Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fun with Numbers/Dallas Budget

So in light of the City of Dallas experiencing a nearly $200 million dollar budget deficit, I thought I would have a little fun with numbers while we watch education, police, fire, and presumably every other necessary service get slashed while road maintenance and upkeep retain highest priority.

First of all, I should say that compared to many other cities that I have been to and worked in, Dallas is getting off light. The city is both lucky and unlucky given its defined boundaries. Many smaller cities are experiencing much more severe budgetary constraints. For example, one city of approximately 100,000 had a projected shortfall of $250,000,000 equalling $2,688 per person. And THAT number was strictly for infrastructural upkeep and maintenance (and upgrades. Can't forget upgrayddes. That's how I will spell it from now on whenever an engineer uses the term road improvements or upgrayddes because it is such a bastardization of terminology), meaning no new construction. Compare that number to $146 per person in Dallas. That's nearly 20x.

Building low density sprawl had come home to roost. We simply can't afford the level of infrastructure that sprawl expects. The primary issue is that logically and throughout history level of services and amenities increased with greater density. It makes sense, more people sharing burdens and costs, the more can be achieved with that pooled wealth. The countryside couldn't afford sewer and roads and power, etc.

This is why I state over and over that Deep Sustainability comes in two forms, self-sufficient and very sparse (the Jeffersonian Ideal) or the very dense cities (but I expect due to material constraints this means lower scaled, but still dense building in the model of Florence, for example). As we know, the very necessitation of human settlement patterns (and community) is shared common hardships and then, in turn, quality of life improvements through gains in standard of living brought about by the economics of sharing, trading, cooperation, markets, etc.

This pattern can be traced directly to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Imagine ourselves as lonely neanderthals at the bottom of the pyramid, rising to the highest of levels during times such as the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment, or the even the technological revolution of today leading to increased levels of interconnectivity. And then crash back down to the yellow in our fractured and disconnected society via the car, the television, etc.

With out new found wealth and suburban explosion, we expected the best schools and similar level of infrastructural support to follow. For a time it worked, but upkeep has proven to be the problem. The infrastructure and population density are spread so thin that we put so much pressure on such brittle apparatus that it begins to collapse due to overuse often caused by our dendritic arterial system versus a more choice-laden, adaptable and dispersive grid network and underfunding.

So getting back to why the City of Dallas's budget shortfall is 20x less than that of smaller cities as discussed earlier, Dallas is lucky in that it is landlocked by its suburban neighbors. Dallas proper can do very little in the way of new growth, which has mostly happened in areas like Rockwall, Mansfield, and Frisco, meaning less no roads (despite everyone from the City to the State, to COG, and to TxDOT's best efforts). So we can ideally focus our efforts on QUALITATIVE over QUANTITATIVE growth.

This is unlike Houston which annexes all of its growth. The future of these two cities can go either way from this tipping point we have reached due to their nature. Houston could become much more responsible with its growth, spending, inertia, and annexation or Dallas could be more successful as it can focus on a much smaller land area.

Where this bites Dallas in the butt, is that there are so many commuters coming in from Richardson, Plano, Arlington, Mesquite, et al., this means Dallas ends up with a very high freeway miles per capita number. Essentially because commuters' trips to Dallas are subsidized at the expense of state and federal taxpayers, but the real cost is the burden on the well-being of the City itself.

Often when the argument of mass transit comes up, I'm both dumbfounded and frustration by the simplicity of the dollar values and supposed wastefulness that is bandied about. Such things as revenue generation, long-term maintenance, real estate values, etc. are always ignored in favor of startup costs strictly against Mass Transit. Well, how about we take a look at how much embedded wealth we have sunk into all of our roads in Dallas.

**Disclaimer: Very rough numbers.

The chart above shows the City of Dallas at .88 freeway miles per 1,000. This chart from 1999 shows freeway equivalent miles at 1.291. I'll use this number because freeway equivalent sounds an awful lot like freeway. Call me crazy, but I'll assume it costs something similar. Also, note how many Texas cities in the top ten. And we wanna build another one as part of the Trinity River Project? Sounds like a good plan (or a racket).

