At the Loeb Fellowship “City Building” talk at the GSD earlier this month, new fellows Ann Yoachim, Lynn Richards, and Ramiro Almeida shared experiences from their work in public health, environmental policy making and urban infrastructure with a packed room of ready listeners.
Yoachim has engaged spaces on multiple levels doing public health work from her home base at Tulane University in New Orleans, as well as abroad, in Kenya. Whether she is working with policy makers in Louisiana to integrate public health initiatives, or focusing on international development through her work in Kenyan informal settlements, Yoachim believes everything is connected. “I translate information, integrate people and integrate ideas, and then I connect all the dots,” says Yoachim.
In order to address complex questions, Richards, policy director for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, is also a connector: of agencies with historically separate silos. In her talk she highlighted the importance of suburban retrofit issues. A central interest for her this year is guided by the question “How do you activate a space?” Richards plans to investigate how to create new demand for sites - like strip malls - that have short active life spans followed by underutilization.
Ramiro Almeida, a publisher and filmmaker who became a city planner, spoke extensively about his work in Quito, Ecuador, designing and integrating the city’s first subway system. This ambitious project, which will mean an integrated transportation system for the city, is scheduled to be operating by 2016.
The Quito project, which has the support of Metro de Madrid, will substantially decrease worker commute time and make areas around the historic center more accessible and pedestrian friendly. Road traffic gets dense in Quito, which has a population of around 2.5 million. At peak travel times people can spend upwards of four hours commuting to and from work. A subway system would substantially improve quality of life for all Quiteños, not just commuters.
Almeida believes that implementing a subway in Quito is “important to the sustainability of the historic Center,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to Spanish colonial rule. With a 23 km transit network connecting the northern and southern parts of the city, there will be a more dynamic traffic flow and a reinvigorated interest in maintaining the center. This will counter the physical deterioration that buildings and streets in the historic center have suffered in recent years.
Because this massive development will be the first of its kind in Quito, many people are curious to know how it will work. In fact, Almeida says that questions became so frequent during his three years working on the project that the city set up information centers, where Quiteños can learn how the new transportation system functions.
When he is not transforming movement patterns in Quito, Almeida can be found working on movies, the most recent of which is a feature-length film being released in Spain, Pescador.