Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hooked on Phonics DID NOT Work for Me

"Learn to read asshole! Learn to read!"
[Red to emphasize anger]

Yes, that was yelled at me last night as I walked my two mutts to the downtown bark park, which is situated cozily under two freeways. An ever present reminder that at any moment a truck could fall off the highway and crush you. [FYI, I'm not making light of this girl's death. Remember my point is the ridiculousness and the corrosive and destructive nature of these freeways. Consider her collateral damage.]



Without further ado, and all due respect to A Tribe Called Quest, here is the scenario. I'm standing at the corner of Jackson and the aptly named Central Expressway intersection as diagrammed below.



Commerce and Jackson form the 'V' around the very unique Dallas Observer HQ. When that one-way couplet got the green light, I as a pedestrian also got the walk light. So I give the dogs the giddy-up and we start crossing. The moment I step foot off the curb, I notice a car (will not disclose make or model so as to avoid stereotypes) turning right from Commerce to Central Expressway.

Call it some form of inherited female intuition from growing up in a household of females or whatever, but I knew this car was going to cause problems even from 100 feet away. But before I even got to the median, a ridiculously inflated three lanes away, the car reached me at the conflict point as the diagram shows. At this point the little pedestrian man-light had flipped to blinking red hand. Still, my right-of-way. But, not in Dallas.

To this driver's credit, I'm quite amazed at how skillfully he maintained the exact speed at which to appear threatening to me and my dogs and to just miss us by a mere inches. So having enough ingrained "Philly" in me, I immediately turn back with nasty glare in tow about to say something myself to the driver clearly at fault...and a douchebag.

But, he beat me to the punch, leading to the aforementioned profanity...with family in his car no less. But I still don't understand what the hell he wanted me to read??? Were their hidden words in the blinking hand, a subliminal message perhaps? Or, I don't know, perhaps the law which states that pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right-of-way. Nonetheless...

At that point, all I could do was defend myself and say I still had the light. Alas, that means nil in Dallas, a world devoted to the car. Right-of-way, schmite of way. This road is made for drivin'. Out my fuckin' way dog walker.

The problem isn't that Dallasites have some preordained divine right to driving, as if all drivers can operate their administers of death as they please. It is that we have designed and built roads that instill this sense of entitlement.

Now in sane, rational world, who does it make more sense to protect via street design? The dog walker living in downtown AND currently walking in downtown TO the designated downtown dog park?! Or some shit head willing to make a point by driving in an aggressive manner and following it up with aggressive personal behavior. I hope your home gets foreclosed.

Now, here is a map of streets that have zero functional use at their current width or configuration strictly as something beyond car movers, aka escape routes. Because as we know public rights-of-way are largely for two purposes. Transportation and public space to address upon. Downtown streets get an A from engineers for level of service. They get an F for doing their job as downtown streets. These essentially mean roads that are currently too-wide (notice Pearl doesn't make the cut), streets that are one-way (retail fails on one-way streets, FACT), and lastly, roads engineered with turning radii designed for high speed movements:




[Not scientific or thorough. Rather reactionary actually.]

Good luck businesses, residents, pedestrians, and developers trying to find good streets to do your business on. Instead, my dogs will do theirs...and I, of course, will clean it up dutifully.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Peak-a-Boo

Sneak peak (meaning only one diagram) at a comprehensive physical analysis of downtown Dallas that I have just about ready to go:

More on the Infamous WalkScore

I've talked about it and it's failings, which the creators happily admit, several times, notably here and here. But now, the Freakonomics guys have found it and begun their analysis:
...nine of the 10 least walkable cities are inland. In most of them, largely unfettered expansion and low densities were possible from the get-go. Boston’s growth was restricted by the presence of the Atlantic Ocean, and San Francisco’s growth was restricted by the Pacific Ocean; Oklahoma City’s growth was restricted by, well, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
As always, abundance (in this case: land) makes you careless and stupid. But, there are inland cities in Europe that are obviously immensely walkable, so more importantly:
As Peter O. Muller ably chronicles, most of the pedestrian-friendly cities are products of the era of the foot and the hoof, with the steel wheel (i.e. the streetcar) coming along a bit later. Getting around cities in the age of muscle power was a difficult and slow proposition, so activities clung together in space to make travel to, from, and between them feasible. Dense districts were literally built for walking.
In the end however, I'm actually quite disappointed in this superficial effort by Freakonomics. The synergies of propinquity deserve a full post-graduate level analysis to really get us as a society to the point where numbers and formulas are actually effective in building smarter and more user-friendly cities (not to mention the reduction in public expenditure based on greater infrastructural efficiency). Because right now, everybody pays attention to formulae and those belong to traffic engineers trying to move steel cages as quickly as possible. Death to whatever carbon-based life-form cross their path.

Surplus of Empty Houses and Record Numbers of Homeless

People-less Houses, Homeless People.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Here's an Idea

As if internal combustion engines weren't dirty enough...

Scientists discover cheap way to turn coal into gasoline. There is always one asshole at every party, I suppose:

Cause:
The new process could cut the energy cost of producing the fuel by 20 percent just by rejiggering the intermediate chemical steps, said co-author Ben Glasser of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Effect:
But coal-derived fuel could produce as much as twice as much CO2 as traditional petroleum fuels and at best will emit at least as much of the greenhouse gas.
Ha! Yeah, like that is important...as if radical climate change even exists...NOW GIMME MY GAS and STFU!!!!

