Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nadler Amendment

$3 billion added to the stimulus plan specifically for transit:
The House also rejected an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to remove all funding for Amtrak. "In 40 years, Amtrak has not turned a profit, and the federal government has continued to subsidize it." Flake, of course, didn't talk about all the federal subsidy to roads and airports, which he isn't trying to eliminate. Corinne Brown (D-FL), however, made that very point. "There is no form of transportation that pays for itself. None whatsoever. Whether we're talking about rail, airlines, cars, none of that. We subsidize all of that."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Link Impound

Is it just me or is the current debate over the stimulus dominated on both sides by a return to a previous status quo, either the Bush years pre-complete collapse of the illusory house of cards, or as Kunstler put it today:
hallucinated "wealth" rushing into the cosmic worm-hole of oblivion
...or the 90s Clinton-era as some sort of perceived Valhalla. Neither of which is possible and any attempts at returning to such a place (which as it seems to me, the infusion of cash seems intent on maintaining that status quo) will only exacerbate the problems. In poor times, you need to be smarter than ever about where spending goes.
------------------

On to today's links:

A most excellent pictorial case study from Vancouver showing the disastrous effects of a clover leaf/highway and the positive efforts to return it towards a more context-sensitive solution:
One Last Loop

Starting to get scared that I'm agreeing with David Brooks more and more or maybe it is a good thing that there is a growing voice for sanity:
The committee staff took the kernel of President Obama’s vision — infrastructure programs to create jobs — and surrounded it with an undisciplined sprawl of health, education, entitlement and other spending. There’s money for nurse training, Medicare, Head Start, boatyard support, home weatherization and so on. Eleven of the programs in the bill account for the vast majority of the actual job creation. The rest may be worthy or not, but they have little to do with stimulus. The total package is so diffuse, it costs $223,000 to create a single job.
I admire Obama's willingness to bring everyone under his umbrella, but this is what happens when they're nothing but dinosaurs, relics with their mind on the past system that "worked"...for a while.

TreeHugger on the holocaust occuring every year on the World's highways. And no, I'm not hyperbolizing:
In one year, it is estimated that 1.2 million people are killed in auto-related accidents around the globe. That equates to slightly more than 3200 traffic deaths EVERY DAY. These mostly preventable deaths, in casualties alone, exponentially surpasses the number of casualties from higher profile, more newsworthy, less common tragedies. Yet, the horrific daily toll receives little attention by political leaders and the media .

["The driver must've been huge. Notice the seared fat that burned into the seat. Very modern art." ~ movie quote.]

And now for the email FWD that I received today, didn't laugh at it, but simply knowingly nodded:

Subject: Important info on the Stimulus Payment


"This year, taxpayers will receive an Economic Stimulus Payment. This is a very exciting new program that I will explain using the Q and A format."

"Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
"A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.

"Q. Where will the government get this money?
"A. From taxpayers.

"Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?
"A. No, they are borrowing it from China. You children are expected to repay the Chinese.

"Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
"A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

"Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of China?
"A. Shut up."


Below is some helpful advice on how to best help the US economy by spending your stimulus check wisely:

If you spend that money at Wal-Mart, all the money will go to China.

If you spend it on gasoline it will go to Hugo Chavez, the Arabs and Al Queda

If you purchase a computer it will go to Taiwan.

If you purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala (unless you buy organic).

If you buy a car it will go to Japan and Korea.

If you purchase prescription drugs it will go to India.

If you purchase heroin it will go to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

If you give it to a charitable cause, it will go to Nigeria.

And none of it will help the American economy.

We need to keep that money here in America. You can keep the money in America by spending it at yard sales, going to athletic events, or spend it on prostitutes, beer (domestic ONLY, note: Budweiser is foreign owned) or tattoos, since those are the only businesses still in the US.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bizarro Beer Friday

Well, someone woke up on the right side of the bed today. Oh, not me. I had a pillow over my face to ward off the nasty sunlight. That someone would be the City of Dallas. Good Gawd, where am I? Something must be going on this weekend that I am unaware. Yes, it is 70, the sun is poking its head out and on the comfortability scale, rather perfect outside...aside from the strange odor of eggs near Neiman Marcus.

The streets are alive. I haven't seen this many people on the streets of downtown Dallas since the city celebrated the Cowboys winning a playoff game...oh, wait...

For the first time in my existence in this city, I witnessed street performers. Yes, that's right creative panhandling has come to Dallas as a guy and gal twentysomething duet played the sax and geeeeetar outside of my office building...with a guitar case with strewn dolla dolla bills about no less. There are girls jogging, people ambling...AMBLING! How dare these pedestrians enjoy city street life whilst I'm walking and interrupt my caffeine and yellow 5 enthused power walk to the office?!

So, as for the free beer Friday Guess the City contest, we'll go to a place much less pleasant than the streets of Dallas. This beer Friday is brought to you by McDonalds, AAA, GM, Exxon-Mobil, and Bank of America/Comerica/Wachovia/Washington Mutual/Wells Fargo/Lehman Brothers/Enron/First National Bank of These United States:

Without further ado (and to unleash some snarky-ness b/c Dallas just isn't cooperating today):

[In this city, you'll find lovely tree-lined boulevards pavement...]


[...authentic ethnic dining experiences more pavement]


[... exhilerating and vibrant shopping districts remiscent of the golden rectangle in Milan and more pavement]


[...a rich and lively, culturally significant downtown boarded up storefronts]


[...elegant and sophistocated high-rise living views of dumpsters]


[an extensive and comfortable mass transit network over-grown train tracks]


[... humming industrial base comatose industrial base]


[...oh, and I have nothing to add here, except that I'll still defend graffiti as an organic vigilante form of ownership and expression despite getting into many an argument with fellow urbanists over its legitimacy to exist. Perhaps it could become a Livability Indicator some day...hmmm...]


