Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Awakening @ the Winspear

[Warning: this post is well out of the strikezone for this blog, but occasionally I include random musings and other eccentri in this space such as this particular diversion into New Age Philosophy, Generational Studies, and Techno. Weird huh?]

Straight forward comments and details first, followed by the rabbit hole of the mind.

Last night, I had the chance to have dinner in the Arts District at Screen Door in One Arts Plaza, which was ok, but given the similar price without achieving similar flavors I would call it a poor man's Bar Americain. Afterwards, we went to the Winspear Opera House to catch the local swing of the Broadway production of Spring Awakening.

First, I would like to say that I found it impressive how many people we ran into that we knew. Also, how lifeless and almost awkward the landscape and the entry/exit experience is in general in the Arts District. The landscape is incredibly arbitrary and haphazard at best and a general nuisance at worst. It was almost surreal after the show to watch as everybody blocked the exits to wait for the elevator/escalator to take them into the subterranean garage where the mole people could finally be happy once again. I know it is pretty much common knowledge by now, and these were mistakes sewn decades ago, but the clustering of these facilities (and its associated parking) really dilutes the power and life-giving properties of any one of them.

As for the actual musical which the majority of this post will be about, you can find a more seasoned and expert review of it here at Pegasus News:
Spring Awakening is not the musical for the closed-minded, stuffy, old, stiff generations that cannot handle nudity and profanity. This is a musical that displays graphic honesty in showing how we all reacted when we were teens and dealing with sexuality, sex, love, religion, parents, and the restrictions that society imposed on us. Those are all the elements in Spring Awakening that make it such a preeminent piece of musical theater.
Now I wouldn't go so far as to give it an A+ as the writer above did, but I don't have the musical background suitable for comparison. However, if I were to rate it within my own canonical criteria, I would give it a 2 out of 3 on the following scale:
3 out of 3 - Life Altering. You may come across a handful of movies, literature, music or other canon throughout the course of your life that truly and profoundly alters the way you think.

2 out of 3 - Worth Experiencing. Good but not profound. This is where I slot the majority of the DVD's, books, itunes library that I own. As I stated, this is also where I put Spring Awakening.

1 out of 3 - These are things that might be guilty pleasures, are overtly simple in their construct, or chick flicks that your girlfriend dragged you to see (which in some cases could be all of the above), but all have elements or are constructed expertly enough to find something worthwhile.

0 out of 3 - Not on your life. If you happened to have seen them, you are worse off for it and you are forgiven for walking out of the theater, shutting off the dvd player, and scolding whoever provided the suggestion in the first place. Michael Bay and Zack Snyder movies go here [still can't get the stench of 300 out of my mind].
What I did find incredibly interesting about the musical and the play it was based on, was that it was originally written (and subsequently set) in 1891 Germany, which is what I plan on exploring further. The review mentioned above alludes to the historical perspective I'm getting at:
Now, I will admit I did miss the foreshadowing that resulted in the New York casting of "Hanschen." In the original, the actor was blonde and blue-eyed, giving him an aura of the future German "Aryan" race. This being 1890, and the boy who played "Ernst" looked slightly Jewish, it was harrowing foreshadowing of what was to come. Nonetheless Hager and Fankhauser were both outstanding in their performances here.
I would like to use the serious statement above to outline my biggest annoyance with the production. Given the context of the play and its setting as well as the character names, I found it profoundly distracting when the production instantly jumped into time into a more contemporary forum.

The most egregious of which, is the song around the middle of the second act, where the full cast is involved, many on the stairs at the front of the stage performing a hyperactive en vogue-ish dance on a red bull and ritalin cocktail to happy hipster punk-like (or -light?) music. The reviewer above even paid special attention to the ballads which were quite moving and revelatory in terms of characterization.

It was so out of place that I couldn't help but have a Hot Fuzz "Love You, Love You" moment. Of course, this wasn't such an affront as to find it acceptable to behead those at fault and stage the most horrific traffic collision ever seen for the greater good.