So we know that we have the freeway equivalent of 1.291 lane miles per 1,000 people, approximately 1.3 million people at a density of 3,605 per square mile. And a land area of 385 total square miles. This suggests that 1 freeway lane mile in a congested urban area can cost upwards of a $100 million multiply that over the 1678 freeway lane miles in the city and we get a cost of $167 billion or a cost of $130,000 per person.

But, what about the other roads? Since Dallas was built on mile-square arterial grids we're going to apply this pattern to get a sense of how many overall road miles there are per capita in this city. As you can see in the graphic below, each super block is bound by 1 mile length arterials and further broken up into blocks by internal collectors or residential streets. The total perimeter equals four miles, but I'll go with half that or 2 miles because each arterial is shared by another 1-square mile super block.

Internal to this superblock, I will estimate approximately 10 miles worth of neighborhood streets cross this block. This is more difficult to get a sense for as each superblock is subdivided differently due to geography, density, or whim. But, to assume the equivalent of five N-S and five E-W streets is pretty conservative considering that leads to about 800' x 800' blocks, not unusual for the 'burbs.

At 3,605 people per square mile in the city that means that these blocks then have .00277 of residential street per capita (not unreasonable as that equals 14' of street frontage) and .00055 arterials per capita. I'll cost the residential streets and infrastructure at $5 million per mile (which assumes NOT a very nice streetscape) and $10 million per arterial.

If we are to extrapolate these superblock numbers over the entire city that means we have spent $7.2 billion on arterials, and $1.8 billion on residential streets and infrastructure. Add in the freeway equivalent costs and we are at $176 billion dollars JUST for construction, or $135,384.62 per Dallas resident. Did we realize we can't afford that?

Next time somebody complains about a transit line costing X amount of dollars throw some similar numbers like that at them. We already know the difference in quality of place the two create.

Maybe to save our budget and essential city services, we can stop building or "upgraydding" roads and start building for people, not for cars.
Better caption? Money Well Spent or Return THAT Investment?

Links o' the Day - Now with Less Gasoline

In Amsterdam, Bicycle trips have surpassed Car Trips.
"The bicycle is the means of transport used most often in Amsterdam," reports Bike Europe. "Between 2005 and 2007 people in the city used their bikes on average 0.87 times a day, compared to 0.84 for their cars. This is the first time that bicycle use exceeds car use."
Brown Air, Gray People. The State of the Air: A report on air quality. Ya know, another one of those things we can't assign a value for, so it finds no place in modern economics, so we ignore it...until we're all dead.
Houston, which ranks number five in ozone this year, is a very unusual city. Its mayor Bill White has done something few, if any, mayors nationally have done: confronted both the state and federal environmental agencies himself for their failure to address the dangers air pollution poses to his residents. At issue is benzene, a known carcinogen. Texas does not have a legal limit for benzene, and because of it, cities with concentrations of oil refineries and chemical plants, such as Houston, suffer staggering benzene emissions. Last year, White filed a petition to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for their lack of responsiveness to industry when it comes to benzene emissions. He’s also appealed to the EPA to address the state’s Flexible Permit, which he believes is at the root of the issue for plants finagling their way past emissions limits.

Some of the key health stats from the report include:

* Six out of ten people (61.7%) in the United States live in counties that have unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.
* Roughly six out of ten people (58%) live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone.
* Roughly three out of ten people live in an area with unhealthy levels of short-term levels of particle pollution, which is an increase from last year’s report.
* One in six people lives in an area with unhealthy levels of year-round particle pollution
* Just under one in eight people lives in the 37 counties with unhealthy levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollutio.
More than tossing crumbs to the rabble, building Good Parks are Good for the Economy. (Ignore the grammatical error):
By offering free or inexpensive recreation, parks also save residents money. In Boston, for example, the study determined that the economic value of direct park use was $354 million.

The health benefits of exercise in parks offer further savings. The study calculated $19.9 million in medical savings realized by residents in Sacramento because of active recreation in parks.

