Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Living in a Silo

I've talked about professions needing to get out of their silos, but wasn't talking about this:

Before:
before

After:
after

h/t: Landy. And no, I don't recall seeing this in Copenhagen.

Quote for the Day

When great evils happen, I am in the habit of looking out for what good may arise from them as consolations to us, and Providence has in fact so established the order of things, as that most evils are the means of producing some good.
~Thomas Jefferson, 1802 letter to Benjamin Rush.
Know hope:
http://www.amaa.com/_uploads/photo/project/186_xlg1_Tanner-Place-Condos_W.jpg
Overcome:

connection with nature...
http://www.ci.temple.tx.us/images/pages/N329/Drainage.jpg

formula for safe traffic flow...


interconnectivity...


your own little piece of ground, unlike anyone else's...

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1080/893633769_3ac512fd7d.jpg

engaging in neighborliness and community...
http://cache.boston.com/universal/site_graphics/blogs/bigpicture/recess_03_18/r20_18108367.jpg

vibrant markets for trade and wealth creation...
http://clawback.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/dead-mall21.jpg


Only thru this...
http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/1390318.jpg

Can we have this...
http://wildlife.state.co.us/NR/rdonlyres/5DB4B173-27B8-435E-9AB5-1D7CEFD25629/0/wetlands2.jpg

Cities no longer can be associated with the stigmas that have plagued them in the past as pollution has diminished, sanitation systems developed, industry relocated and getting cleaner, and crime drifting towards the suburbs where it's virtually impossible to monitor and police.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Livability Indicator #13 - Holes in the Wall

http://www.motherjones.com/files/legacy/riff_blog/mojo-photo-banksywall1.jpg

I recall sitting in the interview room for the Downtown Dallas Masterplan project when the question was asked, "how do we compete with the suburbs for retail?" This is the wrong question for a downtown, any downtown to ask.

I've talked a bit about the future of retail, and where it needs to be, but in a more livable downtown (one in which there is more people because of increased livability) retail can work almost anywhere, hence the existence of "holes in the wall" or those favorite third places or restaurants that can be found in many cities in the world.

Many cities that I've consulted with have followed up this question of "why doesn't retail work here?" with the worry over how to get the parking to work.

The answer to both is that you can't. You can't compete with what suburban retail does despite the best efforts to the contrary (and would you even want to?! It's failing everywhere if you haven't noticed).

First, malls throughout the country, of which exactly none are being built currently, are usually parked at between 4 and 5 spaces per square feet of leasable retail space. I'm guessing downtown at the moment has somewhere between 4 and 5 THOUSAND spaces per square foot of retail space. Hyperbole? I'm not even sure. That should tell you something.

There is TONS of available parking at nights and weekends, the times when conventional retail is busiest (b/c many people are working M-F/9-5, but people don't WANT to park in all of these parking spaces because they don't feel safe. They don't feel safe exactly because there is too much parking. There is that vicious circle again. More people, more eyes on the street, the more ownership and responsibility we take for our space, the more defensible the street, space, and city become (I've dealt with this same issue at many hospitals that surround themselves with surface (or even structured parking) only to find their neighborhood become blighted and unsafe to visitors).

Furthermore, have you ever found parking to be easy in NYC or any other place worthwhile? Sorry for the rhetorical question, but to be sure, the answer is no. The reason is because people want to be there. Moreso than you can ever account for in any parking metric. And that is a good thing. Once again, this is sociopetal space that is attractive to people and designing for cars and parking is never the answer.

I would like to elaborate briefly on competing with suburban retail. Just because we see investment in some new retail locations, that means we are seeing disinvestment and decay in others. I recall seeing a commercial strip in San Angelo, TX and it was pretty telling to see about every mile or so away from downtown was a retail cluster at an intersection, exactly as it should be.

The problem is that as you moved further away from downtown, you could literally date the retail development by the decade it was built based on form and style, the 50s retail, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and finally the 21st century big box power centers, each exceedingly less walkable than the one prior, all in decreasing stages of disrepair and occupancy (with the power center being under construction). The retail was essentially cannibalizing from the other retail leaving behind blight that, in turn, then affected the neighborhoods immediately adjacent.

This was the physical embodiment of our over-retailed landscape, stretched too thin within an increasingly more sparse residential landscape. None of it was embedded within its community, an emergence of local economic need and marketplace, and clearly unsustainable.

The common response might be, well people chose to live less densely to have more space, and drive to the store, that is there choice, which could be fine except for a couple of issues. First, it's creating a "market" that is solely reachable by car foisting car ownership on all socio-economic segments of a population. Second, as gas price fluctuations have shown it is an extremely brittle system that threatens our vary basic human needs of shelter and food security. Third, it creates a burden upon taxpayers thru the creation of such excess infrastructure. Lastly, the inertia created by the entropic cycles of decay and creations of new autocentric (sociofugal) places means creations of even newer retail centers would be in order, furthering the process.

Compare the taxpayer dollars to build all of that infrastructure on a per year and per capita vs. say, Campo dei Fiori, the daily market in Centro Storico of Rome.

So if competing with suburban retail is clearly the wrong direction, what is the right direction towards making not just retail work, but having little holes in the wall restaurants?

The answer to making Downtown more livable is by taking away car space and turning it into usable people space, which includes developing surface parking lots (at this point, by whatever means necessary), reverting one-way streets to two-way (this can be done incrementally, but is necessary for retail success), and removing lanes of traffic for both on-street parking AND more sidewalk space. (It is probably also necessary to do an audit of the width of every travel lane in and around downtown and cap the max width as well, but that is a detail).

The last point is the one I want to dwell on the most because the type of street a retail store or restaurant is on, determines whether it can be considered a "hole in the wall" or not. By definition these are hard to find places, NOT on the main streets.

In Dallas, we almost have to create the types of streets that would typically house "holes-in-the-wall" as the retail destinations because the streets that move the most traffic are such hostile streets that they ONLY work as retail space if there is a full football field of surface parking buffering the store from the street. = Sociofugal space, which as I've said, age incredibly quickly.

As I type this Dallas appears to applying "streetscape beautification" to Elm Street, in the form of new bricks. I'm generally of the opinion that if a pig is a pig, it is better to not spend the money on the lipstick as the fundamental issue with why retail doesn't work on Elm or Commerce is that they are bad streets.

Retail wants to form at intersections. They are the highest visibility areas, with the most amount of movement happening in front of them.

As a place grows, it might link two retail "nodes" which then expand because of the increased synergy generated by the movement between the two (provided the distance is not too great).



This is how it might look in built form, with the most amount of density occuring where the most amount of activity would be, the busiest retail being at the ground floor of the orange buildings, and "holes-in-the-wall" finding their way into cheaper space somewhere in the yellow. They don't need the visibility because either quality is the determining factor in their business or they don't require the shear number of customers to support their business model (which generally means higher prices via higher quality).

This is taking advantage of the "movement economy". You can't just make this happen without designing appropriate streets however.



