Sunday, November 24, 2013

Leading Inside out- interviews Nadine Bitar , founder of PLACEmaking

Leading Inside Out

Changing Pink are launching  "Leading Inside Out"  showcasing  inspiring women leaders within our local community, with themes centered around self-leadership and leading others. 

below is my interview with them .

Nadine Bitar

Founder, PLACE making

Nadine Bitar is the founder of PLACE making, an urban and landscape design consultancy with a focus on designing outdoor spaces, neighborhoods and districts that are healthy, prosperous, thriving, vibrant and animated and have their own unique sense of place. Prior to her founding role at PLACEmaking, Nadine was an Urban Planning Advisor at Abu Dhabi Municipality, Director of Planning for the Middle East at Mouchel plc., and Head of Planning & Zoning at Tatweer Real Estate.  Nadine is also a writer and a blogger. Her writing pursuits include poetic expressions of her experiences and passions.

Nadine is married and has two children, Taline and Fadi.  She currently lives and works in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Nadine has an air of positivity, determination and knowingness about her.  When I tell her this, she laughs and speaks of a life with highs and lows, moments of hope and achievement and others of doubt and vulnerability, but mostly a journey of constant search and transformation. Over the next hour and a half, we speak of all this and more: what sparked her love for nature, failures that proved to be blessings in disguise and how today she is turning urban spaces into places. 

Looking back at your childhood, what were some defining moments that shaped who you are today? 

I was born and raised in Beirut in the midst of the Lebanese civil war. I remember being around five years old and asking my mother whether all countries in the world had to endure war the way we did. 

What I mostly remember is what went through my mind when my mum explained that not all countries are battling with war. I remember thinking that other options exist and that things can change.  This mindset of looking for alternatives and knowing that things can change would carry me through difficult moments in my life, and help me not only endure, but thrive as well. 
read the rest of the interview on

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wellbeing and Placemaking

Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places provides practical steps that communities can adopt to have a positive impact on the health of their people. It is based on recommendations from a workshop of multidisciplinary experts convened last summer, which distilled findings from three ULI Advisory Services panels conducted last spring in Colorado to recommend strategies for fostering active living. The Colorado Health Foundation funded those panels and is a partner of the Building Healthy Places Initiative. The ten principles are:

1. Put people first. 

One of the strongest health/land use correlations is between obesity and the use of automobiles. For decades planners and developers have designed places for cars rather than people. The report recommends designing in a way that minimizes automobile dependence by mixing land uses and offering safe, convenient options for getting from one place to another. The report recommends making healthy living a priority and integrating it into the planning process.

2. Recognize the economic value. 

Compact, walkable, mixed-use communities provide economic benefit to developers through higher property values, enhanced marketability, and quicker sales and leasing. The report points to the likelihood that these communities will hold their value during economic downturns, noting that the economic viability of these communities is underpinned by their popularity with two of the largest demographic groups—baby boomers and millennials.

3. Empower champions for health. 

Community engagement is a powerful vehicle in highlighting the link between health and local land use, and in bringing about change. The report encourages local champions to communicate the benefits of healthy places, promote grassroots action, broaden the base of support, and forge collaborations and partnerships with stakeholders who share an interest in healthy communities, such as medical professionals.

4. Energize shared spaces. 

Places with high levels of social isolation often suffer from declines in well-being and increases in health costs. The report advocates incorporating public gathering places into the built environment and, where appropriate, using the “living street” concept, which gives priority to pedestrians and cyclists over cars and provides recreational space.

5. Make healthy choices easy. 

Make the healthy choice the one that is SAFE—safe, accessible, fun, and easy. Communities need to plan their environment to remove barriers that lead people to default to an unhealthy practice.

6. Ensure equitable access

. Make healthy choices accessible to all income and demographic groups. Neighborhoods should have housing options for all ages, enabling people to age in place, and communities should make facilities accessible through a holistic transit plan that reduces reliance on the automobile.

7. Mix it up. Integrate a range of residential, commercial, cultural, and institutional uses. 

Mixed-use development is more likely to create walkable or transit-oriented communities and mixed-income, cross-generational communities.

8. Embrace unique character. 

Places that are different, unusual, or unique can be helpful in promoting physical activity and emotional well-being. The report cites a Knight Foundation study concludes that the most important factor creating bonds between people and their communities is not jobs, but the community’s “physical beauty, opportunities for socializing, and a city’s openness to all people.” Communities should rediscover existing assets such as waterfronts or historic neighborhoods and embrace the unique character of their area to boost physical and mental health among the population.

9. Promote access to healthy food.

 Because diet is a major contributor to human health, access to healthy food should be considered as part of any development proposal. The report notes that when considering what constitutes a healthy community, planners and developers seldom assign food the same prominence as transit, open space, and housing mix. The report advocates rethinking the modern grocery store to make it more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians, considering use of mobile food markets, and employing historic markets to create a destination to encourage economic development and health eating.

10. Make it active. 

Urban design should be used to create an active community, boosting physical activity and reducing reliance on the car. Amenities for adults and children should be located together to serve both groups; for instance, adult exercise equipment should be provided near children’s playgrounds, enabling parents to exercise while supervising their children. Walking should be encouraged by looking at the provision of sidewalks and crosswalks, while cycling can be encouraged through bike-share schemes.