Actually, the scientist can defend himself:
"The long-term solution has to be solar, wind, renewable, but in the meantime I know as a chemical engineer that the easiest thing is to improve on what you're already doing," Glasser said. "The hope is that what we learn with coal-to-liquids, we can take one step further and start using municipal waste or cooking oil, for example, as the carbon source."
Not to mention the problems with extraction of coal. This is America. This is America on Gas Crack:


more movies at www.miloop.com

Friday Happy Hour: Free Beer Guess the City

...is BACK!!!!

Today, one beer for the City this development is in, and a seperate beer to a different NON-RELATED entrant for the name of this new project:

*note: this is not an actual ghost town despite photographic appearance.

**note 2: winning entrants will be judged by order in which responses are received in the comments section. must be present to claim your prize.


















That's a Shame



"Paused" projects...until we can recreate the phony money that drove the irrationally exuberant building spree.

Architects, Cities, Countries, et al. Missing the Point


Look Ma. It's so green, you don't even have to go outside...because the air is too umm visible to breathe!

TreeHugger on the wonderful world of "green" buildings in China:

Let's go thru a sampling of the slideshow, shall we:


I see London. I see France. I see a tower, a park...oh, it's a tower in a park. How has that worked?



And here we have Stephen Holl doing what he does best. Hideous effing buildings.




And here is a drive-in movie theater.



And getting the scale of space all wrong. Unless Godzilla and Space Godzilla choose to move their young family across the East Sea for the better schools.

BS. I'm Pissed They're Saving More Than Me.

B'more Transit Users Save Thousands. No word on whether Senator Clay Davis has ever rode MTA:




According to a new study based on gas prices and parking rates, transit riders in Baltimore can expect to save an average of $8,635 a year by riding MTA. That's almost $720 a month.

"Traffic jams is another issue here we are forgetting. You don't get traffic jams on MTA," Barasa said.
Actually, this (along with the hassle of registration, insurance, and the like) is the primary reason I have not yet bought another car. When I got out of the CoolRolla after driving on I's-75,35,45,30 or 20, I was pissed off. I don't like being in a bad mood. Because when I'm in a bad mood, I ball my fists and things get messy.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Woodall Rogers Deck Park: Consider it Stimulated



From the Real Estate Council:
Transportation Enhancement Stimulus Funds Awarded to Woodall Rodgers Freeway Deck Plaza

Landmark Dallas Project Moves Forward
DALLAS (March 26, 2009) - The Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation will receive $16.7 million in federal stimulus funds toward constructing a deck plaza over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in downtown Dallas. The Woodall Rodgers deck plaza is a "shovel-ready" transportation enhancement project that will create approximately 1,000 immediate jobs and will stimulate additional economic development and job growth in the future.

The project will provide a vital pedestrian and bicycle connection between both sides of the existing freeway, connecting Downtown Dallas, the Arts District, and the Uptown and Victory residential districts. The Woodall Rodgers Park will be a 5-acre urban park built on top of the deck plaza structure.
And, far more importantly...it is a way to ameliorate the catastrophic effect highways have on property and, in turn, cities.

Although, I'm currently working on a series of diagrams to show how a systematic deconstruction of the inner downtown ring can really leverage private development, job growth, and a much much better city.

[Addendum: I forgot to add that RTKL won an AIA award for presenting the idea of decking Woodall Rogers with a park...in 1979.]

Notice: Application Time for Greening Transit Grants

Transit agencies can apply until May 22 to a new $100 million federal grant program aimed at curbing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the Federal Transit Administration announced today.

Funding is being drawn from the $8.4 billion set aside in the stimulus package for transit projects. It is authorized to fund capital projects that reduce an agency's energy use, its total emissions, or both.

Fleet expansions, rail extensions and some other projects that would typically qualify as capital projects are excluded from the program because they would increase an agency's total energy consumption.

Barcelona in 1908

Filmed from the streetcar:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mom, I'm a Lightning Bug!!


Completely off-topic, but noteworthy as we debate how to handle our energy needs in the coming century. I was one-year old and grew up only a few miles from Three Mile Island. [I take that back, I was 5 months-old.]

Harvey Wasserman at the Free Press on the cover-up of TMI's true damage:
research at TMI also uncovered a plague of death and disease among the area's wild animals and farm livestock. Entire bee hives expired immediately after the accident, along with a disappearance of birds, many of whom were found scattered dead on the ground. A rash of malformed pets were born and stillborn, including kittens that could not walk and a dog with no eyes. Reproductive rates among the region's cows and horses plummeted.

Much of this was documented by a three-person investigative team from the Baltimore News-American, which made it clear that the problems could only have been caused by radiation. Statistics from Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture confirmed the plague, but the state denied its existence, and said that if it did exist, it could not have been caused by TMI.


In the mid-1980s the citizens of the three counties surrounding Three Mile Island voted by a margin of 3:1 to permanently retired TMI Unit One, which had been shut when Unit Two melted. The Reagan Administration trashed the vote and re-opened the reactor, which still operates. Its owners now seek a license renewal.

Reduce yer Carbon Emissions

Move to the City, and then get rid of your car.
"There are density-related advantages for both travel and heating," says Dodman. "When you have a critical mass of people like in London or New York, public transport becomes a feasible option for many, while people in more rural areas rely more on cars. And a flat that is surrounded by others is more efficient to heat than a free-standing house."
DC is dirty, but still only 82% of the American average.

