Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Conservative Case for Mass Transit

Link, by David Schaengold at the Witherspoon Institute. The jab:
It might seem as if nothing could be less important to social conservatives than transportation. The Department of Health and Human Services crafts policies that affect abortion, the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission play crucial roles in determining how prevalent obscenity is in our society, but the Department of Transportation just funds highways, airports, and railroads, or so the usual thinking goes. But decisions about these projects and how to fund them have dramatic and far-reaching consequences for how Americans go about their lives on a day-to-day basis. Transportation decisions have the power to shape how we form communities, families, religious congregations, and even how we start small businesses. Bad transportation decisions can destroy communities, and good transportation decisions can help create them.
The body blow:
Of course, just because there is a historic explanation for why Democrats are “pro-transit” and Republicans are “pro-car” does not mean that these associations make any sense. Support for government-subsidized highway projects and contempt for efficient mass transit does not follow from any of the core principles of social conservatism.

A common misperception is that the current American state of auto-dependency is a result of the free market doing its work. In fact, a variety of government interventions ensure that the transportation “market” is skewed towards car-ownership.
...and the knockout punch:
We often hear complaints that transit systems do not earn profits. This is true (with a few exceptions), but this does not mean that transit systems are a waste of money. When was the last time you heard someone complain about how a local road never manages to turn a profit?..

Pro-highway, anti-transit, anti-pedestrian policies work against the core beliefs of American conservatives in another and even more important way: they create social environments that are hostile to real community. Once again, the ways in which automobile-oriented development prevents communities from forming are too numerous to list exhaustively. They range from the very obvious to the very subtle.

Lets See if I Can Get My Brain Functioning Again

By reading! Interesting take on the bailouts at Of Two Minds, which is a blog I used to like and had completely forgotten about it until directed to this link:

If Obama had refused to support the bailout, the screams that he was "destroying the foundation of the U.S. economy and our way of life" would have been ceaseless and deafening, for a stunned and stupefied public had failed to process what was actually happening beneath the MSM propaganda about "saving the banking system to save the nation."

Obama can now say, "I did everything you wanted." Is it a carefully craft Secret Plan or merely the fumbling results of a status quo politico? Either way, it's brilliant because it's the only possible pathway to a future not dominated by trickery, fraud, collusion, obscurity, propaganda and the looting of what's left of the U.S. Treasury and economy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Iglesias on Walkable Urbanism

Gaining Momentum. Link here at Think Progress: The Declining Demographics of Suburbia.

Given that in 1950 there were very few existing communities oriented around the goal of drivable suburbanism, and most families had young children at home, and the proportion of families with children at home was on the rise, you can see the logic of the built environment shifting in a suburbanist direction. Now, though, our existing environment has been shaped by decades of suburbanist development and the number of people who fit the suburbanist core demographic is a minority and on the decline. That suggests the need for some rebalancing.

One should also recall that a large proportion of these families with children are quite poor, and auto-dependent lifestyles are very bad for poor people given that cars are expensive.

* In particular, I think walkable urbanism becomes a clearly superior choice for teenagers and their parents.

I think the appropriate terminology is OVERSHOOT. I discuss changing demographics and the inherent preferences of one retiring population bubble and one maturing population bubble here:

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.

Kunster: Today

He can be a bit of a broken record, but perhaps that is what we need b/c it's the only way we can absorb information these days:
So, what people of good intention and progressive predilection want to know is how come Mr. Obama doesn't just lay out the truth, undertake the hard job of cutting the nation's losses, and get on with setting this society on a new course. The truth is that we're comprehensively bankrupt, and no amount of shuffling certificates around will avail to alter that. The bad debt has to be "worked out" -- i.e. written off, subjected to liquidation of remaining assets and collateral, reorganized under the bankruptcy statutes, and put behind us. We have to work very hard to reconfigure the physical arrangement of life in the USA, moving away from the losses of our suburbs, reactivating our towns, downscaling our biggest cities, re-scaling our farms and food production, switching out our Happy Motoring system for public transit and walkable neighborhoods, rebuilding local networks of commerce, and figuring out a way to make a few things of value again.

Quote for the Day


"What he is arguing for is that both in the making of cities and buildings there are thousands of years of continuity and human tradition, and to say we should cast all that aside is wrong. We need to go back and reclaim continuity with our tradition and then interpret that in the light of how economies and technology has changed."

Where o' Where to Put 100-acre MU Overlays

Reader Ben* recently asked "where would you suggest we create those 10 high-density overlays?" in the post The Era of Bling is Coming to a Close, where I wrote:
Here (ed. note: the Sun Belt), we have the most work ahead of us in terms of overall reorganization of both people AND economies. Much of the economic growth was in Real Estate and it played out on the land with exponential quantitative spatial growth vastly outpacing population growth.

