Zurich and End of Program

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Mixing Up Our Land Use In Italian Switzerland

July 14 & 15

Ben Pickus & Michael Stapor

As we are winding down our time in Riva San Vitale we decided to take a closer look at our home and surroundings.  The bed head haircut I’m sporting and the pajamas I am wearing are a testament of the interesting mixture of uses, in terms of land and building that we have experienced in our town nestled in the Swiss Alps.  I’m speaking directly to our Villa where we sleep, study, eat, and work, all within the same space.  The doors lining our classroom don’t open up to more class space; they mark the entrances to the rooms we live in and the dining hall we eat in.  This not only greatly reduces the amount of time we need to get ready in the morning, but also forces us to take a more encompassing view of our studies and our time here.

By taking away they physical separation between our leisure and our study space, the line between the two is muddled.  We used the same projector to display PowerPoints on the future of our global water supply as we did to watch Germany trounce Brazil 7-1.  This live/study mentality we have established in our Villa has had an interesting effect on how we have learned.  We don’t just see our professors during lecture and work sessions, but we sit across from them in the dining room.  This mixed use means we don’t stop learning when class ends.  We have continued to think about sustainability in a broader sense throughout our time here.  Compared to life back at The University of Virginia and its polytechnic counterpart in Blacksburg, it feels like we spend more time thinking about what we have learned because we never leave the classroom.  It also doesn’t hurt to have the Swiss Alps and Lake Lugano outside our window as well.

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Often it seems the “nicest” areas in Virginia are quaint towns or new developments with housing situated near or above stores as if Americans see a certain charm in mixed-use areas. I would personally say this assessment is correct when one walks around the streets we’ve seen in Europe thus far and sees the roads upon roads of houses, stores, and parks all nestled side by side. Here in Riva San Vitale we’ve been fortunate that everything is in walking distance. Our grocery store, pharmacy, and favorite places to hang out are all within less than five minutes away. While it is true this is a smaller town, we’ve been well connected to necessities for our entire trip. Whether in Freiburg, Basel, or Riva everything we need is either a walk, short bike ride, or quick public transit trip away. This is not a coincidence either, it’s in the way they plan these denser mixed use areas to cut down on traffic and commutes and boost quality of life.

Our evening plans today revolve around enjoying the last of our time here. We’ll be walking past the soccer field, grocery store, and town square to a very fortunate asset to the town. The beach is an excellent spot for recreation and our time in and on the lake has been incredible. To think we are doing the things we’d travel miles for in the United States right next to where we live is interesting and another testament to how mixed use planning partners everything for a higher quality of life together.

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Europe’s Water Tower–Switzerland

July 9 & 10, 2014

Emily Blanton and Amanda Burcham

Professor Moomaw, along with Harriett Jameson a landscape and urban planning graduate of UVA, kicked off our third and final module surrounding global water issues with a field trip to a local lake in a suburb of the city of Lugano. The lake is called Lake Muzzano and is threatened by increasing residential development surrounding the lake. Dr. Brack Hale from Franklin University in Lugano was our gracious tour guide. After taking the regional train from Riva San Vitale to the main Lugano train station, the group boarded a local train just a few steps away from our previous stop. I was again impressed by the connectivity of regional transport and the availability of public transport to the even smallest areas of the Swiss country side. Dr. Hale mentioned that if one continued to ride this smaller tram for 20 more minutes, it would whisk you across the border into Italy.

            Once we arrived at the lake, Dr. Hale gave us the general layout of the environmental processes and human impacts involved in this particular lake. He explained that increasing development for residential areas and agriculture has led to more intense human impacts. The main issues discussed were higher levels of nutrient runoff from sewage and fertilizers from the surrounding farms and homes. Citizens are more the most part unaware of the damaging effects of their actions such as dead zones created by anthropogenic eutrophication and unchecked invasive species. A non-governmental environmental non-profit Pro Natura was able to purchase the land to better regulate the human impacts on the lake. The organization has day lighted some streams, switched surrounding farmers from synthetic to organic fertilizers, and encouraged the removal of invasive species. We were able to spot a few informational plaques about the current issues while walking around the lake but most were hiding behind tree branches and seemed overgrown and ignored by citizens. While on our way to another viewing point, we saw a citizen breaking the law by letting her dog off the leash while walking down the path.