The first contestant to properly name the City where these pictures were taken in the comments section below gets the prize: 1 Beer of their choice at today's happy hour location AND an all-expense paid trip to this fair city (if they would actually want it).

[Fine print: Blog owner reserves the right to tell you to flip the eff off if you actually hold him to the all-expense paid trip portion of the prize.]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

On the Arts District and the Place Architecture is Leaving.

The Foster + Partners bldg is truly gorgeous. You could tell it would be from the very first renderings years ago. The OMA/Prince Ramus Borg Space Ship ...not so much.

[Imagery from nthomas7627's flickr photostream]




[A new analogy. Ready to capture hundreds of patrons of the arts.]

Unfortunately, for the Winspear, like many "object buildings" it needs a frame. We can frame it with our camera lens and it looks great, but ultimately a building is not intended to be experienced on a sheet of paper. I don't mean to be derisive about this building, but ultimately without the urban fabric to "frame" it, it is not an environment, merely an object.

This is the heart of the problem with architecture currently, which is really just residual from the 20th century and dying thankfully. A building has to know its surroundings. It can't exist in a vacuum. The Foster design understood this, which is why one can visualize it set within a more vibrant district lined with "background buildings." It is both dramatic and subtle, iconic yet with humility. The pseudo-Koolhaas/ultimately-Ramus building did not, which is why it looks like it is landing from outer space.

Rather than let it stand out against a foil of standard urbanity, the problem is exacerbated with other sculpture, crying babies screaming for attention. The arts district in its current bastardized form is incoherent b/c rather than stand out, it merely stands.

A singular building is a post card. A true urban environment is drama. We need to start working on making more movies.

No Comment

DMN: Dallas City Council hears about benefits of planning denser neighborhoods (link)

I've cited Chris Leinberger a few times here. This is what he had to say:
...urban planner and Brookings Institution fellow Christopher Leinberger urged the council to select about seven areas in Dallas of several hundred acres or more and to use zoning regulations to encourage those areas to densely develop with residences, shopping and offices.
Hmmm...what was City Council's response:
Council member Angela Hunt called Wednesday's forum "an incredible meeting" that brought forth a flood of new ideas about urban planning for Dallas.
I can no longer bite my tongue...new ideas? This is the shit you should've been doing years ago. Here is a big idea, Downtown Dallas will never be fully functional and reach its full potential until AT LEAST one of the freeways choking it off from the rest of the world is removed. The deck parks are a mere $60 million dollar band-aid.

Two wrongs, don't make a right. Or should I say, two expensive projects, one a horrific mistake and a deep chasm through the heart of the city and one a $60 million dollar band-aid, do not achieve a great return on investment.

SNAKE ATTACK!


Kunstler mentioned this week his belief that:
Americans will have to live somewhere, of course, but the terrain of North America faces a very comprehensive reformation. The biggest cities will contract; the small cities and small towns will be reactivated, the agricultural landscape will be inhabited differently, and the suburbs will undergo an agonizing decades-long work-out of bad debt and true asset re-valuation. Since the loss of so much vested "wealth" is implied by the crash of suburbia, this may be a source of revolutionary political violence moving deeper into the Obama administration.
If he is to be believed, which I believe there is some logic to, specifically when you see small and medium-sized cities rededicating themselves to their "Main Streets" and downtowns (and not just at a token level, but making real hard decisions, like OKC that is removing Highway 77 from its downtown. Well, the city is converting it to a boulevard, clearing up substantial amount of land both directly and indirectly for new urban development, new high quality neighborhoods.

Will OKC surpass Dallas as a great place to live? Remains to be seen, but if Dallas leadership wants to keep its head in the sand, leave the tunnels open, maintain the wide one-way streets, allow those streets to be dominated by speeding valets and vagrants, allow surface parking within the downtown core, and think this inner highway loop is positive in any way, this city will remain the as it is for decades to come until some leadership is ready, to uhhh, ya know...lead.

Sorry, I'm in a foul mood today after walking across Main Street this morning and noticed that the ummm MAIN street in the City's views to the East end in a highway and those to the West finish in a jail! Happy times. I shouldn't care so much.
-------------------
edit: I should give credit where credit is due:
"We need to focus on areas we want to develop [densely], identify them, put a boundary around them. Then we need to identify areas we want to protect. Too often it's a battle between developers and neighborhoods," she said.
This is a correct statement on her part. Of course, I did this three years ago in the City of Springfield, IL and received the Daniel Burnham Certificate of Merit from the Illinois state AIA chapter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Time: On the Stimulus

I couldn't agree more:

TIME: How to Spend a Trillion Dollars
"A trillion dollars' worth of bad ideas — sprawl-inducing highways and bridges to nowhere, ethanol plants and pipelines that accelerate global warming, tax breaks for overleveraged McMansion builders and burdensome new long-term federal entitlements — would be worse than mere waste. It would be smarter to buy every American an iPod, a set of Ginsu knives and 600 Subway foot-longs."

"shovel ready doesn't necessarily mean shovel-worthy. Many projects are shovel-ready now only because they failed to clear the spectacularly low bar Congress set for pork in the past.”

Even if Keynes wasn't particular about where deficit spending should go during a recession, we MUST be. 1) we're too poor, 2) the right (and me) would lose their hypocritical little minds, and 3) it would only pronounce and prolong the issues, if not completely exacerbating them by spending on the same BS that got us into the mess.
“..states like Alabama, Kansas and Texas have been releasing lists of shovel-ready transportation projects that are dramatically skewed toward out-of-the-way sprawl roads. Missouri's list was all roads, none of them in St. Louis
Tell me HOW an over budget DART green line does not make the list? The drawings are finished and the line is being built, yet all it needs is some o' that hot stinky cash.