If this City is smart they will get on the ball and set up a streamlined zoning, entitlement, and approval process for mixed-use, mid- to high-density development AT LEAST in set areas, such as Leinberger suggesting that Dallas needs ten 100-acre high density overlays. If they set up these overlays now, the planning work can get started and developers will be ready to build in ten months or two years, whenever the lending purse strings loosen again (or if again means never, then we need to find a new way to finance these things).
I responded in the comments as well, but figured I might as well pull that out to its own post:
That's a good question and one that I haven't yet thought about in specifics, only in abstract. This is something I had been planning on doing pro bono and giving to the City...perhaps we can start this by establishing some criteria.

My first go (this will be only for Dallas proper - based on Leinberger's population calcs - which are fairly rudimentary, but nonetheless - b/c DFW could probably absorb in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 of these zones) - perhaps we create a set for Dallas and another for DFW:

In order to arrive at a top ten list of geographic boundaries for approximately 100-acre mixed-use, the following criteria should apply:

1: Geographic Balance - The MU zones should be evenly dispersed North and South.

2: Should ideally be transit focused. If not be at least "transit ready" for future lines as yet unidentified (either DART, TRE, or future modern streetcar lines).

3: Should target currently underperforming and/or underdeveloped sites for greatest impact.

4: Ideally should have an anchor of some sort: i.e. existing employment generator (hospital, etc.), potentially some recent successes or investment (not applicable everywhere), or existing amenities (ie parks, stadiums, malls, etc.) in order to ensure success and recalibrate the jobs/housing balance.

5: Ideally should have some existing contextual fabric or residential stock to tie back into and serve as the hub or center of gravity and services for those lower density neighborhoods (which in some cases would be protected by preservation, in others the character would merely be protected thru density and/or height/FAR limits.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Transit = Healthy

UBC Researchers learn that transit riders are 3 times more likely to meet fitness guidelines.
"The idea of needing to go to the gym to get your daily dose of exercise is a misperception," says Frank, the J. Armand Bombardier Chairholder in Sustainable Transportation and a researcher at the UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. "These short walks throughout our day are historically how we have gotten our activity. Unfortunately, we've engineered this activity out of our daily lives."

The researchers conclude that making transit incentives more broadly available may produce indirect health benefits by getting people walking, even if it's just in short bouts.

"This should be appealing to policy makers because it's easier to promote transit incentives - such as employer-sponsored passes or discount fares - than to restructure existing neighbourhoods," says Frank.

The research could have major implications for urban planning and public transit development, Lachapelle says.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thirsty Links

"No more taking off your shoes..."

The President's address on high speed rail today (link to video)
There are those that say this is too small. This is just the first step to a long-term effort.
Good to hear. He also mentions that the first allocation is strictly towards upgrading existing lines.

TreeHugger on Carbon Emissions Do Not Equal Happiness. Apparently, their collapsed economy doesn't have Ireland and Iceland feeling the blues. Perhaps also they don't derive their happiness from a daily stock report as if it were their daily horoscope...ewww 1-star day. Also, I love the contrasting pictures:

Copenhagen:


Dallas. Yay, we're famous!


And lastly, a fascinating map on job losses per county monthly over the last two years, at Slate. Texas is getting off easy thus far. 230,000 jobs lost in LA county alone. How much longer til the full-on backlash against Hollywood extravagance I wonder?

Lastly, on a happier note, WorldChanging on the 20-minute city, using Seattle as a template describing the City where every need is met within a 20-minute walk. Step 1 to a high-quality neighborhood:
When it comes to getting around Ballard, alternative transportation seems to be king. Driving a car to this neighborhood will cost you time and money. Luckily, you don't have to. From downtown Ballard, almost everything you need is a quick hop, skip and jump away.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Taibbi's the Best

I rather like the idea behind this site, testing the biz potential of online journalism-slash-editorialism-debate, strikes me as the next evolution to HuffPuff:

True/Slant

Taibbi: America's Peasant Mentality
This must be a terrible time to be a right-winger. A vicious paradox has been thrust upon the once-ascendant conservatives. On the one hand they are out of power, and so must necessarily rail against the Obama administration. On the other hand they have to vilify, as dangerous anticapitalist activity, the grass-roots protests against the Geithner bailouts and the excess of companies like AIG. That leaves them with no recourse but to dream up wholesale lunacies along the lines of Glenn Beck’s recent “Fascism With a Happy Face” rants, which link the protesting “populists” and the Obama adminstration somehow and imagine them as one single nefarious, connected, ongoing effort to install a totalitarian regime.

------

But actual rich people can’t ever be the target. It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields.

You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad.

A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish… can’t be mad at AIG, can’t be mad at Citi or Goldman Sachs. The real villains have to be the anti-AIG protesters! After all, those people
earned those bonuses!

If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires. It’s really weird stuff. And bound to get weirder, I imagine, as this crisis gets worse and more complicated.

Excellent Article on Abolishing Homelessness

http://www.miller-mccune.com/business_economics/the-homemakers-1005?article_page=1

Money quotes:

Pathways' Housing First approach has been phenomenally successful. More than 80 percent of those who went into the program have maintained their places for at least three years, compared to fewer than 40 percent in other programs. By way of explanation, Tsemberis invokes Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of human needs," noting that the basics come before things like treatment.

