet at the same time keep to its density requirements,’ says Fern.

With the space shared with Cathedral Insurance Group, another insurance company underneath Lancashire Insurance Group umbrella, EDGE was briefed to create a ‘next-generation design’, with the practice establishing the ‘common elements shared by both businesses’. Fen explains: ‘We needed to work out how to affiliate the two companies’ employer brands to form a unified space that complimented them both…EDGE’s big idea for the space was to create “The Forum”: an open and honest community celebrating the unified spirit of Lancashire and Cathedral.’

Key materials were selected to represent the two brands
Key materials were selected to represent the two brands

A principal challenge for EDGE was integrating the two businesses – or what it describes as ‘two cultures’ – to create a unique employer brand while maintaining individual identity. Ferns says the resulting design promotes interaction and transforms the Lancashire and Cathedral ways of working into a more collaborative and productive method. ‘The new office is the first integrated workplace for both companies, which in effect do the same thing. But the space needed to reflect their separate cultures while allowing them to share spaces, such as reception, visitors’ lounge, meeting rooms and staff facilities. The project promotes interactions, so answering a key brief requirement with social design.’

Using ‘impact’ as the scheme’s principal vision, EDGE has created an uplifting journey for visitors and staff from entry to workspace.

And being located on the 29th floor the practice wanted to capitalise on the spectacular views. ‘We wanted to do justice to the London skyline by ensuring the design provided great visibility throughout,’ says Fern.

‘As the lift doors open and you step out into the space you are greeted with a circular reception desk, the shape of which frames the panoramic backdrop of the city skyline.’

 A pic ‘n’ mix vending machine is a quirky addition to the visitor’s lounge
A pic ‘n’ mix vending machine is a quirky addition to the visitor’s lounge

The Forum design concept features a dedicated client and staff social/entertainment area, occupying a third of the floor space. Featuring orange bar stools that offset a statement black and white tiled bar – key colours of the Lancashire branding – the space is used primarily for staff events. In discussing how the space could further reflect the characters and work ethics of Lancashire and Cathedral, EDGE decided on a few statement pieces using materials that ’emulated the honesty’ Lancashire wanted to convey.

Concrete benches, which stand as a statement of ‘integrity’ for the businesses, mixed with a timber theme to represent Lancashire/Cathedral as ‘honest and open businesses.’

One of the more quirky features seen in the design is the installation of a ‘pic ‘n’ mix’ station in the visitors’ lounge. This, along with some retro vending machines stationed on one of the lounge walls, creates a playful environment where clients and staff alike can relax and feel at home. In merging the personalities of the two companies colour quickly became significant and the bold black and orange branding of Lancashire was integrated into the design scheme to create a welcoming space.

These accent colours, also used in some seating and wall panelling, are mixed with more muted tones to provide warmth, as well as with more subtle tones of Cathedral’s branding.

 Space-efficient ‘trader booths’ fit in with the open-plan style of the design
Space-efficient ‘trader booths’ fit in with the open-plan style of the design

With a large part of the overall space being used for client and staff entertaining, EDGE considered how to maximise the efficiency of remaining space for meeting rooms and work areas. The more traditional booths of insurance firms’ underwriters were replaced with more space-efficient ‘trader booths’; a more open-plan style of booth. EDGE say that they also fit with the relaxed office environment taking away the formality of an enclosed room.

This open-plan style is a feature of the workspace, encouraging not only space efficiency but also the desired ‘family feel’ as wished for by the client. For quiet work space EDGE has created ‘focus booths’ as part of the scheme, which are interspersed throughout the open-office space, and feature transparent sliding doors to keep with the theme of openness while providing privacy.

Fern comments: ‘The dramatic, branded interior breaks new ground for what is normally a staid and “traditional” industry, positioning the client as change makers within their sector by creating a new “corporate cool”.’