According to the report, "numerous studies have shown that the more webs of human relationships a neighborhood has, the stronger, safer and more successful it is." Well-used parks offer many ways for neighbors to get to know each other, and efforts to create, save, or care for parks create further community cohesiveness. This "social capital" can reduce a city's costs for policing, fire protection and criminal justice. Because the economic value of social capital can't be measured directly, the report cited as a proxy the amount of time and money residents contributed to "friends" groups and other park-oriented organizations and agencies.
But, of course, in Neo-classical economics we can't valuate "social capital" so it gets "externalized".

Making the Car-Free Choice. Hint: It's much easier in San Francisco than it is in Dallas and their challenge is to drive less than 125 miles in a month??!! Wimps. Or as Tyler Durden says, "LET GO!"
That's the idea behind the annual Car-Free Challenge sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit TransForm (formerly TALC -
transportation and Land Use Coalition)
. The Challenge's over 160 participants pledged to drive less than 125 miles in June, much less than the Bay Area average of 540, or the U.S. average of over 1,000. Many participants contributed blog posts about their experiences on the Challenge website. More than just a group of footloose young professionals living in The Mission, challenge participants were remarkably diverse group living mostly in the Bay Area but also Sacramento, Los Angeles, and cities outside of California.
And expanding on my assumption that the Love Affair with the Car is much like Stockholm Syndrome, planetizen examines the axiom, is it a marriage or a fling?
Developers have been keen to capitalize on the advantages of car-sharing for their projects. Over 30 developments in the New York City area have recently incorporated Zipcars to their parking plan, providing a much-appreciated service to residents, and acquiring marketing benefits, tax deductions, and LEED credits along the way. With typical ratios of one car-share vehicle replacing the need for 10 to 20 privately-owned vehicles (when located adjacent to sufficient transit facilities, please see this post for more details), new residential and mixed-use developments can significantly reduce the amount of materials and land devoted to parking.
This is key as I show in my old presentation on Housing the Millennials, there are several ways to save on parking which I've been suggesting to local developers in the DFW market and in NYC developers are doing just that by providing car sharing services. Other ways might include offering bikes with units, vespas, zip car memberships, transit passes, etc.

The key is the realization that the car is not necessary for mobility and the parking provision was created strictly for said mobility.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Ends of a Means

What happens when one country crosses the tape first in the global race to the bottom. One can only wonder how many other disasters await out there thru corner cutting...

Link from WSJ.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Couple Us Designers Wondering We Could Go Family Style on Yer Competition

So, we have our winning entries for the Re:Vision Dallas competition. And the results are as predictable, superficial, and cliche as the competition title itself.


(Of note: Not one of the three finalists were from Dallas.)

From simply a graphic rendering and architectural standpoint, all of these remind me more of this than anything I would really like to see happen in the city:

So every team engaged in some serious green washing and green gadget sustainability, which was not to be wholly unexpected. I was actually intrigued at first by this "X" district because a team actually started looking at their site contextually to deal with this site. Until I got a closer look at it. They basically just took the google earth axon view into photoshop and literally added a green connection from the project site to the Trinity River. How novel.
Of course, this would be nice, but they did nothing substantive to address the real issues affecting this site. A green blanket was laid over a fallen city, covering the highways, clover leafs, rail lines and vacant properties so that no one can see its dying eyes. Of course, this is an easy slight of hand with photoshop and a few snappy design catch phrases. No mention or apparently thought was given to how to address all of the grade changes, elevated and sub-grade highways, etc. that provide these impassable barriers.

I advised two groups that competed for this, suggesting to both that the constraints of this site were ALL beyond the boundaries of the actual project, not all of which are physical. No developer would look at this area. It had(has) no context. The freeway has gutted and bombed out both sides of it.

While in the mean time, the country is in deep and transformative recession. Rather than seeing something that addresses in an economically and physically sustainable manner a solution for job losses and failing industries, I still see highways and clover leafs. The two teams I consulted with ended up with solutions looking at how to reuse plain fuselages and the concrete road building industry as structural elements for prefab housing units. Taking one dying industry void of demand and repositioning them into areas of need, in town affordable housing.

Along these lines, I suggested carrying the theme further and restitching the fabric, grid, and parcels, that I-30 ripped to shreds in a methodical, phased, and context sensitive manner. Break down the dying industry of roads and cars, for one of the 21st century, the new American city.