In short, I think I would have preferred either a fully modernized/Americanized version or to remain more true to the source material. The hybridization was unnecessary for us to understand the potential parallels in history. In the end, the time warp was jarring, unnecessary, and distracting. We are smart people. We have read Twain and understand that history never repeats but often rhymes.

I think I find this one instance so irritable because of the historic background and time in which the play was written and set. 19th century Germany was a veritable cauldron of intellectual foment, but (and perhaps in reaction) it was also the protean stage of Nazism in Germany. It was written shortly after Wagner had died and Nietzsche had gone mad. While Neitzsche may have castigated Wagner's own bigotry, I'm the same guy who wrote a college paper blaming Neitzsche and his uber-man for the widespread belief in arian superiority.

I found the importance of the musical wasn't so much in the overt sexuality, but in the censorship and refutation by those incapable or uncomfortable with 'that of the other,' of individual expression and exploration, and essentially its documentation of the formative years of eventual Nazi party members. In the first act, before I knew any better it struck me as unhappy hipster tale as written and perceived by a GenX playwright. The fact that it wasn't, its setting, was the most fascinating element to me. The irony of the play itself being censored is enough for martyrdom.

Next time we think about what the wacko Texas School Board does or superficially attempt to build a City for the "Creative Class," we should keep in mind every little piece of minutiae we legislate, adding to the Rube Goldberg machine of Bureaucracy. See the Build a Better Block project and its subsequent shutting down by police. They knew what was going to happen, but they did it anyway in order to point out some of the unnecessary, antiquated, and suppressive nature of the current Dallas zoning code. The quote by cops that "roads are for cars" is telling about the inner conflict of a city that wants a creative city, but undermines it by constructing the entire city's genetic code around car movement.

But, back to Spring Awakening and censorship. In the age of the internet, an outlet for democratic expression, the best and only censorship is unpopularity. Fortunately, despite my personal annoyances, this musical had enough going for it (particularly the voice of whoever played Ilse) to make it quite popular and relevant. And worth seeing. 2/3.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Latest Happenings - Midtown Park

Recently, I had a chance to walk around the construction zone at a development called Midtown Park. The project is in Dallas and it can be found just East of 75, bound by Royal Lane, Royal Oaks Country Club and Walnut Hill Lane, but bisected by Manderville Lane, the DART Red Line (N-S) and Meadow Road (E-W). While the real estate climate has temporarily slowed vertical development to a halt throughout much of the metroplex including here, earthwork and sorely needed public infrastructure improvements have continued unabated. While I didn't have a camera on me at the time, I have since had the following pictures emailed to me updating the progress.

One thing that inspires the most confidence is that the its continuation is showing a commitment by developers in the potential East of North Central Expressway, long considered a Maginot line for investment. Fortunately, like the Maginot Line, its purposes as demarcating boundary were clearly overstated, again and again and again. I say this with the proud French-German heritage of the Alsace-Lorraine-WeDon'tKnowWhichCountryWeBelongToAnymore region.

Below is an aerial taken in Dec. '09 where you can see the realigned Manderville and faintly make out the staked off areas of new parks and some new streetscape improvements.

Along with some new public streets, parks are being built so that each development block has a neighborhood park to address from, as well as these new monuments marking the primary entries into the emerging area. The inner lights, up-lights, and stone bases are still remaining to be added.

One of the driving design principles of the overall neighborhood plan (and hopefully conveyed in these monuments) is a successful merger of mature, refined and earthen timelessness with an elegant, contemporary, almost antiseptic modernism in a way that doesn't look like a clumsy postmodern amalgam.

These two characteristics are intended to represent the merger of what has unfortunately and unnecessarily become odd bedfellows: resilient residential neighborhoods successfully coexisting with hospital/medical districts. There is clearly a mutual demand for the other in an integrated walkable urban environment and this development will represent a step in the right direction.

Note: all buildings in background are existing structures.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Picture Pages: Cities, Convergence, and Waterfronts

In the Valencia, Spain case study post, I stated that one "crowd-sourced" data point I like is the geotagged uploaded photos into Google Earth filed under a page called Panoramio. They're also a favorite treasure trove of photos for the Free Beer Friday Guess the Cities. What they show is cherished or sacred places of a community.