"If you live on the street, safety — where you will sleep — occupies a person's entire psyche," Tsemberis says. "If you're hungry and exhausted, you can't sit still in a 12-step meeting. Once that calms down, once you house people, then they become interested in treatment. It's human nature."

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

Culhane's study, published in 2001, compared the cost of an individual in supportive housing — that is, housing plus oversight and social services — with the cost of someone on the streets. He found that the chronically homeless used an average of $40,000 per year when they lived on the streets. Supportive housing cost about $18,000 a year, and those who had it used about $16,000 less in social services. Thus the net cost of providing the chronically homeless with supportive housing was about $2,000 a year.

Since then, dozens of cost-benefit studies have been done all over the country. They put social costs of life on the streets in a range of $35,000 to $150,000 per year. Supportive housing costs from $13,000 to $25,000 and substantially reduces social service expenses. The studies found that this strategy to address chronic homelessness doesn't just break even; it can produce a huge savings.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chicken Nuggets

Arianna at HuffPuff: Lot of good news in banking...but the important part to extract and apply outside of banking:
Unlike the big banks, credit unions are not owned by shareholders, who are looking for maximum quarterly profits, but by members, who are looking for stability and service. Since their goal is not to maximize short-term profit, credit unions by and large steered clear of risky subprime loans. As a result, their balance sheets could pass the Geithner stress test just fine.
Critical for a few reasons, 1) to bring into question the legitimacy and/or relevance of the modus operandi of publicly traded companies, 2) in the real estate industry this confirms my opinion to some extent that the scale of individual projects will be much smaller in the architecture and real estate industry based on lending ability of smaller banks (which is good) IF the redevelopment and rebirth of our cities is done as a series of many smaller projects leading to more regionalized, incremental, and if you will, fractal growth. And lastly, 3) how is this idea of long-term interest and cooperation applicable elsewhere?

Here is potentially one answer: Organic, Local Grocery Co-Ops.

"The Era of Bling is Coming to a Close"

From Christian Science Monitor:
Cooke & Co. was the Bear Stearns of its time, a pillar of national finance. If it could fail, anyone could, and the US stock market collapsed that awful autumn. The price of real estate, railroads, and other hard assets crashed, too. Banks fell like wheat before a reaper. Deprived of credit, Main Street commerce suffered. Unemployment reached 25 percent in big cities. The Panic of 1873 eventually led to 18,000 business bankruptcies. National production shrank for six years. Yet a new and stronger US economy emerged from the wreckage.
I have to say though, that I disagree with #10 - The Bust of the Boom Towns. As long as we are accepting "growth" as the axiom our society, economy, and standard of success is measured by, the Boom Towns still have the most work to do. Reason 1, why I am here in Texas.

Yes, they boomed. But that economy of growth was a false one in cities such as DFW, PHX, and Vegas. 99% of what was constructed was worthless. In the cities of the Northeast, not much growth is expected, if at all. What growth will occur will be simply putting people back to work with minor deviations in what they are actually doing.

Here, we have the most work ahead of us in terms of overall reorganization of both people AND economies. Much of the economic growth was in Real Estate and it played out on the land with exponential quantitative spatial growth vastly outpacing population growth.

If this City is smart they will get on the ball and set up a streamlined zoning, entitlement, and approval process for mixed-use, mid- to high-density development AT LEAST in set areas, such as Leinberger suggesting that Dallas needs ten 100-acre high density overlays. If they set up these overlays now, the planning work can get started and developers will be ready to build in ten months or two years, whenever the lending purse strings loosen again (or if again means never, then we need to find a new way to finance these things).

We know the market is there and the demand is there. As I wrote here, Millennials are the largest demographic group (aka "market") in American history and they are redefining the world around them through their shear mass, vitality, and collective directed vigor.

It will be a race for Sun Belt cities to not only be "cool" again to compete for talent in an ultra-competitive and mobile knowledge/creative economy (where real economic growth is created thru startups and innovation), but also in order to be relevant. If not for the Real Estate industry fixing its mistakes, I'm not sure what other markets are out there to pull the Sun Belt cities out of a certain prolonged recession.

Picking Up Steam

...I wonder how long it will take for the rabble to truly be roused and force some change. Mish agrees with me that any bank or entity considered "too big to fail" is absolutely too big to exist. Why? Because it means they are SO big that they can manipulate markets and hell, even governments.
That Goldman, Citigroup, and the now defunct Bear Stearns and Lehman, etc, could ever be in a position to front run trades based on analysis they know they are going to publish, and/or to purposely make recommendations to ignite short squeezes or selloffs based on positions they hold is simply wrong.

Citibank to Investors: We Suggest You Bet Against Us

Please consider the following horrendous advice last week by Citigroup. Flashback March 31, 2009 Citibank to Investors: We Suggest You Bet Against Us.