Throw Away Culture

Video: Captain Charles Moore on plastics and sailing the great garbage island in the Pacific.
"The market can do a lot of things, but one thing it cannot do is fix the natural system in the ocean that we have broken. All the kings horses and all the kings men can't gather up all the plastic and put the ocean back together again."
He also touches on post-war planned obsolescence. One reason why we have too much retail and big box floating around, because it is cheaper and easier to toss shit and get another. I imagine the world of shrinking retail will include a rise in pawn shops, after market stores, and fix-it/refurbishment shops, i.e. the people that give things a longer lifespan.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Statistics that I Want to Save.

Once again, this site becomes an info dump for me:

From this month's New Urban News article "Economic Sustainability is About Placemaking," regarding Arlington, VA's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor:
"...office buildings needed to be within three blocks of a Metro Station to lease well, while residential buildings rented or sold well up to six-blocks from transit.

...a 40 percent office/60 percent residential mix, based on the fact that residential units generally have two occupants per unit (approx. 1000 sq.ft) while office buildings have four workers per thousand square feet."
Office buildings are built parked at 2 per 1,000 sf as compared to typical market rate which is closer to 4.

Half of all residents along the corridor use metro transit to commute to work.

Three traffic mitigation strategies were used at the Whiteflint Metro station area development:

1. Mixed-use reduction of 10-25%
2. Proximity to station reduction:
  • 40% for apts
  • 50% for office peak am
  • 28% for office peak pm
  • 25% for retail
  • 5% for cinema
3. Traffic management reduction: 10-23%

Another Highway Bites the Dust

In an effort to, as the vision statement suggests, enhance "opportunity and equity, livability, sustainability, and civic responsibility," as part of the newly published NOLA plan 2030, the elevated I-10 freeway through downtown New Orleans is coming down.

Nola.com on the new masterplan and the actual masterplan is here.

Hip hip hooray.

Something to Read..

...while my mutt expresses her displeasure toward the tyranny of the leash.

If you read one thing all day, nay all week, make sure it is Matt Taibbi's The Big Takeover in Rolling Stone:
Which, when you think about it, is insane: What had brought us to the brink of collapse in the first place was this relentless instinct for building ever-larger megacompanies, passing deregulatory measures to gradually feed all the little fish in the sea to an ever-shrinking pool of Bigger Fish. To fix this problem, the government should have slowly liquidated these monster, too-big-to-fail firms and broken them down to smaller, more manageable companies. Instead, federal regulators closed ranks and used an almost completely secret bailout process to double down on the same faulty, merger-happy thinking that got us here in the first place, creating a constellation of megafirms under government control that are even bigger, more unwieldy and more crammed to the gills with systemic risk.
In a not-so-ironically related note, Texas bailout money is going directly into the same sprawl beast that helped bring it all down. From the NYT:

Texas plans to spend $181 million of its federal stimulus money on building a 15-mile, four-lane toll road — from Interstate 10 to Highway 290 and right through the prairie — that will eventually form part of an outer beltway around greater Houston called the Grand Parkway.

The road exemplifies an unintended effect of the stimulus law: an administration that opposes suburban sprawl is giving money to states for projects that are almost certain to exacerbate it.
Quotes from the condo auction at Atlantic Station:

“I can’t wait to get downtown,” he said, “and not having to worry about driving a lot. We’ll be walking a lot and taking advantage of Atlantic Station.”

from another satisfied customer:

“I’m so excited,” the 28-year-old Delta employee said. “I didn’t know how it was going to go, but it all turned out well. I probably couldn’t have afforded it otherwise.”

See, falling housing prices is a good thing. People can now afford homes in places where they actually want to be, not Conyers, GA, wherever the eff that is.

----------------

And in happier news, a follow-up to last week's guest post on the what, how-to's and why's of converting your patch of grass into something productive, the Obama's have planted an organic veggie garden in the White House lawn:

“My hope,” the first lady said in an interview in her East Wing office, “is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Two Articles...

...that I want to read now, but just do not have time. So here they get dumped so that I can find them later:

http://www.architectmagazine.com/industry-news.asp?sectionID=1006&articleID=905061

http://citiwire.net/post/745/

Yes. I wield my blog power like that.

Why Not To Get Excited About the Housing Starts

I mean, beside the fact that there is definitely at least 6 million empty homes on the market and that number is probably more like 12 million, from banks holding them to limit supply and try somewhat in vain to keep prices up. Valiant effort.

What If?

Washington Monthly asks the question that I've been postulating:
In the cover story of the upcoming March/April issue of the Washington Monthly, economist James K. Galbraith makes the case for a much darker picture of what's in store. He begins by questioning an assumption held by nearly all modern economists, including those around Obama: that economies are naturally self-stabilizing, and therefore that economic slumps can be righted with relatively modest, short-term nudges from government. That idea fits the experience of every post-War recession. But what if the current crisis is less like those downturns and more like the Great Depression, when the economy famously failed to return to normal?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No. The Real REAL Problem

Robert Reich: The Real Problem is AIG execs are accountable to no one.
AIG's arguments are absurd on their face. Had AIG gone into chapter 11 bankruptcy or been liquidated, as it would have without government aid, no bonuses would ever be paid (they would have had a lower priority under bankruptcy law that AIG's debts to other creditors); indeed, AIG's executives would have long ago been on the street. And any mention of the word "talent" in the same sentence as "AIG" or "credit default swaps" would be laughable if laughing weren't already so expensive.

This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that's "too big to fail" and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. To whom should they be accountable? As long as taxpayers effectively own a large portion of them, they should be accountable to the government.
Too big to fail. Ugh. I'm tired of this propaganda fed straight from the too big's big mouth. Too big to exist.