Investing in Rail Better Job Creation than Roads

From New America Media (link)

The relevent(s):
The figures make a lot of sense when you consider the difference in these endeavors: building new roads and expanding highways mostly involves paving over dirt, with some amount of construction of raised flyovers and interchanges. Extending a rail line means manufacturing the rail and the rail cars, then laying them, and after they are laid, on-going operation of the train. Similarly, new bus lines involve vehicle and parts manufacturing and long-term operations. Because most transit agencies also have Buy America policies, public transportation investment creates industry jobs in the United States, as well as construction jobs—on-going operating jobs are an added plus.

For individuals struggling to reduce their personal expenses in this affordability crisis, being able to rely on buses and trains can free up money that would otherwise be spent on a car. In the United States, transportation is the second highest household expense, after housing. But people who live in a neighborhood well served by public transportation are able to reduce their spending on transportation from 25 percent of their household budget to just 9 percent. The money they save can go to ensuring that they pay their mortgage or rent on time or these dollars can go back into the economy through purchasing goods and services.
Let's examine how much I save in transportation costs since loosing myself from the vexing finger-cuffs at the hands of Toyota, shall we:

What I would spend per month if nothing in my current living situation were to change and I were to add a new shiny smoke gray auto to my family. Meaning, still living and working downtown; keeping most of my cavorting and social gallivanting contained within loop 12. I'll also assume that toll fares and parking meters work out to be negligible.

Oh, and I would be purchasing this car.


Cost .............................................................$$/mo.
Buying/Leasing a new car..........................................300
Down Payment prorated over 12 months.........................200
Insurance...............................................................150
Parking (at Interurban Building)..............................120 (wtf?!)
Gas (at the rate I used to of 1 fill-up/mo.).....................40

Airport parking (private travel)......................................15
~Taxes, Tags, & Fees...................................................30


TOTAL..............................................$855/mo
or $10,260 in the first year of ownership

Expense sans Auto.........................................$/mo.
Monthly DART pass (assuming I had one)....................50
~ Cab Fees (entertainment purposes).........................30
Non-expensed airport cabfare (ie not for work)...........15
Occasional rental car use & gas (prorated).................35


TOTAL..............................................$130/mo
or $1,560 for the next year


Except that I don't ride DART enough currently to warrant a monthly pass so let's knock those numbers down to more accurate levels:

TOTAL..............................................$90/mo
or $1,080 for the year

Now, it could be argued that I pay a premium to live downtown. I would guess that number is about $0.30/sq.ft. per month equating to an additional $210/mo. premium for walkability or an extra $2520/yr.

So that is a mobility cost of $3,600 (current state) vs. $10,260 via car ownership, meaning that I'm saving (or just spending in other ways) $6,660 per year.

For comparison, the article referenced a savings of 64% on transportation. Mine came out to 64.92%.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Era of Responsibility

"...the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.

Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government. "
Now President Obama dancing with both sides of the aisle during his inaugural address before landing on an entirely higher plane than the petty discourse of the previous generation of politics. This is his power.

See the full transcript, here.

Rise and Shine!

It's a new day as the sun sets on Dark Years (with a ticking time bomb waiting to go off) as I've got the inauguration running in the background while I work today.


As for the article that I linked above regarding the gloomy forecast for the retail industry, once again I look at this positively. Despite being wary of the pain for some industries, especially in the architecture/real estate fields, to me the falling of the House of Cards was always viewed as a good thing. It would wipe out the pretenders. Those who don't really know what they were doing and were in it, whatever it was, for a quick buck.

Not to diminish the necessity of the profit motive, but IMPROVEMENTS should be profitable. NOT anything that makes us all the worse for the wear...i.e. Sprawl, meaning the system was broke.

To me, the optimism of the day is underscored by transparency. Open government, but also as this article points out, one where all the dirty secrets and rotten economies get a bright flashlight shone upon them:
“In the midst of all this doom and gloom, it's hard to imagine it getting better... But keep in mind, what happens in strong downturns is there's a hefty pent-up demand. It's wrong to extrapolate these conditions for the next year or two."

But Mr. Niemira is probably wrong. There is no pent-up demand. Americans have bought everything they’ve desired for the last twenty years. The over-spending and over-leverage will take a decade to unwind.

According to the ICSC, about 150,000 stores are anticipated to shut down in 2009, in addition to the 150,000 that closed in 2008 and 135,000 in 2007. Normally, 110,000 to 125,000 new stores open per year. At least 700,000 of retail jobs will be lost. The opening of new stores will grind to a halt in 2009.

The author is correct. We as a country are horrendously over-retailed. It doesn't take a Mathematics degree from MIT but it probably takes an MBA from the Wharton School to convince you it makes sense to figure that out. Dare I call it a recess(ion) of the ideological high tide of qualitative growth over quantitative. At some point, everyone being in debt can't possibly finance more stuff - without potential of future earnings - which doesn't appear to be on the horizon (on the whole) any time soon without some nationwide elbow grease.

Why could this "restart" be such a good thing (for the purposes of this discussion, I'll keep it limited to retail format and its cause/effect relationship with urban form)?

For one, there will be a grand contraction (Ya think so professor?). Retailers will prune back their stores, there business models will shrink and that will open room for smaller and start-up businesses to find their niche.

Second, retail still requires synergy of other retailers. To borrow a term, it is about complementarity. That is, the synergy created by complementary uses. For retail, they need other retailers, large and small, usually best coordinated via a business partnership.