In Dallas, what we tend to to, is to create retail places off of the primary movement streets because, as I pointed out yesterday, we don't design streets to take advantage of all of the visibility and movement happening on them in a safe and beautiful manner because through some theology, an engineering text says what is up is down and what is left is right.

The fundamental problem is that this is limiting the success of the businesses and further limiting the potential quality of the neighborhoods, because commercial space wants to be on the busier streets with residential preferring the calmer, internal circulators.



For example, I give two of the currently more active places in Dallas: West Village and Main Street/Stone Street Gardens. I plan on talking more about the specific design detail flaws of West Village another time, but the point is clear. The developers/architects knew they were dealing with hostile roads so the turned inward.



I've talked about Main Street before, but here is another diagram showing it between Elm and Commerce. Stone Street Gardens is a nice space now, but I would argue that despite Campisi's relative success, its vitality today is more due to its relationship to Main Street and that other than extremely nice lunch hours on weekdays that it can be pretty lonesome closer to Elm Street.


Nice days and the downtown daytime population provide the necessary density for a relative hole in the wall to work (as in a restaurant on a "street" with no vehicular traffic). But, for more retail success and downtown to work on the whole, it needs much greater density to support the night and weekend business as well. You know how frustrating it is to find an open restaurant on Sunday in Downtown Dallas?

But alas, this post isn't about what it takes to create that density (BALLS!) so much as it is about showing what indicators exist for downtowns that work. A couple of my favorite areas of cities have hole in the wall restaurants in areas you would never expect, and many times these are the best places to eat as the primary roads are taken up by conventional chains and tourist traps.

One of which obviously is New York which has holes in the wall all over the place. Last time I was there, we even found one of Bobby Flay's restaurants on a street that was little more than a service alley for some of the nearby hotels. No matter, quality and brand covered for lack of locational identity or prominence.

Below is the best restaurant I ate at in Rome (and most expensive). It didn't need much traffic and for a while, I didn't even realize it was a restaurant until doing some investigatory work. It has density and a residential base proximate to support its business (and assuming these google street views are relatively recent, the business looks as though it is doing just fine 8 years hence).



Lastly, is Old City Philadelphia. It is full of these little carriageways bifurcating city blocks defined by busier streets. Yes, the busier streets (particularly the intersections) attract the majority of bars, restaurants, and starbucks, but these tiny side streets are home to their fair share of businesses as well because their calm and attractive enough to house density to support such niche businesses in a manner that people want to be in.

Queen Village,PHiladelphia

Monday, September 28, 2009

Afternoon Links

Some interesting stuff on the interwebs today...

My personal favorite story thus far from Science Daily as a proponent of the City as Organism meme, is a new study comparing complexity of Cities to complexity of human brain development:
As brains grow more complex from one species to the next, they change in structure and organization in order to achieve the right level of interconnectedness. One couldn’t simply grow a double-sized dog brain, for example, and expect it to have the same capabilities as a human brain. This is because, among other things, a human brain doesn’t merely have more “dog neurons,” but, instead, has neurons with a greater number of synapses than that of a dog – something crucial in helping to keep the human brain well connected.
It's important to think of those synapses, those connections between different segments of the brains as those "connections" that influence design, as a street communicates with a building design and vice versa. The more factors affecting the design, the smarter the design is likely to be, much like the greater the complexity of the city the smarter the city is likely to be.

My one issue with the study is that it accounts for highway exits and density (and perhaps this is strictly for ease of the study), so how does one rate Venice for example in this study? There are no highway exits, does that mean it lacks complexity and interconnectedness. This doesn't account for various forms of transportation when having said various forms might be the MOST critical component to complexity.

A better study would be either intersections per density (Venice still has intersections - they just are populated and crossed by bike and foot) or building entrances by block per density.

GOOD has a series of links to forward thinking systems ranging from transpo to education in cities throughout the world.

Gizmag, which reeks of gizmo green, writes of a coming study quantifying the efficacy of green roofs:
em>
Now researchers have attempted to quantify the benefits of covering urban rooftops with plants. The scientists found that replacing traditional roofing materials with ‘green’ in an urban area the size of Detroit with a population of about one-million, would be equivalent to eliminating a year's worth of carbon dioxide emitted by 10,000 mid-sized SUVs and trucks. Their study is the first to examine the ability of green roofs to sequester carbon that may impact climate change and the findings are scheduled to appear in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Smart Growth America says the spike in oil prices lead to a rise in transit ridership. Another 10% rise in transit use might result in complete independence from Middle Eastern oil. One way to make driving more difficult and increase density and transit ridership, make it more expensive.

And lastly, Planetizen op-ed that HUD needs to stop pushing home ownership and rethink about some rental. From the law of unintended consequences:
This situation has been exacerbated by an unprecedented decline in HUD-financed rental units during the past two decades, as obsolete public housing projects have been demolished and replaced with lower-density communities containing a mix of sales and rental housing, including some housing priced at market rates. However, this spectacular transformation of some of the nation's worst public housing sites has substantially reduced the supply of affordable rental housing in many of the cities that need it most.

A Good Walk Tweeted

It is so nice out that I decided to make the mile walk thru uptown to the Borders bookstore on McKinney and spend the entirety of an hourly billing rate. I stop and take a few pics along the way, w/ tweeted commentary:

A Dallas sidewalk. Not xactly inviting for peds, no
A Dallas sidewalk.

vertigo inducing, makes my head spinz and not even had 1st drink yet:
Vertigo inducing

oh EIFS, how you age so unwell:
Oh EIFS how so unwell you age

sidewalk nice and wide.. trees and furniture located properly bldg porous. Just missing onstreet parkng - Not tweeted: on second thought, this building's ground floor is defined by a bank and the Borders. To be improved it could probably have the leasing plan carved up a little more to allow smaller units to address directly off the street and carve it into storefront that Borders doesn't need or fully utilize. Give them the corner and the side for their cafe and outdoor seating, allow for some other retailers to fill up the remainder of the streetscape, ie the areas seen in this pic.
Nice and wide trees and furniture located properly bldg porous . Just missng onstreet pkg

Kids, Vespa, parking, storefront entries, dog, people lounging: all the indicators of urbanism appear w proper bldg & urbn design - Not tweeted. This is somewhat aided by the fact that it is a side street off of McKinney and not actually on McKinney as in the case above. It is the sad reality of urban design under the jurisdiction of TxDOT and City street design standards that makes the best retail sites actually have to pull people off the busy streets. Compare/contrast this with Champs Elysees, Madison or Fifth Ave, Michigan Ave, certain segments of Wilshire, and say Connecticut Ave in DC. All are streets that are wide, handle a lot of traffic (necessary for retail, ie exposure to the business/foot traffic, aka the "movement economy") but are still able to have appropriate density, address the street, and support the pedestrian to the point where the wide traffic lanes are almost secondary to the street/sidewalk life.

The moment you make your arterials hostile to pedestrians (via high speed radii, lack of on-street parking, narrow or no sidewalks, allowance for front yard surface parking, etc) you are limiting the retail success of both the current and future location on a side-street, as well as the potential highest and best use, all of which means diminished tax revenue (sales and property).