And he's absolutely right, but the deeper issue is that American Democracy had long ago been taken over by the new Kings of the Castle. Their corporations are their kingdoms and the executives are the modern day royalty. Our government representatives were/are merely their pawns; beholden to the biggest lobbyists.

If and when we take the power back, perhaps then our newly and freely elected representatives can make decisions for people first, quality of life first, not status quo business first. And don't get me wrong, I love business. I love a functional economy. But clearly, allowing lobbyists to corrupt effective executive decision making, so that business can maintain the status quo, stifle competition, and quell innovation is not working.

Is This an Industry Worth Saving?



An addendum to yesterday's post:

From Culture Change: "Cars were a bubble." ~GM

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Friendly Reminder

From Andrew Sullivan's "View from Your Recession,"

...sad to say, but this is no bubble. Industries will not bounce back like nothing ever happened as in previous recessions. The confluence of so many enormous issues, breakdowns, and turning points suggests nothing less than an epochal shift. Some industries will disappear completely; others will reemerge vastly different and/or much smaller than before. The road building industry, as written of here, is one of those.

So when we are thinking about bailouts of this and bailouts of that, let's first ask, "what is this industry's role in the 21st century's cleaner, greener, and ultimately more profitable economy?"

Double Whammy

So in the past week, the crumbling economy structured roughly around policies based in the Pleistocene Era has eliminated my Mother's job and in the Super Happy Motoring world she was stopped at a red light and plowed into by a driver going 60 mph. Luckily, she only sustained minor injuries, but in one of those not-so-ironic, not-so-unexpected collisions (pun intended) between the related worlds of economy and cars, the driver was uninsured to top it all off.

The question everyone needs to ask when they get mired in ideological debates and mundane issues is, "is there a better world out there?" And, "how do we get there?"

But first, put down your Ayn Rand. It was too boring anyway.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bizzy Day

So more Monday Afternoon Links...

The Infrastructurist on the 7 Most Ridiculous Roads as part of the stimulus:

Check out number 1, Louisville's doozy in downtown...



TIME, on the big ideas of 2009: #2 Recycling the Suburbs.

These words look like they're directly from my mouth:
Not every suburb will make it. The fringes of a suburb like Riverside in Southern California, where housing prices have fallen more than 20% since the bust began, could be too diffuse to thrive in a future where density is no longer taboo. It'll be the older inner suburbs like Tysons Corner, Va., that will have the mass transit, public space and economic gravity to thrive postrecession. Though creative cities will grow more attractive for empty-nest -retirees and young graduates alike, we won't all be moving to New York.
As I have said many times, hard times will flush the chumps (unfortunately, the undertow is pulling a lot of good people down with it). In this case, Fast Company says that Urbanists are the big winners as sprawl's fatal flaws have indeed been, uh, fatal.
A study by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech predicts that by 2025 there will be as many as 22 million unwanted large-lot homes in suburban areas.

The suburb has been a costly experiment. Thirty-five percent of the nation's wealth has been invested in building a drivable suburban landscape, according to Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Geography of Nowhere," has been saying for years that we can no longer afford suburbs. "If Americans think they've been grifted by Goldman Sachs and Bernie Madoff, wait until they find out what a swindle the so-called 'American Dream' of suburban life turns out to be," he wrote on his blog this week.

Monday Morning and Weekend Links

Green-ness of Skyscrapers? including the prescient Dr.Seuss tale:
Over the protests of the environmentally sensitive Lorax, the Once-ler builds a great industrial town that despoils the environment, because he “had to grow bigger.” Eventually, the Once-ler overdoes it, and he chops down the last Truffula tree, destroying the source of his income. Chastened, Dr. Seuss’s industrialist turns green, urging a young listener to take the last Truffula seed and plant a new forest.
This tells me more about the cancer stage of capitalism than it does environmentalism: forever growth!...Now for the important calculations:
Matthew Kahn, a U.C.L.A. environmental economist, and I looked across America’s metropolitan areas and calculated the carbon emissions associated with a new home in different parts of the country. We estimated expected energy use from driving and public transportation, for a family of fixed size and income. We added in carbon emissions from home electricity and home heating. We didn’t try to take on the far thornier issues related to commercial or industrial energy use...

In almost every metropolitan area, we found the central city residents emitted less carbon than the suburban counterparts. In New York and San Francisco, the average urban family emits more than two tons less carbon annually because it drives less. In Nashville, the city-suburb carbon gap due to driving is more than three tons. After all, density is the defining characteristic of cities. All that closeness means that people need to travel shorter distances, and that shows up clearly in the data.
Here is the problem. This study takes the Amero-centric view that only through tall buildings can one achieve density. Skyscrapers are not a necessity for density. Paris, Florence, Madrid, Rome, Copenhagen, are wonderfully dense. Now, here are the potential CONS of skyscrapers:

1. Even if a platinum-certified tower is constructed, the building is still immensely energy intense in its construction phase.
2. They are materially intense, with materials typically travelling much farther than with low- and mid-rise buildings.
3. Skyscrapers privatize sunlight and views. Then, amazingly when another tower is built next door, the tenants of building 1 flip out that they lost their view...despite doing the exact same thing.
4. Tight-knit, often medieval form urban fabric generates protective microclimate from weather extremes. Skyscrapers often exacerbate the problem with the intensity of the wind shear and down draft created by the building.
5. Skyscrapers adversely affect the street aka the public realm by 1) removing people from the street and putting them in elevators and 2) overpowering the scale of the space created by the buildings.
6. These buildings tend to be glass and steel. Two energy intensive materials, often not created locally. I like the elegance of glass buildings, but then the issue becomes one of active vs. passive heating and cooling. AND, reflective glass is often pretty ugly.
7. COST. They are expensive to build.