Monday, April 13, 2009



GOOD Mag on Streets of the Future. And that future is complete.

But, where is the on-street parking? And why the one-way roads? Not to sound like a street-design fundamentalist myself, but the storefront businesses AND the pedestrians need that on-street parking. We also know (via studies + empirical evidence) that one-way roads kill business, not to mention make it difficult to get around in cities.

All roads need to go everywhere...and not everywhere. Everything in moderation, even moderation.

HT: CoolTown Studios.

Something Magical

There’s something quite magical about watching trams in Barcelona, Strasbourg or Frankfurt glide silently along beds of grass as they do their city circuit. Where possible, this attractive combination of efficient public transport and inspired landscaping should be standard as part of the urban fabric . . .

A New Renaissance?

Remembering the ethics of the past, two articles of totally different subject material:

First, Frank Rich at the NYT:
Even at the cratered Citigroup, a technical analyst was moved to write a report last month urging his peers to stop living in “denial” and recognize that we are witnessing the end of “25 to 30 years worth of excess.” The “new normal” in lifestyle, wealth creation and profitability of companies, he wrote, “may be a shadow of the past.”

There was a poignant quality to this Citi report, which cited as its mantra the R.E.M. song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).” Its tone somehow reminded me of the stirring speech written by the American playwright Clifford Odets in his classic drama of the Great Depression, “Awake and Sing!” (1935). “Boychick, wake up!” the grandfather Jacob tells his grandson, Ralph, as the battered Berger family disintegrates in the Bronx. “Be something! Make your life something good ... Go out and fight so life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills.”

When Lawrence Summers was president of Harvard, he famously delighted students by signing his autograph on dollar bills that already bore his signature from his Treasury secretary days. How we leave that bankrupt culture behind and get to “something good” will be as much a factor in our recovery from this Depression as the fate of the unemployment rate and the Dow.
TreeHugger on the return of Permaculture in Urban Agriculture and goes philosophical:

"Permaculture is about asking, 'Why am I doing this?'" Read said. "It's not about clever technological solutions for driving, but asking, 'Why am I in this car in the first place?' I constantly end up taking things out of my life that I don't need."

The Battle Against Empiricism

In my CNU-NTX summary of the Duany presentation, I quoted him in reference to Civil Engineers and their quest for the perfect Level of Service A street:
"Under what theology does this work?! Where is the empirical evidence that these street designs make for a better place."
Well, there is a similar battle in the architecture field as well. I thought I might cross-post Michael Mehaffy's email to the Professional Urbanist Listserv, where he significantly expands on my riff against tall buildings (well, not so much against, but more as a voice of moderation to the hyper-density crowd -- I'm merely against them as the ONLY solution) to a broader discussion pointing out the obvious flaws (sometimes fatal) in "green" modernism.

Here he is referencing a paper he submitted to a symposium for classicism and sustainability at Notre Dame, and it is quite good:

  • Large smooth surfaces. These expanses do not age well over time; small dents and accumulations of dirt detract significantly from the pristine aesthetic at birth. At worst, such structures can become blighted and obsolete, and may have to be torn down prematurely. At best they require frequent, costly and energy-consuming maintenance. Presented to the public realm, they can be exceedingly anti-urban, and disruptive of the pedestrian realm.
  • Long unbroken lines, angles and joints. Again, these do not age well and slight imperfections over time show up disproportionately, requiring excessive maintenance and repair -- or, just as bad, suffer a decline in perceived value and appeal. That is clearly not a desirable occurrence when one is seeking sustainability over time. Another potential problem is that the high typical tolerances can be very expensive to produce accurately. A feature that was originally intended to reduce costs (minimalism) can in fact have the opposite effect.
  • Glass curtain walls. Even with the most energy-efficient assemblies, the insulation value of these is a fraction of solid assemblies.
  • Large-scale, deep-plan buildings. These limit daylight and natural ventilation, sever connections with the outside, and disrupt urban connectivity.
  • Large-scale sculptural objects. One key problem is that such structures are difficult to modify and adapt to new uses. This means that obsolescence is more likely if conditions or fashions change not a very ideal strategy if one is seeking resilience and sustainability.
  • Tall buildings. Not exclusively a modernist type, but certainly embraced by modernism, they have a number of serious drawbacks: high exposure of exteriors to sun and wind, high ratio of exteriors to common interior walls, tendency to promote heat island effects (which increases cooling demands), inefficient floorplates due to egress requirements, excessive shading of adjacent buildings, undesirable wind effects at ground, high embodied energy in construction, and expensive, high-energy maintenance. Tall residential buildings have also been criticized on social grounds as forming, in effect, vertical gated communities isolated pods that do little to activate the street or energize the larger urban network. While they can provide helpful density, there are more efficient low-rise forms that can deliver suitable densities too.
  • Reinforced concrete structures; steel frame structures. Both concrete and steel have high embodied energy and high associated carbon emissions from manufacture. The more exotic modernist structures very tall buildings, very large cantilevers, complex shell structures and the like have a proportionately high reliance on these high-energy materials.
  • Limited morphologies of repetition, abstraction, uniformity, and the large scale. Recent cognitive studies have shown that the minimalist form language of modernism, while of interest to other architects and making for dramatic photos in magazines, can be annoying or even stressful to ordinary people going about their daily activities. More research is needed in this area, but there is enough evidence to warrant a much more precautionary approach.
There is also the inherent problem of a continuous tabula-rasa, experimentalist approach, as a sound basis of producing robust and enduring designs - rather like