They ALSO need people and this happens in two ways: 1) via nearby residents, i.e. "live above the shop" and mixed-use buildings/neigborhoods, and 2) the spatial relationship to the "movement economy." You see it all the time currently, except that movement is typically always via car, on roads built solely for the car, which means they are hostile to any other form of transportation and, in turn, actually repel visitation.

[Does this look like a place you want to be?]



The movement economy is important for retail clusters because it means greater amount of people than just the neighborhood, which can only support neighborhood scaled retail, i.e. a corner store, a dry cleaners, and maybe a deli/cafe/or pub. You get the point. But, the transportation system has to be multi-modal (meaning more people) and better "people-friendly" environment (thus being further inviting).

Because of this, in cities like Dallas, places that are positioned to accommodate multi-modal transportation will see their value spike because these will be the only places retail (as we know it today) will work. Many strip centers will completely die off as retailers prune back the amount of stores they can keep open.

This "pruning" will leave blighted "gray fields." In Dallas, this pretty much means the retail clusters that are organized on the original 1-mile super-grid, with single family neighborhoods in between will have to find a new manner of existence.

[Typical Dallas retail with little to no relationship between land uses and entirely auto-oriented.]


For those that can survive, will need to densify as this former strip center did in Winter Park, FL. [Dover Kohl did the planning, RTKL did the architecture on the garage/retail].



This exact same phenomenon is occurring currently with malls. The biggest and best are densifying with residential and office uses, accessing public transit, and adding amenitized, outdoor public spaces. They are becoming both more people friendly AND more business friendly. Those less fortunate (if you happen to sympathize with the plight of a particular mall) are finding life as something else, if not being scraped altogether.

For those "children left behind," as in surface parking lots and empty big box stores, can turn into centrally located community centers, parks, and new schools that are designed and situated to be walked to, saving schools money and kids time from bussing all over the city (not to mention CO2 & gas); essentially, they would become neighborhood centers.

A couple of the places best positioned in Dallas are Cityplace/West Village for the urban street grid, the trolley line, the DART adjacency, the already existing density (which is the by-product of everything I've said in this article), and Central Expressway. The other, off the top of my head, is DTD. Yes, downtown Dallas. It might be struggling now, but there are few places in the city that have DART, MATA, density (from residential and office, present and future), political desire if not yet will, soon to be parks, and presumably improved pedestrian-friendly streetscapes (someday).


[The requisite economist-y chart to illustrate my point. Taken from Gateway Planning Group's Presentation to TxDOT.]

There are also many others (which must be sized and scaled appropriately and directly proportional to the level of complentarity/mobility establishing a hierarchy of mixed-use nodes or centers), but these are the two that are head and shoulders best prepared for increase density, activity, and (if we're smart) attention/care/and cultivation.

Retailers and residents will flock to be in or near these places. They are currently some of the highest value places in the city from a people and real estate perspective, but they are still operating well below their potential future ceiling. We just have to make sure the regulatory and political environment are prepared and organized to allow for this city and retail reorganization.

They are currently below the LoMac area which is a joke of tangled spaghetti arterials, deep setbacks, narrow sidewalks despite having nearby freeways and the MATA trolley line. This area is exactly the end result when getting the details right is paid zero attention and the only effort is to cynically deliver "product to the market" not places for people. This means that the value of this place is ultimately limited whereas in CityPlace and Downtown, it is infinite.


[Going from 0 babies to 1 baby is an infinite leap on the livability scale. And, as we all know, those Wharton School MBAs will tell you that infinite growth is possible.]

Monday, January 19, 2009

Of Knowing the Path and Walking the Path

WorldChanging takes on Obama's choice for Transpo Secretary, that is considerably less optimistic (and probably more accurate) than mine:
This one-time wave of funding will do one of two things: it will further entrench a broken system, or it will begin to build a new and better one. In the next six years, we'll either dump hundreds of billions of dollars into highways, roads and bridges or we'll begin to revitalize our communities and transform our economy. Sprawl or urban renaissance? That's ultimately the choice we have.
Boston.com: The End of Bilbao Decade.
All that fever now feels passe. Architecture students, I'm told, are more interested in so-called "green architecture," work that responds to the global crisis of climate and resources, than they are in artistic shape-making. They're interested in urbanism, in the ways buildings gather to shape streets and neighborhoods and public spaces. They research new materials and methods of construction. Increasingly, they're collaborating with students in other fields, instead of hoping to produce a private ego trip.
I'm not sure who "told" the author this, but if it is more than mere speculation, I am imbued by the generation of Millennial architects that "get it."

And lastly, I rather enjoyed this critique of the notorious front-runner, Thomas Friedman.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Where Was My Nomination?

I'm offended.

Most of the small blogs nominated for the 2008 blog roll awards sucked... or maybe I just need to market this thing better... or cover Paris Hilton... or call Obama a terrorist, ad nauseum... or have every post relate to this one, about "attractive young females" cavorting in urbanity:

Blumenauer's Time Has Come

NYT: A Bicycle Evangelist with the Wind at his Back
Mr. Blumenauer’s goals are larger than putting Americans on two wheels. He seeks to create what he calls a more sustainable society, including wiser use of energy, farming that improves the land rather than degrades it, an end to taxpayer subsidies for unwise development — and a transportation infrastructure that looks beyond the car.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Inspiration



Something just doesn't seem right about this picture, but I just can't put my finger on it.

Can you?

Serenity


[click for larger view]

Not in the States. If it were, I would half expect a Chevy 4x4 to come rampaging thru the still waters as part of a creative new ad campaign with their bailout money.