In summary, I'm not saying that I'm against skyscrapers. I like the pyramidal form of skylines of cities, emblematic of the greater synergies driving up values in the center-city, and thus manifested by taller buildings, aka greater real estate and F.A.R. in those places as a natural result. But, simply calculating that more dense places are greener doesn't say a damn thing and it certainly doesn't necessitate skyscrapers.

Brookings on the economic engine and (should-be) haven for investment of cities:
Yet here is the problem: While America is more metropolitan than ever, the nation’s policies and structures rarely match economic reality. As a nation, we remain fixed in old arrangements, established decades ago and kept in place by bureaucratic inertia and entrenched political interests. Such a misunderstanding of contemporary urban structures inevitably leads to bad public policy decisions. Take as an example the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, now finally in the public eye. We should be spending money on metropolitan infrastructure, such as new transit lines or the maintenance and upgrade of existing roads and bridges, because it gives the best return on investment, the most bang for the buck. And yet the federal government sends the overwhelming bulk of national infrastructure funds to states, not metros. Given the vagaries of state politics, state departments of transportation in turn tend to scant metro investments in favor of building brand-new roads in far-flung places. Money that could be fueling the metro economic engine ends up widening a rural highway.
And lastly, a fascinating take on the death of newspapers as compared to the revolution that was the printing press:

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Today's Treat: Guest Post

I'm hoping guest posts on a variety of topics that I am incapable of commenting on can become a regular feature of this blog...

With the recent spate of community gardens and the movement away from the English-derived, petty bourgeois need for manicured lawns towards something more useful, I've enlisted a friend and colleague who has started his own garden in the front yard of his young families inner-ring Dallas house:

Take it away Juan Munoz...



Primer:

http://www.eattheview.org/
What's a Garden Worth?

I originally started my garden as a native, albeit urban prairie. I reintroduced native species without the use of chemicals and pesitcides as an antidote to the manicured, unsustainable water hogging turf lawn decorated with imported flowers that feel more at home in England or some rainy European climate. They won't grow here in Texas without a major helping hand from homo sapiens and some petro-chemical based inputs.

Man cannot defeat nature. It's been around a whole hell of a lot longer than us. So I chose to work with it.

Once that was done and the Laissez-faire method of natural lawn decoration reaped its wild and unexpected rewards, what else was there to do? Answer: Grow my own vegetables. My mom did it. My grandmother did it. I want my kid to do it. I want my kid to learn where food really comes from and to learn skills that too many of have us have lost with advanced technology.

I was sick of bland, commercially grown veggies that had no flavor. They come from who knows where. I can't really afford to eat organic veggies because, frankly, they are too expensive. We had a few scares from salmonella outbreaks in tomatoes, spinach and jalepenos. How in the hell am I going to make salsa without tomatoes? Plus, there is a deep satisfaction of growing something you eat. You can taste the love you put into it.

From the native garden, I moved to a container garden of tomatoes and peppers, and the containers proved to be a little dicey in the heat of Texas summers. The pots dried out to quickly and the yield was low. But what little we got from the containers tasted so damn good I was hooked.

It was time to expand and actually build a raised bed garden where my front lawn stood. Part political statement and part necessity due to the sun orientation of my lot, the front yard was where it was going. (I used the orientation part to convince my wife that the front yard was the only place it could go.) She finally warmed up to it once the Romaine lettuce started sprouting up. She will love it more when the tomatoes ripen.

Since the soil in North Texas is generally clay, the initial cost outlay is more than I imagined, though not exceedingly expensive. Instead of digging into the dirt and planting random veggies, I was forced to build raised beds and amend the soil with compost.

Soil is the key. Healthy soil, healthy happy plants. I make my own compost, but the amount I am able to produce and the amount required to start the beds were not even close. Add in the wood to build the raised beds with the cost of the compost/mulches and seeds and some starter plants, I am at around $250. Next year the costs will be substantially lower since I will be starting from seeds mostly and the soil will improve each year with minimal amounts of homemade compost added to the beds .

The garden is only around 75-80SF(It’s at 50 SF as of today)but it is designed to maximize every square foot of space using the block style method of planting. See link here: http://cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/713.pdf

For example, in a 3’x3’ space in the bed, I can yield 144 carrots, 36 onions, or 16 heads of lettuce. Using succession planting, i.e., sowings seeds every two weeks, I should have a steady supply of fresh kitchen veggies until the first frost. The initial 250 dollar outlay is comparable to a week and a half’s worth of groceries for me, the wife, and baby Jack. I think it is money well spent, and it’s cheaper than therapy. We will see where it goes, and how much we really get out of the garden.


Landing on Broadway

Anybody else find it weird that as kids we played a game encouraging hording and monopolies?

From NYT blog: Monopolies stifle free market and innovation in America.

“Now hold on there,” you might say to me. Since I wrote that many countries don’t have cable systems and the bulk of broadband is run by way of DSL through existing phone wires, how can there be competition? Aren’t those owned by monopoly phone companies?

True enough. But most big countries have devised a system to create competition by forcing the phone companies to share their lines and facilities with rival Internet providers.

Not surprisingly, the phone companies hate this idea, often called unbundling, and tend to drag their feet when it is introduced. So it requires rather diligent regulators to force the telcos to play fair. And the effect of this scheme depends a lot on details of what equipment is shared and at what prices.