Kids Vespa pkg storefronts dog people lounging: all the indicators of urbanism appear w proper bldg & urbn design

A couple of requisite pics from the streets mentioned above:

Champs Elysees:
http://www.gest2009.eu/files/Image/800px-Champs-Elysees-p1000418.jpg

Fifth Ave:
http://worldplaces.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/fifth-avenue.jpg

This is how we need to start thinking about the the Lemmons, McKinneys, Ross, Garland Rd, etc.'s of the City. Not as car movers, but rather as public places for attracting people that also happen to move cars to and through destinations. As I wrote the other day, attractive places to people(pedestrians) attract increased investment, as series of corridors punctuated by nodes at key crossroads, that handle many modes of transportation and are designed appropriately for the context we want them to have, not allowing the engineered road design to dictate poor quality of development along them, which works in reverse of they way it should.

Now a quote from Lewis Mumford:
The maintenance of the regional setting, the green matrix, is essential for the culture of cities. Where this setting has been defaced, despoiled, or obliterated, the deterioration of the city must follow, for the relationship is symbiotic (ed. think Portland reinvigorating their city by preserving nature thru the use of UGB's). The difficulty of maintaining this balance has been temporarily increased...by the incontinent spread of low-grade urban tissue everywhere, dribbling off into endless roadside stands, motels, garages, motor sales agencies, and building lots...
Mumford penned that in 1969. The man could see the future.

So Florida was in Texas

Last Friday, Richard Florida, Author of The Rise of the Creative Class, gave a talk at UTA. Unfortunately, I was in Pennsylvania at the time. But, here is the only media coverage I have yet to find on it:

According to Florida, densely populated cities where innovators can thrive are the key to revitalizing the economy. In order for cities to be successful, Florida said, they must foster the 4 Ts: technology, talent, tolerance, and territory assets...

Monday Morning Reading

Why NYC is 'greener' than Vermont, a TIME interview with the author of Green Metropolis, David Owen:

How has the car changed the way we consume energy?
In 1949 only 3% of American households had more than one car. Now there are more cars on the road than there are licensed drivers. When we think about cars we tend to think only of the energy they consume directly, the gasoline. It's certainly significant, but the truly problematic form of energy consumption related to cars is what they allow us to do, which is spread out. We get oversize houses that require huge inputs of water and energy. They let us live 50 or 100 miles away from the place where we work. They require us to build roads, waterlines, power mains and sewage systems out to all these outposts we've created. We have this extraordinarily redundant infrastructure we've built because cars have let us do it.
Krugman dispairs, money quote:

But the larger reason we’re ignoring climate change is that Al Gore was right: This truth is just too inconvenient. Responding to climate change with the vigor that the threat deserves would not, contrary to legend, be devastating for the economy as a whole. But it would shuffle the economic deck, hurting some powerful vested interests even as it created new economic opportunities. And the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t.
The sad part is, they aren't working for themselves, but for the machine that pays them, which is the fundamental thesis of The Corporation: good people caught in bad causes in the name of the corporate charter, which is not human and therefore causes inhumane decisions.

A little late on this, but I've heard it coming from reliable sources within the City. Dallas through a grant, establishes an Urban Design Committee, with the unfortunate and hopefully not telling name of, DUDS.

This is a necessary step, because the City lacks a real honest to goodness planning department that actually, ya know, plans. Instead, mostly it has been reduced to zoning review and compliance often allowing private interests to do as they please (no matter their intentions or competence) which has had predictably mixed results. For example, see my comments on Victory.

I'm hoping this is a baby step towards formulating a group that can actually be out in front of the market working on the areas that need the most help, ie Deep Ellum, Fair Park, the Trinity Riverfront, and then building upon successes here to work further South. The City, in some manner, will do much better if they can act as master developer, tying disparate parcels together with improved public infrastructure, readying for development aka "priming the pump" and then allowing the private sector to deliver the vertical development.

The City may not like it, but this becomes a way of generating revenue for a City that is broke. The City has the power to pull together parcels that private industry often cannot, leaving outparcels and holes in the fabric. It can also responsibly redevelop troublesome areas and responsibly relocate impoverished households into mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods rather than the current built environment of clustering by income. Lastly, it can generate increased complexity, which raises value, by allowing for multiple developers to work in a single area, much as the State-Thomas area has developed, rather than a single (and dwindling supply of) entity capable of developing large tracts of land.

Since so many potential large developers have evaporated, somebody has to fill that capability void. If the City can pull this off, it allows for an increased amount of developers by allowing for smaller projects as part of larger singular projects in areas, which will then have a greater impact on the City as a whole. These can happen more quickly as well by allowing multiple developers building at once rather than a phased development by singular entity which can take 20-30 years as they work through their pipeline.

I don't believe we have the time to allow for the Kings (and Queens) of the Town to bear the burden of fixing up an entire neighborhood or area by their lonesome. It is our responsibility as the City to partner with many and deliver a common vision of sustainable, vibrant, and lasting neighborhoods for all citizens of Dallas.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vacation Starts Now

See You Monday.

http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&ik=3d97795654&view=att&th=123e82df1cdcd02a&attid=0.1&disp=inline&zw

Pet Peaves

http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&ik=3d97795654&view=att&th=123e829c2e440b60&attid=0.1&disp=inline&zw

My earlier post inspired me (and missing the trolley) to walk back downtown. To wit, I came across one of my all-time most irritating details. In this case we're in uptown, but it's the insistence upon TREE LAWNS in downtown locations. The sidewalk is four feet wide, runs parallel with a building with no "perforation" or pedestrian "porosity," and is a maintenance (ie cost) drain. Notice the seeds, which if we're "lucky" will eventually need to be mowed.

The American reflex to plant grass everywhere comes from the European Bourgeoisie use of space as a indicator of power and wealth to define nobility from those in the cities. Writ large, it became the American ideal that every man was his own king of his little sodded castle.

Native grasses can be lovely, drought tolerant, and maintenance free, but turf, or manicured lawn, has two appropriate and practical uses, in the present day: fields of play (whether organized or informal) and places serving double duty as gathering places and a design device to accentuate scale. Think: DC Mall.

Pet peave #2:


Over simplicity. Sometimes genius is found in subtlety. Sometimes things are just ham-handed. On the corner here, is one of the new centralized newspaper vending stands replacing the messy(?), individualized by media outlet ones that are found on every city street corner ever (or just ones that often have people (customers) standing and waiting at intersections).

Intelligent design, and I don't mean the State of Kentucky's curriculum, is driven by the maximum amount of feedback possible. In this case I am not referring to public process feedback, which can either drive or muddy planning processes, but the collection of design factors that are or can be taken into account. The more factors addressed in one coherent and elegant solution is the definition of smart design.