Is it just me or are all car commercials set in either natural settings or very urban...the exact two types of places car culture most negatively effects? Oh, and there are rarely ever people in the urban settings. Ya know, because that might imply that people can actually get around on their own or possibly enjoy life outside of their metal contraption (entraption?).

Portland's Green Dividend

From CEOs for Cities (pdf).

The City adds $2.6 billion (with a B) by getting its citizens to drive 4 miles less per day. Commies.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Local Links

Trans Texas boondoggle Corridor: DOA, mercifully.
[link @ DMN]

LOLz at Dallas being ranked as the 17th best destination for 2009 topping two of my personal favorite places: Copenhagen and Rome. Something to strive for? Yes. Something foolish and will no doubt convince the right people of the wrong thing (ie that the Arts District in its current format is an attraction), undoubtedly.

WorldChanging interview of Sanjay Gupta, regarding Livable Cities:
Too many of our cities are built with an eye toward commerce, instead of health. As a result, we have parking structures instead of parks and roads instead of walkways. There are plenty of examples where you can do both. Healthier cities are successful cities.

Scooby Snack

Is it just me, or does Paulson look like a villain from Scooby-Doo?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2009

CarFree as Status Symbol. Huhhh?!

In Japan anyway.

It's certainly logical the way cities are evolving with wealth heading towards the places of greatest value and comfort, typically nice, walkable areas near jobs and multiple choices of transportation and with phrases in the homebuying industry like "drive 'til you qualify."

From now on, I am going to start carrying myself, nose aloft, like a Highland Park princess who's Daddy just bought her a new 5-series BMW for her super sweet 16.

How do you eat a Snicker Bar? With your hands!?!?! Heh.

How do you get around? By carrrrrrrr?!?!? Suckers.

This Shit is Bananas...B-A-I hate that effing song.


[As friendly and innocuous as Joe Camel]

Last night, I was watching World's Coastlines From Above on HDNet as recorded on my DVR and I was struck afterwards by how I was overcome by the confluence of beauty of the geography, the coastal cities, and the people caught living their lives on camera from the helicopter. The world we inhabit (as well as the built worlds we've created) seems like Nirvana whilst watching that show. I believe it was Greece and Croatia that I watched last night (This is about when I realized I wanted to retire to a yacht in the Adriatic).

Then, today...I'm brutally brought back to the reality of our times:

World's Banana Supply Succumbing to Disease from HuffPuff via The Independent - "A Parable for our Times"
But how does this relate to the disease now scything through the world's bananas? The evidence suggests even when they peddle something as innocuous as bananas, corporations are structured to do one thing only: maximise their shareholders' profits. As part of a highly regulated mixed economy, that's a good thing, because it helps to generate wealth or churn out ideas. But if the corporations aren't subject to tight regulations, they will do anything to maximise short-term profit. This will lead them to seemingly unhinged behaviour - like destroying the environment on which they depend.
Simply put, without some form of regulation, a corporation will ALWAYS favor quantitative growth over qualitative because it's just too hard. Waaahhh! This is what people mean by the "race to the bottom." That's not a game I care to play.

If you've ever read Gore Vidal, and I've read plenty, you already know all about the Union Fruit company, it's corruption and brutal takeover of South and Central American governments as well as American complicity, which the above linked article recaps. The critical point is that which is in bold (and covered in depth in Thom Hartmann's book Unequal Protection).

Corporations are legally bound to nothing but short-term growth in the form of shareholders' profits. We've allowed them to become so large that they influence, if not directly sanction, any potential government influence that prevents the facility (as in 'Ease of performance' not the building definition) of quick, easy profits; planet and people be damned.

The Corporation (the movie) correctly points out that these entities operate functionally as psycopathic individuals, even though the inviduals within the company are often very compassionate, thoughtful, caring, intelligent people. Why? Because of their company's legal obligations and that the corporate entities are given the rights of people under the law. That's why.

We're at the point where all governments are now Banana Republics. This is THE primary issue of the day that we ALL face. Yes, us too. We're facing giant industrial agri-business stripping the nutrients out of soils in the most fertile lands in the world, the American midwest, as similar to this passage about the bananas:
Not long after Panama Disease first began to kill bananas in the early 20th century, United Fruit's scientists warned the corporation was making two errors. They were building a gigantic monoculture. If every banana is from one homogenous species, a disease entering the chain anywhere on earth will soon spread. The solution? Diversify into a broad range of banana types.
It's about permaculture, crop rotation, nutrient flows not strip mining every and any natural resource...this is how the Chinese farmers have cultivated terraced hillsides for millenia. Quantitative, indiscriminate growth is the ideology of the Cancer cell. The corporation as a legal entity is the cancer. It's time to excise the tumor before it destroys the Earth's capacity to sustain life.

Barry Knows Jane Jacobs

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

National Service

Article on HuffPuff: Is Obama missing the National Service Moment?

I've been saying for years now (presumably not on here yet, because I would be able to find a link) that we should have a mandatory 1(or 2)-year(s) of national service (which Jefferson was in favor of, btw).

The catch is that on the 18th birthday, you get a choice: Peace Corps (which my father was in during the 60s in Sierra Leone before it broke out in a FOUR!-way civil war), the AmeriCorps (or some derivative thereof that will help build the nation's infrastructure [read: RAIL] - cheap labor! WooHoo!), or the military.

Besides the cheap labor, it would certainly provide a platform for training a green-collared workforce of a generation that is well-known to be active in charitable organizations already.