Adapted from uli guide on healthy communities 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ecological urban design

Ecological Urban Design
Nadine chahine
Ecological urban design is becoming a reality - a reality endorsed by one truth -our cities are an ecosystem operating in a larger eco-system. Once we understand and are aware of the intricate details of how these two ecosystems can complement each other, our cities - being the largest man made creations - will definitely heal from the alarming ecological footprint they are producing.

Figure 1-cities as urban ecosystems
Roads act as main way of transporting people and goods from the point of entry of a neighbourhood to an array of potential stop stations. The choice we human make when designing such a road needs to be influenced by the way our brain interpret and perceive these different possibilities. As designers, we are responsible for ensuring legibility- the capability of a city arteries(roads) to be understood intuitively . Although it is a design factor, it goes a long way in addressing efficiencies; the more direct and clear it is for our brains ( or GPS ) to guide us through the maze of points we need to go to ,the more possibilities for alternative transport mode can be thought of such as tram, monorail, biking tracks ,pedestrian zones. We tend to always analyse the pedestrian network as running parallel to roads through the inclusion of sidewalks sandwiched between the roads and the buildings .However, cities that have been resilient through thousands of years prove to us that our rationalisation of how we walk in cities is reductionist to our urban spaces. Walkable cities are legible .

Figure 2 walking is a choice that legible cities force us to take
Whether it is surface, multi story or basement parking, it plays a role in increasing accessibility to public transport points , pedestrian retail zones within the city ,civic spaces .accessibility as a design facto is highly linked to proximity of public transport  to public spaces and recreational spaces .it results in  vibrancy and animation of these spaces during all days and across different population segments ,
An example of ecological urban design is Downtown Silver Spring .The Development near transit stations is often compact and intense which gave the developer an opportunity to do Placemaking. The design of Civic open spaces make the development unique and fulfil an important need in compact, urban neighbourhoods.
 After residents in Silver Spring, Maryland, called for more open space, Montgomery County, Maryland, planners wrote guidelines for a Transit Oriented Development. A developer of a 27-acre project a short distance from the Metro stop responded by redeveloping the  suburban superblock around a series of public spaces by Bing Thom Architects and Sasaki Associates. The public spaces add to the urban centre distinctness and a sense of place .


Cities in the Gulf are part of a larger ecosystem – a coastal desert .The heat in urban spaces is caused through the reflection of the sunlight rays on the horizontal and vertical surfaces. This warming leads to an over use of  air conditioning - air cooling that consumes fossil fuels . In these days, our technologies are focused in either inventing materials that do not get affected by sun rays or cooling technologies to save on energy. What about wind? What about we work with the wind? Understanding the relationship between sun, wind and the orientation of our city fabric, streets and public space is important to manage efficiently the city as an ecosystem leading to efficiencies in energy consumption especially if it is applied on a district level and city level. Xeritown is a development in Dubai that have used wind in shaping its urban fabric-see figure 2

Figure 4-Xeritown  used wind to reduce heat by reorienting the fabric to benefit from cool breeze coming from the sea to the desert

Greening the city is gaining momentum as a substantial resource efficiency initiative. There is always a pitfall in our cities to consider greening the city as just dedicating a big plot of land for a park .Actually, greening the cities now is expanding into urban ecosystem management through Urban agriculture and Biodiversity protection activities. We share with these city elements the oxygen and carbon - carbon being the enemy number one across the world when it comes to national sustainability campaigns. We look for ways to buy, share , transfer , calculate and resolve carbon footprint issues . What about plants? Cities are looking for various ways now to incorporate urban agriculture projects. In Dubai, Zaabeel park acts as an urban haven reducing heat and the impact of sheikh zayed highway high traffic activities carbon emissions. Zaabeel park also hosts a numerous of local adapted flora species that with time might become also a haven for local birds, insects and other fauna species. One of the interesting use of zaabeel park is storm water management due to its proximity to Dubai International Financial center .In case of wind storms, its palm trees might reduce the impacts of san erosion on the neighbourhoods in karama and bur dubai.

Figure 5-possible projects in urban agriculture
In ecology, urban ecosystems are not mere assemblages of their parts but are continually growing and changing along with their elements. The generative field of a living system extends into the environment and connects the two, for what is needed for the health of the entire system.  It is about the connected fabric of constantly evolving relationships between all living things.
 Ecological urban design, in face of the current pressures, adopts a holistic design approach that combines accessibility, walkability, local climate constraints, greening cities in order to produce places that are meaningful . Our spaces will turn into places that breath, inspire, uplift and even heal...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Regenerative Urban Design

Invitation: Construction Week's 6th Annual Building Sustainability conference on Nov 13 in Abu Dhabi

Placemaking  is excited to be part of the  6th Annual Building Sustainability Abu Dhabi Conference being hosted by the magazine Construction Week.

The conference , in its 6th edition, promises an in-depth talks about sustainability efforts in the development and construction industry featuring talks on buildings, legislation and certifications.

the speakers background are diverse and come from different disciplines making the discussions rich in content and information.

I listed the details below- register and join us ....

 Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Venue: Westin Golf Resort and Spa, Abu Dhabi
Timings: 09:00 – 15:00
Registration: 08:15 – 08:55
Speaker Bios