            Overall, the experience at Lake Muzzano was an incredibly educational one that enveloped a lot of the issues that we’ve discussed so far such as cross governmental cooperation, anthropogenic environmental impacts, and the possibilities for future sustainable infrastructure improvements.

            After the field trip we arrived back to the Villa just in time for a wonderful lunch prepared by Chef Luigi! Following lunch we watched a short film, Poisoned Waters, which is based on areas in the eastern shore; Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River and the Delmarva Region. The film gave insight to largest estuary in the United States, and how it has become polluted consequently by the same issues in which are causing pollution in the lake we had just visited that day; Lake Muzzano, Switzerland. We ended lecture with a short one-page paper on what we thought to be the largest contributor in water pollution. It was very interesting to see that after viewing the same lake and movie everyone still had very different thoughts to what was the MOST important issue facing water quality today.

            Friday morning class began with a little more energy than normal for everyone was excited to begin their weekend travels to Florence, Lake Como, Venice, and Lugano. Lecture began with a continuation to the “Too Much, Too little, Too Bad” lecture. We discussed how you must connect the issues we talked about on Thursday in order to solve our current fresh water crisis. We went over principles of fresh water management and what the threats are to our fresh water supply. Wrapping up lecture Dr. Moomaw and Ms. Jameson left the group with two questions to think about while we traveled to places adjacent to water:

1. What is the significance of these water bodies today?

2. As you are exploring, where do you see opportunities for intervention?

 

With water fresh in our minds, we all went separate directions and anxiously awaited our train to arrive. Five hours and two trains later my group finally made it to Florence!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Amanda Burcham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Exploring Milan/Joyce Rosenthal Visit

 

Blog post 7/8-7/9 Mary Kathryn Fisher and Love Johnson

Our group received an early introduction to the Water Module the morning of our day trip to

Milan. The famously-punctual Swiss train arrived twenty minutes late, only for us to discover

that the region’s recent rainy weather was to blame. A large stormwater river greeted us in

Milan’s train station, at fault for the shutdown of several tracks and our subsequent delay. After

the gentle reminder of our upcoming water management studies with Professor Moomaw, we set

off into the city to refocus on Milan’s urban fabric.

Our first stop was at the offices of EuroMilano, a real estate redevelopment company

specializing in abandoned historical metropolitan areas. The office sits amidst one of

EuroMilano’s newest developments: Cascina Merlata, dubbed “a new district under the wing of

sustainability.” Located in the previously industrial Northwest portion of Milan, the development

was a tangible realization of many of the “sustainable” principles we have been exploring. It

includes 200,000 square meters of public parks, 100,000 square meters of residences, a shopping

mall, neighborhood shops, five playgrounds, two nursery schools, a kindergarten, elementary

school, and sports facility. The development will contain 11 buildings (684 units) of social

housing.

We continued the afternoon with a visit to the drastically different Porta Nuova development in

Milan’s Garibaldi and Varese Island district. As our guide Professor Laura Pogliani informed us,

although planners did not initially support this lavish development, it has developed into quite a

successful public space. The elaborate architecture mesmerized us while a large public foosball

tournament taking place in the square gave us a few laughs. Porta Nuova contains a continuous

pedestrian system, greenspace, public squares, bridges, and a large park that seek to revive the

once-broken districts of Garibaldi and Varese Island.

It was quite fascinating to see urban revitalization on such a large scale. In class with Professor

Hirt, we have been focusing on the different legal and administrative approaches European cities

take to planning. Eminent domain and public/private property development constitute a large

part of this discussion. Speaking with two private firms involved in large public space projects

gave the group lots to think about in terms of contracting civic projects. As a bonus, we got to

see the “famous” Bosco Verticale, a study term in Tim Beatley’s Intro to Urban Planning.