Suppliers

Furniture:
Vitra
Moroso
Fritz Hansen
Knoll
Walter Knoll
B&B Italia
James Burleigh

Flooring:
Desso
Bolon

Lighting:
Vibia

Anti-Growth Lawsuits Are All the Rage

A lawsuit contends that bike lanes created under Mayor Michael Bloomberg are harmful to the environment. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Do New York’s bike lanes harm the environment? According to a lawsuit filed several weeks ago, they may. The suit comes from a former Libertarian Party candidate for state attorney general, Carl Person, and contends that because former Mayor Michael Bloomberg never completed an environmental impact report (EIR), a number of his lanes and pedestrian plazas are illegal and should be scrapped. According to New York Daily News, Person charges the roadway additions with “significant” environmental harm because they slow everyone down, which wastes gas.

His reasoning might sound like it belongs in the comments section of a regional newspaper, but he’s not the first person to use cherry-picked environmental concerns against a project with clear potential for decreasing vehicle emissions. And he’s not the first person to take those concerns to court, citing state and national EIR laws.

Last year, a San Diego-based group filed a suit with a nearly identical argument: that a road-diet re-stripe could stall traffic and threaten public safety. As Streetsblog’s Melanie Curry pointed out, that case resembled a 2006 suit from San Francisco. And back in New York, the infamous Prospect Park bike lane lawsuit made comparable claims.

Jennifer Hernandez is a San Francisco-based environmental lawyer who’s written extensively on the policies governing EIRs — and the ways they’re abused. She says that environmentally flavored lawsuits against infill and public transit projects are all the rage these days.

“You have a real, partly generational battle being played out right now,” she says, describing many of the suits’ instigators as anti-growth groups defending “the character of our neighborhood” and decrying the lost parking and upped density of transit-oriented development. Central to many of these scuffles are differing understandings of exactly what “environmental” law should do: decrease reliance on cars or, in Hernandez’s words, protect homeowners’ “private view from their bathroom windows.”

She associates the latter particularly with the Golden State’s EIR law, CEQA. A member of the statewide alliance advocating CEQA reform, Hernandez co-authored a 2013 report for the law firm Holland & Knight, where she is a partner, examining 95 cases from 1997 to 2012 (the report looked at plaintiffs who questioned an EIR’s validity, not whether an EIR should have been done in the first place, which is Person’s argument). Of all the projects that could be labeled either “greenfield” or “infill,” nearly 60 percent were infill. Public, not private, entities proposed nearly a third of the challenged projects.

Last year, Hernandez also co-authored an in-depth look at lawsuits under CEQA’s national counterpart, NEPA.

“Everywhere you have people trying to preserve the status quo, but do they go to court and win?” she asks. “In New York, agencies win all the time.”

But in California cities, they very well might not. Agencies in the Golden State win about 53 percent of the time, Hernandez says, while challengers win about 47 percent of the time. Plaintiffs have a good shot at slowing the development of environmentally iffy projects — big box stores, industrial polluters — but also neighborhood libraries, high-density housing and mass transit.

According to Michael Teitz, a professor emeritus of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley, the laws that mandate and govern EIRs are still important.

“The environmental community sees CEQA as an absolutely essential line of defense,” he says. “And there’s some truth to that — without CEQA it would be very difficult to defend against really egregious ways of plundering the environment.”

But as a paper he co-wrote in 2005 examines, the law’s piecemeal evaluation strategy (project by project, EIR by EIR) can encourage short-sightedness, particularly in the area of mitigation.

“[L]owering a residential project’s density might help mitigate traffic congestion or open space problems at the local scale, but when viewed regionally might only compound the problems if development is pushed to outlying areas,” the paper states. “If, instead of being displaced, the development fails to occur, then the so-called mitigation may compound housing shortages.”

In the years since Teitz co-authored that paper, California lawmakers passed SB 375, which does help streamline regional planning, and enacted a few minor CEQA reforms. In New York, a progressive DOT is busily re-striping city streets-, and in San Diego, an aggressive climate action plan calls for a transit remake.

Still, environmental litigation under EIR law remains. And in California, it’s still, often, successful.