FORWARD Article

I hope that I'm not jumping the gun, but here is the rough cut of the article (with some later minor tweaks that occurred after editing...well, just because I was unhappy with a few phrases) that will be published on Jan. 22, 2009 in The AIA National Associates Committee's Quarterly Editorial Online-Journal, found here [Link]:

Full disclosure: I am not an architect. But, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Actually, I just work for an architecture firm, in the Urban Design and Planning Group. I am writing because I have shared interests in sustainability and generational studies and believe these topics to be interdependent and intertwined. The point of this article is to discuss how the Millennial Generation will drive the architecture and sustainable urbanism of the 21st century and how the real estate market is failing them and architects and designers must deliver it for them.

Before moving forward with this thesis, it is critical to understand a few things about generational studies. First, generations are cyclical. Characteristics cannot be linearly extrapolated from one generation to the next. Rather, they are mostly reactive to previous generations. Next, there are always outliers and anomalies. The key is to focus on trends and find the statistical mean or center of gravity of the cultural shift.

Now, who exactly is a Millennial? Academics like to assign specific age brackets and birth years to define and identify generations. They bicker over whether they were born in 1977 or ‘82; 1994 or ‘96. I prefer to focus on epochal shifts – moments in history that define them – as people – as a group. So I will define this cohort as individuals graduating college post 9/11 at the oldest extreme and those involved in the historic 2008 presidential election at the youngest. Anecdotally, I have heard too many stories of eleven, twelve, or thirteen year old volunteers. They are active, involved, informed, and the largest generational cohort in American history.

If there is one word to best describe the Millennials, it is that they are communitarians. Millennials are team players, working better in groups than individually. They have redefined the internet’s networking capabilities while maturing along side of it, with the creation of YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, etc. proving the internet would not replace community leading to a world of plugged-in shut-ins, but serve as a tool to build and maintain relationships.

[Common areas and public spaces take precedence when designing for Millennials. Pictured: Addison Circle where each building faces a park. Image courtesy of RTKL.]

Their chosen fashion is about subtlety, details that give a hint of individuality without shock or rebellion. As Nadira Hira writes in Fortune, “this isn't a group you'll catch in flannel. They're all about quiet kitsch - a funky T-shirt under a blazer, artsy jewelry, silly socks - small statements that won't cause trouble. The most important decorations, though, are electronic - iPods, BlackBerrys, laptops - and they're like extra limbs.”

You have heard of Generation Me, say hello to Generation We.

In Millennial Makeover, Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais describe the two types of realignments -"idealist" and "civic"- that have alternated throughout the nation's history. From pop culture, to fashion, to the historic turnout of 18-29 year old voters this election suggests that Millennials are beginning to come of age; seizing the mantle from the Baby Boomers, defining the collective consciousness.

The tidal shifts are not isolated to politics or pop culture. Our cities, the places that house us, provide platform to live, learn, love, interact, and transact, are also at the tipping point. They are lacking real urbanity. The real estate community is supposed to deliver what the market demands. But, according to Chris Leinberger, only 3% of Americans live in walkable urban communities, while 30% said they would like to join them. That is some serious pent up demand.

Millennials grew up in suburbia; bland environments dependent on others for mobility. They are entering the adulthood seeking lifestyle: vitality, diversity, and community. But, Millennials are not the only ones who will be driving this sea change from suburban to high quality urban environments. Baby Boomers will be retiring by the boat load. Retirement communities in their current form resemble warehouses more than they do the most desirable of retirement “villages”: real communities where retirees can be independent and empowered, such as the Upper East Side and Key West.

[Millennials meeting at a "Third Place." Stock image courtesy of RTKL.]

The paradigmatic issue is that the world constructed between 1950 and 2000 is one of planned obsolescence, of consumption. We have overspent, so retailers (and similarly, homebuilders) over provide products. Combined with a more frugal younger generation, a vast shift in urban form is required; scaling back and relocalizing in conjunction with relocation of the “market” where transactions occur in places that fulfill the social needs of the new generation. Driving to the mall is no longer as convenient (or desirable) as heading to third places: the corner store, the coffee shop, the local pub.

I recall the overly simplistic, undergraduate argument whether Architecture was an art or a science. Certainly, it is both, but art reflects its place in time. Architecture in the 21st century will be as different as the Millennials are from the Boomers. They are doing whatever it takes to get into interesting, urban environs at a time when it is hardly affordable for them. They are moving into “micro” units, taking on roommates, and more willing to live in multi-generational households.

Like society, the architecture profession is at a similar transitional stage as Generation We, the communitarians, and sustainable urbanism struggle to take center stage from the attention seeking, entirely self-referential architecture and high tech gadgetry posing as sustainability as if it is some sort of fleeting fashion, temporarily en vogue. These are postcards, nothing more.

We have to all become less specialized in our individual professions, under one umbrella, each as city builders with a common cause focused on placemaking, which becomes more than series of stills, greater than the sum of its parts. It becomes drama. Only through Architecture of the We, not the Me, can we design and begin to rebuild our cities as stimulating places for the next generation and achieve real sustainability.


Recommended Reading:

Farr, Douglas. 2008. Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Greenberg, Eric, and Karl Weber. 2008. Generation We: How Millennial Youth are Taking Over America and Changing Our World Forever. Emeryville, CA: Pachatusan.

Hais, Michael D and Morley Winograd. 2008. Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Hira, Nadira A. “Attracting the twentysomething worker. The baby-boomers' kids are marching into the workplace, and look out: this crop of twentysomethings really is different.” Fortune, May 15, 2007. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/05/28/100033934/

Howe, Neil and William Strauss. 1997. The Fourth Turning : an American Prophecy. New York: Broadway Books.

Howe, Neil and William Strauss. 2000. Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage Books.

