Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Linkages - Back Atcha

...whilst watching Cash Cab and realizing that I either need to move to NYC or die trying to bring a similar measure of urbanity to DFW. Is there anything more satisfying than the street shoutout working?? Speaking of:

Interesting interview of author Carlene Bauer, who discusses moving to NYC and the urbanity that helped her find herself:
Also, I seemed to have a predilection for the urban from birth. Apartments over storefronts on main streets—not a feature of the suburban cul-de-sacs I was raised in—were fascinating to me. Who lived in those lighted windows? I wanted a lighted window. I thought if you had a lighted window, rather than a whole big house, you were living an anonymous, autonomous life.
Hmmm...I think she touched upon a future Livability Indicator that I've been putting together.
I may have linked this one before, but who cares. It's about a city removing a giant gash freeway from its connective tissue in order to increase revenue thru property value increases. In this case, it's Providence RI:

In a similar fashion, about 20 years ago the city uncovered the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers, which were largely paved over in downtown Providence, and moved the point of their convergence for aesthetic purposes.

Next year, the old highway overpass will be demolished and the city will begin to create a new street grid, which will better connect surrounding neighborhoods to the waterfront, said Michael P. Lewis, director of the state Department of Transportation. This work will continue into 2011 and 2012, while the state prepares the surplus land for development.

I created a diagram to show how many parcels would be affected by similar efforts in the Big D:

Zoinks. Haven't talked Housing in some time, because I no longer need to convince people of the impending, nay, now imploded doom. But, Case-Shiller is suggesting another 48% fall.

More on housing, Wells Fargo's Chief Economist tells the awful truth, "there is no easy way out."
And there, hopefully, begins the long way road to recovery. There are no free lunches.
Dubai. My favorite Vegas on Steroids. One of my personal fav oped guys, the man who brought to life such excellent insight and turn-of-phrase (also regarding Dubai),
When prices go up, buildings go up. When prices come down, buildings tend to stay up. Until recently visitors to Dubai returned gasping. This was truly a city designed from start to finish by autocrats and architects. It was the last word in iconic overkill, a festival of egotism with humanity denied. It was an architectural chorus line of towers, each shouting louder and kicking higher. People were ants.
Simon Jenkins, weighs in again:
I still have no doubt that Dubai will survive, despite its lack of oil or other natural resources. But it will do so as a benighted settlement on the Gulf shore, in hock to neighbouring and more cautious oil-rich states, such as Abu Dhabi. Its luxury apartments will become tenements to an ever shifting army of refugees from the torments of the Islamic world. Its towers will stand empty, unable to afford their energy-guzzling services. Its fantasy islands will be squatted or will rot and sink back into the sea. Where fresh water will come from, who knows?
It's fundamental problem is that it is entirely a product of the supply side thinking that created much of the economic catastrophe the world over. If you build it, they will not come. And if they do, they will then leave because noone else is there, like a tide rising, only to retreat back to the ocean. There has to be demand in the first place and demand comes from economic purpose, which typically comes in the form of natural resources, transportation, or increasingly, human capital.

Funny thing? There actually was a demand that they have managed to exploit which until further notice will be the economic foundation of Dubai. That, as the world's black market, for anything and everything that black markets exist for.

And, anybody that quotes PB Shelley in a newspaper article is always well worth the read. Expect the readers to come to your level, don't ever write down to theirs:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'
Park Slope CoHousing. The article is only strengthened by the presence of Alex Marshall.
Co-housing has yet to be tested anywhere as dense as New York City, but as Alex thought about it, he came to believe that, in fact, the city was perfect co-housing ground. Throw a bunch of organic leeks in Brooklyn right now and you will hit some kind of a communal-living situation—a vegan house in Bed-Stuy, a bunch of young renters in Clinton Hill who Craiglisted up to pursue like-minded goals. Surely he wasn’t the only middle-aged New Yorker who wished he had real relationships with his neighbors.
If you haven't read How Cities Work. You are missing out. See my post discussing the potential for high-rise cohousing:

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.

Lastly, on Rio's Favelas, Gangs, Drugs, and Crime. If you haven't seen City of God you are missing out on the best movie of the last twenty years.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ask the Carless Guy Vol. II

Not really a question, but I received an email from a former colleague with this article attached, and this particular quote called out:

George Ablah, a prominent real estate developer who was a leader on the steering committee in 1989, foresaw a parking problem — and still sees it.

He said the old rules of development were "location, location, location, location." Now it's "location, parking, no social problems, location."

He said he suggested that the city buy vacant and blighted buildings, tear them down and use the land for parking.

Development would follow, he said.

But that didn't happen.

"We would have had a booming area," he said. "I could be wrong. But we didn't do it, so we can't prove it."

Or, you might be a dinosaur of the 20th century economy. While certainly a smart and savvy developer, this guy doesn't know the first thing about cities. And I'm talking about understanding the underlying dynamics at work shaping cities. The following is really my general advice to understanding articles like this:

Whenever you read quotes from somebody or an op-ed, or any article for that matter, you have to understand the person's point of view. W hat's their angle? Ablah, is a developer, so he's looking for the city to make his life easier by assembling land, writing down his costs, and providing parking, that is all costs the developer doesn't have to bear in his pro formas.

It's certainly one strategy, and not a terrible one (b/c i can't comment on the state of the buildings he is referring to), but it is one of a different era as I will describe. I will tell you that anybody that says any city "needs more parking," they really don't know how city evolution works.

It worked for Portland, catalyzing development by building sub-grade publicly funded parking garages, b/c they were systematically removing the blight on neighborhoods and development that parking is. Furthermore, they are, again, removing a hard cost the developer would normally bear as parking is externalized from the development.

In this circumstance, however, I get the feeling that this particular developer is (to some degree) thinking about retail (since he's harboring sentiment from the 1989 masterplan) and making the parking accessible for suburbanites to come in once in a while to this imaginary downtown shopping wonderland is a mistake. When what is really needed is a vast influx of residential (of broad market segments), repositioned into walkable, livable downtowns, cutting the transportation barriers out of the local economy, and allowing the retail/commercial/jobs to "emerge" or follow the new market created via the demand of new residents.

But most importantly, b/c most cities right now are too broke to be assembling land and tearing down buildings. There are however, creative policy measures that incentivize (or "incent" if you prefer actual English) the selling of underperforming land at prices much lower than the owner imagined they would be getting in the condo boom of the past ten years (or if they were holding on cash generating business that drags down the City and, in turn, the City's economy, i.e. privately owned/managed surface parking lots).

These strategies (without getting into particulars) include varying degrees of carrots and sticks if you will, that amortize the carrots in favor of bigger sticks the longer you go. This is somewhat counter-intuitive to the common wisdom of incentivizing initial catalyst developments via a variety of subsidies and then voila! the market will be established and naturally fill in the rest.

When what we've actually found is that the market gets set by the subsidy and the city gets held at the barrel of a gun for similar subsides on every single project. (See: Dallas and the Merc, then the Convention Center Hotel)
Second piece of news: nobody asked me this, but I'll opine anyway. Dallas feels left out of new $1.85B highway bill. Frankly, Dallas should feel so lucky. The LAST thing any Texas city needs is more highway construction. Unfortunately, people are too stupid or corrupt and think spending taxpayer money for short term jobs and long-term disasters is good economic policy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Free Beer Happy Hour - Guess the City

Downtown Dallas edition in order to see the lights and the new park grand opening, and due to that, we have another BIZARRO BEER FRIDAY!!!!

**edit: Perhaps as readership expands beyond an email list, perhaps I should advertise the Happy Hour location. A personal fav, the Cheers! of downtown Dallas residents: City Tavern.

Yes, Lindsay gets it!


For this BIZARRO BEER FRIDAY, we'll take a tour to an example of what happens when pegging goals/actions to meaningless, abstract statistics such as GDP; the blind creation of unnecessary infrastructure and the epitome of overly centralized planning and development. The opposite of a favela, if you will.

Lacking understanding of emergent nature of cities and the economic foundation underpinning population demand driven evolution.

Not wholly unlike the creation of edge cities in the US decades ago a la Las Colinas - of course, people had to go bankrupt first, and somebody will do so here as well.

Creating an architect's fantasy land, a clean slate, a blank canvas for ahem self-gratification architectural expression.

I'd show more, but I'm afraid you may have seen them plastering every page of architectural record since a google image search of the city turns up a smorgasbord of unbuilt architectural portraiture, ignorant of all/any context, the type of humanizing and participatory complexity of urbanity. But of course, there is no context. Next stop, city building in Siberia!

ZOMG! Behold our masterpiece of arbitrary geometric shapes!

The world will know thy name!

In the end, it is too rightly ordered, too overly masterplanned to ever be usable in its current form.

"Novelty is often mistaken for progress."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thirsty Thursday Linkages

While pondering the following articles tonight, my happy go lucky beverage of choice will be...

Drifter Pale Ale by the Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., Portland, OR. Hmmm, ever wonder what beer choice says about you?
Vancouver says YES! to more density. Money quote provided by a councilperson:

“I am an advocate of density,” Anton told The Vancouver Sun. “I think it makes a city more interesting, I think it makes it more livable, and most important, I think it’s better for the environment.

“However at the same time, if you’re going to ask people to live in high density, you must, as a city, provide the right amenities.”

If only we can follow Vancouver's footsteps, which happens to have a high willing homeless population, btw. City officials just need to learn that the "stuff" they want that the Vancouvers and Portlands of the world have, are all merely byproducts of policy changes. Altering the urban "genotype" reveals itself through changes in the urban "phenotype." Urban Design n00bs have a naive understanding of causality and emergence.


A photographer does some photoshopping to create LA w/o traffic. In Dallas, often you don't need photoshop wizardry to find big roads with no cars. We just built too damn many.
LA Without Traffic by Tom Baker

Understanding the human mind to battle climate change. If you recall, the Obama campaign changed American politics forever by tailoring the campaign based on consultation w/ behavioralists. Powerful new field of study.

"Human social behavior is at least as complicated as the climate system," added Leiserowitz, who has done public opinion research internationally and focused on the United States. "And, in fact, I'd argue it's more complicated -- because a carbon dioxide molecule doesn't change its behavior when you ask it a question.
And lastly, the museum that sunk the Battleship Starchitect? London Times Online in All Hail the New Puritanism:

Not that it's a pretty building. In fact, just the opposite. Oh, good gawd is it not! Resembling a warehouse more than an art museum. Or, perhaps we're once again looking at a piece of art. Because what else is an art museum but a warehouse for stuff of debatable merit?

Is it a statement on our diminished social value on art and culture? Is it ironically displaying our necessitation towards extreme frugality? Either way, I'll always take the stance that architects should leave their artistic expression to artists. Just make buildings that are durable, sturdy, look nice, and are lovable. As Steve Mouzon says, "if it isn't lovable than it won't last and isn't sustainable." (paraphrased for rhetorical purposes)

In a brilliant paragraph, the writer summarizes (feel free to read only the bold and it makes just as much sense):
The times they are a-changin’ in British architecture. You can sniff it in the air. Maybe it’s the recession, not just because building projects are stalling — more because values are changing. Two years ago you could propose a revolving skyscraper bedecked in golden columns and purple unicorns and be taken halfway seriously. Now...architectural excess is sniffed at with a disdain approaching distaste. The icon having a good lie down in the post-Noughties age. There is no more public or private money in the kitty for revolving skyscrapers, and Dubai is sooo 2005.
Once again, the words matter far more than the pictures. Err, the pictures don't live up to the words? Sounds like both Duany and Rem, no?

Architects like to be "of their time." Well, in a global recession, now it's time to prove it. So put down your notions of a swoopy roof, an amorphous shape, and your platinum cladding.

Prefab = Predetermined Fate?

The originators of the Prefab movement are tossing their idea, formed on the basis (presumably, since it was the strongest message) of simplified production process, reduced waste, and recycling of materials from other industries into attractive housing, as if it were nothing more than an empty bag of cheetos. Or perhaps, that is how they saw the idea which was its fundamental failing. Another throw away. Oh, irony.

The greatest weakness of many architects, particularly the more (in)famous ones, is often one and the same with their particular greatest strength: the desire to be different. You can see it in how they defeat their own purpose. My understanding of the architecture and design professions is, to put it as simply as possible, to make life better: more efficient, more affordable, more profitable (in the triple bottom line sense), more elegant.

Yet, in the examples they hail (and here I'm referring both directly to this particular case of the pre-fabists, but also to any of the architectural "fashion trends" that lack purpose or fundamental grounding beyond self indulgence), you can see how they defeat their own purpose. The buildings are off in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing around. A blank canvas for which nothing can interrupt the glamour shot of their baby with a proverbial finger on the lens.

Hence, there is nothing else for the building to converse with, no dialogue with other buildings, no synergies, no humanizing effect on the city. The more ingredients in an equation, the richer and more complete, complex, diverse, and resilient is the elaboration of life. Biology has something to teach us about architecture and city building.

Furthermore, and more specifically, we are facing overwhelming needs to relocalize; to reorganize where and how we inhabit cities, particularly in the Sun Belt and more importantly, in this age of decreased wealth and need of affordable, yet quality, housing that contributes in a positive manner to the City without stigmatizing those who live within it. Not urbanizing the poster children of a movement immediately makes it irrelevant when its fundamental strength is the cost and mass production capabilities.

I, for one, KNOW there is still opportunity in prefab housing. It just now has to be stacked from reused (and prefabricated to be livable) "capsules" of bygone industries, similar to some of the container housing that has gotten some publicity. One challenge, like any new idea, is beautifying the concept. Ya know, the job of architects if all they plan on being is style guides.

One of the beauties of such housing, is the potential for flexibility. It has always bothered me that contemporary apartment and mixed use buildings engrain an inflexibility to their unit counts, i.e. 50% 1-bedrooms, 30% 2-BRs, 20% studios, etc. They lack a fluidity where unit leasing rates are often held hostage by guesstimated market research.

This fluidity and constant evolution and flexibility to the market's needs (aggh, by "market" I mean by the local community's needs) can be had in modular housing. If one module is 400 sq.ft., roughly studio size, it can be expanded to two modules for large 1-BRs or small 2-BR units. Add three modules together, you can have small 3's and large 2's. Each module comes with a specific cost increment. Furthermore, these can be segmented or arranged by tenent vertically or horizontally.

They prefab heroes claimed accessibility and affordability, but by locating and designing the product in the middle of nowhere you are in car culture, enslaving any potential "poor" that might be able to afford your "high design" to their car, or effectively isolating and alienating them from participating in the economy. This is THE fundamental failing of a City designed entirely by the car. Putting everyone in cars, having tax rates to afford the excessive infrastructure, carving off disposable income, it creates undue barriers to the local economy.

Once again a lack of economic fluidity as expressed through design without the fluidity of adaptability; effectively bankrupting cities as well as States. Read: California.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Like the Tallest Midget?

Ray LaHood, quickly becoming either my favorite Republican or the most effectual cabinet member (seemingly), blogs about his meeting with Transportation 4 America and the Dangerous by Design report:

But, as much leadership as DOT can offer, only Congress can authorize federal funding for such programs. And, as the petition urging my leadership on safer roadway planning reminds us:

"The Transportation Bill comes around just once every six years, and we can’t afford another six-year delay on building the 21st Century transportation system our country craves."

That's why, when we hold our upcoming open meetings on new transportation legislation, I urge all of you who care about this important issue--from experts to everyday pedestrians--to come forward and tell us how strongly you feel about this. Then, we can let Congress know how much momentum is truly behind safer road planning.

I can only offer my regrets to the name chosen for his blog, "Fast lane." I'll chalk that one up as a choice made before he got fully situated into the job and the learning process began.

The key point however is that health factors related to good or bad urban design are the ones that are gaining traction at a political and personal/behavioral level. The fact that matters most, is that transportation is the number 1 dictator of development design, form and type of buildings for cities - as I'll call coding/zoning a byproduct of the predominant transportation network/goals.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Non-Productive Happy Hour Guess the City

Hi. I'm a city of almost an identical population to the Big D. Except the populous has organized itself on much less land, allowing plenty of agricultural production within the city boundaries. Because of this, during any potential disruptions in global food production, I'll be able to meet many of my citizens' most basic needs.

[Populated areas overlaid on Dallas - Highways in Black]

Highways, as we know them, barely exist within the city, only enough to bring people to the city (macro to macro), before turning to appropriately scaled boulevards and lesser hierarchies (all of which are heavily tree-lined) for the local economy, to connect micro destinations to micro.

Like the earliest portions of Dallas, much of the city is arranged in rigid orthogonal grids intersecting each other at different angles. Each sub-district is punctuated by interconnected "Savannah-like" squares named after silly notions like Liberty, Independence, and Constitution. Silly Wabbits. The interconnection of these squares w/ important public buildings situated on them, create for a strong axial hierarchy within the city center.

What City am I?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Mating Game

The offspring of...
The Church Lady and...
Sutler from V for Vendetta, and you get...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Post Monday Linkages

Kunstler discusses the eventual collapse of the Rube-Goldberg machinery of all American institutions and the potential outcomes:
Reality unfolds emergently, and this ought to interest us. For instance, I have maintained for many years that we are approaching the twilight of the automobile age - and the implications of this for daily life in the USA are pretty large. For a long time, I had assumed that this change of circumstances would proceed from our problems with the oil supply. But reality is sly. It has thrown two new plot twists into the story lately. America's romance with cars may not founder just on the fuel supply question. It now appears that our problems with capital are so severe that far fewer people will be able to borrow money from banks to buy cars at the rate, and in the way, that the system has been organized to depend on. Our problems with capital are also depriving us of the ability to pay to fix the hypercomplex system of county roads, interstate highways, and even city streets that make motoring possible. What will we do?
He goes on...
For now, a cashless government gives out cash-for-clunkers, which is basically a self-esteem building program designed to make the government feel better about itself because it is ostensibly taking 11-miles-per-gallon cars off the road and replacing them with 27-miles-per-gallon cars, thus forestalling scary problems with climate change.
Except a new report suggests the Cash for Clunkers program hasn't been nearly as successful as those numbers imply. (I don't know if those are pulled from thin air by JHK or were goals set forth by the administration.) Notice this report has nothing to do with the $24K claim that is the main talking point for the bickering:
The single most common swap — which occurred more than 8,200 times — involved Ford F-150 pickup owners who took advantage of a government rebate to trade their old trucks for new Ford F-150s. The fuel economy for the new trucks ranged from 15 mpg to 17 mpg based on engine size and other factors, an improvement of just 1 mpg to 3 mpg over the clunkers.
Andrew Sullivan opens up an IEA report on peak oil.

"Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further. And the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources," he added.

A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was "imperative not to anger the Americans" but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. "We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad," he added.

Thankfully, there is growing support for legislation to end this "too big to fail" nonsense.
"The lesson of Lehman should not be that the government should have prevented its failure," David Einhorn, head of hedge fund Greenlight Capital, said in a recent speech. "The lesson of Lehman should be that Lehman should not have existed at a scale that allowed it to jeopardize the financial system."
All that matters here, is that anything that is "too big to fail" is SO big that it equates to an agglomeration of wealth and power that they (singular individuals or the corporations they represent) are above any justice system and can either bribe or threaten the very foundations this country was founded upon. Once again, as soon as something approaches "too big to fail" it immediately means that it is "too big to exist."
And more from the BackAsswards land of bizarro Keynesianism and stupid or corrupt economic development:
But it was the odd story of a parking structure in Columbia Heights, built by the city with $40 million of taxpayers' money, that may be the most pertinent data point in the future of parking. Here was a classic case of how good intentions can get fouled up with old-fashioned civic extortion. The retailer Target demanded the garage as a condition of moving to the city. The city built it. But something strange happened along the way: The expected hordes of drivers didn't materialize. They came by foot, by Metro, but not in cars, at least not in the numbers projected, and now the lot is losing money, costing the city some $100,000 per month.
Lesson: it rarely pays to bend over for any business, let alone one with a suburban business model in an urban setting.

Your Neighborhood Sucks and Soon Your School Will Too

First, from Kaid Benfield's blog at NRDC, where he discusses ULI/PriceWaterhouseCooper's newly released emerging trends in real estate, and wouldn't ya know it. They got it right.
In the near term, the report advises investors to "buy or hold multifamily" as "the only place with a hint of hope, because of demographic demand" as a large contingent of echo boomers seek their first homes.
I've talked for some time about the demand of the "communitarian" generation, eschewing the conventional factors for relocation (jobs) for things like diversity, sense of place, URBANITY. Clearly, they are the demand driver that will pull us out of this mess. As I previously wrote:

Boomers are retiring and desire the type of freedom found in ideal “retirement communities” like the Upper East Side or Key West rather than being “warehoused” in an actual retirement village. Millennials want to escape similar confines of suburbia for more authentic and diverse (yet affordable) experiences and ways of life.

I often say that cities progress from being Viable to Livable and finally to Memorable. To the City’s credit, they are undergoing several projects that would register as “memorable,” in some cases admirably so, but we still have not yet achieved livability (the hard part) in downtown (and this coming from a downtown resident).

We just need to put our brains together to make the numbers work for smaller residential space per resident (efficiencies or roommates) while getting land values and expected returns by current land owners back into the realm of practicality.

Interestingly, the report even arrived at conclusions that I had expected but not yet seen evidence of, at least locally, :
The report even questions the continuing supremacy of suburban school systems, noting that increasing numbers of them will start to falter as their supporting tax bases decline.
This is, of course, completely logical, as suburban schools are forced to compete for municipal dollars for their own student transportation infrastructure necessitated by the very thing they're competing against, the upkeep of overextended infrastructure for a too sparse (and increasingly less rich) tax base.

Conclusion, not everybody can afford all of those suburban houses that we've built. And, we're seeing that reality played out before us. As mentioned before, the demand for positive urbanity, which will create more localized and efficient economies, is there. We just have to define and overcome all of the barriers to the delivery of the supply to meet the demand.

Where to Walk if You Want to Die
New Study from Transportation 4 America: Dangerous by Design - Most Dangerous Large Metro Areas for Pedestrians. I've mapped the top 20 list of their Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), largest dots are the top 5, medium dots top 10, and the smallest dots round out the top 20.

Dallas, if you're lazy, but not lazy enough to lack a modicum measure of wonder comes in at 13 amongst such destinguished urban wonderlands as Detroit, Charlotte, and Las Vegas.

Certainly looks bad for Florida. But, nearly the entire top 20 is located in the sun belt. The only outlier being, not so ironically, the car capital of the world, Detroit. A city so turned over to all things automobile that it matches Sun Belt cities for being designed for the car, despite once being called the Paris of North America (20s and 30s).

I think it is safe to assume, that any city designed to be walkable, is safest for pedestrians.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Free Golden Boy!!!

Broken record time. I've harped on Golden Boy here and here. Now see him out and about!

AT&T Plaza Before.

AT&T Plaza After.

Free Beer Friday Guess the City

I have a surprisingly extensive highway system, none of which actually effect the city center, which buffers it from the highway and industrial riverfront via a rigidly geometric ring road, which replaced city walls. Internal to the ring road is an equally rigid orthogonal grid pattern and extremely pedestrian friendly with numerous carfree roads.

I may or may not have friends and relatives in a recent post. Who am I?

(ed. note: as always, first correct guess in the comments and find me at happy hour gets a free beer. Except for reigning champ Toby who apparently is accepting Carbon offsets instead of beer.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ratcheting Down Roads to Crank Up Density

This post begins with the assumption, which I would call observed fact, that all development is a direct response to the primary mode of transportation serving the site (primary mode can also include multi-modal). When specifically applying a mode of transportation and accommodating it on a site, this assumption makes logical sense. It is the single most important determinant

For example, if everybody is travelling by car, the parking necessary takes up valuable FAR. Similarly, ports/docks are low density b/c everybody is on a boat b!tch. People arriving via transit are all on foot, pedestrians are on foot, and don't exactly need a place to put their shoes. And if they did, the foot lockers wouldn't exactly take up much space. That extra room for parking is either immediate for access (ie in front) or hidden to ameliorate the effect parking has on a building's ability to engage the public realm and participate in the multiplier effect of the "urban buzz."
Copenhagen bike parking, compact and not sociofugal like a car park.

The two solutions are various shades of bad: very bad and less bad, because as I said it takes up valuable building/leasable space and it disconnects a building from its context thereby turning the building into a "non-sequitur" building, meaning it does not participate in the synergies that create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Furthermore, the parking provision (and in cities where land and development is more expensive) has become a barrier to development, often accounting for upwards of 20% of a project cost.

To further the linguistic metaphor, in syntax, there are certain rules for things to come together to make sense (in cities these would be livable places). Once the rules are satisfied art can be applied to create poetry or prose and invoke even greater meaning. In cities, these become lovable places.

We obviously can't just start building without parking, as everybody (but me) is still stuck in a car on the road. But, we can alter the transportation network that informs the development density (and quality). I don't mean removing roads altogether, but slowly and incrementally ratcheting down the scale of many of the roads in the city and pinpointing any road designs that negatively affect urban tissue, creating places less than the sum of the parts.

Dallas is in the top five in the country in constructed freeway miles per capita. Extrapolated, it is probably pretty safe to assume that American cities dominate in the world list for this statistic as well, meaning that D/FW has nearly as many freeway miles per capita as any city in the world. Top Five WooHoo! Time to celebrate? No sir. And we're gonna drive from Dallas to Darmstadt, Germany to see how much money we're wasting.
As I posted the other day, Prof. Bill Hillier discussed development density, how it is created and defined by the density of the local grid network. The combination of the two components combine to create "urban buzz," or as I would describe as the facilitation of synergistic economic activity.

Obviously, economic factors have to exist to have demand for population to be there in the first place, the grid is then the application of a platform for increasing economic activity. The economic purpose makes for a VIABLE city. The grid allows for a LIVABLE CITY. And, as I said earlier, applying CIVIC ART then creates for MEMORABLE or LOVABLE cities.

You can't just start laying out a grid in the middle of nowhere and expect "urban buzz," but that won't stop people from trying apparently:

The visual mind virus of Bizarro Keynesian Meme. Build roads, expect development = stupid supply side urban development, rather than incrementally allowing demand for new development and expansion of the grid to accommodate it. This is what we mean by not overextending yourself financially by way of infrastructure.

Looking further into why Cities have roads and what purpose they serve, Hillier also talks of the necessity of local and global connections. Let me refine this dichotomy to include a greater range of: local, city, metropolitan, regional, global. Extracting Jane Jacobs, highways are essentially global connections b/c they link global hubs ie airports to cities (as macro destination), as well as cities to cities - for example Houston area to Dallas area. The grid then allows the connections from microdestination to microdestination, or intermideate destination (such as a transpo hub) to microdestination (your house, your job, third places, etc.). As Hillier suggests, the local grid connects everywhere to everywhere and allows the necessary flexibility of choice to get there without all traffic funneled to overly hierarchical dendritic arterial systems.

So we have our five road "connections, which I'll number by intensity or volume:
1. Local
2. City
3. Metropolitan
4. Regional
5. Global

Each of these connective "purposes" has an appropriate design solution that either can engender high quality, dense urban development or do just the opposite. This post will show examples of both.
Oft repeated schematic illustrating spatial relationship and densities of people by mode of transpo. As you can see accommodating modes other than cars allows for greater capacity. Moving greater capacity is supposed to be any transpo engineers job. Greater capacity moving by a site, equates to a higher "highest and best use," meaning more predictably successful commercial enterprises, more "urban buzz." Oh, and as we'll see, it just looks nicer, feels nicer.

Looking specifically at Dallas, anyone that approaches downtown from the North via the Dallas Tollway arrives into the City experiencing a descension of hierarchy from road type 5 all the way down to 1. This is what we mean when we say context sensitive design. The street capacity is reduced as the road descends further into the City. However, as we'll see, Context Sensitive Design can be poorly sensitive or misinterpreted as the roads are all poorly designed, strictly for the maximum amount of cars and little else (like a DART bus or two) meaning not operating to full capacity as the picture above shows.

This entry experience will follow a 2-mile stretch of roadway as the Tollway as it merges with and becomes Harry Hines, until it turns into Akard St. until it terminates at AT&T and Golden Boy!

Category 5 (failed autocentric version): Characterized by flyovers, overpasses, cloverleafs, and related over-engineering. Notice that no development wants to engage with roads like this in any way and some futile attempts to "green" it up is made to make it barely palatable, ie more sunk costs.

Category 4 (failed autocentric version): I believe we are near Harry Hines and Wolf here. The street now has traffic lights, six! lanes (all each too wide as well), and a pointless sidewalk right up to the curb. Often has surface parking in front to provide "access" and the only thing noticeable is a KERA billboard for drivers b/c nobody is expected to be on this road on foot. You'll also note that this is one-way here, meaning it has a mirrored overly wide, poorly design street running parallel one block to the East.

Category 3 (failed autocentric version): It's actually two-way with some on-street parking here, yet it isn't exactly helping business, except that we're greeted by a porte cochere and two curb cuts. Prime example of a building relating to the form of transportation. You're obviously arriving by car, we'll design our entry to greet cars. Oh, and a blank wall.

Category 2 (failed autocentric version): Back to one-way. Apparently, we have yet to learn that businesses need two-way streets to maximize predictable visibility and locational choices. As we said earlier, commercial success (and urban buzz) requires as many people moving by as possible (a focusing of the energy of human movement). Two-ways is better than one. Also, on-street parking is available at points along this street but it is spotty. We see another covered porte cochere and a sidewalk with no buffer from moving vehicles.

