The Brad Pitt-narrated PBS series e² ( “the Economies of being Environmentally conscious”) has several episodes about urban design and planning. For a general introduction to walkable, transit-oriented design and planning, I recommend the episode “Portland: A Sense of Place.” It focuses on the city’s rail transit and aerial tram, the Pearl District redevelopment, and the quality of life that can result from downtown revitalization with good urban design.

Even better is the episode “Seoul: The Stream of Consciousness” which focuses on Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project. This was a major freeway in the heart of the city that was torn down and replaced with a linear park and recreated running stream. The best thing about this episode is the sense of hope and renewal for the city that is conveyed by the residents’ pride in their new park.

These episodes are beautifully produced, not wonky at all, and will certainly hold anybody’s attention. The episodes can be viewed at www.e2-series.com. Click on “Webcasts” and scroll down to the episode titles. They are also available on DVD and from iTunes.

At the series’ home page, there are short, supplementary podcasts that go into greater detail about each episode. The podcast for “Portland: A Sense of Place” features a concise explanation of walkable urban design by Peter Calthorpe, an accomplished planner and architect. The podcasts can be viewed online or downloaded. There are also teachers’ guides available with short background essays and links to more information.

Other e² programs that focus on urban design include:

  • Melbourne Reborn — Revised zoning in downtown Melbourne and the economic and cultural revitalization that resulted from it
  • London: The Price of Traffic — Congestion charging for vehicles entering London and the city’s focus on pedestrian space and transit
  • Bogotá: Building a Sustainable City — The transformation of the city’s public transport system, civic spaces, and several other planning experiments to improve the quality of life
  • Aadaptive Reuse in the Netherlands — The redevelopment of Amsterdam’s abandoned dockyards into a mixed use, walkable district called Borneo Sporenburg

These episodes are available online or will be available by January 6, 2009.

There is another program available about the Cheonggyecheon which is much more geared to construction nerds. It is the Discovery Channel’s Man-Made Marvels: Seoul Searching [412 Mb .wmv]. It goes into much detail about demolition, archeology, engineering details, etc. The stream itself is essentially an artificial water feature, a simulacrum of what was destroyed by bad planning many decades ago. Fascinating stuff.