In the every day urban world, feedback includes eye contact between a driver and a pedestrian crossing the street at a four-way stop, the body language of passersby, the tone a mother takes scolding her child for running into the street or the way a building engages or takes a defensive posture with regards to a street depending upon the street's design and characteristics. All manners making the everyday hum along. It is communication of all things to all things.

The design challenge here seems to be limited strictly to, "clean up all those damned paper vending stands." The solution doesn't reach out and create a dialog with the adjacent connections, the dynamic, the visible, and invisible things that create said feedback and further informing design, in the way that all things in nature are reactions to actions. Such potential informative factors include the building/use adjacent, local weather patterns, the opposite street corner, etc. This forgets to be visible from two sides. It forgets to be located in a place where people linger, as a form creating space itself. The more design "connections" the more something looks as if it belongs, integrating completely into its environment. This looks out of place.

Oh, and it forgets to be elegant...but, that isn't always necessary, as how many of these interesting, messy little nuances are elegant in NYC? But, it could be.

Things can always be better.

The Foibles and Follies of Chasing Stars

http://www.myfashio.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/too-much-makeup.jpg
Dallas: Look into the Mirror. It's the voice of reality speaking.

I had been hearing rumors for a couple of months now that Dallas was working on getting the College Football Hall of Fame relocated from hell South Bend, IN as part of the Convention Center and Convention Center Hotel complex. While I never paid too close attention to the story, perhaps either a case of fait accompli or the logical awareness of the worthlessness of the endeavor had prevented any further digging. But, today comes a story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it will soon be announced that the HoF is moving to Atlanta after its lease is up in 2010.

And, the rumors of the Dallas effort are verified:
The possibility of moving the museum has been on the radar of Atlanta and other cities, particularly Dallas — which had the financial backing of billionaire T. Boone Pickens — because attendance has lagged at the South Bend location.
These are probably the two most logical locations in the country for such an institution. Both are somewhat centrally located and the largest cities of their respective geographic power conferences. Both have yearly big regular season games (although Atlanta's game is a kickoff classic/season opener sort of thing pitting ACC vs. SEC teams), bowl games, large airports, football mad areas, and relatively easy access.

Atlanta does have going for it that it has a downtown Athletic complex (which could be a lesson for Dallas - but not TOO big of a lesson), of course, because they were able to bribe their way into garnering had the Olympics. They have a major university (sorry SMU - your bribery is deemed a much more grave violation in this world of arbitrary lawlessness), are at the nexus of two major Athletic conferences (and from experience home to, like, ten billion Big Ten alums), and are nearer the Eastern seaboard and millions and millions more people. Advantage Atlanta (despite its reputation as a horrible sports town - consider that your silver lining Dallas).

While it would have been nice to have the College Football Hall of Fame here (personally I'm a huge college football fan - and in fact, will be catching a plane in less than 24 hours to get to this week's ESPN gameday location), I get a little bit of Schadenfreude out of this news. As I've mentioned recently, the City needs to learn its lesson that you can't buy your way into being an interesting and vibrant city, not with performing arts centers, not with museums, not with Convention Center Hotels, and not with Halls of Fame. Been to Canton or Springfield lately?

The thing is, despite our best efforts, the stars can never be touched (unless you end up falling into the center of one). Even the metaphorical stars we idolize are never quite the superheroes of our internal fables, especially when they're made of wax. But, those same individuals didn't just happen to end up on the walls. They didn't win any lottery (expect perhaps the genetic one). In most cases however, their honors came after years and years of hard work.

Perhaps, for a moment, we need to personify ourselves collectively as one of these college football superheroes to better understand how to reach similar honors or actualization of our goals of being a world class city.

We need to put in the hard work. Invest in ourselves not in accoutrements. All of the highways, the stadiums, the museums, etc. are the facelifts, tummy tucks, boob jobs, gaudy jewelry and caked on makeup as if it were applied by a shotgun of the typical Highland Park housewife you see in the grocery store.

We have yet fixed the inside --we're not that smart and we're not that healthy and sometimes to do so, it takes a hard, honest look in the mirror, to fix the fundamental issues (or in Downtown's case, honestly address the "cavities" and drill them out) to be comfortable with ourselves and proud of who we are and where we stand in the world, a tolerance of outward things occasionally being a little messy or disheveled, because urbanism is messy. It's complex. Like a bowling ball careening down a lane, it is both entirely out of control, but guided towards its goal by expert understanding and skill at the same time. Let's stay out of the gutter.

As we look to the rest of the world, I'm afraid, in a word, we are "frontin'", unwittingly and clownishly acting out as if we're a world class city, blankly staring thru the mirror (whilst thinking of donuts and diamonds) and reciting to ourselves that we are "good enough, smart enough and doggone it, people like me: willing to spend the money on silly ridiculi, but not the investments and hard work that define the underlying DNA of great cities.
Side note: many of these issues deal with crime and education, but the fundamental purview of this blog is urban form and transportation issues. In fact, crime and education are probably THE two most important, both of which are in need of effective short- AND long-term strategies, but I'm of the opinion that some measure of these can be affected thru good urban design which begets investment, which begets pride, which begets love of ourselves, our city.
All of which brings me to a study that came across my inbox today, entitled "How Far, By Which Route, and Why? A Spatial Analysis of Pedestrian Preference" which surveyed people at transit stations in order to determine the factors affecting their decisions. Often planners utilize a rather blunt instrument, the 1/4-mile walk or 5- or 10-minute walk radii for determining areas of walkability.

The factors not conveyed by this arbitrary circle are the most critical. What are you walking past? In a surface parking lot, spaces closest to the Target front door are a premium, solid gold real estate. I'm surprised malls and strip centers haven't found a way to appropriate market rate pricing to the best spaces.

In any "world class" city (which is a funny term, b/c Dallas likes to call its stuff "world class," but is unable to call itself the same), the limit to how far one is willing to walk may only be limited by how far one is physically able. Personally, I can recall numerous times where I collapsed exhausted after full days of walking through Copenhagen, Rome, Madrid, New York, Philly (yes, I included Philly), Milan, etc. etc.

Walkability scales, as well, to much smaller towns and cities like Malmo, SW or even State College, Pa. that are appropriate sizes for their economies, but are considered some of the best in their class, and therefore are destinations (not repellents). But, in terms of size of population (and economy) that previous list, are the Cities we wish to be competing against for 1) the title of world class and 2) future intellectual capital, businesses, trade, etc. i.e. future assets.

Walkability is driven by "stuff," that messiness, or clutter. We are drawn to see more, walk further, because our walk is interesting, enjoyable, and safe from vehicular onslaught or criminal intent. That "stuff" means access. Proximate access to everything from our most basic needs (food, shelter) to greater needs up the "Maslow hierarchy of urban needs" to more advanced and sophistocated needs or even wants (jobs, educations, community, leisure, social interaction, etc.). Once again, it is structural; a city's ability to deliver all of things builds up to a point once it can achieve all of the others. We're skipping steps.


Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs - with City "steps" added.