Leinberger, Christopher. 2008. The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Nasser, Haya El. “Less is More in New Housing: Young Renters and Buyers Seek Small Spaces with Big Appeal—and Luxury at a Lower Cost.” USA TODAY, December 5, 2008. http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20081205/tinypads05_st.art.htm

Zogby, John. 2008. The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream. New York: Random House.

Action --> Reaction

Downtown Dallas enforcing 'Zero Tolerance' policy on panhandling.

But enforcing such quality of life-type laws have been notoriously difficult to enforce: The vast majority of people ticketed under Dallas' panhandling ordinance never pay their fine or otherwise clear their ticket.

And the city's expanded anti-panhandling ordinance is but one of several new laws that some Dallas residents have criticized as high-profile, but ineffective attempts by politicians to control behavior.

City officials, however, contend that such laws result in greater voluntary compliance and give police tools to prevent or stop activities that erode Dallas' quality of life if left unaddressed.

The Cause (well, the cause of this backlash, not homelessness - I'm not even gonna start with that issue), of course, being the construction of The Bridge in downtown, which may or may not, stigmatize and/or hinder the redevelopment of the southern portion of downtown. It certainly has upped the population of destitute and downtrodden on the streets of DTD.

Much as with land use zoning, we need to stop clustering by tax bracket to build healthy stable communities within our city as Andres Duany describes here:



While I'm fully in support of the function and necessity of The Bridge; I question what exactly is it bridging towards? Kicking them back out onto the streets in the morning?

What really, needs to be done, much like with senior citizens and school children, the solution is not found in warehousing them. Those with mental illnesses or drug and alcohol dependency need treatment, others need training programs.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Open Source Governing

I've been noodling on this idea of CrowdSourcing today while at work and just trying to get my head fully around the dynamics and the direction that it is taking us and its relationship between business and governing. I guess this all stems from listening to Robert Kennedy Jr. once talk about the free and fair market is the most democratic form of economics. So, the two ideals are free and fair markets for economics and democracy (beyond representative democracy) of an educated and intelligent electorate.

Where are we on the path to those ideals and are they intertwined and interrelated, improved forms of self-organization?

But, if on one side we have a group, let's call it the market. And, on the other side of the room, we have an all-knowing individual. Let's call him the supplier. This doesn't sound terribly democratic [with the assumed caveat that self-rule is indeed the ideal]. In fact, this sounds closer to a economic dictatorship (benevolent or brutal). "You will buy what I give you" or in the benevolent case, "here ya go." Actually, it sounds very much like supply-side principles.

So, (obviously while skipping steps for the sake of rhetoric) the next step was to start focus groups and the like. Asking the market, "what would you like us to provide"? This is starting to sound like a democratically representative economics which is what we've known the most in this countries history with occasional lapses in both trade and governing towards the former.

Then, today I get emailed this. The Obama administration has said repeatedly that they plan on being the most transparent government in this country's history, blurring the gaps between market and supplier, source and end-user, by asking the country what topics and issues are most important to them and (presumably) addressing them eventually. This seems to me an excellent method of setting up a hierarchy of punch-list items (functionally useful) while maintaining a link between constituents and representatives, with governance following the ground-up movement towards a more democratic economic system (theoretical and improvement).

In a way, it seems like the internet is approaching the forms of Athenian democracy where everyone had a vote and Socrates ranted against for its inertia towards mob rule of the less-informed. The key adaptation (at least in this detail) however, is 1) there is still a seperation between mass and elected officials, but also 2) the very subtle inclusion of voting on the issues and questions raised allowing for the most pressing and prescient issues to rise to the top of the list.

Similarly, business models are popping up all over the place, all web-based b/c of the necessity for flexibility in organizing. YouTube replaces Television as Millennials begin to entertain themselves rather than fifty-something TV execs. We know that Millennials watch less TV than the preceding GenX, but internet consumption is up. They know what they want and they're doing it, rather than waiting to be spoonfed a bland, focus-grouped inferior entertainment product.

And, now we also have companies like Threadless, et al., allowing consumers to create their own product for a cut of the share. Fashion designers replaced by consumers. Everyone and anyone can be one; no longer some entrenched group hidden away defensing their way of life. In a way, it is approaching a perfect market for ideas to be tested where the best are naturally sorted to the top. As Neil Takemoto writes, this is the essence of the Creative (Class) Economy rather than the artist enclaves colonizing run down warehouse districts.

Spatial Alienation of the Soloist

Warning: I'm going on one of my tangent trips into the meanings of various artform not unlike what I did with Maynard James Keenan aka Puscifer's song Indigo Children, with the hope of deconstructing and translating the meta-narrative told through sound, word, or semiotics as it relates to our urban or cultural condition.

In this case, I'll be looking at the movie The Soloist, which I watched for the first time recently and through the magic of screen capture will be using various imagery the director utilitized as essentially his screen wipes between acts; telling his metanarrative. Hopefully this should provide some insight as well (if you are at all interested) in how I typically watch movies, as the best ones crafted by the most talented directors (at least IMO) are rarely about the details of the movie. Rather, these details (what populates the screen and the script 99% of the time) are really helping to tell the bigger story.

This post will intermittently post the screen shots as captured in order the film presents them.

In the case of The Soloist, starring Terrell, TX's own Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr and directed by Joe Wright, on the surface is about a paranoid schizophrenic AND Juilliard dropout and the real life LA Times columnist who wrote about him. At this level, we see that it is about homelessness, race, class, and music. At first, we assume the "soloist" is the musician. Later, we begin to realize that he who is solo also represents a larger and larger segment of the community, to the point that we begin to see ourselves, as portrayed by our cities, as isolated by our own creations.


