Thursday, July 30, 2009

Links o' the Day

Vancouver approves "Suites w/in Suites" or as we call them, Auxiliary (or accessory) Dwelling Units. These aren't Granny Flats however over a detached garage. The new provision allows for condominium owners to sublet portions of their unit to renters. This is important on a number of levels. It kills two PIGEONS! with one stone.

First, it allows the market (I need a new word, "market" has been too bastardized -- how about 'it allows US to meet our own needs') to accommodate affordable housing, which it historically has always done much better than state sponsored solutions via more organic, fine-grained approaches; and Second, it cools off an overpriced housing market where prices had become SO disconnected from incomes, two statistics that by nature require a certain measure of natural tethering.

I've been pushing this type of housing "deregulation" (to some extent), or relaxation, around DFW projects allowing for new methods of meeting mortgage payments/qualifying for mortgages. Perhaps the story of a college student purchasing a $450,000 house in The Kentlands, only to live in the garage flat and sublet the house to a family for the equivalent of her monthly mortgage payment. Very clever and shrewd move by the young woman. Granny flats, duplexes, etc. all have a future.

HuffPuff on the best cities for local food. Hint: Dallas misses the cut.

San Fran looks for new ways to handle parking:

They suggest replacing the 1970s-era lettered parking sticker program with "parking benefit districts," a boutique approach to parking in which residents decide how much to charge for parking in their neighborhoods, the boundaries for paid parking and what perks should come to those who pay premiums to park.

Without reading the report, it seems like an adaptation of the market-based approach suggested by Donald Shoup.

A new report promoting transportation modes for healthy lifestyles. Out of all of the relevant, everyday issues of urban design, I have found that the "health factor" is the one that has had the most success breaking through to the every day dialogue, ie it gets press in USA TODAY.

Money Quote:

Traffic crashes are a leading cause of death and injury for Americans in the prime of life. In 2000, motor vehicle crashes cost $230.6 billion in medical costs, property damages, lost worker productivity, travel delays, and other expenses. That figure equals about half of all spending on public education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oh, You Think So Professor?

So City Councilperson Linda Koop says someday that you will be able to live in downtown without a car. I was unaware one couldn't. But, not many are as pazzo as yours truly:

Linda Koop, the transportation guru of the Dallas City Council, said that citizens should expect Dallas to look a little more like Toronto in a decade.
In a decade? That happens the moment transportation designs and decisions come from a local level. Not from TxDOT. Toronto has as broad and diverse of a transportation network as any on the continent, from trains, to light rail, to streetcars, to ferries...all interconnected. Their biggest problem is that their highway and train lines were based on a busy industrial waterfront that is, uh, not so busy today and hence converted into high rise residential...disconnected from downtown; downtown disconnected from its waterfront.

Furthermore, we are approaching Urban Design similarly to how Detroit has. Fortunately, we have a broader economy that can support dips in certain markets. However, we think similarly that "All we need is a STADIUM, or a Calatrava Bridge, or an Opera House, or a Convention Center Hotel." None of which actually cure any ills and all of which are linked by highways incidentally, subsidizing the suburbs' use of the City's expense. They are efforts at memorability when we forgot to achieve livability.

--see my post on "The Challenge of Downtown Dallas" for discussion of the hierarchy of Viability, Livability, and Memorability of Cities."

Furthermore, despite the broad array of transportation alternatives in Toronto, as a percentage of public expense per capita, Toronto spends less than half of what Detroit does. That's being smart about transportation and how you spend taxpayer dollars. We need to focus on return on investment...and highways are a horrendous investment.

--Also, see: "The Conservative Case for Mass Transit." --

It would be nice to have such problems. Step 1) utilize stimulus money to build Oak Cliff modern street car line and the Ross Ave street car line. Step 2) incrementally reduce the impact of the highway stranglehold on downtown.

Speaking with a former councilwoman the other day, we discussed the lengthy lawsuit over the Woodall Rogers/Pearl St clover leaf between the City and TxDOT. I was completely ignorant of this case and I'm not sure of my point, but wouldn't it be an interesting twist of fate if we utilized the much maligned powers of condemnation on freeways as a matter of public safety?