**note: for later in this post be aware that Google Earth changed the symbol for geo-tagged photos from a glowing light blue star as seen below to a more regular (and bland) blue square that is a bit less conspicuous unfortunately.

Of this map of Valencia I said:
As for the organization of the city, my favorite little cheat sheet, the blue dots of uploaded photographs shows what we're looking for, following the curve of the river with a North-South axis of the heart of the city intersecting it. This is the oldest part of the city with the two most important plazas, culturally, spatially, architecturally, historically, you name it: Plaza de la Reina and Plaza de Ayunamiento
Now brought to you by the computer science department from Cornell University is a mapping study of 35 million pictures uploaded to flickr. They then organized a database counting and comparing pictures by popular location or landmark and by overall city. If you were to take a wild stab at the three most popular cities, you'd guess what? NYC, Paris, and London. Maybe Tokyo, if you're feeling a touch 'Asiatic.' If that was your guess, congratulations! You only matched my guess, which was actually a touch off from accurate:
The top 25 most photographed cities in the Flickr data are: (1) New York City (2) London (3) San Francisco (4) Paris (5) Los Angeles (6) Chicago (7) Washington, DC (8) Seattle (9) Rome (10) Amsterdam (11) Boston (12) Barcelona (13) San Diego (14) Berlin (15) Las Vegas (16) Florence (17) Toronto (18) Milan (19) Vancouver (20) Madrid (21) Venice (22) Philadelphia (23) Austin (24) Dublin (25) Portland.

If you accept that the places we photograph most are places we love, then it is probably safe to assume that the cities we photograph the most are the cities we love the most. If you are to put together some common traits of the cities floating towards the top of the list is interesting, educated, fun, and in most cases livable or outrageous cities. And, in fact, because Dubai doesn't make the list and Las Vegas does (as does Disney World for the place specific list), but I would suggest these are outliers because Vegas is what it is and Disney World is unfairly competing as a huge place with multiple photogenic or not spots competing with singular monuments, parks, or places.

Then, where it really starts to get fascinating is marking the movements of photographers, if by only charting where their pictures were taken. If you analyze the places, you begin to see areas of livable, lovable concentrated points or nodes, typically occurring at areas of convergence. The Manhattan map is probably the most interesting given how few photos are of or near the waterfronts. I think it is safe to say that we can attribute that to Mr. Moses' riverfront highways and associated deterioration and degradation of the public realm adjacent.

The one outlier is the Brooklyn Bridge, adding 'convergence' in that it is both monument and connector. It hit me today that there needs to be a 1-dimensional convergence to go with my other three versions, 2-D (Plan view), 3-D (Mix of use and density), and 4-D (multiple modes of transit/time of day). And it is actually the simplest one of all as it should be, demand driver. There has to be a reason for me (or you) to go from point A to point B in the first place. It can be economic, it can be social, it can be spiritual, but it has to exist.

I think this also gets at another point, and that is that waterfronts can actually be tremendously overvalued in terms of dollars and in the collective conscience of a community. Views can be nice residential demand drivers, but are really only suitable for more single-use development or iconic elements to be viewed. The more vibrant social and economic hubs, as the NYC map shows happen internal to a city, in its neighborhood centers, its areas of convergence where we meet, greet, and celebrate.

If we look at two cities ranking on the list with more engaged urban waterfronts you'll see the sparse assortment of only a handful of pictures.

Along the Willamette River in Portland where they removed a freeway mirrored on the opposite side to create a riverfront park.

New waterfront park in Vancouver, BC.

What is an outlier for waterfronts that ranks high in the Cornell study for individual places? The Santa Monica Pier, because it creates its own convergence by extending destination space out into the water so that the boardwalk/beach is no longer an edge but a crossroads of sorts... the very essence of convergence.

Monday Lunchtime Linkages

Since the earlier post was entirely dedicated to local issues, I need a second one today to link to a couple articles that are more globally oriented or general in nature.