 

Foosball in Milan EuroMilano's City Model Model of Porta Nuova image (5) World Cafe with Joyce Rosenthal

On Wednesday, we were scheduled to hear a guest lecture from Dr. Joyce Klein Rosenthal,

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Dr.

Rosenthal’s research centers on environmental planning, the use of climatology in planning and

urban design, and assessing urban climate policy and governance. She has worked extensively in

New York City, creating the Cool City Project to evaluate how neighborhoods in the city have

mitigated the urban heat island effect as well as serving as assistant director for the Council on

the Environment of New York City.

Dr. Rosenthal had planned to give a talk about how cities in the United States and Europe have

changed their design strategies for the built environment in response to climate change, with a

focus on the climate adaptation plans of New York and Copenhagen. However, as Professor Hirt

reminded us, study abroad programs are like a box of chocolates. Every day is different, and you

never know what you’re going to get! Unfortunately, our esteemed guest speaker came down

with a cold and lost her voice, leaving her unable to deliver the lecture. But alas, Dr. Rosenthal

rallied and prepared another activity for us: the World Café.

Communities and planners around the globe use World Café as a way to bring different

stakeholders together in discussion. We broke out into groups of four to share ideas and

collaboratively draw conceptual maps, and then we reconvened to bring our thoughts together.

Aidan, Will and I helped Dr. Rosenthal facilitate a stimulating discussion centered on three key

questions:

What are the differences between European and American cities in planning and design for

environmental issues?

We’d focused on the cultural differences in ideas about sustainability between Europeans

and Americans for the past few days, so we wanted to focus more on structural differences in

response to environmental problems. We brought in examples we’d seen in our own travels

as well as examples we’ve read about from other cities. In Freiburg, Germany, we saw how

Mercedes-Benz transformed from a company based primarily on the private automobile to the

main manufacturer of streetcars and trains. In Rotterdam, Netherlands, new playgrounds double

as water storage facilities in a combination of public space and environmental infrastructure as

climate change brings heavier rainfall to the city.

How can planning and design address the environmental issues in your hometown or

university’s city?

In New York City, residents and planners have banded together to create vigilante infrastructure

in the form of painted bike lanes and temporary public squares. See this TED Talk (http://

http://www.archdaily.com/218310/tedx-how-to-build-a-better-block-jason-roberts/) by Build a Better

Block founder Jason Roberts for more examples of “tactical urbanism.” In Blacksburg, from

where almost half of our students hail, transportation planners could improve multi-modal

integration by simply creating crosswalks along busy streets that buses traverse. In Roanoke

and other suburban areas, vacant buildings and parking lots could be retrofitted into denser

mixed-use developments (check out this TED Talk for more on retrofitting suburbia (http://

http://www.ted.com/talks/ellen_dunham_jones_retrofitting_suburbia)!).

What skills and approach do you want to bring to your work in addressing these

challenges?

We thought the World Café provided a perfect approach to cross disciplines and work with

different stakeholders in real life. Only by collaborating with and listening to planners, residents,

politicians, developers, and others can we really make progress in creating more livable cities.

We must keep an open mind and see from others’ perspectives if we want to implement policies

that will make our cities more sustainable, and we must compromise and learn from each other.

Finally, we recognized that education of all age groups is a key component. Public awareness

campaigns for adults and early childhood education for children about everything from recycling

to bicycle traffic safety make European cities more safe and environmentally friendly one

generation at a time. We realized that applying these lessons to the United States and making real

change will take time, but participating in World Café with Dr. Rosenthal gave us all a sense of

the power of learning from each other in the classroom and the real world.

 

Written by Love Johnson and Mary Kathryn Fisher

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Europe: Sustainability as Second Nature

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Today we attended a lecture at the University of Basel’s Sustainability Department on research topics dealing with unifying sustainability, the use of energy, and the invasive gobies in the Rhine River. One of the lecturers discussed the ways in which the integration of sustainability is used as as a guiding principle in the cantonal administration in Basel (cantons are like counties or regions). This made me think of how much more sustainability in Europe is second nature. When comparing European practice to the United States, Americans have to practically be pushed to develop sustainable lifestyle habits. Another lecturer made an interesting remark stating that if a new sustainable idea is created and then implemented it’s a no brainer that people will do or use it. But this is not true in America, ideas are created and Americans have a very difficult time changing their routine. It seems as though Europeans have a much easier time adapting to change. I’m not sure if it’s Americans or Europeans that are strange about adjusting to change.