Historically, cities utilized the power of eminent domain to tear apart urban fabric and stable communities, but often leaning towards the poor side of the economic spectrum. "These people were living in squalor. Let's help them by kicking them out of their homes, away from their personal and economic bonds, and into Corbusien Wonderlands."

--see the book Root Shock.

Now I'm all for trying to help bad situations, but this false paternalism in the name of highway building and corrupt construction contracts with little real value is the reason eminent domain is so thoroughly vilified. Defenders of it need to acknowledge the past mistakes and set limitations for its utilization; one of which being, again public health. However, abstractions such as these create the room for worms and lawyers to wiggle around.

So, how about this for the public safety argument: 50,ooo people a year die in highway related accidents - several times that are injured or maimed, but that, of course, is good for the gdp healthcare industry. Highways affect birth rates and infant health within certain distances of highways, even in affluent areas. Oh, and cities are organic manifestations of human's meeting their needs and improving quality of life and highways rip that supportive tissue apart.

Condemn them.

Return the land to the city.

Build real neighborhoods. Truly functioning, robust, and diverse neighborhoods are organic; built expressions of humanity reaching for its potential.

These efforts have been wildly successful at the Embarcadero in San Fran, the Beer Line in Milwaukee, and Portland's riverfront. Now Baltimore, OKC, and New Orleans are contemplating similar measures.

Hell, Dallas sees itself as a world class city. A real world class city, Paris, is redesigning their transportation network to match a more functional and natural order. Maintaining freeways at the Peripherique, using this as a hub for inter-city travel, but removing all freeways into the city from points along this perimeter, where roads turn into boulevards to enter the city fabric humanely and delicately. It's called context sensitive design.

The designers credo: "DO NO HARM."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Now Reading

Kevin Phillips' BAD MONEY. A relevant excerpt given JHK's latest:
(ed. note: As a brief background, Phillips is a former Nixon staffer who also wrote the condemnation of the religious right's takeover of the Grand ol' Party in AMERICAN THEOCRACY.
"Let me hypothesize: If these innovations and misadventures - prototypical "bad money" - hadn't been bailed out, the recession of 1990-91 would probably have deepened into the multiyear crisis of 1990-93 or some such. Cleansing, perhaps, but also horrible publicity for the "merchants of debt." So discredited, the financial sector might never have been able to manage its 1990s ascent. However, because these several collusions between political permissiveness and financial recklessness wer, in fact, absolved by alternating currents of government rescue and monetary ease, sector momentum survived. The prevailing wisdom, well reassured, still recalls the era's officially measured recession was a short and mild one."
In essence, we've done the same with the most recent iteration. Absolving all past sins for future economic retribution. We've put our fate on layaway.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cross Posting

A couple of posts I caught from Daily Kos regarding Istanbul's integration of transportation types and new high speed rail investment in Turkey:

The line that broke ground today is actually the perfect length for a real American example. Imagine if you will, a HSR line between Chicago and Indianapolis (190 miles). Based on the technology being put into place in Turkey today, the trip would take 1 hour and 15 minutes. In fact, the link between these two midwestern cities would probably be less than that since the Ankara-Konya line has a mountain range or two to cross.
That's a shade more than Dallas to Austin (180) and a little less than Dallas to Houston (240). Imagine going from downtown Dallas to downtown Austin in little more than an hour...(sigh).

Freeways. Just Plain Goofy.

Friday, July 24, 2009


The Urban Cafe and Bar is now RE-OPENED!!! Check the menu at the link.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Music You Could Frame Up on Your Wall

In the headphones: J-Live. Keeping rap purposeful.

I see poison pushers in they own community
Saying "fuck it" that's they only opportunity

I see grown folks acting just like little kids
And little kids thinking that's what they should grow to be

I see herbs outside wishing they were killers
And i see killers inside wishing they were free

I see gods, and we build on how we see degrees in the light
Food for thought like apple jacks we eat what we like

But hopefully we like what we need
And the truth is the light
If its right, you could see

The American Landscape

From my binoculars:

Human Interaction circa 2009

"Hi there. How are you?"

/blink blink blink

"Oh really? That's amazing. Coming closer to me I see? Oh, there you are right in front of me now."