The above is a diagram of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of needs climbing sequentially as civilization and personal achievement are able. A city is a mere physical representation of where a collection or community of people (some might call a city) has achieved, or at the least, grants access to achievement for all of its members. Like any pyramid it must obey by structural rules and a foundation must first be built.

Viability in this instance, would mean the purpose for a City to exist in the first place. Historically, communities clustered first for survival. As survival (via shelter and defense in numbers) was acheived, trade became possible which spawned things like markets at crossroads between peoples, spawning all new economies and places. These places lacked order and were in need of such Livable components as Rule of Law or justice system and access to education for personal advancement.

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

Creating a city singularly defined by the car and its spatial arrangements has allowed for essentially a dual class caste system, divided North and South, a city unwilling to deal with its own "messiness". The line of demarcation seemingly being the Woodall Rogers trench moat Expressway between uptown and downtown, which has only moved southward from about the Mockingbird area since the investments in creating walkability, two of Dallas's best and most livable places: Knox-Henderson and Uptown (State-Thomas/McKinney Ave).

Investing in walkability leads to investment. As I said, walkability means lots of "stuff," which is access. People and businesses want to be near other people and businesses breeding multiplier effects of increased and enhanced feedback loops that spur business, make us address our "messiness" or weaknesses, and guide society like the expert hand of a bowler rolling a 300.

Building strictly for cars allows us to run from ourselves, creating places of disinvestment, our left behind urban cores, creating a voracious entropy that spews people further and further away to places like Wylie and Forney, which sound far away even in the fourth dimension let alone the first two. Hint: its a bad thing when your city repels people.

And there is Dallas, sitting lonesome, teary-eyed, and makeup running, full of freeways and no people, lacking the requisite density or tax base to pay for and support itself, a divorcee rejected by another suitor. A City at the exact moment where we can begin to be honest with ourselves and start fixing what really ails us. Will we?

Invest in the city. Make it livable. Make it walkable. Walkable places are sociopetal. Places that attract people attract investment.

And you know what, beyond all those advantages I listed for Atlanta. One thing I didn't mention is that Atlanta is further along on this path as well. Atlanta has its issues (many or all of which come from similar origins as sun belt cities, but also ones ingrained in the American geography/history (see: Leinberger's favored Quarter)) has current leadership that understands the positive feedback loops of urban form and the inherent problems with two-dimensional zoning and its eventuation into sociofugal car utopia, leaving us empty and shallow.

Atlanta's that girl on the magazine we wished we could be.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A City of Zombies

Looooooook into my eyyyyyessssss....hisssssssssssssssss


[You will buy all the mumbo jumbo I say and accept my gift of pure genius at 1/100th scale model form bestowed unto you...because I'm so giving like that]


[biggity boggity boo]

[Warning: HGH levels of snarkiness learned at the feet of such contemporary cranks as James Howard Kunstler and David Simon, or as I like to call them, fire-fingered, truth-telling, flamethrowers.]

So it has been a long time coming, but the design for the proposed Museum of Nature and Science have been unveiled by Morphosis ie Thom Mayne aka Pritzker Prize winning architect (you thought Dallas would hire anything but? We want WORLD CLASS!!!!111!!!) And...they are predictable, if I may somehow be the most flattering AND insulting as I possibly can at the same time.

And away we go, a merry and fawning people, kissing pigs and contracting a swine flu of the mind.

The press release is absolutely hilarious. I copy and paste cuz I can:
Invoking Roman ruins, he said the aim was to demonstrate "Nature taking over building" and that the hope was to include plants and living material in the exterior finish. Talley Associate's landscape design already incorporates a grove of trees, native Texas plantings, and, as Mayne described it, "a savannah" on the north side of the building.
...so lemme translate. In this dreamt post-apocalyptic world when all of our silly messiness of humanity is extricated from their beautiful works of art can this place exist as it is meant. They're so ahead of our time. By the way, a "savannah" has nothing to do with local Dallas ecology. Why don't we just make it a cotton field and get it over with.

In the world of nihilists, the world will be better when we're gone and American society is the equivalent of Rome during Nero or Caligula, a morally and culturally bankrupt empire, at the onset of a new Dark Age. While there may be some truth there, I personally refuse to participate in the fiddling. It's easy to ride the freefall side of the rollercoaster.

The design is conscious of its proximity to downtown, with a transparent atrium on the corner of the building providing dramatic views of the skyline. The semi-exposed elevator shaft on the outside of the building encourages visitors to ascend vertically and then work their way back down through the Museum. (Shades of the Guggenheim, maybe?)

It is very conscious of being near downtown. Perhaps too self-aware, like a Highland Park tourist periodically stopping by the Neiman Marcus flagship. There are views, the building can see downtown, but not be a part of, and is distinctly seperate. As in at least an arm's length away at all times from that messiness that is true urbanity.

But, maybe we don't want that in Dallas. Perhaps we don't want places where we actually can all come together and coexist. We want divergent socio-economic classes and 21st century apartheid. If so, we better be aware of the repercussions and prepared to pay for the taxes to support the physical disconnects and the policing to preserve such divisions. We want to be able to talk about our great city but not mean it. We want to live in our McMansion, but we don't want the hour commute, the surly neighbors, or the fat, stupid kids that we ignorantly weren't aware came as a side helping.

Simply put, we pretend we are addressing problems, throwing money at them, but not really be honest with ourselves about the underlying issues. Sounds like the hubristic lexicon of starchitecture-ese, no?

Drilling out the cavities so to speak. I can donate the money, if it's enough maybe get my name on a brick or something, drive into the city, park in the garage, see a show, and never step foot outside. Aint it great? Now step on it before these city folk spread their diseases, like diversity and tolerance!

And good grief...the Guggenheim? Really? You know what the Guggenheim has? It has New York City around it, providing the life, the vitality, the interaction, and the backdrop for something different to stand out and be outstanding. Without city fabric, something merely stands. And furthermore, the City (and the people) were there first and the City then arose to the point culturally demanding such facilities; the horse appropriately ahead of the cart.

There is still work to be done. (The Museum estimates that it needs to raise another $60 million or so.) But it is clear that we have another dramatic work of architecture on our horizon.

Sidenote: why does every museum have to be so literally representative of the displays inside these days anyway? Yet, remarkably they all manage to look the same yet with each particular architect's not-so-subtle accoutrements.

As for it being "another dramatic piece of architecture," any singular piece of architecture aka object is not and can never be dramatic. It is by definition static, a postcard. The life of a place, the genius loci, alchemically induced by the city fabric is dramatic when appropriately orchestrated to allow the "city" aka the residents to instill their own lives into the place. Places live when they adapt over time. Or we can falsely imply the passage of time and the fate of civilization



The spaceship has landed...on a moonscape apparently

The site is at a critical key nexus where West End portion of Downtown, Victory, and LoMac version of McKinney/Uptown converge yet are each isolated by a bizarre vortex of vacant properties, tangled spaghetti of inhumane roads, highways, and off-ramps, and buildings that (potentially rightly so) want nothing to do with the pedestrian UN-friendly streets on which they sit. Cities are formed by complexity. It is what makes them great; makes them hum. They are about connecting disparate things to allow for said complexity.