After visiting the University, we took the train from Basel to Lugano and finally arrived in Riva San Vitale! The ride through the Swiss Alps was incredible, and the views were jaw dropping. Everyone had their phones pressed against the windows snapping pictures of the mountains, lake, and colorful small houses staked on the vibrant green terraces. I can’t believe that we get to spend three weeks in such a beautiful, small town located next to a lake with 360 degree views.

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From Basel to Riva San Vitale

 

From Moira Cronin

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Today we attended a lecture at the University of Basel’s Sustainability Department on research topics dealing with unifying sustainability, the use of energy, and the invasive gobies in the Rhine River. One of the lecturers discussed the ways in which the integration of sustainability is used as as a guiding principle in the cantonal administration in Basel (cantons are like counties or regions). This made me think of how much more sustainability in Europe is second nature. When comparing European practice to the United States, Americans have to practically be pushed to develop sustainable lifestyle habits. Another lecturer made an interesting remark stating that if a new sustainable idea is created and then implemented it’s a no brainer that people will do or use it. But this is not true in America, ideas are created and Americans have a very difficult time changing their routine. It seems as though Europeans have a much easier time adapting to change. I’m not sure if it’s Americans or Europeans that are strange about adjusting to change.

After visiting the University, we took the train from Basel to Lugano and finally arrived in Riva San Vitale! The ride through the Swiss Alps was incredible, and the views were jaw dropping. Everyone had their phones pressed against the windows snapping pictures of the mountains, lake, and colorful small houses staked on the vibrant green terraces. I can’t believe that we get to spend three weeks in such a beautiful, small town located next to a lake with 360 degree views.

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

 

Today we did our group presentations discussing tools for how to evaluate a sustainable transportation system. We compared and rated the three districts in Freiburg that we toured. We also individually presented on the research question that we developed before we left for Europe. Some people discovered they were not able to answer their questions or it became an obvious answer so they slightly changed their research question and gave very informative presentations. Almost everyone made a PowerPoint and some used pictures taken of other students using sustainable resources like the water fountain in Basel or the bicycles from Freiburg. Our research presentations attempted to answer what we have learned during these past few days traveling and observing. We discussed the key lessons we had learned, the motivations to learn these lessons, barriers to implementing new ideas in America, and opportunities to work around these barriers. This is our last day with Ralph and our transportation module; I cannot believe how fast the time has gone by! After lunch we had time to explore Riva on our own; the architecture in the old town is beautiful.

For dinner we ate artichoke tarts, veal and veggies, and strawberry cream dessert. Professor Moomaw was not kidding when she said how incredible our Italian chief, Luigi, would be. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and bonding with the group. Module Two Comparative Planning Systems with Professor Sonia Hirt begins tomorrow.

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Impressions of Freiburg and Basel

Alexandra Sellers                                                                                Sustainable Europe Blog

Anna Friedrich                                                                                    Monday, June 30, 2014-

Will Drews                                                                                          Tuesday, July 1, 2014

 

As the first couple days of our trip progress, we now have the opportunity to compare two of sustainable European cities; Freiburg and Basel. While both cities were beautiful and interesting with efforts to be sustainable, there were definitely obvious differences between the layout, design, and visibility of sustainability. This being said, we attended very different tours in each city and this could have influenced our overall opinion of each individual city.

On Tuesday, in Freiburg, we attended an information session at the transit company known as VAG. Here we learned details about the transportation system in Freiburg including buses and trolleys. We learned that there are many different, affordable ways to access public transit which we really took a lot from because that is a major influence on whether or not citizens use public transit so this is something we can try to take back to the United States. Also, it was interesting that the transit company actually loses money each year, yet the government subsidizes 10% the transportation company’s operating budget which is another reason it is so successful.