/honk honk hoooooonk

"I'm sorry you feel that way good sir. Having a bad day? Truly tragic here we find ourselves on this concrete viaduct. Perhaps in an other world (sic), we would share a beer or a coffee at a streetside cafe and discuss the issues of the world. "

/middle finger

"Odd salute to you too my man. Trouble with the wife? If we only our lives had more meaning than operating these metal bodies we could truly engage other people with honesty and directness."

/crash, fire, death.

end scene.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Excerpted: High Cost of Free Parking

I can't find the actual source of this, but it is interesting anyway (so if anybody out there knows what it's from, please let me know). It is the opening quote from the original text from Donald Shoup for The High Cost of Free Parking:
The air was still; the street was empty except for the line of huge cars parked along the curb, glittering and grinning with chrome and polish and enamel. Paul had noticed already that in Los Angeles automobiles were a race apart, almost alive. The city was full of their hotels and beauty shops, their restaurants and nursing homes - immense, expensive structures where they could be parked or polished, fed or cured of their injuries. They spoke, and had pets - stuffed dogs and monkeys looked out of their rear windows, toys and good-luck charms hung above their dashboards, and fur tails waved from their aerials. Their horns sang in varied voices...few people were visible. The automobiles outnumbered them ten to one. Paul imagined a tale in which it would be gradually revealed that these automobiles were the real inhabitants of the city, a secret master race which only kept human beings for its own greater convenience, or as pets. (Lurie 1986, 7, 232)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Borrowing and Ranting

From John Massengale's blog:

Frank Gehry experiments on your brain.

This is a sick joke. I don't even blame Frank Gehry at this point because a two-year old can predict (and model) what kind of design he might regurgitate.

I blame the Cleveland Clinic. First of all, you are one of the premier health care providers in the world. Is it really responsible to be paying the millions of dollars in fees that Frank Gehry commands, then passing these along to your customers, in this case those suffering from brain-related maladies?

Relatedly, as we discovered through work with Johns Hopkins, who desired to become the best medical school on the planet, what would take them to that level they found was really what is OUTSIDE the walls: the place, the safety, the activity, the livelihood of a true, authentic place. Where staff can go to a nearby bookstore, or a coffee shop, or visitors can hit a flower shop, or Docs and students can live nearby in suitably priced places for each.

Lastly, this is the center for BRAIN HEALTH. As Libeskind's expansion to the Denver Art Museum shows, "playful" expressions of planes (or blobs) become disorienting. This article further examines the unintended consequences of "Can we build it" architecture vs. Should we do it.

It opens with a quote from Georges Braque:

Art is made to disturb.
But, architects as much as they may wish to be are not artists. Certainly, it is appropriate in some cases, such as the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, the epicenter of such horrifying commands. In that case it can and should disturb. But, a memorial is an artwork. Certain buildings should be celebrated, such as bridges crossing physical barriers, houses of democracy or justice besting our inner barbarism, etc.

There is an argument to be made for an art museum being a work of "art" itself, but a center for health and rehabilitation? There money would have been better spent on cognitive and spatial awareness specialists, no?

I'm guessing vertigo and nausea weren't goals for the Cleveland Clinic at the outset of the design process. Hardly appropriate for a Brain Health Center, unless of course, you are trying to make new customers, which when you think about it is typically the end goal of a profit-driven health care industry: more customers, i.e. more sick people.

In fact, I think seeing the construction of another Eisenmann, Libeskind, Hadid, or Gehry, et al building will make me crazy as well.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Good Idea?

Bad idea.



Click the Link for after.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thought for the Day

Besides, "jumpin jeezus on a dinosaur is it hot outside..."

The slogan "form follows function" is an idiom, ultimately fairly meaningless. Another turn of phrase utilized to confound the public into a certain way of thinking. In reality, the only thing that matters from a public perspective in how well the city operates and in terms of increased quality of life and public spaces is actually, "Building Form Follows Road Function."