Instead, we get a correlated level of depth and duplicity that puts a blue heron flying across the page:

But how does this building fit within its site you ask?

Towers in the park: We don't want to frame the public realm, those areas critical for vital street life and local commerce, the areas that belong to all of us and make us love and be proud of our cities. We want to make self-referential buildings. In the words of a friend of mine, "IT'S ALLLLLL ME."

Which, in the end, I guess is a fitting eulogy for outside architects embodying globalist architecture where everything is nameless, placeless, and anonymous. It's all on a computer screen.

Affordable Housing errr, Hire Me!

Here is Michael Pyatok's recent presentation regarding workforce housing for Downtown Dallas. Unfortunately, there is very little in the way of deep analysis and recommendations and, unfortunately more "look at my projects!" While there are a number of creative solutions here, these are mostly the types of infill densities we should be looking at (and are currently) in other inner ring infill areas, not downtown.

Also, the types of affordable housing done in San Francisco, due to subsidy and land prices resembles more the market rate developments here in Dallas. Can we do quality affordable housing? I believe so, but we have to do better than the inclusionary component currently in downtown where on a per square foot basis the price point is the exact same as the market rate housing. Meaning that the affordable units (legal definition) are about 500 sq.ft. Hardly appropriate for families. These units ALWAYS seem to be vacant by the way. Go figure.

That, of course, is not to say that affordable and workforce housing as a component in downtown shouldn't be encouraged. I, for one, agree with Alex Krieger who said, "the folks populating the W hotel are not the ones that will create a vibrant street presence in downtown Dallas."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This Week in Grand Theft Auto: Dallas

No, my car wasn't stolen. It was crushed...or maybe sold. I have no idea, nor do I care. I hold little nostalgic memories of sitting in a gliding shell of death dealing metal. Although the only thing I ever killed with my car was a pretty white bird that cruised right into my car as I had no more room on 183 between me and the concrete barrier in order to avoid it. I felt bad. But, that was also because I was up at 6 am driving to DFW in order to board a plane and fly to some shit hole to offer consulting tips on how to drastically improve said shit hole...advice that would go completely unheeded usually in order to maintain status quo road building projects and urban destruction, nay urban can be interpreted pejoratively...how about civiliation/culture destruction.

But, the story of the day is actually from my morning dog walk in and around downtown Dallas. In the video game Grand Theft Auto, those familiar will recall the sheer amount of innocent bystanders to by flattened by a knock-off car in a getaway whilst evading the police on some sort of caper. When walking by those individuals, beyond just the amount of different people populating the city, one is impressed by the amount of personality (or just context-less sound bites) and the doppler effect you hear as you, the gamer, walks by.

Well, this morning I walked my dogs past a woman who was leaning on a railing along one of the ubiquitous surface parking lots in downtown Dallas. And, I kid you not, she says to nobody but herself, "I am the most hated person to ever walk the earth."

Really? Did she order the extermination of the jews? Did she buy the Orioles and immediately begin to dismantle the perennial world series contender for wash-ups and known 'roid heads? Did she suggest highways on top of buildings and towers in the park? or any person on this list?

...and I didn't even stop to get an autograph. I was too scared she might sink fangs into my neck or kick my puppy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dallas Places Two in the Top 12 Neighborhoods in the Country

...for crime.

In the interest of localizing crime statistics, and in this case only violent crime statistics, WalletPop, whatever on Earth that is, has derived a top 25 list for most dangerous neighborhoods, including numbers 9 and 12 going to two adjacent areas of Dallas (so they aren't really two distinct neighborhoods then are they?). Both are immediately Southeast of Fair Park.

Personally, I'm amazed there are no Houston or Los Angeles neighborhoods. I think I have been to about ten or so of these. And, I'm quite confident in saying that the Parramore district of Orlando was easily the least safe I have maybe ever felt in my life. And I was there canvassing the area at 8 am.

Remember this is for violent crime. Remind me some day to write about the story a City official relayed regarding FBI maps/white collar crime/and the most crime ridden area of D/FW. White collar crime sounds so benevolent doesn't it?