The fundamental failings of modernism conceptually is that it was a movement based on minimizing complexity, which had its purpose when disease and pollution wreaked havoc in 19th and early 20th cities. That mentality has since pervaded in all aspects of life. When writ large, we get two-dimensional zoning or when transposed upon singular buildings it minimizes complexity and becomes simple: an object to be unmolested by its context or surroundings and contribute back to the street scene in equal proportion.

Singular buildings are anti-urban, disconnected, not part of this culture, like any person left behind by contemporary post-modern society, their only impulse is to act out against that system that has alienated them. And act out these buildings do.

There is an appropriate place for standing out as any Guggenheim does, but it does so by being plugged into its context. Furthermore, do things really stand out when they all look the same? As part of a fleeting fashion movement? Fashion is inherently ephemeral. Contrasted, cities are timeless. Similarly, these buildings quickly go out of style and soon look aged like a members only jacket:

http://www.marieclaire.com/cm/marieclaire/images/MembersOnlyFull.jpg

Any fashion is ultimately devoid of anything meaningful but merely its difference from the previous. "Pea green is in style this season? Oh, I just bought a pair of sea green underoos. I better toss them out and get some new ones."

That is the 20th century economy as expressed through sun belt cities and our prevailing attitudes to all that is around us is it not? Toss it out and get another. So we cast aside Fair Park in favor of Victory, this decade's flavor of the month.



The above image says it all: a view of a loading dock. Presumably however, we're supposed to notice the super clever faux geologic layers of local Dallas topography. What I see is a barrier. Another wall meant to divide, not bring people together and "the prairie" to give ample distance for which to admire another borg cube.

Post-modern nihilists either don't believe in revitalizing your city or are too fundamentalistically tied to their singular design style let alone creating a framework for residents to give life to their own city - which is the only way city's revitalize is when the residents take ownership (and responsibility) for their city. But this isn't for you, silly rabbit. These are monuments to their own other worldly cleverness as they watch Rome burn...and they are laughing at you, at us, the City of Dallas, everytime they make another raccoon trap.

...and quite frankly, Dallas is my adopted home and I'm quite sick of being laughed at, and I don't blame the architects. I blame the siting. I blame the lack of a coherent masterplan. I blame Victory and that gawdawful land bank compost heap uhhh, garden apartment complex called the Jefferson. Ultimately, it's our responsibility locally to have a unified vision for a real city.

JerryWorld gets the NYT Arch Review Treatment

It's a giant clam! wiping away the tears of Arlington taxpayers.

By the NYT arch critic Nic Ouroussoff:

First, it rightly lambasts all of David Schwarz's work in the DFW area, which includes the AA Center, Bass Hall, the Ballpark in Arlington whatevaitscalledforthisyearuntilthatcompanyevaporates, and West Village:
the stadium’s design mercifully avoids the aw-shucks, small-town look that has become common in many American stadiums over the years. There’s no brick cladding, no fake wrought ironwork, no infantilizing theme restaurants that seem as if they had been commissioned by Uncle Walt for the Happiest Place on Earth.
And then, for the thesis:
Still, Cowboys Stadium suffers from its own form of nostalgia: its enormous retractable roof, acres of parking and cavernous interiors are straight out of Eisenhower’s America, with its embrace of car culture and a grandiose, bigger-is-better mentality. The result is a somewhat crude reworking of old ideas, one that looks especially unoriginal when compared with the sophisticated and often dazzling stadiums that have been built in Europe and the Far East over the last few years.
Those stadiums were quite impressive at the Euro Cup held in Germany. I think it was quite clear the distinction between the sophistocation of those stadiums with the current crop of American Stadiums or the dumps that held the World Cup in '94 as embarrassments architecturally, culturally, and intellectually and the higher level Northern European countries are operating on, but ya know, they invest in their people thru health and education and all that craziness.

Other notable one-liners from my favorite starchitectural sycophant turned pragmatist:
Walk around to either side of the structure and you’re confronted with what looks like a conventional suburban office park. A service road encircles the structure, surrounded by endless expanses of parking. A few lonely trees only draw attention to the absolute joylessness of the scene.
But once again, this is Dallas (or actually in this case, FARlington - as the cowboys join the rangers in their disengagement from Dallasites) and if we do anything well, it's getting the words "world class" right, but not the actual meaning.

Pretty Please with a Tax Abatement on Top


So apparently, Downtown Dallas has jumped into the blogosphere and advertising what is apparently the first step in the Strategic Action Plan for Downtown Dallas. The strategy: to build off the miracle success of bringing AT&T's HQ to DTD in a plan called "Bold Moves" and it is addressed towards Northeastern or Western companies struggling with their local or regional economies.

This might make some sense in a 1980's world view based on the local news report that the Texas economy will be among the quickest to rebound. I'm always skeptical of economic forecasts from these types of groups, because as I've mentioned before they are the type that get rewarded for optimism (sometimes blindly) and they draw straight lines to infinity extrapolating any current trend indefinitely.

Here are my problems with this strategy, and to be frank, I've seen it unsuccessful nearly everywhere it is tried:
  • First, these are company's that would relocate strictly based on a financial incentive package. Many companies (and an increasing amount of people in the new economy AND Millennials) locate based on quality of life and sense of place. What is to keep them from jumping again to a better offer or playing desperate cities off each other like Jerry Jones did with his new shiny stadium?
  • Next, while we would like to think this is a long-term strategy, it really isn't when you think about it. The economy became overly centralized in the 20th century and we're seeing the start of a very slow unwinding or slo-mo big bang despite those very industries desperate attempts to delay the inevitable and continue the economic darwinism threatening deeper and further repercussions. Markets fail with overcentralization and those pyramidal structures start slicing away sides of the triangle . Recruiting large companies, means companies that aren't going to grow or expand. Which leads me to:
  • Economic Development is cultivated by the seeds of innovation. Something created by smaller, more innovative and nimble companies and stifled by (and subsequently purchased) institutionalized corporate pyramids.
Conclusion: Make the city more livable and you will attract talented entreprenuers AND businesses that would choose Austin instead b/c of its increased cache over downtown Dallas. This means focusing on all the things that limit Livability in Downtown Dallas.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Morning Links

Dallas Goes Green in more ways than one. Dallas Progress rides the inaugural Green DART line.

This is a phenomenon I noticed living in Rome, how much more mature the adolescents were, to which I similarly attributed to their increased responsibility of getting to school on their own (from TreeHugger:

New York Times cites some current, and may I say stunning, survey data about this trend in Why Can't She Walk to School?

