Thursday, January 28, 2010

Parking: Crime and Punishment

Crime sucks. Especially when it happens to you (unless it's funny). In the past three months, someone very close to me (literally and home proximity) has had their car broken into twice, parked in what is supposed to be a secure parking garage.

This is not solely a downtown phenomenon either, as once when I lived in uptown, I had my car broken into in my building's parking garage (an entirely private garage) as well. Luckily, I was more accommodating and left the doors unlocked, meaning no smashed window to deal with (apparently, we didn't share the same taste in fashion as the $200 dollar ray-bans were picked up and moved in order to take the pocket change).

In Dallas, I'm one of the few who willingly choose to live car-free. I do so now b/c I'm a lunatic. But for a variety of reasons, primarily, as a city's transportation is its skeleton driving the overall form, the transportation network and city have evolved entirely car-centric. Jobs aren't near housing, not enough housing is near transit, the City is still in its infant stages of adapting to DART, which can take decades or longer for the market to shake out the true value of land w/in x distance of DART and measure that factor by the quality of place and station area.

A new study at ranks American cities by CarFree household. I'll spare the suspense. Dallas unsurprisingly misses the top 50. Hooray! Unless you find choice in the marketplace to be a good thing.

However, when narrowing the spectrum to cities above 250,000 in population we find Dallas snuggled in at #38 ahead of San Antonio, Nashville, San Diego, and Jacksonville (the nation's largest city by land area). If I were to surmise the primary factors would be city form and poverty. And since poverty rates are generally much more standardized city to city, the single most important factor is city form. This is verified by the results. The top ten consists of Eastern cities, Chicago, and San Francisco, all well-established before the introduction of the car and with fairly extensive public transpo.

So, while one might be inclined to say, "Woohoo! We all own cars! We're rich!" That isn't the reason we rank so low, especially since Dallas is 16th in percent living below the poverty line.

Looking more deeply at the statistics, Dallas ranks 31st in % of public transit commuters, which is an improvement (with the assumption that commuting to work by car is a bad thing economically, as it requires excessive road construction, maintenance, inefficient land use patterns, gas/oil use, and air quality) from its overall ranking.

While it can be assumed that slowly but surely Dallas is evolving to DART which opened its first lines about 10 years ago, commuting by bike and foot are quite abysmal. What this means is that Dallas's commuting patterns are tremendously skewed towards the more expensive means of transportation (rank them 1. car 2. bus/train 3. bike 4. foot), even without factoring in the multiplier effects of energy and land use.

Therefore, the population near or below the poverty line in Dallas are forced into car ownership to make ends meet, while transportation can account for as much as 40-45% of their income, while the well-to-do are forced to subsidize it via roads to make the whole system work. Lose-Lose.

I hate lose-loses. We're all about win-wins at CarFreeInBigD, which is why we're in favor of choice. Any functional marketplace must have choice, right free-marketeers? I guess mode of transportation doesn't count. Furthermore, the majority of these costs (ownership and operation, oil/gas) leave the local economy.

I'm rare b/c I'm nuts (and I like to live out my self-righteousness). However, I'm not self-righteous enough to force this way of living onto anybody. Sane people have to have a car still in this town. In fact, they are essentially coerced into having a car to take care of daily needs like getting to work, groceries, etc. Any market economy or government founded upon free will can not function under coercion. Choice also applies to housing type. There is a tremendous pent-up demand for housing of all types near transit and in walkable communities. Meeting that demand is what will lead cities out of the recession.

As stated, poverty isn't the driving force in car ownership or lack thereof, but it very well might induce petty theft and property damage. In fact, I might argue the causal relationship is the reverse and that poverty is driven (pun) by the necessity of car ownership.

I'm one to always want to know the underlying forces driving behavior. Seeing that we are all fundamentally people with the same genetic wiring, deciding and abiding by a similar set of criteria. Until there is a better option, I will define this criteria as Maslow's hierarchy of needs to which I've discussed the relationship of city building before.

I'm suggesting that forced car ownership and the cost of infrastructure to support an auto-centric economy, is driving a vicious circle where some increment of the population is barely getting by in the car-only local economy. It seems quite logical that cars would be the first place to scour for items to make ends meet, would it not?

I hate to be apologetic about crime because it is the worst feeling in the world to have your daily routine interrupted by a smashed car window and missing possessions (next to being locked out). But, this crime in particular is petty (in comparison with others) by definition and no matter the place or time, there will always be shitheads in given community.

I'll liken it to street design where regulation and enforcement also has negligible effect. The design of the street is the problem, moreso than the people who might speed. People will drive the speed they feel comfortable. Perhaps the design of the system is the primary problem.

This system, the behavior of people within (or operating outside of) the legal economy is much more complex, however than silly bandaid measures like speed bumps, and speed limits, and pulling police away from more important tasks to sit in a car and watch for someone going 60 in a 45.

This is the economy, which is the construct of how we interact with each other, represented by the form of our city. when our city is so divergent, as to force people of all incomes to HAVE to own a car, which can be up to or greater than 40% of their netcome, just to participate in civilized society perhaps the instinct of some is to withdrawal from that particular brand of civilization.
Physical Effects

Let's think about this from a design perspective now, beyond a behavioral one. High car ownership, means grossly exaggerated amounts of car infrastructure beyond roads. All of those cars have to be parked somewhere. Professor Donald Shoup once calculated that there were four parking spaces provided for every car in America. That was in 1973.

Prof Shoup is the THE expert on parking and its negative effects on America. He is full of good statistics, like the one he gave recently at a presentation at Yale, "the MINIMUM requirement for parking in Los Angeles is 50x the MAXIMUM allowed parking in San Francisco." LA has about half the car-free households that San Fran does. Shoup's ultimate point is that while parking isn't free to build or provide, it is often free to park (just like roads), thus further subsidizing car-culture.

While some measure of parking standards and codes are policy driven by the market, the market is steered by further policies creating that market, ie car-only transportation networks. If a market is an invisible hand, highway funding et al., is the invisible arm controlling that hand.