And I discussed the following advantageous features of what may be called "the traditional family of forms and types:"

  • Exteriors with articulation, detail and ornament. These features can hide dirt and wear, and actually improve in appearance with time. They also seem to make important contributions to pedestrian scale and interest, which is necessary if we want to create a functional pedestrian environment and a healthy public realm.
  • Complex relation of interior and exterior. The oft-maligned front porch and picket fence actually play sophisticated roles in creating connective layers of private and public, a kind of membrane system spanning between the innermost private spaces of a building, and the most public realms outside. The same is true for galleries, arcades, stoops, colonnades, balconies and other traditional types.
  • Focus of the building on its public realm. Most buildings prior to 1920 paid close attention to the way they addressed the public realm, with legible entries and ornamental details addressing urban space. These strengthened the relation of the building to its urban context, and strengthened the pedestrian realm around the building a critical need for a low-carbon neighborhood.
  • Punched windows. As many have noted, such assemblies reduce the amount of glazing and make it easier to achieve an energy-efficient wall assembly.
  • Low-energy, locally adaptable materials. Often traditional buildings have used locally available materials that have not required extensive industrial processing. Wood, for example, was relatively easy to work, and served to capture carbon. Even brick was usually quarried from local clay sources, and fired nearby with relatively modest energy requirements. These materials also made repair and modification easy and efficient, resulting in resilient and long-lasting buildings.
  • Thermal mass. Many traditional typologies have used relatively thick wall sections, which allowed for efficient moderation of temperatures.
  • Biophilic geometries. This fascinating area of recent research seems to show that for optimum health, human beings need to experience the geometries of nature within their built environments on a daily basis. These include the obvious natural elements like plants, sun and fresh air. But they also seem to include geometries that are characteristic of biological structures, including fractal scales, hierarchical groupings, characteristic proportions, roughness and texture, an optimum mix of unity and variety, spatial layering, a sense of prospect and refuge, and related geometries. Intriguingly, many historic buildings demonstrated rich aggregates of these characteristics. There is reason to believe they may have played a role in the care these buildings received, and their durability their sustainability over time.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pro Sports and Carbon Footprints

This line says it all right here doesn't it?
The energy required to operate a sports venue is fairly minor compared with the energy that fans expend in simply getting to a game...
From Slate.

Now let's compare (I would use some Google Earth mapping, but apparently that program is having a hissy fit today):

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, embedded in the heart of downtown Baltimore near the Inner Harbor, and you can walk to, bus to, or train to...



or...

Shiny, happy Jerry World set in beeeeeyooooteeeful Arlington, Texas, home to the largest city in the country with no, ZERO, mass transit. Good luck hosting the Super Bowl, the NBA all-star game, and the Final Four in coming years while everybody stays in Dallas or Fort Worth without any way for these people to get to the venue.




Now, let's say the average fan is traveling the 20 miles from Dallas to the game, for 8 games a year, but we'll say 9 b/c the Cowboys are good at making it to one playoff game, and seats 80,000 people per game (assuming 80,000 people are willing to travel that far, pay for gas, and whatever Jerry Jones is charging for the upper level seats (cuz you ain't getting the lower level ones my friend). 80,000 people travelling each travelling 20 miles, 9x/year = approximately 720,000 gallons of gas.

I know, I know. Not every single fan will be driving solo, but yet again this is Dallas.

Somebody plz tell me how Arlington, and in turn, Dallas will NOT be laughing stocks like Houston and Jacksonville or Jacksonville again when the Super Bowl comes to town?

If you don't feel like clicking the links, here is the criteria ESPN's sports guy used to describe the ideal super bowl setting:

Does this mean Houston should be hosting a Super Bowl? Of course not. It's ridiculous. There should be five trademarks for every Super Bowl experience. This is not negotiable. Here are the five:
  1. Warm weather.
  2. Serviceable stadium.
  3. A downtown that's easy to get around.
  4. Fun things to do at night.
  5. A city that gives you that "Wow, what a city!" feeling.
If you're scoring at home, for Arlington that is: yes, presumably, no, no, GAWD no.

Free Beer Friday Happy Hour

Cancelled this week. As I practice my car-free-ness and take the TRE to Fort Worth for a wedding tonight.

Downsizing

TreeHugger: Small Apartments w/ Big Impact.