Here, I'm utilizing road as a catchall. Feel free to substitute whatever the dominant form of transportation is in the place of "road." The equation is always still true, but whether it is positive or negative is determined by the quality and design of the underlying transportation framework.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Nothing Costs More than Free

A lot of info to digest from both the book Free by Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, which appropriately the book is offered here at the linked site for a similar rate, and this review in the New Yorker of the ideas by Malcolm Gladwell of Blink, Tipping Point, and Outliers fame.

Now, I have to say that I feel like I always disagree with Gladwell's assertions. Something about his logic and my logic just never seem to align. Given those titles mentioned above alludes to the quasi-statistical basis that seems to captivate Gladwell. I see him as a bit of a Bizarro Freakanomics guy, who have a much deeper background in solid statistics.

But, the point is to relate Anderson's message to what it might mean for Cities, and more specifically the organization of cities which are always defined by the transportation systems. Gladwell writes, paraphrasing from Anderson's book (my emphasis in bold):

Since the falling costs of digital technology let you make as much stuff as you want, Anderson argues, and the magic of the word “free” creates instant demand among consumers, then Free (Anderson honors it with a capital) represents an enormous business opportunity. Companies ought to be able to make huge amounts of money “around” the thing being given away—as Google gives away its search and e-mail and makes its money on advertising.
If we were to create Fare Free Mass Transit (as MATA Trolley is now is are, and more significantly, car travel) what would be the benefits?

First of all, the amount of revenue mass transit systems bring in barely cover the costs of operating their own fare collection systems and certainly not their operating budgets. What some cities around the globe have found that the value generated by writing off the cost of fare travel is actually recovered by the overall value that transit creates "around" the system.

A city's job is to create and maintain an environment suitable for commerce and improved quality of life for its citizens. Both original motivations for the creation of cities due to the clustering of people.

If transit becomes easier and more convenient (and cheaper) to use than car transportation and its auto-oriented development counterpart, the city and people within the city begin to reorganize around the new, dominant form of transportation. Transportation decisions are made by government. We've just been duped into making all the wrong ones in the name of "progress," as generations of individuals grew up with the idea of the Corbusien City, impacted greatly by moments like the New York World's Fair:

Because the car was technology and technology meant progress, we leapt into a rabbit hole unaware of the repercussions.

If somebody gives you the "that is social engineering" line, respond that all forms of transportation define how cities structure themselves because cities, while we think of them as timeless, are actually rather fluid. The only things that are timeless are those things/places that we love and wish to maintain as "timeless."

Free Transit (and by free I may just mean convenient - as itunes has proven cheap may not be necessary, but EASY absolutely is) would immediately increase ridership which means mobility. And mobility is what lubricates markets, i.e. commerce as well as access to labor/talent and vice versa jobs.

Cars create mobility as well you might argue. The difference is the spatial arrangements of the two. Cars dislocate people while transit concentrates people which is necessary for the "movement economy". The predictability of a certain number of people passing by your business in a given timeframe.

As we have discussed previously, this is the future of retail, locating in areas where the most people pass by. Currently, these are where highways meet arterials, but the public realm is a disaster and effectively is sociofugal. Whereas transit oriented development encourages more pedestrian friendly environments, clustering development into spatial arrangements that encourage vitality, safety, and synergy. All necessities.

Frankly, utilizing "the blink" method, I'm guessing that financially a City would get MORE back from increases real estate value, development and property taxes, as well as the increase in sales tax revenue from this reorganized city.

I'm not trying to take your car away or practice spooky "social engineering" but rather attempting to rearrange and balance our transportation systems for a positive social, environmental, and commercial outcome; so that the private form that is currently a necessity becomes the luxury and vice versa.

We've taken to the car like a junky to a new drug, creating a period of dislocation and isolationism. It's time to enter rehab.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Outsider Review: Ballpark in Arlington

From Deadspin:

The stadium itself was a scandal, an unabashed land grab that lawsuits would later describe as "sordid and shocking" and "astounding, unprecedented and blatantly illegal." It was also Bush's signal achievement as an owner. I'll leave the details to others, but in essence, Bush and his fellow Rangers owners somehow contrived to privatize the city's power of eminent domain. Then they went shopping. They bought up land on the cheap for the twin purposes of baseball and speculation, and dropped a hideous, plagiarized ballpark in the middle of it all, next to an artificial lake, with thin bands of granite circling the exterior that might as well be police tape.

