Friday, February 26, 2010

Couple of Brief Friday Thoughts

...Before Unleashing the Free Beer Friday Post.

First, I rode a bike down the proposed streetcar line from downtown to Bishop Arts yesterday. Nothing like experiencing space and time at a pace other than at vehicular speed to better get to know a place. Also, often visiting for lunch, I was able to experience Bishop Arts at night for the first time in several years. This recent article at the Observer really gets at what is going on down there. It is emergent urbanism, ummm, emerging, right before our very eyes.

They are getting streetcar because they are ready for it. As Schutze points out the fabric was originally constructed with streetcar in its urban DNA genotype, but they are ready for a rebirth not because of the fabric, but because the people are ready for it. They are active, they are organized, and City Hall would be wise to not only support these efforts but to market the area as it evolves into the eclectic, vibrant place that the residents care deeply about. I became a believer. Their unified vision and organization is guaranteed to make it a success.

Vibrancy and interest is best constructed from the bottom-up, not bestowed upon certain areas. Any top down planning initiatives should focus on fostering such natural and incremental movements.

After speaking with a few people and watching Downtown Dallas limp along for ten years despite countless dollars and extreme efforts, I became convinced. The way to support and reinvigorate Downtown Dallas is an amplified strategy of what I alluded to yesterday. Build around the big project with smaller, simpler projects. In this case, that means supporting, investing, and encouraging more emergence in all of the areas immediately adjacent to downtown into order to build up value and demand for Downtown revitalization that is proving too costly to overcome its considerable barriers.

The adjacent neighborhoods once built upon downtown's success, but now they provide the opportunity for the foundation for downtown to once again sit upon.
Perhaps burying the lead here, but Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief recently did the extraordinary. He honestly and unequivocally addressed the transportation crisis that Fort Worth and nearly all cities are facing. We simply can't afford the car-centric development, not because of the individual mobility, but because of the spin-off and associated costs with supporting diffused infrastructure and its upkeep.
Unfortunately, Fort Worth and other major metropolitan areas are finding out the hard way what a mistake it was to design and build cities around automobiles years ago. Friends, we cannot continue to focus solely on building more roads for more vehicles. That’s counter productive at best...

If this is a mobility crisis—and I believe it is—then it must be treated like one!

In the spirit of the early Fort Worth pioneers who took it upon themselves to pick up shovels and extend the first rail line to our city, it’s time that we took matters in our own hands. It is clear to me that we are not going to get where we need to be by relying only on help from the feds or the state.

The point he touches upon is that the policy of road construction was a self-perpetuating (and -defeating) force producing a construct that we can no longer sustain. And I don't mean sustain like in sustainable (although) that applies. I mean that we literally can't afford it.

Our ability to comprehend the mistakes and adapt to the new world and the time it takes to do so is the process of boom to bust, and back to boom. This time however, the next boom will be in the consolidation. We are shifting from the fission stage of economic development to the fusion stage and the great recession is merely the time it takes to adapt to the new world.

Fort Worth, Dallas, and all of the cities of the Metroplex are going to have to think long and hard about how they want to pay for the infrastructure of individualized mobility. Is it increased gas taxes? New VMT taxes? Increased DMV costs/fees? Is it more toll roads? Frankly, I'm in favor of more toll roads, not new roads that are toll roads, but more roads becoming 'tolled.' *

Then taking the revenue from those tolls to increase overall mobility: convert arterials to complete streets with bike lanes, walkable sidewalks, and buildings that can begin to address the streets the shield themselves from; as well as to help pay for the expansion of the streetcar system that will do more to create high quality urban housing in all of the areas adjacent to downtown mentioned above.

Is it possible politically? I don't know. I do however know that the longer we wait to be honest with ourselves, the bigger hole we begin to dig for ourselves. If in doubt, repeat the phrase "WALKABILITY IS A TAX CUT."

The full transcript is at FortWorthology.

*In order to prevent the poor from being left at the edges footing the bill at toll roads, I would suggest that all developments accepting "transportation/reinvigoration" revenue as part of a public-private partnership should be required to have a 10% affordable component (and for family-sized units, not the smallest efficiencies like downtown buildings appropriate).

In fact, we might have to structure the affordable housing component with greater gradation of affordability, then a simple inclusionary offering, ie 10% of units at 60% median income, 20% at 80%, etc.)

As you may know, I'm a sucker for the application of biological studies towards urbanism, and as this article points out, biologists are beginning to take on cities and concluding that diversity (including income) is a key component of complexity which is the foundation of resilience.

From a value standpoint, we should realize that affordable components in what otherwise may be seen as an upscale neighborhood have several positive spinoff benefits. First, the wealthy provide a positive example for the children of the poor. Second, the wealthy act as benefactors bringing culture directly to the community (and much more effectively). Third, isolating the poor into enclaves also known as ghettos creates a spirit of despair, which can incite a criminal element.
Last, I caught a news segment yesterday on Pizza Hut relocating from Addison to Plano, calling it a new, cutting-edge building. I saw the plan. There is nothing cutting edge about it. I don't care about what kind of wifi or fiberoptics the building might be wired with, the cutting edge is walkable communities.

Cutting edge is defined by academics like UPenn and Johns Hopkins. Cutting edge is defined by businesses like Google. All of which are investing in walkable locations for more interesting atmosphere to attract and retain the best talent. Even AT&T moving to Downtown Dallas (although Golden Boy still needs to be set free!).

Cutting edge would've been relocating to Bishop Arts!