All posts by Olivia Corriere

Pedestrian-friendliness promotes wellness

Americans should implement European bike infrastructure and culture

One of the best strategies for reducing emissions is encouraging the public to use environmentally-friendly forms of transportation. In dense cities that have good infrastructure for pedestrians and bikes, the public does not need any convincing. Biking, walking, and public transport already provide the most convenient options of transportation in these scenarios.

Bike pathways are spacious and make travellers feel safe and comfortable. Pathways like this one are crucial to keeping the Dutch bike culture strong.

We experienced this first-hand while staying in The Hague and in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The hotels where we were staying, The Student Hotel, directly rent bikes to guests. This shows an understanding at the community level that bikes are a necessity for daily life.

Every day, we used our bikes to get across town, through the Dutch countryside, to the beach, to visit businesses, and beyond. Both throughout the Netherlands and within the Hague, there is an extensive and well-developed network of bike paths. Bikers feel safe, and that is the key to getting all of the community to participate.

When we biked to the small towns of Schipluiden, Maasland, and Leiden, we used bike highways that connect the cities through the countryside. It was beautiful to ride through the fields past family farms and rural neighborhoods. People on bikes, roller blades and scooters were the only individuals using the pathways, which ensures safety of the area. Non-motorized vehicle highways allow travelers to completely avoid the dangers of cars.

Along the non-motorized vehicle highways in the Netherlands, there are lots of opportunities to stop along the way at gathering spaces, groceries, markets, and restaurants. Accessibility to these sorts of gathering spaces encourages interactions and develops social capital.

When we biked within the city, like when we visited the Dutch Urban Farmers location in the Hague, we used spacious bike lanes that help prevent bike-car collisions. These lanes make bikers feel safe, and encourage more community members to feel comfortable on the road.

European infrastructure also caters to multi-modal transportation. If citizens need to travel longer distances that are not feasible via bike alone, they have the option to bike to the local train or bus stations, store their bikes, and then move to their final destinations.

When residents elect to commute via walking or biking, there are lots of benefits not only to the individual, but to the community. For the individual, there is a positive trend towards mental wellbeing and productivity. Additionally, by biking or walking, they engage in exercise, which improves physical health, as concluded by Dr. Rundle and Dr. Heymsfield in the JAMA published study Can Walkable Urban Design Play a Role in Reducing the Incidence of Obesity-Related Conditions. These benefits to individuals in turn benefit the community; residents are happy, healthy and productive. Use of these pathways also decongests the city. Personal vehicles take up a tremendous amount of space on roads, and require parking within the downtown area. When workers choose to walk/bike instead, the roads are more open and efficient.

Bike highways in the Dutch countryside lead pedestrians and bikers through fields and over bridges. The dynamic nature of the landscape makes the highway more attractive.

American urban planners should work to implement similar infrastructure and bike culture in the United States. There are already movements towards this cause, like the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative (http://huron-waterloo-pathways.org/) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am excited to see initiatives like this one make progress and have success in the States!

-Olivia Corriere

TXL: The Urban Tech Republic

TXL airport becomes showcase for future Smart Cities

After visiting the Heinrich Böll Foundation, we visited Berlin TXL: The Urban Tech Republic.

The Urban Tech Republic uses lots of bright colors and fun graphics to communicate that the finalized product is a fun, creative use of space that will benefit the community.

Our host first provided context for understanding Berlin. She described the two major phases of development in Berlin, after 1945 and after 1989. After these periods, the industrial employment base collapsed by two-thirds between 1989 and 2001. To combat this change, the city invested in the knowledge industry.

Students arrive at the Tegel Project office space. The organization shares the building with several other businesses.

Today, there are four major institutions in the city and a high concentration of talent, both of which curate an innovative ecosystem. Berlin now functions as a cultural center, known for its diversity, creativity, tolerance, cluster of start-ups, and more. As the presenter described, these qualities are summed up by the “three Ts:” technology, talent, and tolerance. There is also a digital ecosystem, which is concentrated in the capital. There are lots of co-working spaces and incubators in the area.

Students take notes and ask questions during the presentation. The Urban Tech Republic provides a perfect example of how to reshape old infrastructure for the needs of the future.

Berlin is doing well, seeing GDP growth and general economic health. As the population grows, the need for space for living and working within the city does too. Between 2003 and 2014, the number of inhabitants increased by 7 percent, and the working population increased by 17 percent. This influx of residents and workers will only enhance the positive feedback loop of innovation.

Students check out the plans and projections for the finalized project.