Based on my Millennial presentation, we've been doing a lot of work developing a prototype for Millennial housing, a generation that can't afford to live in the City but desire to do so. So how do we make it affordable? Well, one way is to shrink the unit size and maximize spatial efficiency. The residential architects have been taking clues/inspiration from Cruise Liners and First class cabins.

TreeHugger here is focused more on specific unit types, whether it be pre-fab or standardized layout for maximum flexibility. My favorite for immediate practicality and use of the swing out screen and murphy bed:




My WTF moment for, sure you devised a foldout living space, but where the hell am I going to put it, how do other units relate to it, where are the utility hookups, and WHY THE EFF IS IT ALL BLOBBY AND SWIRLY?! Give it up already.

Cameron Sinclair Addresses the Issue of the Day

The Architect's Dilemma: Arch of Excess or Arch of Relevance.

It is really no dilemma at all. It is the difference between those that want their name in Architectural Record and those that want to help humanity. Where we have to be careful is that the last depression gave impetus to toss the City Beautiful movement in favor of a Corbusien idealism that had no empirical basis, but merely an idealogical and philosophical one with little to no fundamental relationship to the actual built form and urbanism. They were all one off buildings much like anything Hadid, Koolhaas, or Ramus do today.

To help us out of this depression, we need more Jane Jacobs and little to no Zaha Hadid. (Although one would think an Iraqi woman would understand some measure of community development, the intricacies of fine-grained urbanism in impoverished cities, and perhaps how to do something relevant on a tight budget. But, maybe she is merely the modern day architectural version of Ayn Rand, a pure unmoderated hyper-reaction to her previous environment):
In the circles of the cultural elite I know I'm stepping on very thin ice. Given that she is the first female Pritzker Prize winner I've been told more than once that 'one cannot criticize her'. While Ms. Hadid has certainly made a lasting impact in the architectural discourse, the physical structures created have been on occasion environmentally unsound, exclusive in nature and at times ethically dubious. They fight for attention, piercing the fabric of the city instead of weaving it into a stronger and more interconnected environment.

The argument was never about starchitect vs. non-starchitect but how we adapt and change as a group of professionals that is dedicated to improving the physical environments that we call life. There is no 'architecture with a big A' there is only architecture and how we practice it matters not just for the state of the world but the survival of the practice.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I'm not Alone. Nor a Gay Fish. And Now to Toot my Horn.

Been a few days. I was in my home state landing some Medical District Planning work with an ultra-progressive, informed, and aware facilities planning group for a hospital. It must be my lucky day when I land back in Dallas, fire up the DVR and find that South Park had trashed two of the people in show biz that I find to be the least talented, most overrated hacks/posers: Carlos Mencia and Kanye West...

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Canary in the Coal Mine Update

Some time ago, I posted about Creative Panhandling, as an indicator of some measure of vitality in a City. The theory was that because there were so many people attracted to a place, there would in turn be a number of panhandlers following, much like on a larger scale that retail and service industry (and then jobs) followed residents out of the city into the suburbs, but in a much different spatial pattern than the previous incarnation in the city. Because there were more people asking for money, there was increased competition for the loose change.

At the time of that posting, Downtown Dallas had virtually none of these to speak of. Now, with good weather having returned, over the last two months or so, I am happy to report that I have now counted 4 such creative panhandlers in Downtown. First, a couple where the woman plays the guitar and the guy plays the sax has popped up here and there in downtown. Next, I started seeing a guy out sketching portraits of patrons sitting at bars and cafes. And today, was another man playing a trombone on Main Street.

Walking is Good. So Says the King.

From Peter King's weekly article on the NFL, which bizarrely includes tidbits from his daily personal life that routinely gets skewered by Kissing Suzy Kolber:
Stayed close to home this week. But I'm finding something interesting about city life. (For those who don't know, my wife and I moved to Boston a month ago, and we're still settling in. Enjoying it a lot so far.) From last Monday morning to Sunday night , I drove my car once, two miles to the Home Depot. That's it. I wonder if I need a car. I suppose I'll need one as time goes on, but I miss nothing about driving. Walking is good.
HT: The Daily Sprawl

Hyper-reactionary?


City-Journal has an article up entitled Green Cities, Brown Suburbs with the tagline "To save the planet, build more skyscrapers," by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser who has been cited repeatedly in this blog, most recently here and here, as he and I came to the same conclusion regarding the bailouts. That real growth will come from the bottom and we should be saving our bailouts for real stimulus and that is to stimulate startups and small, more agile businesses, which is where innovation and progress comes from.

Here is what he says regarding how humans should be building:

Similarly, limiting the height or growth of New York City skyscrapers incurs environmental costs. Building more apartments in Gotham will not only make the city more affordable; it will also reduce global warming.

Thoreau was wrong. Living in the country is not the right way to care for the Earth. The best thing that we can do for the planet is build more skyscrapers.

However, I will be disagreeing with him here and at the end of the day, it is really a very simple thesis and the issue is one of semantics. We all know density is one way towards sustainability because of shared resources, effective synergies created via spatial relationships, lower per capita carbon footprint, less VMTs and car dependence, etc. The other is total self-sufficiency from a site standpoint, aka the farm that generates all of its own food and energy on-site. This is the least dense option.