Early on in the film, the director sets the stage showing our own constructs as agents of disconnection, of social alienation. Yes, Nathaniel Ayers (the homeless cellist) is disconnected and alienated from society, but he is not looking for social connectivity. He is portrayed as the type of savant that only has (or wants) his connection to his music, and Beethoven.

Because the eye of the camera is always following the columnist, Steve Lopez, we, as the audience, become one with him, and in turn, it is really about us.



Throughout the movie, he (and us) slowly form a bond with another person, a charming, talented, yet occasionally scary fellow. We see a giant scar or gash (as I've often called freeways), which he receives from direct contact with a street, ironically named Riverside Drive slowly heal on his face throughout the film.









Periodically, we see the connection his music forms between performer and audience, weaving the parallel story between performer and audience in the story, as well as inserting us, the audience into this narrative. Music in this case acts as merely one of the many agents of connectivity between people, breaking barriers of race, class, etc. as something being above human differences.



Even in the movie, we wipes convey this message as we see Katrina victims on rooftops, which as the camera pulls back, we see is actually on a screen of an elderly woman's TV as she reads the first article Lopez writes about Ayers. The connection between performers in this case, unfortunately, Katrina victims, and audience, television viewers. Furthermore, in this short scene there are more connections between performers and audience: performer:the writer and audience:the elderly woman reading the papern as well as performer:elderly woman donating her cello and audience:us witnessing the act.

It should also be noted that the director is from London, not LA. A critical point when comparing cities and the comparisons of the two. London, as the far more mature and connected city, whereas LA provides the perfect landscape for illustrating the differences between haves/have nots, the metabolism and inhumanity of the way it churns through talent/people, and the physical nature of the city as we have constructed it, which has had the unintended consequence of further alienating and disconnecting.

The director uses shots from LA to remind us where we are, but also who we are, and the alienating devices between us.



The traditional pattern of urban structure constituted by streets was swept away by a brave new system of vehicular highways separate from buildings and public spaces....as the car and the modern highway took a grip on urban design, city form underwent perhaps its most dramatic transformation in thousands of years.

This is the resultant urbanity...more like deserts, inhabitable:



As Bill Hillier discusses, when designs or constructs affecting urbanity and human interactions adhere strictly and solely to ideology and theory on how things should be, this equates to experimentation. And the thing about experimentation, with zero grounding in empirical form, is that it can be wrong.



This is what I mean when I theorize about the evolution of design and its two possible courses: it either happens slowly and gradually as necessitated by changing circumstances without ever fully disconnecting itself from its previous iterations, which are always always in some way referenced yet adapted to new needs and wants following something similar to Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.

Or, it responds as a completely altered organism due to cataclysmic events. One could say it was the car, but I believe it goes deeper than that. The car was simply an agent. Something deeper was what made the car ubiquitous and attainable for all. No, not debt. Well, sort of...but, what I'm really referring to is industrialism, which eventually led to the assembly line.



It's not hard to see how Le Corbusier, et al, would see these advancements as a positive, as closer steps towards democracy, equality - the printing press brought information to all. The assembly line created the Model T, and its offspring promising universal mobility, allowing all to escape the squalor of, ironically and not coincidentally, the polluted industrial city and its own forms of rampant inequality.



Attaching architectural theory to these progresses seemed like a great idea, certainly at least marketing-wise, which is presumably why they took hold. Democracy always makes for a good sound bite. Jefferson did it with the DC grid, and his personal style referencing Ancient Greeks and Romans through his personal architectural style for their influence on his creation, the American Democratic Republic.

However, these connections are tenuous at best. The modernist movement led by corbu, looked nothing like Jefferson's neo-classical works. Yet both claimed to be the physical embodiment of democracy.

Furthermore, the modernists had a perfect foil for their ideological marketing campaign, the fascists. Hitler was busy planning super cities with classicist architect Albert Speer, while Mussolini was plowing streets through Rome and constructing new buildings with neo-classical forms, yet modernist styling as we know fascist architecture today.



Unfortunately for us, Corbu had a pretty good case when you paint fascists as bad guys. So his line of thinking, of disconnecting, of streamlining the world, in the mold of a machine was the perfect city in this hallucinated utopian vision.

However, this also meant tearing up cities for new highways. Because we had to make room for everybody's new Model T.

The lesson here is that there is nothing democratic about one style of architecture or the other. There is a question of what works and what doesn't, as defined by what the inhabitants find useful. This is called the test of time.

Functioning cities are messy places. They are only moderately controlled, or "nudged", by configuring buildings to frame the public realm and focus the movement within cities, as Hillier suggests, the space is the machine, not the building.



My personal favorite screen shot sequence. The above image shows Ayers and Lopez pushing Ayers' shopping cart up the hill. As the camera pans up, we freeze frame on the image below, with perfect horizontal lines illustrating the disconnect between worlds; the intended separation and isolation of modern American cities, afraid of functional urban messiness.
"Get off my lawn!"


what modern road planning, as well as 20th century architecture and the real estate industry it dutifully served, did was to alter the fundamental relationship between public space and buildings. This is not merely a swan song, but a lesson in creating value. Cities are humanities greatest creations and before our very own eyes are the agents of their destruction.

The cities we look at today as successful, wonderfully livable places have what Hillier deems "regularity" - or predictable patterns that always add something to the collective synergies of functioning urban places.

Modernism not only broke this relationship between movement and urban place: it reversed it. It, as an ideology ignored convergence. The modern city is the anti-city. As Hillier states, it is not merely the symptom of social decay but the catalyst.

The end result is the socio-economic isolation that we see in the modern city, LA (and its little brother, Dallas).



But, back to the movie...towards the end, we are drawn across the American landscape, as if to portray it all...




Until we are shown where the majority of Americans live, bringing the story home.