Category 1 (failed autocentric version): Given that this is at the intersection of Main Street (the one area of successful urbanism in downtown) and the Harry Hines/Tollway funnel, this should one of the most important and successful streets in Dallas. Main Street works, but as of yet, the "buzz" hasn't spilled southward toward the poor, imprisoned Golden Boy. This is partially due to the design of the street which doesn't convey its importance (and I don't mean widening). It feels like a back alley.

So what have these roads bought us? Well, because they are design to be sociofugal (and repel people), they become escape routes. As I suggested earlier this week, countering the argument that big roads deliver people to a city, it's a zero-sum game in terms of people coming and going on those roads, but when you factor in what they have done to the real estate, the extra cost of widened (virtually) car-only roads has decimated real estate development and urban density.

The density WE DO have is designed to be entirely auto-centric as well, with large parking garages as well as front doors that are little more than car drop-offs/porte cocheres.

The street edge is even defined by walls. agggh, more tree lawns!!! kill me!!!!

Furthermore, all of this high-rise residential/condominium development dotting lower McKinney is entirely a by-product of the falsely created, irrational housing exuberance of the past ten years. If it had to do with actual demand (one, it would be filled), it wouldn't be so poorly designed in how it engages the public realm.

So what are examples of roads that these should look like? Well, I'm glad you asked.
A better #5 - limited to the outskirts of the city. Very few $750 Million overpasses/interchanges, because highway to highway interaction is rarely four-way and they don't intersect every two miles. Lined mostly by natural buffers, development is rare except at the highway to boulevard hubs. There are no frontage roads, which bleed the "movement economy" energy from the lower level streets, which can better accommodate development.
A better #4 - ignore that this is the Champs Elysees which acts as a "main street" of Paris. 4's should be the primary vehicle traffic movers of any metropolitan region and can accommodate development directly interfacing with and benefitting from the energy moving by on the street because of the buffers created by the allees of trees, a browsing/parking parallel "slip" lane, and ample sidewalks. These streets still require a development coding maintaining a linear street wall to maximize use to use adjacency/synergy.
A better #3 - a lesser version, or lower scaled "complete street" from #4.
A better #2 - Main Street in downtown Dallas would be a good number 2. However, I would categorize it in the Dallas hierarchy as a 1, the lowest capacity because the road hierarchy is on steroids. The theme of this post is that in Dallas, all of the roads, need to go on "road diets" and scale from bad 2's to good 1's. Bad 4's to good 3's.
A better #1 - Rather than alleys, we start using terms like woonerf or mews. Examples include Stroget (the carfree area in Copenhagen) or even the small side streets with cars near Stroget that will probably go carfree soon anyway. Point being, cars can still get through as you see above, but it's primarily only delivery vehicles. Who else would want to try to drive through there? Curbs aren't necessary b/c bikes, pedestrians, strollers, pedicabs, you name it all have equal right-of-way to the space. This is the epitome of street as space.

So what does all of this mean for Dallas? Dude, you're full of something, not sure if it's questions.

I thought we were driving to Darmstadt. Are we there yet?

Yes. This is Darmstadt, Germany. When placed over Dallas at a similar scale, we get this:

Darmstadt is a city of 142,000 people. The orange shows all of Darmstadt minus the "boroughs" of Eberstadt, Arheilgen, and Wixhausen (all compact suburban satellites off the map, but still within city proper) taking the total population of the orange area down to approximately 100,000.

It should be noted that Darmstadt also barely has any buildings over ten stories, other than the middle finger building (shown below), of course. Most of which are steeples or various other associated vertical elements with civic/cultural edifices.
I wonder where or towards whom it is facing? Probably Munchen.

While not entirely accurate, the orange area covers the equivalent of Dallas zip codes 75201, 75202 (downtown) and 75204 (uptown), meaning we're probably looking at a max residential population of about 25,000, or one-fourth of Darmstadt's density.

As you can see from the aerial, its compact nature allows for preservation of nearby agricultural land for food production as well as natural forests/habitat. The freeways are all exterior to the actual city preventing them from having the corrosive, deleterious effect upon the urban fabric which we know all too well. The city is then accessed by roads lower on the hierarchy.

If as the saying goes, "density buys amenity," apparently in Dallas we just buy entirely too much car infrastructure which means that much less in the way of amenity and livability.

P.S. I have a much more in depth post looking at Darmstadt that has been about half-way done for about a year. I'll try to get that finished within the next week.