Indy Councilman on State Law: “It Makes Us All Look Like Backwater Hicks”

Protesting RFRA at the Indiana State House (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has called on the Indiana General Assembly to either repeal or add protections to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many believe would enable discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Indianapolis Star reports that Ballard criticized the law for both its economic and cultural implications: “Our city thrives because we have welcomed and embraced diversity,” Ballard said. “RFRA threatens what thousands of people have spent decades building.”

Senate Bill 101 was signed by Governor Mike Pence last week, to be implemented July 1st, and has since ignited an onslaught of backlash. RFRA states government cannot intrude on an individual’s religious freedom unless it can provide a compelling interest — the example of the Amish not having to switch to fluorescent lights on horse and buggies is one example being thrown around a lot. Local Indiana protestors and big businesses have publicly decried the act, however, because it could essentially legalize the option for businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers.

Though gay marriage became legal in Indiana last October, no statewide law protecting gay individuals from discrimination has been formally put in place. Though RFRA has been implemented in other states, they are typically tempered with statewide bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and religious identity.

Publicly traded companies such as Angie’s List and Salesforce have threatened to reduce their investment in Indianapolis, while major public figures from Hillary Clinton to Apple’s Tim Cook came out against the bill.

“The real harm … is that it makes us all look like backwater hicks,” said City Councilman Zach Adamson to the Indy Star. “Indiana is losing jobs and young professionals like crazy. How much more can our state government make Indiana uninviting?”

Indianapolis has its own anti-discrimination ordinance on the books, which could potentially differentiate it from the rest of Indiana, but city leaders fear Senate Bill 101 would overrule those guidelines.

7 Tasteful Kitchens Built on a Budget

New IKEA kitchen

A master in low-cost design, the Swedish home store IKEA released its new modular kitchen system, Sektion, to the applaud of budget-conscious homeowners. A 10-by-10-foot kitchen fitted with Sektion cabinets ranges from around $1,300 to $2,200, excluding appliances, and comes in various color and surface options.

Design Days Dubai 2015

Design Days Dubai, which this March marked its fourth edition, is the largest design fair in the Middle East and it is continuing to confirm its identity as an event that eschews the usual model of global design trade shows.

My #makeyousmilestyle Instagram Feed Faves

Bright.Bazaar’s Instagram hashtag #makeyousmilestyle now has over 3,000 pictures on it as more and more people share their personal make-you-smile style discoveries and adventures from all corners of the world everyday. Of course, I find it so inspiring to see colour ideas and inspirations through the eyes of others, but I also get a kick out of seeing others as excited about colour as I am! I was

Knight Cities Challenge Announces 32 Winners

Akron was one of the 26 communities included in the Knight Cities Challenge. (Photo by Sleepydre)

Count another funding boost for the tactical urbanism movement. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the winners of the first Knight Cities Challenge today — with money going to innovators who hope to make a big community impact with one creative idea.

The projects include a program to train Detroit rehabbers to combat blight and reactivate vacant buildings, a subscription service that celebrates Akron with a monthly boxed selection of local goods, a newcomer welcome initiative that would present St. Paul newcomers with a warm winter hat, and porch swings for Charlotte’s public spaces.

“Not only did the Knight Cities Challenge uncover a wealth of new ideas to make our cities more successful, it will help strengthen a network of civic innovators who are taking hold of the future of their cities,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “These important connections will help create a pipeline for new approaches to city transformation and spark the type of collaboration vital to growing and spreading good ideas.”

Thirty-two of the 126 proposed projects will share the $5 million prize to make their visions a reality. Participants ranged from individuals, government and nonprofit groups, all looking to improve one of 26 target communities.

From the press release, here are some of the winners, from seven of the Knight cities:

Akron

Better Block International Hostel on Airbnb, $155,000 by Team Better Block (submitted by Jason Roberts): Turning a vacant property into an Airbnb hostel and cultural hub in Akron’s North Hill to tap the entrepreneurial potential of the neighborhood’s growing Bhutanese population.