"More with Less"

The theme of the fifth season of the Wire (or one of them anyway) as an oft repeated rallying cry uttered by the corporate stooges as their institutions failed around them. I have no illusions. Point being, that I apologize if content is lacking lately (despite visitorship being up - perhaps I'm getting more entertaining?), but my responsibility level at my job has been increasing exponentially lately.

New quote for today:

George Monbiot says "Every pound we spend on driving is a pound withheld from the alternatives, many of which (such as buses and trains) employ far more people for the same amount of money."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quote for the Day

When asked today, again, why I do not have a car, I responded with the weariness of answering with such self-aggrandizement; with self-righteousness. I sought the simplest answer and responded with:
"Because...[pause to allow the mind to discover the most simple yet perhaps most profound answer my facile brain has yet to]...because I don't want one."
The things you own, end up owning you. ~ Tyler Durden.

Wow. Into the Mind of the Pirates Raiding Wall Street

Question. What is on the mind of the interviewer?

A. Holy shit! This guy is breaking the effing law and is telling me this on camera. (nope)

B. Holy shit! I'm so stupid that I believe this guy is some sort of genius and I am going to take what he's telling me and try to spend the rest of my career fleecing the world as well, and then I'll be rich and score copious amounts of tail...and nobody would find out even if the economy crashed in the mean time b/c of it. (nope)

C. What the Eff is he saying? I'm just thinking about this weekend's keg party and securing some rohypnol from my frat buddies, brah! (ding ding ding!)




For more...
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/3/5/16720/74815/703/705113

Prepare for Higher Taxes...

...or, if your community, town, borough, township, etc. out in Generica, i.e. suburbia lacks the will or ability to pass higher tax rates, prepare to get nickle and dimed on every little fee, registration, parking meters, wherever they can hide little costs to meet the overwhelming costs of overextended infrastructure.

I can't tell you how many typical "conservative" communities, i.e. the ones that allowed conventional suburban developers and strip centers run amok over their city, that I have worked in that are so under water just for upkeep and maintenance of their current infrastructure. These communities often, ironically, end up having some of the highest tax rates to accommodate the land raping that has been done.

Suburbs simply lack the density to pay for themselves and it's time to start paying the piper:

Florida prepares for higher taxes despite dropping property values:

Quote for the Day

Creativity starts when you remove a zero from the budget ~ Jaime Lerner

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Car-Free in LA

End of the Auto

...and all of those commercials where everybody is so happy driving their new hummer around. Not so coincidentally my own mother was just hit at a light by some maniac going 60 mph. Fortunately, she was ok. But, is this what life is? Sitting around in metal boxes, playing bumper cars, if only to have some human to human contact.

Harvey Wasserman on the end of the era of the automobile:
But the larger transition is epic and global, based on a simple structural reality: the passenger car is obsolete. Auto sales have plummeted not merely because of a bad economy, but because the technology no longer makes sense.

Franklin Roosevelt took GM over in 1943-5 to make the hardware to beat the Nazis. Barack Obama should now do the same to beat climate chaos.

Make streetcars, not passenger cars.

Hybrids are too little, too late, with problems of their own. Solar-powered electric cars will help phase out the gas guzzlers.

But in the long run, the automobile itself needs to be dismantled and re-cycled, not retooled or rebuilt.
The fact of the matter is that Car companies are broke because they can't run their business profitably, cities are broke because they over extended infrastructure and the costs to support car culture, people spend roughly 20% of their income to operate and maintain this machinery to get us around, and urban development is crippled by the cost of constructing parking. All barriers to progress.

And all of this BEFORE energy costs really start to cripple this energy-absurdly intense economy. Just wait to some real disruptions in the energy markets. How about we just rid ourselves of these burdens now???

Time Machine with Guy Pearce was a pretty shitty movie, but to this day I still have with me the scene from the near future in NYC where everyone is moving around via bicycle.

More from Wasserman:
We need to dig up roads, not build more. We need rails and coaches, bio-diesel buses and self-propelled trolleys, Solartopian super-trains and in-town people movers, not to mention windmills, solar panels, wave generators and geothermal piping.

In America's corporate-conceived “love affair with the automobile,” our first spouse---mass transit---was murdered. Now the unsustainable obsolescence of the private passenger car is collapsing a global financial system built on the illusion of its constant growth.

If the automobile and its attendant freeways continue to metastasize in India, China and Africa as they did in the 20th Century United States, we are doomed.

Kraft Food vs. Craft Food

TreeHugger. This table tells the story of what needs to and is happening in more industries than just food production:

FeaturesOld ‘Industrial Food’ EconomyNew ‘Creative Food’ Economy
Prototypical companyKraft – cheese productsCraft/artisanal cheese
Sources of economic powerEconomic power is centralized National/international production, processing and marketing Concentrated farms and control of land, resources and capitalEconomic power is diffused and decentralized from owners or controllers of means of production to individual, highly creative knowledge-workers and extra-firm institutions
Sources of quality and innovationQuality is a measure of added value in highly-processed environments or incremental innovation in packaging and marketing of existing food products (e.g., 27 different kinds of Oreo cookies)Quality is a measure of taste, terroir, and talent of entrepreneurs making new and innovative products
Enterprises’ attitudes towards placeFirm or company located close to traditional production inputs like raw land, and transportation networks. Little relationship between place and product making. Preferences for place are subordinate to traditional company inputs.Traditional production dimension important, but place becomes central to quality food making, marketing and consuming

I Shall Not Tell a Lie

What happens when corporations own the media. Buzzflash on CNBC hyping GE stock as it plummets.

NPR piles on.