In 1969, 41 percent of children either walked or biked to school; by 2001, only 13 percent still did, according to data from the National Household Travel Survey. In many low-income neighborhoods, children have no choice but to walk. During the same period, children either being driven or driving themselves to school rose to 55 percent from 20 percent. Experts say the transition has not only contributed to the rise in pollution, traffic congestion and childhood obesity, but has also hampered children's ability to navigate the world.
And lastly, as on each and every Monday, Kunstler howls:
This monster we call the economy is not just an endless series of charts and graphs -- it's how we live, and that has to change, whether we like it or not. Now, it is obviously a huge problem that a majority of Americans don't like the idea. If they were true patriots, instead of overfed cowards and sado-masochists, they'd be inspired by the prospect. But something terrible has happened to our national character since the triumphal glow of World War Two wore off. I just hope that the Palinites and the myrmidons of Glen Beck don't destroy what's left of this country in a WWF-style "revolution." In the best societies, such idiots are marginalized by a kinder and sturdier consensus about justice. In America today, the center is not holding because there is no center.

Cities of Dreams

David Byrne of the Talking Heads writes in the Wall Street Journal about what makes cities great, livable, to him. He has a number of points and gets all bullet-pointy with them, none of which I can disagree with, but in the interest of not ripping off the entire list, I'll post my favorite lines:

Echoing points I've made about skyscrapers and "business districts":
Scale is important. In London people hang out in Soho, Covent Garden, Mayfair and other areas of mostly low buildings packed closely together. The City (their financial district), like the downtown in many American cities, is full of tall offices and it empties out at night. It isn't that bustling in the daytime either.
And Parking:
Parking lots and structures are dead real estate—they bring no life into a city and I'd be happy if there were a lot fewer of them in New York. It would be a pain in the neck for a lot of drivers, but unless they can be hidden underground, as they are often in Japan, lots and parking structures are simply dead zones, which hurt the businesses around them. In Japan parking structures are skinny, no wider than a large car, and a robotic system files the cars away. The Italian cities of Florence, Modena, Ferrara, where parking is pretty much relegated to the fringes of the town, are vibrant, though their appeal to pedestrians has turned some of them into tourist hubs.
Or haven't written about, but thought, whilst in Manhattan myself:
Park Avenue, Manhattan's widest boulevard, doesn't cut it. The green in the middle is lovely but inaccessible, and the endless sameness of giant apartment or office buildings with little else to break the rhythm inspires the eye and mind to glaze over.
Oh, and Dallas gets a special mention in the intro:
In Dallas livability might mean that you live near an expressway that isn't jammed up, at least not all the time, and your car runs most days.
Is this how we want to be known? B/c if you haven't been paying attention, the world will be seeing a whole lot of Dallas, er, DFW in the near future, with the Super Bowl, the NBA all-star weekend, and the NCAA Final Four, all headed to the most urban of places, the Jones' Starship, Arlington.

To wit, most people will stay in Dallas, and some in Fort Worth, since it will be closer, and visitors can get that disnified ol' west texan thing on, if they so desire. And, Arlington, the largest city in the country without mass transit, will be forced to spend millions on shuttle services for weekend events.

After which, all will write or speak of how gawd awful Arlington was, and reignite the argument that Super Bowls should only ever be held in more interesting places, like Miami, New Orleans, Pasadena, or San Diego, but what will they say about Dallas?

Will they echo Mr. Byrne and exclaim, "phew, that Dallas sure was great, there were NO traffic backups on the freeway. I can't wait to come back and bring the whole fam' next time!"

Time be a tickin'... Will we work to make it livable, or focus all of our energies and dollars on the superficial and the temporary?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

London Streets to Experiment with "Nudity"

London dips toe into the icy waters of the woonerf and finds the water is, in fact, just fine:
“We will be creating a bit of indecision in all road users’ minds to create a safe environment,” said Martin Low, Westminster City Council’s head of transportation, which is conducting the experiment with Transport for London. “When lights are out we have noticed that drivers are far more considerate and show more care and attention than they are when they have the reassurance of traffic lights.
I have noticed this phenomenon as well on Dallas streets/arterials after power failures and what not bringing about the blinking red lights. Typical traffic engineering makes for stupid drivers. This is why you can arrive at a destination without remembering your drive. You tune out, you talk on the phone, you run over a gaggle of geese, careen off a few parked cars, and you're home wondering how the red all over the grill of your car got there.

This returns awareness, intelligence and, in turn, safety to driving, aka handling a two-ton, high powered, agent of death and destruction.

But, don't take my word for it:
Without any clear right-of-way, he says, motorists are forced to slow down to safer speeds, make eye contact with pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers, and decide among themselves when it is safe to proceed. ...
As in all cases, regulating speed via regulation is nonsensical and costly (when factored for policing, paperwork, etc.) Cars (w/drivers) will ALWAYS go as fast as the driver feels comfortable. Long, straight shot? Gun it. One way? Gun it. Turning radii allowing for high speed cornering and some dukes of hazzard style "wheelin' n' dealin'"? Gun it.

But, like all things there are downsides to the super happy fun time only seen in car commercials and movie chases, like degraded public realm, inflated healthcare and insurance costs, dreadful development models, and sedentary lifestyles (read: fat, FAT people), but who's counting?

Similarly, the key to all urban design is for inhabitors to intuit. Signage should never be necessary but supplemental. The experience of the place tells you, "well shit, there are kids in the road, as well as trees and parked cars that people might get out of, I better not drive at an unsafe rate of speed. For the sake of my insurance...Eff the kids."

Or, with wayfinding, the orientation and design of the place allows visitors to intuit thru cognitive awareness their way to destinations via landmarks, vistas, corridors, and the like. Signage is once again, supplemental...but that's a related discussion for another day.

Examples of woonerfs, loosely translated as "front yard," which is how the street ought to thought of:



http://transportehumano.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/woonerf-a.jpg

http://governing.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/04/10/woonerf.jpg

http://www.courtyardhousing.org/images/DutchWoonerf.jpg

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

AT&T Plaza: Before and After

Not the same view, but this (Notice some semblance of a park behind the bunker):



Became this:

The Naughty Building CataBlog

I think this may turn into a running series or theme in this blog, listing a series of building typologies and how they fail to add to the complexity of city life and in many ways detract. There currently exists a draft listing about five building types already, but I may stretch each into individual posts in a series.

The reason for doing so is that I've been doing some thinking about what I said yesterday with regards to the modern high-rise essentially "boxing in" the success of Main Street in Downtown Dallas, the quiet beating little heart, perhaps of a baby bird recently fallen from its nest.

The visual representation of which is below, which shows that at the very least in conjuction with the scale and function (goal?) of the surrounding escape routes streets, doesn't act alone in its complicity:


Along with my calling these buildings little more than "culs-de-sac" in the sky, I came across this quote at Emergent Urbanism, in the post The Mathematics of Cities, which draws heavily from Chris Alexander's A Pattern Language. I thought it was prescient given my own line of discourse here:
The best support systems, the best urbanism, will permit the greatest density of relationships (not density of people), implying the greatest spacial complexity and diversity achievable.
Herein lies the fundamental failure of many high-rises or skyscrapers, and in particular the Corbusien "Towers in the Park," the obvious of which gets blame is that it was an overt and systematic concentration of poverty, but perhaps in some ways the design itself which failed the residents in at least as much as the attempts, whether intentionally or not, to "shelve" or warehouse poverty:



(Out of sight, out of mind...at least until we have to demolish them because of crime and perception.)

The issue Mathieu and Chris Alexander describe is that cities are not merely defined by density, but rather by the overlapping connections or relationships between two entities, whether be it, individual A to individual B, or A to his job, or B to her hair salon or to the grocery store, or even the grocery store to individual A's job, etc. etc. It is this overlapping complexity that makes cities.

Actual culs-de-sac in suburbs or even these culs-de-sacs in the sky minimize these connections or at least the opportunities for these connections by removing people from the potential for interaction or even creating a remoteness between any two entities that should have as many relationships as possible to instill the highest level of intelligence in design, ie the greatest number of solutions in a solution set.

This can be both social in terms of human interaction and interrelationships or physical design, as Alexander describes:

For example, in Berkeley at the corner of Hearst and Euclid, there is a drugstore, and outside the drugstore a traffic light. In the entrance to the drugstore there is a newsrack where the day's papers are displayed. When the light is red, people who are waiting to cross the street stand idly by the light; and since they have nothing to do, they look at the papers displayed on the newsrack which they can see from where they stand. Some of them just read the headlines, others actually buy a paper while they wait.

This effect makes the newsrack and the traffic light interactive; the newsrack, the newspapers on it, the money going from people's pockets to the dime slot, the people who stop at the light and read papers, the traffic light, the electric impulses which make the lights change, and the sidewalk which the people stand on form a system - they all work together.

From the designer's point of view, the physically unchanging part of this system is of special interest. The newsrack, the traffic light and the sidewalk between them, related as they are, form the fixed part of the system. It is the unchanging receptacle in which the changing parts of the system - people, newspapers, money and electrical impulses - can work together. I define this fixed part as a unit of the city. It derives its coherence as a unit both from the forces which hold its own elements together and from the dynamic coherence of the larger living system which includes it as a fixed invariant part.

So what does this mean? Well, it reiterates the point that plain density does not a city make, but density of opportunity in some sense does and where does this happen moreso, than in the public realm, ie the urban city street, where all of these overlapping interactions come together in a focused (and easily policed, both in terms of design as well as actual law enforcement) environment.

This is why people (joe average planner or designer) stress ground floor retail, which is in reality a dumbed down version of merely saying that buildings need to engage or have a relationship with the street, the street and the people on it inform the building, its uses, its access and in turn the ground floor uses and porosity affect the street scene, because as the sentence itself should imply, not all streets should have retail explicitly, but residential streets should still have that semi-public "address" of stoops or entries greeting potential guests and offering a differentiation or medium between both public realm and entirely private.

For example, check these Montreal buildings for their flexibility of use that can respond to "market forces" (dumbed down word) or aka allowing people to take ownership and define their world, while creating "eddies" or places to linger or hang out aside from the movement of the street:

This is also not to say that towers in and of themselves are entirely bad. I like a good skyline postcard shot as much as the next person, but they do have their drawbacks environmentally despite what LEED might tell you. Personally, I worry that they are also a form of privatizing views and/or sunlight, but how then do we compromise with the American impulse of meeting demand with supply?

First of all, there has to be demand, which is a fundamental failure of so much real estate development, city planning, and most of all infrastructural investment, which comes from a supply side state of mind. I'm currently drawing a blank, but it was either Alexander or Gordon Cullen who wrote that any high-rise is STRICTLY a real estate exercise because they add nothing to city life that a dense network or arrangement of mid-rise buildings can't do. As we state above, density of population is not the solution and as this link discusses, the best cities in the world (or at least sub-areas of those cities) have no high-rises.

But single-story buildings also aren't quite ideal similar to those you might find in small historic hearts of Texas towns or "lifestyle centers," which are rapidly becoming one and the same because they lack both the density of both people and uses, as well building types, and height, which forms the space defined as the public realm, where we want to focus the majority of these solution sets or potential interactions. Read: meaning not underground in tunnels or in the sky in the form of sky bridges.

For the sake of argument, let's assume the ideal situation for building "up", that "place" is established by years of functional urbanism at a lower scale, and demand becomes so great that it overcomes any self-imposed regulation on building height in order to (remember best and most benevolent case scenario) spare natural or agricultural land (much as what has driven Portland's use of UGB's).

How do we compromise and make towers that accommodate the demand to be in this great place that we have defined without completely wrecking the public realm or removing too much of the potential for interactions from the streets?

Vancouver created legislation requiring setbacks for all new towers to be set on low-to-mid-rise bases so that from the street level, you feel like you are next to a four-story building. New York has gone back to some of their "towers in the park" and created one-story retail liner buildings to create a built perimeter or "street wall."

Vancouver, new buildings with four-story bases.

NYC: Adding one-story retail frontage to "towers in the park"

But, these are still physical examples, that while good IMO, don't address the social issue of the vertical cul-de-sac. One idea that I have put forth in the past for an idea for mid-to-high rise co-housing, is that there are hierarchies of social, public, or semi-public space based on the size of the community.

This stems from the idea that any one person's community, the amount of people they can ever really "know" at one time is approximately 150. I probably need to track this back to source the info, but something tells me it was one of those tidbits that stuck with me from a psychology class in college. In this case, the vertical co-housing would be the person's "community." Whether they choose to know everybody within their building is beside the point, but the opportunity is there.

The vertical cohousing was based on the idea of eliminating excess inefficiencies of excess individual plumbing lines, savings on sharing of electricity and appliances, and all but elimating inefficient floor space, meaning, no hallways. The elevator opens directly into a shared kitchen/dining area that would be shared by 4 to 8 units per floor and potentiall two floors per kitchen area. This would be organized as a tenants "nuclear family."

The rest of the common amenities would be structured similarly based on the amount of people to use it. Meaning every four or so floors there is a common gathering area, be it a workout facility, a pool, game room, home theater, etc. These areas would be the "extended family."

The idea of which has been done with many high-rise towers in europe that create garden floors every fifteen or twenty floors in modern "green" office towers, ie creating social spaces for subsets within the larger unit. However, as I have said, to some extent this minimizes the person/place/thing interactions or feedback loops that create more intelligent places, ie rather than being 100 on the street, there might be 20 every 100 feet in elevation (although I imagine diminishing returns based on the exponential overlapping that occurs in these semi-lattice networks).

The base of the building, would have a community-wide amenity area. One building we worked on was supposed to have a wii station for resident use.

The last level of the hierarchy is the public, which is the street, or city at-large, and this is where the building would have its "third places"; how the building engages the street and the city. Here could be some overlap with the community-wide amenity area as I have seen in my building with the bar/grocery store as a popular hangout after work for building residents.

So, I guess, the final point is that Dallas has very few places where the density of towers might be appropriate, given demand, but even then that might be doubtful given how badly many of the new condo towers have done. Even though this is a city built on speculative dreams, we have to create "place" first to establish demand, and that means building upon the successes of Main Street, CityPlace West, and State/Thomas.