Unbox Akron, $52,168 (submitted by Chris Horne): Fostering a stronger connection to the city by creating a subscription service that celebrates Akron with a monthly selection of local goods and experiences delivered in a box.

Charlotte

No Barriers Project, $67,100 (submitted by Sarah Hazel): Bringing two diverse neighborhoods together in a public park that sits on their border by creating a new common space that uses light, sound and play to stimulate conversation.

“Porch” Swings in Public Places, $28,000 (submitted by Tom Warshauer): Fostering conversation among strangers by installing Charlotte’s signature porch swings in public spaces.

Take Ten Initiative, $74,000 (submitted by Alyssa Dodd): Challenging municipal workers to take 10 minutes each week to connect with a city resident and report on their thoughts and ideas.

Detroit

Brand Camp: Detroit’s Neighborhood Initiative, The RE-Effect, $164,810 by Brand Camp University (submitted by Hajj Flemings): Changing the narrative of underserved neighborhoods by developing compelling branding and digital presences for neighborhood businesses that better tell their stories.

Brick + Beam Detroit, $87,424 by Michigan Historic Preservation Network (submitted by Emilie Evans): Creating a new community of Detroit rehabbers who will work together to combat blight, reactivate vacant buildings and improve their city.

The Buzz, $84,055 by Detroit Future City (submitted by Erin Kelly): Pairing barbers with landscape contractors to transform overgrown vacant lots through facilitated design workshops that teach mowing and pattern-making techniques.

Detroit Homecoming, $100,000 by Crain’s Detroit Business (submitted by Eric Cedo): Engaging Detroit expats with a new digital community designed to keep them connected to Detroit and its opportunities.

LIVE Detroit, $40,000 by LIVE Detroit (submitted by Rachel Perschetz): Attracting and retaining residents by creating a center for information about Detroit neighborhoods and city life that showcases the best of Detroit.

Miami

The Science Barge, $298,633 by CappSci (submitted by Nathalie Manzano-Smith): Creating a public focal point for Miami’s climate issues with the Science Barge, a floating, urban sustainable farm and environmental education center powered by renewable energy.

Philadelphia

The Pop-Up Pool Project, $297,000 by Group Melvin Design (submitted by Benjamin Bryant): Introducing fun, easy solutions at city pools, which will be designed to make them more vibrant places to meet and interact with neighbors and friends.

South Philly’s Stoop, $146,960 by Scout (submitted by Lindsey Scannapieco): Transforming the vacant space surrounding the recently closed, historic Edward Bok school in South Philadelphia into a new community living room that brings community members together, encourages connections and engages people with neighborhood history.

Urban Arboreta, $65,000 by City Parks Association of Philadelphia (submitted by Timothy Baird): Transforming vacant land in Philadelphia into urban forests that produce trees to be replanted on city streets and in parks.

Next Stop: Democracy! The Voting Signage Project, $166,394 by Here’s My Chance (submitted by Lansie Sylvia): Making voting in local elections more enticing by creating new types of signs at polling places and commissioning artists to perform site-specific pieces on election days.

Neighborhood Conservation Kit, $20,000 by Central Roxborough Civic Association (submitted by Sandy Sorlien): Putting the future of communities in residents’ hands with a toolkit they can use to create a special zoning designation called a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay.

Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub, $261,500 by Mt. Airy USA (submitted by Anuj Gupta): Harnessing the talent and energy of immigrants to revitalize distressed neighborhoods by providing centers that would offer immigrant entrepreneurs low-cost space, language assistance, workshops and trainings, and access to traditional and non-traditional sources of capital.

DIG Philly by The Big SandBox Inc., $149,050 (submitted by Jacques Gaffigan): Bringing together members of the community from diverse ages, ethnic and economic groups to create a movement to reinvent schoolyards across the city using traditional grassroots outreach and new digital engagement tools.

San Jose

Houslets, $40,000 by Houslets (submitted by Tim McCormick): Prototyping and deploying low-cost, modular housing and workspace units to test a new model for temporary and affordable housing for San Jose’s fast-growing population.