Much of the writing about these particular derivatives took on a gee-whiz tone. One Forbes story (admittedly back in August 2002) argued against regulating securitized investments with this line: "It is a credit to the skill of the financial engineers setting up these securities issuing entities that few have blown up."

Bet the authors of that piece would like to have that article back.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Speaking of Timely

Newsweek on "The Last Shopping Mall" - sounds a bit Mad Max-ish, no?



...and jumpin' jeezus on a dinosaur is it perfectly and as appropriately ugly as the circumstances and motivations to build the thing.

"Xanadu is the epic discretionary story," says Davidowitz. "It's the epicenter of 'not needed.' How can you have this when the consumer is completely decimated? It's already one of the world's biggest nightmares."

Quote for the Day



The necessary melt down of the 2oth century phony economic model of quantitative growth; of robbing peter to pay paul; of buying other debt, bundling it, repackaging it, charging a fee to do all that and calling that economic development; is making a house cleaning of the conventional, the generic, the suburban, and ultimately the worthless.
The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. We don't need no water, let the mother fucker burn. Burn mother fucker. Burn.
Yes, it is painful. Yes, I am finally feeling the effects too. But mostly through others. I strongly recommend everybody reposition themselves for the future.

To quote another song, this time by TOOL:
This is necessary...

The Real Issue with Wall Street (and your 401K)


On HuffPuff, Ann Pettitfor writes about Wall Street holding the U.S. for ransom.

JHK suggests something similar regarding the "too big to fail" myth.

The "ahha" moment I had this weekend whilst walking the mutt on another warm but blustery Downtown Dallas day, was what Wall Street's deeper issue is, beyond the credit default swaps, the ARM loans, greed, etc. All of the companies on the DOW or S&P 500 are huge corporations. They can't physically or economically get any bigger, which is what Wall Street, investors, and your 401K demand, so in turn, they all need to, and are currently shrinking (my publicly traded company included - love those stock options!)

This is the problem with growth. It was touched upon on this week's Bill Maher show with guest Cory Booker. Except that nobody really put 2 and 2 together to realize that there are different types of growth. I have mentioned exhaustively qualitative over quantitative models of growth, but I also touched upon it here:
Let me be the first to say (with thoughts for the other side of this bottoming), that instead of saving dinosaurs, how about we start thinking about saving that money to help startups on the other side of this bottoming that will be smaller, nimble, and more able to meet the needs of the 21st century.
Harvard economist Howard Glaeser echoed my sentiment:
That is how innovation works: small companies competing like crazy and trying out new things. Across cities, there is a strong connection between an abundance of small firms and local growth. The last thing that the government should be doing is propping up big declining firms. Real innovations are far more likely to come from someone’s garage, which is where Chester Carlson came up with the Xerox machine during the Great Depression.
The advantage of Wall Street and Globalization (and I'm one to point out its failings as well) is to deliver capital to companies in need of it for their own growth and economic development for all of us. Nay, this is the POINT.

Instead, it has devolved into a guessing game of who is gonna buy out whom, who will report the best 4Q sales figures, or simply who is the best at hiding their illegal ponzi schemes. Another dinosaur, a construct built entirely to pick the horse that will be standing at the end when only the biggest corporate fish is left. What then? How will our 401K improve at that point?

Well, we're essentially there already. We know that in order to maintain "growth" figures, that these corporations can now only cut costs while trying to provide the same or similar product, which has had disastrous effects on the health of our economies and our physical health.

Wall Street to have a real purpose and contribute to the rebuilding of a real economy is to find a way to deliver the engine of capital that only they can provide to the innovators of the 21st century, the inventors, the biologists, the "green" technicians.

Only then will your 401K begin to shed its sickly sallow look.

Morning Morning Links

I've trashed Tom Friedman a few times on this here blog; essentially calling him a cheerleader for whatever emerging movement is just about to take center stage. I'll have to admit that it's nice to see him grab the pom poms for what is now being forced upon his because him and his ilk couldn't see it before the crash happened:

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

We can’t do this anymore.
And, I've bitched ad nauseum about the phony nature of "economic development" that has occurred as part of the last 50 years:
“You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Romm. “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate ...’ Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”
In a Republic of Front Porches, the return of front porches signifies the return of civic engagement of its citizenry in public life.
In a microcosm, the forces that led to the decline of the porch as a place of transition between the private and the public realm have eviscerated both those domains of their capacity to educate a citizenry for self-government. The porch - as an intermediate space, even a sphere of “civil society” - was the symbolic and practical place where we learned that there is not, strictly speaking, a total separation between the public and private worlds. Our actions in private are not merely “private,” but have, in toto, profound public implications.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking



According to the Infrastructurist I'm sexy and in demand. Line up ladies:

10. Urban Designer - $45,000 to $100,000+ urbandesign

What they do: Design complex public spaces. The job is a hybrid discipline of architecture and urban planning, with the aim of creating balanced and livable cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

Why it’s hot: Recent experience has taught this country that the willy-nilly model of development doesn’t work. As Obama himself proclaimed recently, sprawl is dead. The antidote to sprawl is creating well-designed, walkable communities that are connected to a rail network. (Chris Leinberger of the Brookings Institute explains the principle in this interview.) The most successful model to date is the DC area, but many other US cities from Charlotte to Dallas to LA are following suit and redeveloping miniature “city centers” throughout the metropolitan area. Urban designers are specialists behind these projects. With rail now a signature issue under Obama, there will be a lot of opportunity to create these dense, walkable neighborhoods around new and expanded rail networks in American towns and cities. What’s the best case scenario for urban designers? “The federal government could stipulate that where there’s significant federal investment, local governments need to create an urban environment that’s highly compatible with rail enhancement,” says Steve Fimanowicz, communications director at the Congress for a New Urbanism.