The Future of Suburbia

Both existing and future. Gonna have to start growing yer own food. From NYT which lists it currently as amenity. But, someday it will ratchet up one notch to necessity:

At the 220-home Serenbe project near Atlanta’s airport, the cachet of local produce has been added to retiree-friendly businesses, including galleries, a bed-and-breakfast and three restaurants. Steve Nygren, an Atlanta restaurant impresario, started the project on his 900-acre farm.

The problem is that this is still in "niche market" phase serving a solitary demographic.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Density and It's Role in Civilizing Man

A new paper in Science makes the argument and Jonah Lehrer from Wired discusses:
The larger implication is that the birth of human culture was triggered by a new kind of connectedness. For the first time, humans lived in dense clusters, and occasionally interacted with other clusters, which allowed their fragile innovations to persist and propagate. The end result was a positive feedback loop of new ideas.
WE are smarter than ME. S-M-R-T.


Grist puts statistics to Herman Daly:
It’s almost like the economy is embedded in an environment, and degrading the latter ultimately degrades the former.
Please tell me that line was written facetiously.

Sprockets Prefer Communism

Obviously, American millennials don't share a similar history as these East Germans, but this is one worry that I have: swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. In this article, Der Spiegel discusses the causes and implications of the primarily young East German led re-emergent preference for Communism:
His verdict on the GDR is clear: "As far as I'm concerned, what we had in those days was less of a dictatorship than what we have today." He wants to see equal wages and equal pensions for residents of the former East Germany. And when Schön starts to complain about unified Germany, his voice contains an element of self-satisfaction. People lie and cheat everywhere today, he says, and today's injustices are simply perpetrated in a more cunning way than in the GDR, where starvation wages and slashed car tires were unheard of. Schön cannot offer any accounts of his own bad experiences in present-day Germany. "I'm better off today than I was before," he says, "but I am not more satisfied."
Naturally, I believe that capitalism, when done right, is the most democratic economy, but typically the bottom-up democratic version gets overwhelmed by cycles of business growth and monopolies. Thus, corrupting markets and showing protections are necessary.

As we know, Millennials are communitarians. The opposite of the more defensively individualistic Baby Boom generation. But, this is a pretty fascinating case of people, often not old enough to remember the Berlin Wall, concocting a fake history because the current system has abandoned them rather than simply fixing the system to adapt more appropriately to their needs.

Of course, if fixing the system were so easy, we would have been able to accomplish it already.

Cost of Transit

TreeHugger has an article up that ranges from NYC upping their subway fares to the various costs among international subway/transit lines to the differences between zone- or distance-based pricing to standardized fares:
Meanwhile, San Francisco's BART and DC's Metro -- two of the newest U.S. metro systems (1972 and 1976, respectively; LA's subway is the newest) -- are the only American networks listed here to rely on zone or distance-based pricing. The further you travel, the more expensive the fare.

Such a system potentially makes the per mile cost of those subways cheaper. In cities with fixed fares, meanwhile, riders who travel short distances are effectively helping to pay for the cost of those who travel longer distances.

Still, I tend to think the costs of zone-pricing outweigh the benefits. Not only can it make subway travel considerably more expensive than it might otherwise be, but it presumably adds more management costs for the subway and more complication (and okay, aggravation) for riders who don't want to get their ticket out every time they leave the subway. I'm not sure fast-paced New Yorkers could stand for the kind of turnstile gridlock that could ensue, in the way that Bay Area or DC riders might be able to.
Dallas DART has a bit of a hybridized system where one purchases "premium" to travel between Dallas and Fort Worth, typically on the TRE. As you can see on the map, Dallas' system is pretty spread out suggesting the majority of trips would be pretty long in comparison with say a more dense system like Chicago.

While I haven't shied away from the idea of fare-free transit, my trips on DART consist mostly of shorter trips from Downtown to American Airlines Center for events/games, to CityPlace for West Village or Target, or to Mockingbird Station for food and drinks.