San Pedro Squared, $139,000 by San Jose Downtown Association (submitted by Scott Knies): Testing a new method of economic revival focused on bringing activity to the streets by installing pop-up retail units on the ground floor of a parking structure opposite the lively San Pedro Square market.

St Paul, Minnesota

4 Play, $117,000 by Greater MSP (submitted by Peter Frosch): Changing the way people perceive the city and its climate by inviting all residents to come together for an outdoor activity—whether it’s ice fishing or summer canoeing—once per season.

8-80 Vitality Fellow, $175,000 by Mayor’s Office, City of St. Paul (submitted by Mayor Chris Coleman): Promoting a more livable St. Paul by embedding a fellow in the mayor’s office who will work across departments to manage the $42 million committed to the mayor’s 8-80 Vitality Fund, which aims to ensure that walking, biking and public spaces are a priority in all city projects.

MN Nice Breakers, $37,960 (submitted by Jun-Li Wang): Making the city more welcoming by using existing events to help newcomers quickly establish social networks that attach them to the city.

Rolling Out the Warm Welcome Hat, $67,288 (submitted by Jun-Li Wang): Welcoming newcomers by having city leaders hold monthly ceremonies to give them an official welcome gift, a warm hat for Minnesota winters.

You can find the complete list of winners here.

What a Massive Indian Festival Can Teach Us About Solving City Problems

Devotees gathered for the Kumbh Mela bathing festival in Allahabad in 2013. MIT Media Lab researchers see the festival as an opportunity to study pop-up cities and rapid urbanization. (AP Photo /Manish Swarup)

India’s orange-robed godmen are rarely the focus of urban planners. But later this year, 40 million religious pilgrims are expected to descend upon Nashik — a rapidly growing city a few hours from Mumbai — and, almost overnight, swell the modest metro into the largest city in the world.

The 20-day Hindu festival, the Kumbh Mela, can attract crowds the size of multiple New York Cities on a single day. The religious event takes place every three years when devotees make the trek to one of four alternating cities — Allahabad, Nashik, Hardiwar or Ujjain — to bathe in one of the sacred rivers. While the spiritual seek to cleanse themselves of sin, urban innovators, policymakers and planners see the population surge as an ideal opportunity to gather data and test new ideas related to pop-up cities and rapid urbanization.

“It’s a perfect set of problems,” says Daniel Goodman, a graduate student in the MIT Media Lab, which helped organize a weeklong “innovation sandbox” called the Kumbhathon in Nashik earlier this year. “The Kumbh Mela doesn’t last very long, but during that time it stresses the city on all fronts. It forces us to think about fundamental problems, such as sanitation, food distribution and good utilities.”

The Kumbhathon, which was conceptualized by Nashik-based innovator Sunil Khabdbahale and Ramesh Raskar, head of Camera Culture Group at the MIT Media Lab, set out to understand the challenges faced by host cities of the Kumbh Mela and experiment with technologically focused interventions. The group received more than 500 responses on its open, crowdsourced platform that asked the public to identify key areas of concern. Organizers whittled that long list down to 12 target themes that included health, housing, food, payments and transportation.

Understanding the challenges was just the beginning. In January 2015, the Kumbhathon brought together innovators from 20 cities across India to get creative with tackling the issues at hand. Participants came from a broad range of fields — from computer science to mechanical engineering to business and public health — and gathered in Nashik for a week to look more closely at the city, its current and future challenges and brainstorm on best ways to intervene in better managing the soon-to-be megacity. MIT faculty, entrepreneurs and industry experts acted as mentors to the groups, and local experts from Nashik challenged their ideas with personal experiences and knowledge of the current urban landscape. The ideas were also evaluated by technical innovators for deployment, marketability and scalability.

Nashik is an ideal city to study and test the stresses of urbanization and what can be done to prepare for it. The city is the 16th-fastest growing metropolis in the world and one of the fastest growing in India. The Kumbh Mela will send that growth into overdrive for a few weeks. Nashik has also been selected as one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “100 Smart Cities,” an initiative launched last year to drive forward technology in urban development around India.

While India’s megacities such as Mumbai and Delhi capture most superlatives, architect Rahul Mehrotra, chair of Harvard’s Department of Urban Planning and Design, has been urging policymakers and planners to look beyond the major metropolises to the emerging metros such as Nashik. In an article in the Hindu in 2011, he said, “Furthermore, it is crucial for us as a nation to focus on our small towns and tier two cities; these will comprise a vast majority of the urban Indian population in the future. These are also places (unlike the megacities and primary towns) that are not locked into unsustainable paradigms and where planners still have possible ways of intervening.”

One of the ideas for intervening devised by Kumbhathon participants is an epidemic tracker. Major public health crises, particularly in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, have brought new challenges to developing world cities. Like the Kumbh Mela, these cities often lack accurate data on crowded informal settlements, where disease can spread quickly, making it difficult to react in case of an event. The epidemic tracker monitors the health status of people in real time to check and control disease outbreaks. Up-to-the-minute information could enable medical staff to identify individuals with threatening symptoms and quickly provide them with the necessary care to prevent further infection.

Another major logistical challenge during the Kumbh Mela is food distribution. The Kumbhathon participants devised a system that connects festival-goers with quality food suppliers. “Such a model could bolster the Indian food industry and potentially translate into a multibillion-dollar service across India that caters to the lower-income population,” according to one Kumbhathon report. The issue, it said, is that customers have to make risky food transactions, because they often have little or no information about when the food was cooked, who cooked it or the rating of the person who cooked it. Information linkages such as these enhance the experience, safety and running of pop-up cities.

But, urge Kumbhathon organizers, the potential of these innovations go beyond this one event. “This is not just to help the Kumbh Mela,” says Kumbathon co-founder Khabdbahale. “This is about promoting innovation in cities like Nashik. We have a big opportunity here to test ideas for city optimization around India.”

To-Dos: Your April Home Checklist (9 photos)

After the grueling winter some regions experienced this winter, many folks are itching to get outdoors and feel a little sun this spring. No matter where you live, answer spring’s siren call with these cleaning, freshening and gardening projects to keep your home in top shape.

Cities Are Hiring This Controversial Homelessness Consultant

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Strategies to end homelessness in cities vary wildly. Some municipalities lean to criminalization — cracking down on tent cities or banning panhandling in downtowns. Others embrace the housing first model, helping people into more permanent living situations in an attempt to avoid the cycle of on-and-off shelter life.

Robert Marbut is a homelessness consultant who criss-crosses the country positing an alternative model. For each city that hires him, he provides a custom plan, which often includes large-scale shelters (he advocates for the term “transformational campuses”) with onsite treatment facilities for underlying issues. He is the founding president of San Antonio’s Haven for Hope — the country’s largest campus of its kind. The complex sits on 37 acres of land, houses 78 nonprofit service organizations and has the capacity for 1,600 individuals on any given night.

Marbut has had his share of criticism. Many see his reward-and-punishment-based seven guiding principles from enablement to engagement as too harsh, and many also feel that the facilities he recommends keep urban homelessness problems hidden from public view. He’s also been a vocal opponent of food distribution programs, saying to myself and others, “Don’t mix the hunger issues of America with the homeless issues of America.” A recent Huffington Post article titled “How a Traveling Consultant Helps America Hide the Homeless,” tells a tale of Marbut in “homeless disguise” in Daytona Beach, “so he could embed with Daytona’s homeless people in order to understand their struggle to survive, if only for a few days.”

Whatever you think of his approach, cities are hiring him. His recent client list includes Fresno, California, and St. Petersburg and Pensacola, Florida.

I asked Marbut about some of his controversial views, his six-figure fees and how he thinks President Obama’s homelessness initiatives have been progressing.

What are some of the qualities shared by cities you think are the most successful at tackling homelessness?
The most important thing in successfully addressing homelessness is dealing with the root causes. The core causes of male homelessness are behavioral/mental health, substance abuse and job retention. When you get to females, you also have to add domestic violence. The cities that successfully address this say, ‘We’re going to figure out how to do this regardless of the federal government, regardless of state government, and we’re not going to wait for Santa Claus to come around to help us.’

The cities that don’t do well come in two flavors: Do nothing or NIMBYism. Do nothing can range from saying, ‘It’s not the government’s role,’ or being overwhelmed. Generally the biggest problem I see is NIMBYism.

Some end up doing a lot of gimmicky things that simply will not work in the long run. You might get a temporary bounce for two or three days or a week or two. That includes the criminalization. If you use ordinances to criminalize and you do not provide alternative services, you do not provide correct engagement. Those gimmicks don’t work. They make you feel good for an hour.

In the recent Huffington Post profile of your work, you were seen as being critical of the “housing first” model. Where do you see housing fitting in with your work?
If you look at any of the reports that I’ve ever written, for most communities, I give seven, eight or nine recommendations, of which one is sometimes a transformational center. [It is] a central service hub where you run activities, which deals with root causes. Then, you deal with supportive housing. Sometimes people call that housing first.

You need to develop a series of services that address different points of recovery if you really want to be successful. You can’t just build one phase. You can’t just build emergency services and not build supportive housing and vice versa. The really good places that do it well have an integrated system.

Are you recommending different strategies now than you did in the past?
We’ve gotten smarter in realizing that some solutions will work with a subset of individuals experiencing homelessness [and not others]. There’s sort of a one-size-fits-all mentality at the federal government level, which I find disconcerting. On the front line or on the ground, what you find that works for a veteran with post-traumatic stress is different than a single mom [affected by] domestic violence. The mom, in that case, is looking for security more than anything. The post-traumatic stress individual really needs mental health and behavioral services. They may be self-medicating in order to go to sleep at night. You have to customize those treatments not just by a group of individuals, but by the individual.

I’m pretty controversial, because I often say, ‘Having a home is not the problem for the homeless. It’s maintaining a financial stability that allows you to maintain your homestead.’ Don’t mix the hunger issues of America with the homeless issues of America. It’s really important if you want to address what the root cause issues of homelessness are, it’s not about food or t-shirts or suntan lotion.

How do you feel when people are critical of you as an outside consultant coming into cities, especially with your associated fees?
If there’s a major foundation who wants to pick up our travel and other costs — and do it so I could do it for free for anyone — I’d love that. I do this as my mission in life, but you have to pay for the flights and computers … I also do tons of pro bono work. I can’t afford to physically go to every city pro bono, but I do it through Skype and I was doing that just yesterday.

Secondly, the advantage of a consultant … is that I’ve been involved in a professional level in well over 100 cities. I’ve been to 694 cities as of last week. I’ve seen a lot that works and I’ve seen a lot that doesn’t work. Why would you want to replicate the mistakes made in other cities instead of working on national best practices?

How effective do you think the Obama administration’s strategy to end homelessness has been?
It has not been effective. Back in Bush times, there was a 10-year plan to end homelessness. It’s expired and I don’t know anywhere in the United States that’s eliminated homelessness. So when Obama comes and asks for a five-year plan, we’re now five years plus one on that five-year plan and how are we doing?

I think the federal government needs to be a lot more practical about what really works in the field … . You need to have a sophisticated understanding of the triggers of homelessness. I know I get a lot of people mad at me when I talk like this, but it’s my passion and I truly believe in it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On the market: Niall McLaughlin-designed Jacob’s Ladder modernist property in Chinnor, Oxfordshire

Credit to both @underthethatch on Twitter and the Daily Telegraph for spotting that the Niall McLaughlin-designed Jacob’s Ladder modernist property in Chinnor, Oxfordshire is now up for sale. The Daily Telegraph piece on this is quite interesting, pointing out that this is Kevin McCloud’s favourite house, with the quote: ‘There is only one house I […]