How to get the job: Unlike the others on this list, urban design has been always been a rather sexy gig, so it’s competitive and starting pay can be low. But if you do want to get in, a good route would be a joint architecture and urban planning degree. Berkeley, for one, has a great program.

I shall add, "how to get a job?" Pray. Oh, or just get in to Berkeley. That is probably easier at this point than landing a job with an architecture firm.

The roof. The roof. The roof is on fire.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Free Beer Friday Guess the City

This one might be so ridiculously hard that nobody gets it right. But, I have to test my boundaries since you characters have gotten all of the rest so quickly...stupid architects being so informed and well traveled.

Without further ado:









Friday Morning Links

Majority say Mortgage Plan Unfair.

Majority also didn't read nor understand the plan. Majority of journalists are lazy and under-qualified.

Freakanomics Blog: Planners and Architects weigh in on CarFree NYC
.

WTF. Okay, I can live with Sam Staley being included to provide a countervailing voice. But, Randal O'Toole? Has this guy been right on anything?! If you don't feel like reading it, O'Toole takes the patronizing tone that we should all be ready for businesses to fail. IN TIMES SQUARE!

They said the same thing about Copenhagen when they started closing roads. The density and activity is already there. This only enhances the pedestrian experience thus making it more amenable to businesses. Yes, pedestrian malls failed in the States, but only b/c when they were instituted in the 60s, the exodus had already begun.

Oh, and did I mention that O'Toole's backing comes from the money earned by car dominance?

When did the media decide that both voices should always be heard in equal parts no matter how asinine one side or how in the minority that side is? Perhaps we should have a debate like the survey from Flight of the Conchords: Are you Pro-AIDS or Anti-AIDS?



Millennial Survey. Take the time, help out a friend of a friend.

Dallas is 4th most congested city. But, to once again clarify (which this doesn't), there is good congestion and bad congestion. For example, NYC, Chicago, and DC surround Dallas.

Unsustainable Humanity? Does economic growth have to slow to prevent catastrophe? I disagree. The wrong kind of economic growth, based on land consumptive and/or destructive practices has to slow. Qualitative growth: energy efficiency, clean energy, and infill are the markets that can support new growth and expansion. As McDonough says, it's not about being "less bad," it is about building a world where being "more good" means more profit.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

GM is done

...err Toast, according to Megan McArdle.

I previously suggested that they need a visionary plan to save them by reconfiguring their shop to build things we might need. You know, perhaps like the trains to go on the high speed rails that apparently we will be building.

Now? Since they clearly lack the leadership to do anything but "stay the course," it's time to let them go under and liquidate. Allow a new company to build those trains.

Here is where I would suggest that all the boomers should think about retiring and let us take a crack at running this thing we call society...but wouldn't you know if they ruined those retirement plans as well.

Watch the Millennials Assert Themselves...

...and Republicans lose ground in every cohort by 2008:




Rule for the Day

I'm not one for absolutes, but this is as close as I've known:

NEVER TRUST A LEGACY KID.

Allen Stanford.

Somewhere, A Bird Must Still Be Singing

Rough Times. A quote for the day:

"If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.
Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk."

- Raymond Inmon

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nightmare Fuel

Is everybody yet realizing the malignant nature of the Republicans that were ceremoniously and joyously tossed from power? The only thing that can save that party, increasingly representing narrow groups such as evangelicals, the illiterate, and rich, white pricks.

Look, I think high taxes are bad, but a necessary part of civilized society. I want them to be lower, but wouldn't mind if they got us the types of amenities that places like Denmark afford. I worry that Obama is trying to be too many things to too many people and stretching our imaginary resources too thin, but at least the expenses accomplish things, unlike the previous administration that might as well just lit piles of cash on fire like the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Perhaps, that is why guys like this are so pissed off. They were basically getting money handed to them hand over fist for the past eight years with no questions asked. Hmmm...and they have a problem with welfare? How many times did I have to say their plan was to wreck government?

I recommend reading my Depression? All Part of the Plan essay or my middle finger salute to Grover Norquist, GWB, and their ilk of similarly minded destructicons...like the Joker, these people just want to watch the world burn.

For a REAL conservative, read Andrew Sullivan.

Newsweek on the Times Square Plan

Linky. And perhaps the best quote I have ever read from a mainstream journalist:
In general terms, traffic is caused by too much demand (from vehicles) meeting too little supply (roads). One solution is to increase supply by building more roads. But that's expensive, and demand from drivers tends to quickly overwhelm the new supply; today engineers acknowledge that building new roads usually makes traffic worse.
Hallelujah. Except, that is traffic engineers NOT in the sun belt. Ya know, because we're like five years behind the times. You'd think the spread of information available on the internet would have solved that problem.
Instead, economists have suggested reducing demand by raising the costs of driving in congested areas. The best-known example is the "congestion pricing" plan London implemented in 2003. Drivers now pay about $11 a day to drive in the central city. According to one study, the program has reduced traffic by 16 percent.

I am against congestion pricing. There are other ways to reduce demand. One is to simply make it more difficult to drive around everywhere. It HAS to be more convenient to utilize alternate forms of transportation, i.e. train, bus, bike, and foot.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Rare Night Time Post

Ouch. My food is too hot.

See the fun you can have in a world built around trains and walkability:



I don't imagine the stand still traffic in the morning rush hour on I's 75, 35, 45, 30 or 20 sharing any people to people moments like this unless it involves this: