The Way Ahead

Our last day at Riva San Vitale was also an early morning for us all, since we had all been working on our final presentations the night before. As the church bells sounded, it was a sunny morning, which made us all anticipate how we would spend our last few free hours in the afternoon of the day.

Class began with final presentations of our group projects for Module 3. Case studies included innovative transportation policies for sustainability analysis and potential applications for the U.S. The topics were evaluated based on economic, environmental, and equity considerations through a cost-benefit analysis. Topics discussed were congestion pricing, traffic calming, bike sharing, car sharing, and high speed rail. Implementation challenges for the U.S. were explored for each topic, and part of the exercise also involved the class role-playing as an audience of Congressional staffers. One of the general challenges for implementation is garnering the political will to make changes, or let business as usual continue. This is currently compounded by the U.S. debt burden, and issues on the horizon which could impact initial investment toward upgrading transportation infrastructure.

The presentations were followed by a virtual conference with Professors Suzanne Moomaw, Ralph Hall, and Ralph Buehler to wrap up the course.  It allowed students the opportunity to share experiences and reflect on what we had learned. We found that sustainable development is interdisciplinary in nature, and that our responses to policies were diverse and personal. We learned that meeting goals in sustainable development and making progress requires innovation and strategic forethought in public policy.  As architects and planners we should also ask ourselves the question, “How can we do more with less?” and know where we stand on sustainability issues. Moreover, we know that growing globally competitive regional economies and sustainable cities is a complex task, which will require rethinking the vision for the built environment. While there is no one-size fits all for each city, the ideal is to limit the expansion of urban areas, while intensifying development along transportation corridors and within city centers.  


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Throughout our trips, we learned through experience that relying on public transportation for mobility was essential. The primary mode of transportation we used to travel to various cities within Switzerland, Germany, and Italy was via the train.  Riding the SBB train in Switzerland is definitely the best way to experience each region of Switzerland.  The beauty of the landscape is unforgettable, where snow-capped alps meet rolling green lowlands and valleys bordered by alpine lakes. In less than an hour, the primary language spoken can change depending on where you are coming from and where you are going.  When your train ticket is checked, the transit staff will ask you, “Where are you going?” – the question is often asked in a foreign language, unless you are a fluent in the native language and can turn on a dime to answer. Once you get off the train at your destination, the identity of the city is reinforced and its attractions are accessible by short trips. We experienced the cities by tram, on foot, by bike, and even scooters! At the heart of the city centers are spaces which exhibit a sense of place. Much like that of our not so distant past, these spaces are built for people, and not automobiles.

So how do we build and plan cities in the U.S. which follow the European model, and meet the needs of citizens? Do we even know where we are headed? Wulf Daseking city planner of Freiburg, said it best with “Plan your cities as if you would want to live there.”  Build a neighborhood that is integrated, connected, and that meets the needs of the people.

In the evening of our last day at Riva San Vitale, a going away reception was hosted in the garden of Villa Maderni, by CESA managing director Daniela Doninelli. Daniela introduced a sampling of local cuisine for the group to enjoy.  The food was not only appetizing, but also supported local alpine farms within the Ticino canton. After the reception, the group had dinner and then momentarily separated to appreciate the surroundings. A few people hiked up the mountain, while others rode bicycles around town and took the opportunity to snap some last minute photos.

That night, we packed our belongings and said goodbye to each other and Riva.  Some of us will continue to travel abroad while others are headed back to the USA. As a group, we shared this experience together, and look forward to meeting one another as friends once again.

Special thanks to Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia and especially Professors Ralph Hall, Suzanne Moomaw, and Ralph Buehler for organizing Sustainable Europe. Also thanks to Ambassador Don Beyer and Mrs. Beyer, and all of the other inspirational people we met during each trip along the way.

 Safe travels everyone!

Author: Christina Underwood | Graduate | Urban Affairs and Planning | Virginia Tech

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