If we take the transect for example, if only to establish a gradation in densities from city core to the most rural of land and development we get the following graph:

[click to see it larger - since it posted so small]

But, at the end of the day, skyscrapers are energy and material intensive. Furthermore, they degrade the public realm, the street life and ambience that makes cities. Vancouver has been able to get around this by creating a lower-story base to sit their towers on, but this doesn't change the fact that the buildings are still importing material from wherever and people to occupy those buildings often from the suburb. (Think about how many people commute into lower manhattan from NJ, CT, and Long Island.)

Here is what I said in a previous post:
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 platinu
m-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. Skys
crapers 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 adverse
ly 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 bui
ldings, but then the issue becomes one of active vs. passive heating and cooling. AND, reflective glass is often pretty ugly.
7. C
OST. 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.
Now, think about the most pleasant cities that you have been in (and I'm not talking favorite b/c that brings into play potential for hedonistic behavior, i.e. Vegas), I mean most pleasant. For me (of cities that I have spent a reasonable enough time there), the list includes:

1. Malmo, Sweden - The cleaner, less busy version of Copenhagen.

2. Siena, Italy - need I say more?


3. Zurich, Switzerland - combination of modern/contemporary and traditional/historical.


4. Verona, Italy/Vicenza, Italy (tie) - if only because I confuse my memories of the two like I do with the Italian and Spanish languages.


5. Malaga, Spain. - something about the palm trees and coast line.


The spaces created by these buildings, AND in turn, the buildings themselves create spaces the citizens love, and revere, and are proud of, and therefore will not allow the natural inclination to densify to ruin their cities. This is the underlying cause of high-rises at the fringe of European cities, a market-driven logic to deliver as much "product," in this case, housing units to an area of high demand. Only that the new product is so undesireable it is relegated to the fringe and over time, relegated to the impoverished, becoming a slum and potentially areas of high volatility and/or crime.

The consistency is that these are all medium-sized cities, not so disconnected from nearby nature, nor overwhelmed by cars and/or people, with low to medium sized buildings but still with much higher density than most (all) American cities because of the compact form of development.

In the States, I would say that D.C. would be very high on the list for similar issues, despite being a much larger city. Of the cities the authors cite, most of the residents aren't living in high-rises, they are in the neighborhoods adjacent to the high-rises which house mostly commercial enterprises.

It is possible to build they type of density that Glaeser is looking for in a way that makes for cities more livable than Hong Kong, that are close to nature, close to food production, and don't house people in vertical filing cabinets, so that they are so disconnected from the ground and the street life that makes cities interesting and vibrant.

Plus, we are just too damned poor and in debt to be building high rises all over the place, when we need cost effective solutions and those will be in the form of three- and four-story buildings that frame streets and public places and provide for a flexibility of use that gives the buildings a much longer life than we would typically allow.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Duany, Leppert, The Observer, and Props 1 & 2

Unfair Park on Duany's Monday night presentation at SMU:
You have a pretty low quality of life, given your wealth.
LOLz

From the comments:
Duany also stressed that he supported Mayor Leppert on Prop 2 (I do, too!) but was strangely silent on Prop 1.
If a reader is curious, I would be aligning precisely as this commenter is insinuating Duany was given my thoughts on the Convention Center hotel here and here:
to expand upon Cullen's metaphor, a building is just a building. It's like a postcard. You glance at it and toss it away. Maybe, if it is of unique brilliance, you slap it on the fridge with a corny touristy magnet.

But, actual city building, the arrangement of built form, landscape, public space, streets, and the orchestration of which, when properly done, can become DRAMA; when the whole is greater than the mere sum of parts.

You Talkin' to Me?

Well, this writer from the local Dallas magazine The Advocate interviewed me regarding what to do with a typical Dallas neighborhood center, particularly in this case the Preston-Royal intersection:
In Kennedy’s vision, you won’t need a car because you’ll live in the center or nearby. And if you don’t need a car, the center won’t need as much parking, not only lowering construction costs, but making room for amenities like parks. And if people spend time on the street — walking, window shopping, eating lunch in the park — the center becomes a more desirable place to live.
Hey, that's me! And below is an aerial bird's eye of the site, although I approached the interview as hypothetical as the exercise was:



To clarify, that doesn't mean the car is a thing of the past. What it means is densifying these neighborhood centers that are fast becoming obsolete, improving the experience of the retail and the quality of life for the neighborhoods adjacent that this center now provides all of the life support systems for.

After skimming the article, it doesn't appear that any of my talk of transit made the dialog. The first thing I mentioned in the interview, was that with $100 mill and entitlements to this site, I would take half of the loot and then run a two-mile modern street car along Royal Lane between the tollway and 75/DART red line station at either Walnut Hill or Lovers Lane. Which is sort of a prerequisite before ditching the car entirely, making the entire above statement sound stupid without.