Much more rarely however, I do take the TRE to DFW or to the once a year trip to Fort Worth, which is eminently more enjoyable than the drive down 30. Apparently, there is WiFi on the TRE as well, but I didn't happen to bring the laptop or sync it with my Iphone. With either however, I can browse, listen to music, post on this blog...ALL more interesting than sitting on I-30.

Back to the point of the article, I tend to back a fare plan that is NOT distance based and more standardized fare. As the article suggests this makes short trips subsidize the long ones. But, in high quality cities, those short trips can be accomplished by cleaner means than what one Dallas City official refers to as "not light rail, but welter-weight rail," which is still cleaner and more efficient than personal automobile use AND produces better and more efficient land use and building patterns.

Rather than taking comparatively expensive short trips on the welterweight rail, one would take streetcar, walk, or bike (caveat: in cities where those forms of transportation are amenable, pleasurable, and safe). And, since long trips are now relatively cheap, it encourages long trips by welterweight rail rather than personal car.

The only problem I have with Dallas' system is that to go to the airport currently, which I have done exactly once now via TRE, is that it is a "premium" trip. I don't mind that Dallas to Fort Worth or vice versa is a step up in price scale for distance but shouldn't DFW be a sort of neutral ground for both cities rather than being more expensive for one city to get to than its sibling?

Raise the Hammer: Crowd Sourcing and Gate Keepers

Interesting take.

Filesharing is a tragic missed opportunity for the music industry to dramatically extend its reach to potential listeners - and potential customers. Just as free radio play increased music revenue and cheap videos increased movie revenue, free or cheap music filesharing could also have increased music industry revenue - if the industry embraced it instead of resisting it.

Make No Little Plans

As Chicago prepares to party like it's 1909, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan of Chicago, the WSJ covers it here:
The plan advises: “The city which brings about the best conditions of life becomes the most prosperous.” London’s citizens, it warns, who rejected the 1666 plan proposed by the great Christopher Wren, put their own “perverse self-interests” first and cost the city “millions upon millions in money to repair in part the errors which might have been avoided so easily, besides years of inconvenience and loss due to congestion of ­traffic.”

Some of us even have Burnham awards... cough cough.
Take note Dallas, a City of equal ambition but lacking any direction, forces tugging it every which way. Now quoting from John Norquist's Wealth of Cities:

"...if urban proximity and its efficiencies end because government policy spreads population and markets randomly over the landscape, then the wealth produced in cities dissipates."

Business and improved quality of life in cities are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as cities are the only entity NOT created by political act, as they are evolved from mere aggregations of people facing similar hardships looking for safety and eventually became bubbling cauldrons of cultural foment.

So in this way, they transcend boundaries and are organic constructs. Cities are products of economic activity and as I quoted Mumford here,
"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."

As Norquist goes on to say, this ease of transport, of goods reaching markets, of synergies formed by proximity, create frictionless markets. The idea behind highways was to aid in this movement however, highways, in actuality and ironically, have dispersed us to the point where markets (and our cities) have broken down, becoming so fractured with barely a pulse.

Productivity and synergy are lost as we actually infused increased "friction" between markets that include the cost of construction and maintenance of these highways, the distance between producers and markets, the cost of personal automobility and the energy to get between two places (read: fluctuating and unpredictability of gas prices), and "externalized" costs that somebody has to pay for eventually including pollution, decline of real estate prices, obesity, healthcare and health impacts of collisions, etc.

Highways started as a means of linking cities and aiding in intercity commerce. But the monster has grown beyond its cage into a construction for the sake of construction industry, lacking purpose, a snake swallowing its own tail. They are important in linking city perimeter to city perimeter, but never should have been constructed within city limits, allowing for highway friendly business and logistics uses towards the edge of the city which are often associated with blight, ie nobody wants to be near them.

See my post on Valencia, Spain and the image of a suburb of Valencia shown below:

Moving from West to East (or Left to right), you see highway, industrial/shipping/freight uses, then the train station for passenger and freight, then the remainder of the town full of little blue dots. These dots in a previous iteration of Google Earth indicated images uploaded into google earth. I classify these also as indicators of health because they are indicative of places people love enough to photograph and share with the rest of the world. (Also, note that the highways and industrial uses encroach very little into the actual city of Valencia.)

See the affect the inner loop has on the City of Dallas. Nothing wants to be near the freeways. Note: the only successful piece of urbanism in downtown Dallas is the four-block stretch of Main Street fully buffered by a cocoon of the city from the impact of the freeway.

We should start tearing these out as I suggest similar to the ringstrasse in Vienna. It's good for business.

(Ringstrasse overlaid onto Dallas)
While this is no small plan, it is not something that can be done overnight. As Jan Gehl suggests, these things must be done incrementally. It has taken Copenhagen 45 years of slowly removing cars from the streets and returning them to the people. Now the city is filled with that most precious of urban health indicators, babies.

Step 1 should be about reducing the immediate affect of the highways by taking out all clover leafs in the downtown area, as Vancouver has begun to do here. Thus, making the highways here context-sensitive, meaning responsive and sensitive to their immediate surroundings. There are no one-size fits all solutions as TxDOT will thrust their standards upon cities.

Removing clover leafs and replacing the off-ramp system with more city-friendly "urbanized" streets that hug the highways like frontage roads diminishes the negative impact of the high speed ramping by forcing slower traffic onto the frontage roads. These frontage roads should look and act like urban streets with parking, sidewalks, street trees, etc. Furthmore, by eliminating the space eating cloverleafs, this effort begins to open up land for development that the City in cooperation with the state can turn over as part of a redevelopment RFP for areas adjacent to highways.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Quote for the Day

Being Millennial to the extreme right now: reading and highlighting a book, The Wealth of Cities by John Norquist; checking email from the Iphone; posting to the blog; and having a beer and lunch at a neighborhood bar, or "third place."

Extracted from said book, 'Mark I. Gelfand in A Nation of Cities,
"The Democratic mayor of Richmond told the meeting (ed. note: at the 1935 United States Council of Mayors meeting discussing how to deal with the depression) that if municipalities would simply learn to live within their incomes, all their problems would disappear."
Apropos, given the post/discussion on municipal budgets lately.

Tight Rope

Planetizen review of the NYC High Line.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Victory: Defeat. A Potemkin Village

My unit in Victory. When should we mention that every unit in the W tower is owned by men?

Ok. I have had an empty link at the side of this page for about a year now with the promise of analyzing (at the time) why Victory would fail. Failing is such a harsh word, but it has in many ways thus far, particularly when compared to the promise and hype. Ultimately, given the amount of investment it will get rolled back into the city fabric it tried to avoid like a little kid squirming away from something icky to prevent catching cooties from...what? Authenticity?

Well, we still haven't created that part yet either. Hopefully, it will begin spreading from very true urbanism, embodied by State Thomas. A place I have long called the best piece of reinvigorated authentic urbanity. We'll come back to this neighborhood when the author of the article does.

Thanks to Lindsey who forwarded me this article from D Magazine:

The Failure of Victory Park.
"It is sleek, chic, and modernist. Translated,
that means it is cold, barren, and unfriendly."
The writer Wick Allison hits on all the points I've caught hell for in places like on Dallas Metropolypse, suggesting the architecture belongs in somewhere in the antiseptic third act of the 2001: A Space Odyssey. When the W was still a 2-dimensional imagination, I had this to say:
"looks like Kubrick's vision of a dystopic future."
Clearly, I need new movies to reference. Next time I discuss Millennials, I will reference Juno. I promise.

God forbid I dare critique ANY new development because ALL development is good development. I guess this City has fallen so far that we ARE desperate for something, anything. Even if deep in our bones we know the flaws embedded in the work, usually stemming from compromises made with engineers or 80's style developers set in their ways.

That wasn't the case with Victory, however. From the outset of design, mistakes were made. First of all, the designer of American Airlines Arena, and Fort Worth hero David Schwarz sited the venue oddly. "Let's cant it. Ya know, to be different." Forcing every block around it to accommodate oddly configured shapes and patterns forming a mish mash of grids, former grids, and irregularities.

Next, most importantly and by design, the City was excluded. Presumably, a developer led decision, they chose NOT to be a part of the City, by re-routing roads and proposed DART alignments to avoid Victory as much as possible. Lesson: You can't be exclusive in the 21st century city, isolating yourself as a development prevents it from ever becoming a neighborhood, which all known and successful places are at their root. You might as well cut off your own hand and plant it in the ground hoping for it to sprout a body.
Now take a look at State Thomas. Say what you will about what happened to the historic neighborhood, but the destruction was from Office speculation in the 80's that ripped apart the largely African-American neighborhood that was there. The current development was about curing the destruction.
"To see Jacob's ideas at work in Dallas, go to the corner of Allen and State in Uptown, and walk down either street. You will see buildings constructed on a human scale, out of natural materials, with narrow side streets."
It's not coincidental that the writer picked the same intersection that I often describe as the best part of the City. Re-investment brought about by the first TIF in Texas saved this portion of Dallas when there WAS no "uptown". It created uptown. Now that it has been colonized by yuppies is time to create more supply of urbanism.

Back to Victory. There are other flaws, but ultimately they all come back to that decision to disconnect although it is hard to blame them. There was very little TO connect to nearby. The transportation network was/IS a disaster, LoMac in particular. So they had to create a neighborhood all to themself and frankly that is typical of Dallas area development.

The roads are SO bad (meaning hostile and inhumane) that you have to play defense. You have to create a destination so great to literally pull people into your site off those bad streets. In a future post I have outlined, I will write about how "We Will Never have a Fifth Ave., Champs Elysees, or Michigan Ave." With that said, transportation always comes first and building and development are a reaction. If you don't get it right, you fail.

To create their destination they relied strictly on what was inside the walls, events at AAC, Ghost Bar, the now defunct n9ne, not the space between the walls, which is what people remember, where the return to, and what really creates "place." It is (near?) impossible to create a lasting and true place this way. At the very least, Victory teaches us lessons.

So what else went wrong? Let's count the ways shall we...

1. Road Alignment - Have you noticed that the most prominent open space, AT&T Plaza terminates Field St. Houston St., the one that Victory essentially uses as a service drive. This is one of the bad roads Victory has to pull people from, except the back feels more like the front and the retail is in the back, which is actually the front... I'm confused. Exactly.

2. Block Size - The blocks are too narrow to create efficient buildings. Don't get me wrong efficiency should never be the mark by which anything is judged, but it's probably still wise to be cost effective. The buildings are about 140-145' wide. A garage is 120' minimum width, leaving barely, and I mean BARELY enough to get some liner use there. This is particularly important if they are going to be completely crazy and try to park each building individually in an area with thousands of empty parking spaces. So it means that everybody has to be pulled way up on top of the garages and away from the streetscapes.

3. Phasing - They built everything on one side of the street. Retail more than any other use needs more of itself nearby. Mall designers and retailers have very specific dimensions to make retail cross shop and create spin-off business, aka synergy. It's the one good things malls have done for us beyond nostalgia for Gen-Xers. Not unexpectedly, the retail tenants move out and/or close down one by one.

The built form created by the W and its in-line brethren act more like a curtain of urbanity, a facade of "cool". Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain however. In fact, this seems a lot like Dallas' reputation anyway. So it DOES work in a Koolhaasian nihilistic sort of way. If this was meant, it would be a genius work of art. I'm guessing this was actually a happy little accident.

4. Retail Programming/Branding - Too much testosterone. Even the developers admit it. And yes, all men bought in the W.

5. Lifeless Architecture - Stale, antiseptic, lifeless. You choose the descriptor. The D Mag article covers this.

6. Streetscape - Doesn't soften the hard edges of the buildings enough. I'm willing to reserve judgment until the rest is built here.

7. Park - Here I'm referring to the little dog-shitting venue in front of the House by Stark and Yoo. Now I have talked up the virtues of dogshit on this blog previously. No, seriously. This doesn't feel like a public park. There is a wall and grade change disconnecting it from the street. And no street in front of the buildings it serves makes it feel like theirs...which, in fact, it is. That's the point. Ours, not yours. Stay away from our happy little retail development you tens of thousands of daily visitors to AAC.

Someday when I get more time perhaps I can put together some sketches of the areas around Victory in attempt to pull it off its island.

No Explanation Necessary

ht: Will, found here at GreaterGreaterWashington: Link.