Whether we're providing 4 spaces per car or 50 per, either is still too much parking, which in built form comes in the way of large surface lots and parking garages. Neither contributes much to the synergies of cities. They act more as middle men deducting city efficiency and vibrancy, hurting the local economy.

Here is a simple test: is it easy to find a parking spot? Has any place in the world that you ever really wanted to be had ample parking? No. Why? B/c space/land in places of high demand is much too valuable for such things as temporary car storage. This is why a covered parking space in NYC can cost as much as an apartment in Dallas.

The other negative effect parking places on a city is perception. Neither parking lots nor garages feel like safe places to be. No matter how much flood lighting is applied, whether they are safe or not is immaterial. They are perceived as unsafe, which means the reality becomes that they are unsafe. They create dead zones with few watchful public "eyes" protecting the public realm.

Walkable cities still have places to park, they are far less ubiquitous and less obtrusive on the physical landscape. Less parking is provided per car or capita, thus forcing more parking to be accommodated on-street. On-street parking with detached minimum requirement is a much more efficient way of handling parking load because it is floating, much like the electricity grid works as energy storage.

Rather than providing x spaces per square footage of building by use for every single block, creating a tremendous surplus of parking (so much so that it is considered cheap enough to park rather than commute by other measures). Somebody can easily park a block or two away (the choice is theirs based on how far they're willing to walk (or pay for closer parking in a demand-based priced parking scheme). These are both district-based parking schemes (rather than use, block, or building codes) which take the burden off of private development.

Parking (particularly in dense areas) can cost as much as 20% of a development's hard costs, which is a significant barrier to investment. However, even if there are no minimum parking requirements, like I've stated a private developer would typically want their own garage where they can regulate, maintain, and ensure safety. Because so few are able to live car-free, it is at this point market-driven. So where do we go from here?
Potential Strategies

For the last segment, I'll list several potential strategies off the top of my head that I've seen throughout the country to effectively deal with the parking dilemma, make the City feel (and be) safer, as well as revitalize Dallas, in particular, downtown. I'll leave it up to you dear reader to weigh cost/benefits of each.

Early in Portland's downtown revitalization the City began a program of building several large parking facilities which would remove the burden of parking provision from new residential development. This is one method of parking district. Each neighborhood (or downtown sub-district if you will) has its own primary garage, from which, one can walk to all nearby destinations.
Lesson: Learn to walk a few blocks. You could probably use the exercise.

Drawback: We already have too much parking in Dallas, so building new garages doesn't really alleviate that problem, unless we do so in order to consolidate surface parking.
Another option, and this one addresses on-street parking more than others (but that doesn't mean that it couldn't be applied to all public parking facilities as well), is to price meters based on demand. This means the meters would be computerized and interconnected so that they communicate to each other and set prices at a level that ensures approximately an 85% occupancy. The 85% number means there is always an availability of parking, the city gains extra revenue thru the market-based pricing, and we are not encouraging car-use as much via policy. Everywhere this has been in place, it has improved business.
Lesson: Price parking so as to discourage driving.

Drawback: Business is allergic to any kind of change and this does little to leverage the surplus of surface lots. Unless of course, we think the over-supply of surface parking means low rates for on-street parking, where the City would then create more on-street spaces (to generate more revenue). All of which would then drive prices too low for the private surface lots to stay in business, which they might then sell.

Drawback 2 to Drawback 1: Some wishful thinking there.
Last would be more coercive policy attempts to limit surface parking. I have seen two ways of doing this. The first, and the more politically volatile, is to ban surface parking lots in special districts. Start a clock running that the owner has to sell to a potential developer by a certain date, essentially amortizing the cost of the land. Currently, surface lots are generating enough cash flow that the owners aren't willing to sell. The price is too high to develop.
Lesson: Surface parking lot owners don't give a shit about the city.

Drawback: Good luck fighting those political battles. Which brings me to option 3b:
Another, more centrist way of accomplishing a similar ends: establish a Land Value Tax in certain overlay districts (a variation is a Split Tax which unbundles land tax and improvements on that land (ie floor space) allowing for a high cost of land area and a low cost for built improvements which puts stress on the public's infrastructure). This has to jive with local and state law, of course, so that is an issue. What this is, is essentially a performance bonus/punitive tax (carrot/stick) based on the performance of real estate. Taxes are reduced on performing properties and increased significantly on properties deemed underperforming, underdeveloped, or vacant. The valuation metric can be set however you want it: typically, it's leasable, occupiable FAR over a minimum (with protections for grandfathered/historic structures).

This likewise creates an incentive for out of town owners or surface lot owners to sell to more willing partners for city development and revitalization, who typically have some skin in the game or motivation beyond $ like passion for the city and revitalizing it. This plays well with local businesses (their taxes are reduced) and those that want to help the city and who cares about those that oppose it. If the goal is to revitalize an area, set the policies that are proven to work, build consensus of support, and don't worry about the howls from the opposition.

Anecdotally, my hometown went from 5000 vacant buildings to 400 in twenty years of operating this policy.
Lesson: Surface parking lot owners don't give a shit about the city.

Drawback: Could be some short-term budget gaps due to lowering taxes on current businesses/residents.
It may well take any combination of these efforts as well as potentially some others to steer the city slowly away from strictly a car-oriented economy, to a safer, more inclusive and robust one. I will bet a year's salary that these would have more effect than any streetscaping measures or new parks on the revitalization of downtown from a $$ standpoint.

In conclusion, current city form and continuing policies forcing the poor into car ownership is a humanitarian offense of accumulated actions placing emphasis on road construction; the links rather than the places. It creates a culture of unsafety and disinvestment, which is bad for the local economy and efforts at revitalization.

Fortunately, the City of Dallas is headed in the right direction, realizing that transportation and development are intertwined and forever interconnected, despite what 20th century dinosaurs might think. Compartmentalizing the two into the hands of specialists is what got American cities into the mess in the first place.