Also, not included is the under reporting or "juking" of the stats that some police departments engage in to either a) look like they're doing their job or b) satisfy politicians needs or c) are simply overwhelmed by the entropic forces eating away at society and the cultural blanket hiding "the better angels of our nature."

ht: McCready.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Piling on the Arts District

Truly, my only intent is to improve it and to do so by increasing awareness of the mistakes that have been made. So, with that said, in defense of my critique thus far of the Dallas Arts District, found here and here. Oh, and here and here. Without further ado, here is Alex Marshall in How Cities Work, Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken:
It (ed: San Jose in this context) is an example of what David Barringer, in an article entitled "The New Urban Gamble" (ed: Not as in CNU "New Urban," but more like "New" as in nuevo) in The American Prospect, called "THE CARNIVAL STRATEGY" (my caps).

Cities build a performing arts center, an aquarium, and a sports stadium and hope that the crowds will materialize to fill in the rest of the city. I am extremely dubious about this strategy. Things like art museums and aquariums are great as the capstones to successful places, as amenities and accessories. But trying to make them an economic foundation is to confuse the role of the foundation of a building with that of a decorative window on it.

A museum can be a great reward for a successful region, as can central libraries and other public works. But, even if the crowds appear, they will not replace or even draw the people or businesses that make a center city truly a place.

How many things did he list here that downtown Dallas has: central library, museums, aquarium, sports stadiums, etc. The key here is that American Airlines with as busy as it is, has not saved Victory, or as I like to call it the Potemkin Village. There were just too many mistakes to overcome.

He also goes on to discuss that without successful retail a downtown does not truly function as a center of commerce as it should. It becomes a side act, a novelty. Well, Dallas lost most of its retail despite the Neiman Marcus flagship's stubborness/loyalty.

Retail in still vital downtowns are vestiges, it survived. Dallas is otherwise, and with our knowledge today, retail and commerce follow people. Downtown needs residents and to do so, downtown must be as livable as possible. Things that prevent livability have been discussed ad nauseum on this blog, just do a search.

The other thing preventing livability in downtown AND retail from working is the lack of neighborhood serving transit, ie modern streetcars or trams linking downtown with Oak Cliff as well as near east Dallas, Greenville, and Lakewood. There are healthy neighborhoods there to be served as well as areas in need of revite. New streetcar would mean an incentive for rebuilding bombed out areas such as along Ross and Live Oak, as well as the Zang triangle.

Furthermore, for the stable neighborhoods it means an easy commute into downtown that is potentially preferable, or at least an offer of choice, rather than dealing with traffic and running up to CityPlace or North Park Mall. The key is choice.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Two Quotes for the Day

Anyone that knows me well, knows that I have a schizophrenic streak to my thought patterns which often reveals itself in my daily reading choices. Today, I happened to be walking with two books in hand and bouncing back and forth between them. The first, How Cities Work by Alex Marshall reveals a quote by Lewis Mumford in his 1958 report "The Highway and the City" (emphasis mine):
The purpose of transportation is to bring people and goods to places where they are needed, and to concentrate the greatest variety of goods and people within that limited area, in order to widen the possibility of choice without making it necessary to travel. A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation; and in any event, it offers change of speed and mode to fit a diversity of human purposes."

Get that? Transportation only where formalized transportation is needed, minimizing public expense per capita, thus damning federal highway spending that scattered people about the countryside.

Next, from John McMurtry in The Cancer Stage of Capitalism castigating one of my favorite targets, the theocrats of neoclassical economics. I'll paraphrase the preceding few pages:

McMurtry discusses the manner in which rigorous and objective science has overhauled economic theory. Thus, anything that could be perceived as subjective becomes value-less in a construct where everything in the formula must have a value. How does one place a value on clean air or clean water? Do I arrive at a number or does Exxon Mobil? Therefore, anything subjective MUST be externalized and anybody that questions their methods is immediately marginalized as NOT being a rigorous and objective academician.

He concludes:
If value theory is banished from a subject whose every object of study IS a value, then it is disordered at the base of its conceptions.

Therefore, neo-classical economics are fundamentally flawed. I see two ways to excise this cancer stage. One, we arrive at a consensus valuating the invaluable, i.e. clean air, clean water, etc. But, once again, who decides and do we trust them? Do the people in a democratic republic really have the authority the Constitution bestowed upon them? Is consensus possible?

On the other hand, our democratically elected representatives in a market economy DO in fact create the rules of the game. Newsflash: governments create markets and our government creates the rules of the game. Rather than assigning an arbitrary value to such life sustaining (giving?) elements as clean air and clean water, how about we set up the rules of the game to profit those who do the most good and make those who do the most bad or cynically try to do business slightly less bad with a smiley face make that into a failing business model.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Pondering Brought to You By This Morning's Shower

Some say our city, Dallas (or for that matter any sun belt city) just isn't built for any form of transportation other than car travel AND we're SO spread out, no other form makes sense. We're stuck with it, may as well make it work. I see this as a form of reverse chicken and egg.

It's more like all we have to eat is a rotten egg and a chicken infected with bird flu and told to survive.

To quote Mayor Carcetti from the single greatest and most profound television show ever created, "how many bowls of shit do I gotta eat?!"


Side note for the day...is there a way to keep the homeless from defecating all over the city's sidewalks at night??? My dog decided it would be a good idea to roll in some when I wasn't looking and after a morning spent scrubbing and bathing I still feel like Lady MacBeth.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Not Unlike My Stockholm Syndrome of Cars

A new book, Cul-De-Sac Syndrome.

And excerpt of the excerpt:
The American home became the embodiment of generations of aspirations. First came the land, then came the emblem that you owned and lorded over the landscape—the manor home. In a uniquely American way, homeowners were echoing the class-climbing impulses of their forebears. Cathedral ceilings bespoke of sanctified self-improvement. Bathroom suites implied middle-class barony. Homes got bigger and more expensive because we wanted them to portray nobility. We had made it. We’d achieved the American dream! This was what we had to show for generations of effort. The fact that this striving also became a
mania for investment and speculation is also painfully American.

Gotta Get Back to Consistency

Not much time for now, but I have two or three long blog posts halfway or more complete.

Two blog posts of note:

Allison Arieff at NYT blog on The Future of the Shopping Mall and the increasing irrelevance of ICSC (she was a juror on their future of the mall competition):
Despite near-non-existent consumer spending, the declining popularity of shopping as America’s favorite pastime and the chilling effect foreclosed homes in housing developments are surely having on nearby malls, most entries in the ICSC competition responded less to the future of the shopping mall than to the glory days to which we’ve recently bid adieu. I was struck by how little attention entrants paid to things like sustainable architecture, alternative transit or changing consumer attitudes about consumption. Architectural visions tended toward iconic futurist forms — domes or similarly curvy buildings that felt right in line with World’s Fairs past. Distressing to think that in 2059, we’ll finally get to live as the Jetsons did back in 1962.

/bangs head against desk repeatedly until leaving a blood splattered rorschach looking conspicuously like a Zaha Hadid.

/begins working on a new neato whiz bang design.

Kunstler contemplates what happens to modernism when it is no longer what it claims to be:
I've wondered for many years what Modernism would be like when time finally passed it by, when it was no longer the sole thing it declared itself to be, up-to-date -- and there it was smeared all over the landscape like so much road kill.
and finally, also from NYT's series of blogtacularity, is Jalopnik contemplating the Broadway closure and a future with diminished automobility (which really captures what car commercials are and cars should be about):
And you know what? We're OK with it. That may seem anti-auto to some, but frankly, we're sick of cars being ruined by commuters. This desire for independence while commuting has turned cars into something more akin to refrigerators — a commodity. So in a time when once-proud automakers have developed into milquetoast shadows of the icons they once were, we're happy to see commuters forced to look at alternatives to their Camccordibus and taxis. Get off the roads and onto a bus or subway, you McDonald's breakfast sandwich-eating, 7-11 big gulp-drinking cows — they're for enthusiasts. Or, as is the case on this small patch of asphalt in the Big Apple — the lawn chairs.