I still prefer what I wrote about it retail and this site here in Rise and Shine Old 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.

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.

Highlights from 3/31 CNU-NTX Seminar

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to be at the Belo Mansion for the CNU-NTX day-long seminar with speakers including Andres Duany founder of the Congress of New Urbanism, Ellen Dunham-Jones (director of Georgia Tech's architecture program), Bill Lucy (urban economist and UVa planning professor), Shelly Poticha (CEO of Reconnecting America), and David Goldberg (Communications Director for Smart Growth America).

Anyways, here are the highlights from my notes as they affect, refer, or apply to Dallas:

Andres Duany:
"I love Texans. But, I hate Texas cities."
Can't blame him. That's precisely why I moved here, because there is an opportunity/need for improvement. From hearing him discuss this previously, he is referring to the 'can do' attitude of Texans. For better or worse, they/we(?) tend to jump into trends with both feet don't we, i.e. building towers and highway in the name of Corbusien progress and tearing out existing/historic fabric to do so?
"What won't revitalize this city (meaning Dallas)...three Calatrava Bridges."
To his point, the number three is irrelevant. He is echoing things I have said before on this blog (here in The Challenge of Downtown Dallas and also here in ToonTown: Dallas Arts District, that we have to get the livability right before the attempts at Memorability are effective or even broached. Anybody ready to listen to me yet now that I've quoted Andres Duany and Alex Krieger visiting the city to say the same things that I have been?
"Dallas exists b/c of oil. You were lucky. What makes Portland so lucky? The trees!? The weather? Nooo. The opera house? It's not a very good one. They have urbanism. You are going to be losing the talented young people that are choosing urbanism."
I have often said in meetings and otherwise a similar statement (particularly in reference to opportunity areas around the metroplex and TODs). That the first best thing that ever happened to Dallas was striking oil. The next best thing for the real estate of the City was DART. Also, see what I said about Portland's initial efforts in No. 2 in DTD's cavities.
"You have been subsidizing a privilege for those that live outside the city."
[Now paraphrasing] Why build a parking facility for every new building so that patrons can go from their den, to their garage, to their range rover, to the parking garage, to the opera house without ever stepping foot outside.
"Make use of the underutilized parking garage two blocks away."
Amen. I have discussed all the empty parking garages at night that litter this city, here in DTD's Cavities, Get Out the Drill and here in Parking Supply/Demand: The Vicious Circle.
"Take out a lane of traffic, inconvenience them and make the people adapt."
Also, he cited the difference in lane and parking widths between New York and Dallas streets. NYC 10' for travel lanes, 7' for parking. Dallas, 12' and 8' respectively. Let's tighten those streets up and add some more sidewalk space given how tight sidewalks are in both downtown and much of uptown (I'm looking at you McKinney Ave.) See my rant regarding pedestrians vs. automobiles in Hooked on Phonics did not work for me.

Perhaps my favorite line of the day:
"Under what theology does this work?! Where is the empirical evidence that these street designs make for a better place."
Referring to engineering manuals and the goal for level of service "A" streets.

"Retail only works on two-way streets. Use this crisis. Take the money [from Washington], take the time, and retrofit all the streets to two-ways. Otherwise, the only retail that will work on the morning drive streets are donut shops."

See number 3 on my DTD's Cavities post. My quote:
Notice that I didn't say Main Street. They couldn't get away with driving fast on Main Street if they tried. It has on-street parking, is two-way, and is too narrow (oh, and the valets themselves must hang out on them). Exactly the reasons why there is a four-block stretch of Main Street in Downtown that actually works.
His most important point of the day was Dallas's need for a new development code, one that is clear, predictable, and less onerous than the 6-12 month negotiation process that is every PDD. The current code is one that builds suburban-style development because that was the ultimate goal or end-game when it was adopted, which is why every good project has to establish its own planned-development district that amends the development code. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

I personally can't wait for the day, where we aren't sitting at a table with lawyers for the duration of the entitlement process going thru every line of a PD amending previous boiler plate, tailoring it to the subtleties of the new site/project.

See the SmartCode. Subsidize the type of high quality development we want by removing that entitlement process without money that we, the city, do not have. Meet the code, start building.

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

I will cite additionally in later posts as the information is relevant to the larger point of a particular future post.

Also, kudos to the Dallas Fire Chief for attending. Emergency services demands are also liabilities to urbanism. They have adapted their practices to the current suburban building code and we need them at the table as well b/c well, 1) they're absolutely vital public services and 2) we believe good urbanism is ultimately safer than suburbia as Bill Lucy pointed out yesterday.

Also also, I will be at the ULI event with Chris Leinberger and will update the blog with the high points from that as well.

Latest Case Shiller Indices

From WSJ.

Dallas posts a 5% drop for the year. Some said Dallas was insulated from it and housing prices didn't spike like they did elsewhere. True. But, 5% in any other time would be quite hefty. There was simply too much imagined money floating around.