Thirsty Thursday Sausagy Linkages o' the Day

In the category of, "uh oh, know when to run away." A principal of a British architecture firm goes all paternalistic and suggests, "let us make all decisions."

The problem is that the majority of contemporary architects are merely sculptors who look at post-Katrina NOLA and Port-au-Prince as good news stories and a chance to experiment on the poor with their misguided self-indulgent visions. Do you want cities like this?

This is precisely where those exact people get all huffy and drag this into a simple debate about style, exclaiming that I would attempt to limit their brilliance with silly rules based on empiricism and proven regularities of urban economies and places. Once again, I am stylistically agnostic.

In a post entitled, "Gehry the Dinosaur," I suggest that architects should actually be limited when it comes to city building and broader issues, at least until its proven they have some understanding of complex interactions and dynamics of cities, beyond "big bridge, big building, big big big." Oedipus-turned-Edifice complex?

Although, it might seem that I am contradicting my own post on Representative Democracy on Design, the key is public engagement and education. Increased public awareness creates for a competition with the "credentialed professionals," which ensures the progress of a field.

Many architects don't like that however, because they know many of their experimentations will not fly. Only through a singular well-financed and misguided entity can they do so. In that vein, they construct an entire language that means nothing, and in effect create a self-defensive, retrenched in ivory tower cult. Seriously, transcribe Eisenmann or Mayne sometime. Their words literally have no meaning.

Or, perhaps it is currently just a British problem. Because while no doubt there still exists some vestigial remnants of the highway pigs at the trough and the Senators that oblige them, in our federal government. At least, today as I write this, the US federal government, HUD, has reached out to the CNU and asked for a list of all federal barriers to Smart Growth and Livable Communities. Hooray!
Vancouver Sun has an article on micro-condos, complete with picture of one with a Murphy Bed. Once more cities are ready for this market, these will emerge. I have written at length (here, here, here, and here)about the Millennial demand bubble emerging that will drive a trade-off between personal space forgiven for more social space, amenities, sociability, and urbanity.
Grist shows a graph from Architecture 2030 suggesting 75% of the built environment will be replaced by 2035. However, it should be noted that the author is mistaking this for normal in his assertion that "cities get remade more often than you think." While it is true to some extent that cities are constantly molting, this particularly accelerated building life cycle is entirely an American phenomenon, symptomatic of the same issues that brought down the banking industry. Delivering cheap crap to the American consumer, removing building restrictions and code oversight, and promising forever growth.

Personal anecdote: I served as lead urban planner and designer on a project redeveloping nearly 100-acres of low-grade garden apartments. These were built in the 1960's and were once a happpening, swinging singles area. Before they were torn down and the tenants were given money for relocation, there were families living in buildings where the ceiling joists were literally caving into the rooms, walls had rotted, etc.

If you think building materials and construction quality have gotten better, you would be wrong. Which is why Texas homebuilders lobbied a certain former governor very persuasively and effectively for removal of all liability from the homebuilder on the date of the purchase.

The next twenty years, suburban life ought to be pretty interesting when everybody's new home literally starts melting.

If you want to REALLY think about sustainability in a deep, meaningful, and transformative way, start asking how we can finance buildings based on life-cycle costs/performance, particularly in fields where developers typically flip their buildings immediately or shortly after construction.

FYI, the building I lived in in Rome was several hundred years old and the particular unit I was renting was on the market for $1 million. Think about the ROI on that entire building.
Pittsburgh conducted a study regarding cost savings switching street lights to LEDs and the results are...illuminating. (sorry)
the city, which spends $4.2 million annually on electricity and streetlight maintenance, could save $1 million each year in energy costs and $700,000 in maintenance costs with LED lighting.

Thought for the Day

If your public space needs to be programmed, ie have programmed events, that should be thought of like a stimulus plan. While it may be necessary to invigorate the space/economy, it should not be mistaken for a fully functional or healthy space/economy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shall We Call This Revenge of the Millennials

On Boomer-imposed Aesthetic?

A blog, gleefully titled the Unhappy Hipster, takes on Modern Home Architecture Mag Dwell, with running commentary.

A sample (note - I happen to like several of the images (typically the more understated, ie less apt to venture into the realm of ridiculae), but you'll notice that the Unhappy Hipster doesn't stray far from his intended target):

He sipped his tepid coffee and pondered how to tell her that, in fact, the pants made the sack dress even less appealing.
He sipped his tepid coffee and pondered how to tell her that, in fact, the pants made the sack dress even less appealing. (Dwell, October 2009)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Most Amazing Thing You'll See All Day.

From artist Rob Carter. Watch it at his website. This one is called Metropolis and it ends with Dallas Reunion Tower and Taipei 1 in downtown Charlotte. Say wha?! You'll see.

I'd love to post the video here, but I'll just show some screen caps:

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Point of Representative Democracy

I love the idea of Democracy, how can you go wrong, right? It can even be a bumper sticker: Self-rule? It's cool!

In a world defined and shaped by memes and movements, there will always be a reductive competition of ideas, with the strongest surviving the test of time for the appropriate duration of their strength. People are merely conveyors and carriers of ideas. With enough support, it becomes a meme and certain people become the predominant agents of that idea, the representative. This applied hierarchy of competition and cooperation allows for a necessary reduction in memes, movements, or directions, without which, there would be no order.

Therefore, democracy in its purest form is somewhat of a biological impossibility (at least in our current evolutionary iteration), as it goes against nature, which will always nominate the better of two ideas, not both. History is essentially, the written documentation of the competitive lasting power and usefulness of various ideas or memes.

It has been said that the internet is democratic. It provides a potential medium for voice, knowledge, and access to an increasing number of individuals. What it really is, like any agents of democratization, is really an accelerant in the consumption and digestion of ideas in competition. Eventually, it is easy to see who deserves voice and who doesn't, as their message is eventually forgotten to the roadside of history. This is the kind of littering that I can believe in.

This applies to design as well. While input is critical, if you let every Joe Schmo and Jill Rabble dictate the details of a design, the design "representative" is no longer an expert, but an organizer, facilitator and arranger, attempting to wrestle with, and apply, some order to chaos. This is my theory of what happened to Main Street Garden. Of course, as most people miss in my post, I imply that since the "Urban Genotype," is in place, ultimately the place will prove a success no matter its current, malleable "phenotype."


All of what I have just written, is in fact prelude to this article by Joel Kotkin suggesting that Phoenix, a Sun Belt city, should "put away its dreams of Gotham." One might think, that there would be some intellectual merit to this point. Is he suggesting that Phoenix apply time-tested principles of urbanism to its own local geography, climate, and material? No. In fact, Kotkin suggests that Phoenix strive to be more like Houston, the dreamland of pseudo-freemarketeers despite nothing being free-market about government sponsored highway construction, the ultimate dictator of Sun Belt city form.

What Houston has, like Phoenix he points out, is multiple centers and that New York is one big mass of shit apparently. What he doesn't or refuses to understand is that New York, like every other city in the world, is an amalgamation of an arrayed hierarchy of centers. Physically, the city is its defined by its metropolitan area first, of which Manhattan, Newark, Brooklyn, Queens, etc are all various elements, competing, collaborating, cooperating, and interacting and support local, regional, national, and international economies.

Within Manhattan, for example, there are then hundreds of centers that vary in scale from the neighborhood center, to regional centers, to Times Square, the crossroads of the world, which might be considered a national or international center.

The way these centers are organized physically and hierarchically (size/draw or magnetism), as well as interrelate, are defined by geographical elements (bodies of water), infrastructure (type of transportation system), and quality of place.

Historically, what people call the organic nature of classical and medieval cities, are really the amalgamation of different "centers." For Kotkin to say, Phoenix should be like Houston because it has multiple "centers" is ignorant of urban dynamics, perhaps willfully. The difference is the type and design of the infrastructure and transportation system of cities. Sun Belt cities are defined nearly entirely by the highway, and thus the distance between centers.

My guess is this distance (defined by highways) is what makes "centers" more differentiated and understandable for a mind that lacks an intuitive understanding of subtlety and distinction like Kotkin's. Unfortunately, that distance is the increment of every economic transaction that is crippling our economy: driving to a store, kids bussing to school rather than walking, lack of community, building new (empty) exurban neighborhoods, construction of highways thinking that supply is the way out of congestion. All of these things are coming out of the wrong end of the digestion system of history.

Or, perhaps he's just the paid mouthpiece for a highway lobby and road/auto industry that knows it is fighting a losing battle in the annals of human progress that has deemed their industry irrelevant for the 21st century city.

I feel certain that the citizens of Phoenix will eventually determine the most appropriate way to shape their city better than any advice that Kotkin can give them.

3-Sides of a Circle

DC Streetsblog, which picked up my post on Jaywalking as a Livability Indicator post, highlights the...let's say irregularities in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's interestingly devoid of intelligence article, "Eeek! Why no more Freeways?!?!" (Not really the title).

The crux of the debate is, why spend federal dollars on covering a freeway when we could spend it on more lanes.

While the FWST apparently wants to continue the march of folly, solving traffic congestion through increased supply, when that very supply is the reason for the problem. Fortunately, the DMN has a more rational take.

My take on the other hand is to appropriately keep this discussion at the complexity and nuance it deserves...140 character tweets:

Small Government! Unless it's for highway construction...then gov't spending is A-OK!!!!

W. 7th in Fort Worth and Retail as Place Driver

I have talked about what the future of retail will look like several times before (here and here) and I'll be hitting on the same issues discussed in those, within this post which is directed at a real place, still in its hatchling stages of development.

In particular in one of the previous posts, I discussed where retail in dallas will re-congregate, with particular emphasis on the CityPlace/West Village area. Not because of anything particular that has yet been designed there, but rather the convergence that is established by infrastructure and coding (it's urban genotype) will ensure its success.

The fundamental point is something that I've been evolving and packaging for consumption since then: 21st century retail's need for 3 kinds of convergence:

2-Dimensional convergence is what you see in a planometric drawing of a city, perfected during the Baroque and used effectively since. I often use the L'Enfant DC plan, Broadway's axial cut applying a hierarchy through New York's regular grid and Rome's various papal axes, in this case the trivium arriving at Piazza del Popolo (work of Ed Bacon also is very effective at teaching this) to illustrate this point:,_Piazza_del_Popolo,_by_Nolli.jpg/598px-Map_of_northern_Rome,_Piazza_del_Popolo,_by_Nolli.jpg

What often happens however, is that these inherently create people spaces (moreso than retail spaces) as the convergence of multiple conduits requires an outlet, more space for the arriving people from various directions. For example, if you were to pour two or more full glasses of water into another vessel, you would need a larger container. Retail requires proximity of other stores meaning narrower distances for cross shopping, so the retail spills down Via Del Corso from Popolo, or Connecticut from DuPont Circle, or down any of the streets off Times Square.

3-Dimensional Convergence refers essentially to mixed-use buildings. If there are residents above and adjacent to the retail, there is a consistent base to support an amount adjusted exactly to the quantity of residents within walking (or elevator/stairs) distance. Quality of place then creates a larger draw which means more demand and a larger center.

4-Dimensional Convergence can refer to time of day, but more precisely I'll use it to suggest a multitude of useful forms of transit converging in one place, within certain time periods of each other, which requires some degree of regularity of arrivals. For mass transit, this means dependable and preferrably frequent stops nearby, with little to no changes in form of transit. Also, quality of place matters, creating a perception of safety for drivers, bikers, and walkers to feel comfortable arriving at any time of day.

Eventually as cities re-adapt to an organization less dependent solely on the auto, various retail "centers" will emerge into a hierarchy based on the quality of and quantity of types of convergence, ie to simplify necessarily, having 1 form would be a neighborhood center, 2 forms of convergence a town center, and 3-forms a regional center.

This is why, in Dallas, I know West Village/CityPlace will be successful as it continues to develop; I believe downtown will emerge from its slumber once again as it has these advantages built into its "Urban DNA", and traditional shopping malls like NorthPark can continue their success ONLY if they maximize all three forms of convergence. For NorthPark specifically despite its ongoing success in comparison with most malls, this means improving and simplifying connectiong to DART, as well as infilling its surface parking lots with residential density, pedestrian-friendly street grid, quality public spaces.


Meanwhile, as we live our own Dallas-centric exploration into the 21st century city, our neighbor to the West is working on a project that has similar level assets, if not more than any particular neighborhood in or near Dallas. This would be the new development at West 7th.

It has the cultural district within eyesight, is close to a Trinity River that is currently an amenity, closer to its downtown, is directly on the main link between downtown and the cultural district, whereas McKinney, the uptown main street is a right turn out of downtown. Using Hillier's axial studies, suggest each such redirections can have a profound affect on urban success or lack thereof, per axial shift.

West 7th the street is exactly the kind of overly wide arterial that materializes when design criteria is limited solely to traffic flow. Still speaking generally about arterial design, any aesthetic concerns for the pedestrian are an afterthought and appear exactly as such, and thus are not effective.

This kind of design typically leads to the type of decay and disinvestment of the immediate area, that ironically drives land value low enough that it can then be redeveloped into something better when efforts coalesce and a developer is confident that his surroundings will improve as well, protecting his/her investment...which is exactly what has happened here. In some ways, it just reinforces the idea that places often have to bottom out before they get better (see: the amount of attention and intelligence directed at Detroit currently.)

The plan at the W. 7th project creates its primary "place," one street parallel to 7th. You could say that this is a mistake from a theoretical standpoint, but as I stated in another recent post, it is a necessary compromise. The primary concern must be to build enough critical mass to create a "place" from Day 1, something that holds together. This, to date, has been the inherent flaw in the neighboring project Museum Place, which one might argue has the superior architecture.

The plan and design at W. 7th understood all of these issues. The potential of the future, but the necessity to hedge bets if 7th was never fully to become a street designed as both link and place.

Seeing that 7th currently is not a street designed for people (who would live on it right now?), they've done exactly what they should have done, not completely turn its back on 7th, but ingratiate itself with the grid as well as to design flexibility and adaptability of the building to interact w/ 7th in a way that can change hand-in-hand as 7th evolves. Success now. And predictably moreso in the future.

Once 7th is redesigned as a more pedestrian-friendly, complete street, it has the opportunity to be a "place" itself - as streets can be either links or places themselves. Currently, as with most streets it was designed specifically for moving traffic, meaning it is a link - but to maximize value and well-being of the local citizenry.

Why is it important to flip the modernist inside-out street design back to rightside-out? Because there is the most energy there - if and when an arterial can be designed to be amenable to humans - then the most valuable uses will clamor to occupy space on that street to minimize the distance or disconnect from energy of people movement and their direct access...facilitating commerce. That distance is a cost increment extracted from the local economy: a fraction of a cent, multiplied over however many millions of transactions, like in Superman 3.

Imagery taken in December:

My last point is about the nearby Museum Place. As I stated, in my opinion it has excellent detailed architectural design and landscape architecture, but it doesn't yet feel like a place. With the efforts at the Cultural District, W. 7th, and Fort Worth's streetcar efforts, eventually it will. Like all cities throughout history that grew together, morphed, and coalesced, eventually it will all feel like one coherent place; a center close enough to downtown that provides a positive feedback loop with downtown Fort Worth, utilizing 7th street as the chains of the bicycle between pedals and spokes.

As of now however, the real story of all of this is that with its excellent detailed architecture and landscape design, Museum Place is held back by the street design around it.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

President's Speech to Mayors

We'll focus on creating more livable and environmentally sustainable communities. Because when it comes to development, it's time to throw out old policies that encouraged sprawl and congestion, pollution, and ended up isolating our communities in the process. We need strategies that encourage smart development linked to quality public transportation, that bring our communities together. ~ President Obama
Jumpin' jesus in a jelly donut! Please live up to your promise that your budget will reject the failed policies of the past.

One of the challenges of a federal government system, is that it inherently is behind the curve on best ideas bubbling up at a local level. Those ideas have to run the gauntlet of competition of other ideas and survive the test of time before accumulating enough data to become proven enough to apply at a national level (He even discusses that exact idea in this speech). Therefore, when the primary representative of the federal government fundamentally gets the inextricable link between housing, transportation, and energy at a much more profound level than some mayors, that can be a bit disconcerting:

Of course, there is a flip side. The challenge of governing at the local level is that you have weigh all of those other competing ideas to enact those that make the most sense and have the broadest support locally.

Full transcript after the jump.

Propinquity: the Distance of Stuff

I first heard the term in a meeting with Alex Krieger, who had on a pretty killer figure ground tie. I was not jealous enough however to realize that this man just used a word that I had no idea what it meant. I'm not going to lie. I had to look it up. Of course, when my sister taught me to read as a youngster and I came to a word I didn't know, she said, "look it up. And, don't talk to me you toe-headed brat." So it was nothing unusual.

Anywho, in the previous post I suggested that I wrote about walkscore and the difference between quality of walkable environ and proximity, which is what WalkScore measures. I found it in the archives of a professional discussion list:

One of economist Herman Daly's fundamental critiques of neo-classical economics is the valuation system. Somewhere along the lines, emotionality was stripped from economics because it encountered things that couldn't be quantified. So in our hyper-rational, Descartian world, things like happiness, clean air, clean water, and anything else that one might deem subjective or that couldn't be assigned a defined value were "externalized." Which essentially means we are making decisions without any of the factors that went into city building in the first place.

Statistics are slowly catching up to the to complexity of urbanism, although comparative value seems pretty logical. "Hmm, real estate in Paris and Manhattan is deemed valuable based on demand. Something must be right there."

Things like WalkScore are showing that there is a premium for what we do in applying the principles of urbanism based on an increment of their calculations. WalkScore, like any statistic is able to measure the quantitative but not the qualitative. In this case, proximity, but there is no score for the quality of the pedestrian environment.

You can point to walkability as a fundamental basis for economic development, or the qualitative improvement over the existing. The detailed physical design then addresses that which can't be measured, things that might be more visceral, like pedestrian pleasure.

Backing up to WalkScore and proximity though...what I'm discovering, is that if you think about it on purely economic terms, the distance between consumer and transaction is a barrier, where tax dollars for extensive transportation networks, car companies, mechanics, gas and oil companies, etc etc, all take their little slice of every single transaction in a world where everyone has to drive to each interaction as the cost of delivering goods/services to the consumer in demand is also externalized to the consumer. How often does the average consumer think about that when they are thinking about the price of milk?

We all know that previous policies have spread people too far apart. What happens then, particularly in the Sun Belt and similar cities where "Drive Til You Qualify" is rampant and there are very few affordable places to live near transit or in walkable communities, the poor in many cases then are excluded and disenfranchised from the economy, in some cases spending as much as 40% of their net income on transportation, just to participate and make ends meet. Hardly, a way to generate wealth and "pick themselves up by their bootstraps."

Damn, Imaginary People Saving More Loot Than Me

Via AlexSteffen at WorldChanging comes this study on cost savings for going Car-Free by City at the American Public Transportation Association:

Top Twenty Cities – Transit Savings Report

City Monthly Savings Annual Savings
1 New York $ 1,147 $ 13,765
2 Boston $ 1,030 $ 12,362
3 San Francisco $ 1,013 $ 12,156
4 Chicago $ 946 $ 11,357
5 Seattle $ 932 $ 11,185
6 Philadelphia $ 927 $ 11,121
7 Honolulu $ 887 $ 10,639
8 Los Angeles $ 838 $ 10,052
9 San Diego $ 824 $ 9,894
10 Minneapolis $ 824 $ 9,884
11 Cleveland $ 803 $ 9,639
12 Portland $ 798 $ 9,581
13 Denver $ 795 $ 9,539
14 Baltimore $ 782 $ 9,383
15 Miami $ 752 $ 9,022
16 Washington, DC $ 751 $ 9,015
17 Dallas $730 $ 8,756
18 Atlanta $722 $ 8,658
19 Las Vegas $716 $ 8,591
20 Pittsburgh $ 680 $ 8,162

*Based on gasoline prices as reported by AAA on 1/11/10.

I'm guessing that they had to use pretty basic and standardized numbers to calculate this by city without too many variables. I made my own calculations when I first ditched the car and moved downtown here.

The first thing you'll notice (besides my old car - pictured) is that their calculated savings for car-free living in Dallas come to $8,756/yr whereas mine were/are $6,660/yr. So what's with the disparity?

First, I'm guessing since that I'm on the ground doing it, my numbers are probably a bit more accurate (and I don't even keep a monthly or yearly DART pass - although late night cab rides might balance that out).

Second, and this is where local conditions of supply and demand would skew the entire list of numbers (and this will blow your mind). Because Sun Belt cities have much less supply or opportunity for walkable neighborhoods (and are less adapted to their fledgling transit systems), the housing cost differential would show a greater disparity in Sun Belt cities than more walkable cities. Notice the top four consist of NYC, Chicago, Boston, and San Fran. The only two other cities as walkable/transit friendly are DC and Portland (I'll try to rationalize those two outliers later).

What I wrote then is that to live in Downtown Dallas, where I have access to DART, trolley, Amtrak, rental cars, grocery stores, and bars (the most important, of course) within walking distance, I figured that I am paying at least a 20% premium to live in a walkable/transit-friendly neighborhood, or $2,520/yr. That number is pretty close to the gap between our calculations, which was $2,094.

Chris Leinberger talks of premiums for walkable communities on a per sq.ft. basis being between 40 and 200%. While certainly there is some increment to the quality of that walkability (see my critique of walkscore. The gist was that while walkability does measure proximity and correlated propinquity, it does not measure more subjective or visceral quality of experience), the point is that there is most definitely a premium for walkable places.

However, I would suggest that in cities of increased supply of housing in walkable communities, which has an overall increase in cost of living (b/c of the demand by more people wanting to live in what is typically a more interesting and vital city), the discrepancy in cost between walkable and not walkable is not as great, meaning there is more choice in the market place. In the Sun Belt cities, such as Dallas, savings for going car-free or therefore reduced, b/c you are paying more due to pent up demand (Leinberger suggests that 30-40% of populous desire walkable communities but only 3% have them) driving up costs.

What this means for Dallas, is well, the need to focus on livability of the City's design and function through walkability. Thus, making walkable communities more affordable and available as a choice to a broader base of the population. This will allow more families and individuals to either save, invest, or spend through increased disposable income as they see fit.

Choose walkability. It's the democratic thing to do and will ignite the local economy.

Of course, no one wants to walk under an overpass.


Quote for the Day 2

More support that "Form Follows Function" is little more than nonsensical cant. From the book Streets and Patterns by, I think, my new favorite urbanist, Stephne Marshall:
...the revolutionary rhetoric of Modernism passed a death sentence on the street. Modernism set up a new urban model that liberated the forms of roads and buildings from each other. Rather than being locked together in street grids, the Modernist model allowed roads to follow their own fluid linear geometry, while buildings could be expressed as sculpted three-dimensional forms set in flowing space. Each form could follow its own dedicated function, resulting in a divergence of forms and quite separate geometries for buildings and roads. The street, in official vocabulary, ceased to exist.

Quote for the Day - Part 1

Amazing article on soccer and political strife in war torn Angola. With this line from a local Cabindan:
Nor was he happy that the Angolan government had spent so many millions of dollars on a futuristic new 35,000-seat soccer stadium in Cabinda when the money could have been spent on other things. "For me, the stadium is nothing for us," he said. "They are playing today, but tomorrow the stadium will be dead like a dead man. All the people really want is a bigger port, not a stadium, and education, hospitals, universities, a bigger airport. Things like that."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Over at PegasusNews

My downtown 360 article is over at Pegasus News now. Here:

ArchRecord on Dallas ReVision

I've made my snarky comments here. Now, that the competition seems to have been finalized (we'll see if it ever gets realized), Architecture Record has an article about it.

Frankly, I found the comments much more insightful:

Reader Comments:
Anonymous wrote:
These buildings are for Architects, not people.
1/20/2010 11:42 AM CST

Anonymous wrote:
You've really gotta be kidding...
1/20/2010 11:36 AM CST

Anonymous wrote:
This is one of the most anti-urban project I have seen in a long time, and Dallas seems to be attracting the worst of the worst. There is zero attention to the pedestrian scale or to context, which ultimately determines whether a project performs well urbanistically. The building frontage design is especially poor. Pedestrians need a lively exchange between the facades and sidewalk to feel comfortable, and to make retail work. This means articulation and permeability at the street level. What else can I say, except overall it reminds me of a prison with barbed wire on top, and the high tech nature is sure to lead to inefficiencies if not downright failures. Sorry, Dallas, thumbs down.
1/20/2010 10:52 AM CST

Anonymous wrote:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Diagram of the Day

Amazingly, I'm going to try and marry the late opening of City Center in Las Vegas, the tallest building in the world opening in Dubai, and the MTV show Jersey Shore, tomorrow. It's a three-way:

What the Downtown Plan Should Be; Won't

The Downtown Dallas 360 Plan is the right action at the right time, moving in the right direction, so why is it wrong?

Downtown 360 is a good news plan and one of good intentions - so what's the big problemo, man?

A good group was hired and from the first presentation (once they quoted Mumford and Whyte), I was aware of their competence. Unfortunately, competence does not overcome embedded political realities and either ignorance of, or the infacility to address, the biggest issue.

While still in the early, feel good stages of the plan, thus far they have covered most of the appropriate topics (except for an effective and believable strategy for the tunnels) which, like many urban realities, are predominantly symptomatic of deeper issues. The presentations are heavy on application of the complete streets initiative and context sensitive design (which I cannot stress the importance of enough). This alone would be a huge victory for Downtown Dallas.

It's the 2009 urban planning playbook, so why am I still frustrated?

Well, that is exactly the problem. It is hampered by its own intentions, an unfortunately (and possibly necessarily) narrow in its scope and its goals. Even if it does everything it possibly can, it will ideally improve the local street system, hopefully incent some new development, etc., but will still fall short of Dallas' full potential. A narrow scope leads to narrow results. Exactly the right results, but not broad enough for fundamental and actual change for the competition of 21st century cities.

My point? Once this is wrapped up, implemented in downtown, in ten years or so when its efficacy can properly be evaluated, I will tell you where we will have to look for new answers; where we can mine for new economic and community growth. It is right in front of our collective nose.

Once again, the biggest problem is the inner ring highway loop. I feel certain that the design/planning team's hands are tied and if they tried anything like this they would be laughed out of the building and summarily dismissed from the project...

...which is why I can state it here.

Hell, they even discussed it with diagrams - but with no solutions or ideas, potentially showing their reticence to bring up what could be controversial. The first presentation showed some simple decoration under the overpasses. The world has already tried that solution and it was not enough to rectify the damage done.

The second presentation included the following graphics, which I thought were great:

Highways as barriers, disconnecting the local street grid...

(from the Downtown 360 plan)

Here is the next level, blacking out the primary arterials that have the same effect, limiting pedestrian connectivity, and street level complexity. I would have included Elm and Commerce, which have the same barrier effect or as I call it negative magnetism, but I suppose that would be so much black on the graphic as to make it illegible.

(from the Downtown 360 plan)

Comparing and contrasting the urban fabric and local street framework. One could call this an abstract representation of urban complexity, where density of network = complexity which means urbanity, and urbanity means induced value. Notice that Paris is not full of surface parking lots.

(from the Downtown 360 plan)

Of course, while effective, I prefer graphics that are much more rhetorically dramatic in their semiotic intent = RED! highlighting and illustrating the effect, which is more tangible to the lay person - in this case, undeveloped or underperforming properties:

(My graphics)

(My graphics)

(My graphics)

I suppose you have already found the irony here, that I'm now griping about the solutions to my own complaints. The joke is on me. Because, many of the efforts designed to revitalize downtown Dallas over the last (pick one) 10, 20, 50 years have had the opposite effect, and were quite dramatic in their delivery, the solution has to be equally as ambitious and dramatic to counteract the effects; focused with proper urban design and economic development understanding and principles at work.

Meaning this is small scale and incremental effort, while positive, is short-term and needs an overarching, broader vision that is enormous in its impact, yet very simple at its core: incremental and continual reduction in the role of highways in the everyday lives of Dallas citizens and their negative impact on neighborhoods, communities, and businesses.

So why is this the solution? Dallas, as it has been shown, is a city of great ambition. It sets high goals and largely achieves them. However, ambition is a big gun wielded. One often pointed in the wrong direction - sometimes even with the toe on the trigger.

The primary weakness of this idea is the same as those incremental solutions
  1. On the surface, the result seems subtractive and one that undermines the environs that entire generations have known.
  2. There is not a single flashy image that one could print on the cover of the DMN to sell the idea, but it is absolutely the one that will have an impact so vast that it will support and enhance all the singular efforts like the Arts District.
Both are overly simplistic views which brings me to the point of this blog in its current iteration, which is to raise awareness and understanding for what makes for more livable, and in turn, how it creates for a more economically successful place, and the causal relationship between the former and the latter rather than vice versa.

The original intent was of Eisenhower’s interstate system was to connect economies, City to City, forming an interconnected constellation across this, and many other countries. All good. Except, because that government spending created positive benefit, it seemed like the solution to any downturn in the economy. When applied too liberally, it becomes deductive of the economy, a barrier, rather than a connector as I described.

And connections are what makes the world go round, it is why we're on Facebook and Twitter. It is why it is cheaper to walk to the store; why when local businesses can compete on a level playing field we prefer them to build a relationship with the staff or owner. It is simply the distance between us and what we need or want.

The solutional meme for highways arrived at in the 60s as Mumford, Jane Jacobs and others feared the fate of the positive aspects that highways swept clear. While cities were not perfect, they were already highly adapted, but had not yet come to terms with the physical and ethical dirtiness of 19th and 20th century industrialism. The car and highways were the way out.

The car had become ubiquitous and cities struggled to find balance (which is all that is necessary). Copenhagen started reversing its streets from cars only to pedestrians only. Amsterdam stated that all new development should adhere to a reasonable level of beauty. Paris flipped the parking and promenade portions of the Champs Elysees to traffic lanes and back again.

American cities drunk off the economic resource of excess land, half-heartily applied pedestrian malls to its cities. Here, we went balls to the wall, building highways full bore. This proved to be a short-fuse economic success story for politicians with relatively short election cycles.
"Downturn? Let's buildus a highway fellers! Tarrrrrnation! We seem to found us a magic eeeeelixir for recessions fellers!”
Sorry. The good ol' boy accent is not intended to be regionally pejorative as much as to convey the irrationally exuberant euphoria characterizing any meme at its most inertially robust, carrying it past equilibrium. Howard Bloom argues this is due to biological wiring causing for intentional overshoot, a trial by error pattern coloring human development patterns throughout history.

American cities are adolescent in comparison to cities we love to visit. European cities, proving their learned history through trial by error, and therefore further adapted and more resilient cities realized this mistake. These changes molded cities between generational upheavals categorized by crashes, like today. What we are seeing is not a recession, prolonged recession, downturn, or depression. Those are linguistic abstractions. This is a categorical shift in humanity’s direction, which means a new way of city building.

As Harvard Professor Ed Glaeser has said, cities with a dominant economic resource tend to act stupidly and therefore, experience a crash when the resource fails the city or no longer is useful. In Dallas, and much of the Sun Belt, that illusory happiness-in-a-bottle was land. Therefore, in order to unlock the potential of that excess land, highways were built for access. They became valuable. Except much of that land is not valuable as we see half-finished neighborhoods at the extreme ends of the Metroplex like brown leaves on autumn trees waiting to fall. It was not demand driven, or naturally incremental, but it offered the supply, more land with houses on it, then put a price tag on it with a promise of rising values. The test of time is showing that many of these foldout housing developments are more valuable is nearby agricultural production.

Dallas, unlike its metastasizing sister to the south, Houston, is now landlocked by other jurisdictions. It has no place to grow, so highways were built internally to deliver the outer residential to office high-rise downtown. As John Norquist, highway vanquisher as Mayor of Milwaukee, covers in his book Wealth of Cities, highways in cities (to summarize) are predominantly the fault of federal funding and their requisite federal standards. Either way, they are with us now. So what to do?

Fortunately, this means Dallas does not have to limit itself to the simple to do, quantitative growth, and can focus solely on qualitative growth.

Highways do serve a purpose of regional and global interconnectivity. They are miscast on the local level and downtown economies are built on local streets. They are for macro-conveyance designed to reach macro destinations - i.e. metro to metro. When applied at the neighborhood level, they do the opposite of building connectivity, but rather are subtractive of a city, where a local economy is defined by its interconnectivity.

The result is what Mumford and others have deemed the "anti-city." This is an appropriate term for the resultant overshoot towards car-dependence. Concerning downtown Dallas, the highways brought promise of economic development. What we are left with are surface parking lots, parking garages and vacant buildings. Cause and effect.

Cities, and downtowns are finely-grained, requiring fine-grained solutions and a plan such as downtown 360 can't function properly unless the inner loop of highways are addressed, structurally, not superficially.

In detail, highways have inverted the city. As I have discussed at length on my blog, the overshoot characterized by car-dependence has create a physical world that functions abnormally. Because the road networks to serve this overshoot are, in a word, inhumane, and rejected by the average pedestrian. The natural result is to build defense mechanisms, strip centers with parking in front to provide a buffer from the street, the typical internalized shopping mall - which would be this idea in its purest form, or the recent compromise, but nonetheless illustrative of progress, the "lifestyle centers."

The closest we have come in this area to a more pure "messy" urbanism that addresses a primary thoroughfare is the new development called (and at) West 7th in Fort Worth. It is on 7th, which is and will continue to be an important street linking downtown Fort Worth and the cultural district, but the majority of the experience and ground floor businesses are a block parallel. Contrast this effort to get away from the primary energy source (the "main street") with Michigan Ave, Fifth Ave, or a city with more in common - much of Wilshire Blvd.

The solution, like Copenhagen's while ambitious, has to be incremental. The following list is by no means finalized or conclusive, just brainstorming:
  • Step one is the fifty year vision – Identify and delineate all opportuny areas, constraints, potential political allies, funding sources, and economic projections
  • Step two is figuring out the legal ramifications, particularly how to deal with TxDOT. This is probably the biggest hurdle. IMO, this is one place of the most opportunity with budget difficulties at the state and city level - land value locked up in ROW - and then, see the amount of value negatively affected by that ROW, which brings me to...
  • Step three - secure funding for early phase "deconstruction.” There is plenty of federal money flowing right now towards livability initiatives, particularly those that are "shovel-ready" or in this case "wrecking crew" ready.
  • Step four - implement a plan to leverage future development in conjunction with the repurposing of highway land. This is what how it will pay off as ROI.
  • Step five - be incremental. Start with removing cloverleaf on/off ramps - creating more context sensitive and spatially efficient highway and ramping systems.
  • Step six - eventually start incrementally converting highways to boulevards working inside out from Downtown outwards. Oh, and rethink the entire I-30 plan.