Then we began discussion about Berlin’s three airports: Tempelhof, Tegel, and Schönefeld. Tempelhof was closed in 2008 and was converted to a green recreational space. Tegel, which sits on approximately 500 hectares of land, will be closed in 2019 and opened up. The campus will have a green landscape, an industrial park, a commercial area, and a main campus. The space is meant to be a showcase of what a Smart City can and should be.

In the development of this project, the team faces several challenges: resource scarcity, climate change, demographic change, urbanization, and digitization. Even so, it is the Urban Tech Republic’s goal to “do well by doing good.” The organization engages in lots of activities to better the city: developing/testing mobility concepts, inventing materials, field-testing new energy sources, upgrading recycling, improving water tech, and creating ICT solutions.

Students take advantage of the opportunity to speak with a member of the Urban Republic staff.

Nearby residents are supportive of the project because they will not have to endure the noise pollution that airplanes create. However, some citizens think Berlin still needs two airports to manage the tremendous amount of traffic, but the Urban Tech Republic argues that the Tegel airport is already so old that it would be too intense to renovate to the international standards anyways.

-Olivia Corriere

SICK and the Solar Info Center

Companies and facilities maintain environmental values and thrive

This morning, we met our tour guide from the Innovation Academy, Steffen, outside the Theater Freiburg (http://www.theater.freiburg.de/) and took the train to visit SICK Sensor Intelligence (https://www.sick.com/us/en/?saveCookie=true). Our guide for the day, Mrs. Lena Lungstrauss picked us up from the station and we took a beautiful ten minute walk to the SICK headquarters in Freiburg.

Our tour guide Steffen and SICK representative Mrs. Lena Lungstrauss walk with us from the train station to the SICK headquarters in Freiburg.

SICK, founded in 1946, is a world leader of sensor manufacturing for industrial applications with more than 8,000 employees worldwide. SICK products include everything from factory automation (e.g. automated technology used to manufacture cars) to logistic automation (e.g. technology used to sort Amazon products for distribution) to process automation (e.g. refineries). In total, they offer over 40,000 products and products solutions. Product solutions are combinations of SICK products that can be used to address specific industrial problems. We visited this tremendously successful company to learn about how large manufacturers can still participate in environmental protection and social engagement. At Sensor Intelligence, these tasks are accomplished by the Environmental Department (https://www.sick.com/us/en/corporate-social-responsibility/climate-and-environmental-protection-management/w/csr-environmental-protection/). The Environmental Department has outlined a three part strategy to act as sustainably and environmentally friendly as possible: “1. We avoid what we can. 2. We reduce, what we cannot avoid. 3. We optimize what we cannot reduce.” As Ms. Lungstrass described during the presentation, SICK carries out these goals by installing solar roofs, using renewable energies, promoting electro-mobility and car sharing, increasing energy efficiency, outlining a green car policy, participating in CO2 compensation, maximizing use of space, and minimizing label material, among other practices. SICK also does a great job of retaining workers long-term by providing good working conditions and considering employee input during decision-making, which has resulted in 15 consecutive awards, recognizing SICK as among Germany’s best employers. They have observed that it is important to protect the wellbeing, happiness, and motivation of workers because these qualities lead to productivity.

SICK welcomes UNC to their headquarters in Freiburg.
Students explore the technologies that SICK produces in the display room.

After a leisurely two-hour lunch break, we met at the train station again to visit the Solar Info Center (http://www.solar-info-center.de/sic/start.html). The Solar Info Center is a facility that houses approximately 45 companies and 500+ employees, all of which work with renewable technology or green initiatives in some way. I consider this facility an incubator because it brings together companies from the same industry with different strengths and skillsets; the close proximity to similar businesses helps them to be more successful. The Solar Info Center reminds me of Flywheel Co-Working in Winston-Salem, NC (https://www.innovationquarter.com/community/flywheel/) and The Underground in Durham, NC (http://americanunderground.com/). One of the main takeaways from this presentation was the importance of establishing several sources of renewable energy to combat the inconsistency of some sources (e.g. solar, wind). We also learned a lot about the facility itself. The glass windows are made of triple glass, are insulted by rubber siding, and are covered by automatic external blinds, which were optimized to maximize the light in rooms without overheating them. The concrete ceilings allow for ventilation and cooling. The garden courtyard in the center of the facility filters water, and then guides it back into the groundwater reserves below the surface. It was really amazing to see such a well-designed, environmentally-friendly space for innovation.

The group takes the tram to visit the Solar Info Center.
In the middle of the Solar Info Center, there is a courtyard garden that serves as a green space and as water management technology. Rainwater is filtered through the ground, cleaned, and then funneled into the groundwater deposit below the surface.
Students learn about the construction of the Solar Info Center, the role of renewables in the German economy, and the importance of developing alternative energy sources.

-Olivia Corriere