After this information session, we went on a walking tour around the town and our sustainability guide took us all around Old Town and Vauban in Freiburg. On Tuesday morning we also went on a bike tour around the city again. On both tours, we saw a plethora of houses and buildings that had visible sustainability efforts. Many buildings had solar panels on the roof and sometimes a green roof or maybe both. There was one house in particular that we saw that produced more energy than it consumed and in this case, it sold its excess energy to the energy company and got money back for it.

Also on the bike tour in Freiburg, we saw first-hand how easy it was for bikes to get around town. There were a lot of streets that only allowed bicycles or there were streets where the bikes could ride right along with cars but the cars had to go walking speed. This is to say that in Freiburg, bicycles were the prominent form of transportation and people really utilize it and support it.

In contrast, Basel was a city that mostly relied on public transit rather than bicycles. We went on a 3 hour walking tour with a former city planner and he pointed out a lot of things that he thought were wrong with the city. His favorite thing to say was that “this is a disaster” referencing city streets that were devoted to vehicle and trolley traffic. Despite the fact that public transit was so prominent in Basel, we noticed that there were not distinct traffic laws and it was more of a free for all at every intersection which made it feel less safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. This being said, there were a lot of parts in the city that were devoted to pedestrians only which was a really lovely aspect. The part we liked most about Basel was the old infrastructure and the Rhine River that passed right through the city. We actually took a quaint ferry from one side of the river to the other which transported us using only two ropes and the current of the river.

All of this being said, we have learned a lot so far but this trip is not just all work! We were able to watch the German soccer team play and win at a student viewing party and unfortunately watch the USA team loose against Belgium. We also ate a traditional 3-course Swiss dinner! There are also some interesting cultural differences that we noticed including the drinking water. Everywhere you go you have a choice of water with or without gas and of course most of us made the initial mistake of ordering with gas. We quickly learned our lesson and now know to order still water. Also, all of the public water fountains in Basel were drinkable water. These water fountains were not typical American water fountains (which are nowhere to be found over here) but they were beautiful fountains that would be off limits to even touch in America. Also, there were these weird things in Basel that we saw that were open, male, port-a-potties! Finally, our bodies are looking great after all the walking we’ve been but it is definitely very exhausting and we are looking forward to some down time in Riva!

 Pictures: 

Viewing party for the German World Cup game

Ale, Anna, and Ben on the Bike tour through Freiburg

Port-A-Potty in Basel!

All of the bikes parked at the main train station

Ferry in Basel!

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Welcome

Welcome to the first blog post of the 2013 Sustainable Europe program in Riva San Vitale. My name is Patrick, and I will be letting you in on some of the things happening on the first day here in Switzerland. While today is the beginning of our study-abroad session, there was absolutely no studying involved! No joke. Instead, today was designated for people to arrive here in Riva San Vitale and to unpack and get acclimated with the city around us. Just making the short walk from the train station to the Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA), where we will be based, you knew you were in a special place. The gigantic mountains, the subtle alleyways, and the historic buildings all make this city one that can only be thought about in dreams.

The first few people to find their way to the villa were AJ, Allie, Michael, Arissa, and myself. We met each other, did the customary hangout break, and then went off to relax on the Lake Lugano beach here in Riva. Even though it was perfect weather for lying on the beach and swimming in the lake, we quickly found out that we would have to pay to actually go to the good section of the beach. Seeing as though we are poor college students that would rather spend money on other things, we just walked up the street to the free beach, which was not nearly as awesome as the other one. Later in the day, after we had gotten tired of the beach, we went back to the villa to find that other students, Kayleigh, Caroline, and Asher, had joined us here in Riva. Together we went to explore the city’s ins and outs, which turned out to be breath-takingly beautiful.  I know that today is only our first day here in Switzerland, but I can truly say that this city is one that shows the utmost beauty of our world. Also, I know that this line is incredibly cliché, but I absolutely cannot wait to see what else this trip has in store for us. Classes really begin tomorrow with our first area of study–energy policy–to be followed by water and transportation.

Guest contributor:  Patrick Brown

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