The first, from Metropolis entitled "The High Cost of Convenience," gets at what I feel is one of the great issues we face today: production processes, the recycling of dirty materials, and the painful transition away from planned obsolescence. Rather than selling more and more of the same product, the profit potential of the 21st century will be in closing cradle-to-grave material loops and the discovery of multiple ways of turning waste into profit.

Thwaites designed a toaster not to enjoy warm, crisped bread but rather to comment on waste, production processes, cheap products that never represent their true costs—and to point out that companies aren’t particularly interested in solving those issues. Thwaites’s plastic adviser, Axion Recycling, exists because of WEEE—not some kids’ toy but a piece of European Union legislation, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. Approved in 2003, it requires companies to break down and recycle their castoffs. Its passing heralded the promise of a brave new world in which companies would be responsible for the afterlives of their products. They’d design things differently—fewer parts but more of them interchangeable and easy to break down. It would transform design. “The invisible hand of the market would lead to products that were easier to recycle,” Thwaites remembers thinking.

It didn’t turn out like that. Companies only have to purchase a certificate from a business like Axion proving that they purchased the same amount of recycled material by weight as they’d sold. To recycle a product in the age of WEEE, it is first crushed, with bits like copper and steel extracted, and then sent to Axion for plastic retrieval. But the problem is, Thwaites notes wryly, “There are quite a lot of parts in even something as simple as a toaster.” Extracting them in a pure form is difficult, and there are limits to just how often something can be recycled. Metal, plastic, paper, or cardboard can only can be reused once or twice before it’s got too many impurities. Thwaites knows that toasters are artificially cheap, but no one (not even he) wants to pay more. “Part of the solution is making sure the toasters we buy last longer, and we invest as much ingenuity and money into taking them apart as we do putting them together,” he says.
And The Guardian raises another question of the day, that of the design challenge of cities, global urbanization, and standard of living disparity:
The question is this: how do we create cities that are not just containers for tightly-packed populations, but pleasant and equitable places to live? Someone once described the identical high-rises that ring so many capitals as the easyJet of urban living, because they offer everyone affordable access to the city; but they're not what you could call idealistic. The segregation and social polarisation of cities is getting so extreme that a violent future may be inevitable. The UN report has said as much. Now that city-making has become a priority, politicians need to have faith in designers. Because if there's one lesson to be learned from the last quarter of a century, it's that we need to shift our focus away from liberty and the free market, and move towards equality.

Monday Morning Linkages

All locally oriented today. FortWorthology is raising hell with regard to the Fort Worth streetcar and doing so justly and admirably. CarFreeInBigD salutes westwardly:
If Fort Worth continues to drop the ball on projects like the streetcar, we will lose out. These cities are competing with us for the jobs and vitality of the future, and we know that ever-increasing numbers of young creatives and professionals no longer wish to have the same suburban/car-dominated life that their parents and grandparents had. They want real choice, in living arrangement and transportation (and make no mistake, these two things are deeply linked – effective transit helps build effective mixed-use living arrangements, and vice versa). They will go where they can get these things, and if they can’t get them here, we’ll fall behind. If Fort Worth wants to compete on the global stage, we have to start getting serious about this sort of thing. It is time Fort Worth stopped wishing to remain a “small town” forever and started acting like the proud, vibrant, major American city it is.
Two key components. This is about real choice (which I harp on constantly) and economic development. Streetcars are what unlocked and created the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to downtowns, and crazy as it sounds, they are what will revitalize those same areas which have been decimated by speculation, zoning, and car-oriented policies and design.
Dallas Progress has a new post on Lower/Lowest Greenville:
I respect the efforts of any neighborhood to clean up its problem spots. There are a couple of places that seem to breed most of the problems; they should be closed. If there is a move to close all of the bars and clubs because they're all thrown into the same boat, that is something with which I will have a problem.

I have been part of such a movement before, when dealing with the Deep Ellum and Expo Park neighborhoods. In the end, we voted to keep some places open and we closed down the bad guys (Club Uropa, for example). Contrary to the opinions of some writers and blog commenters, Deep Ellum is far from dead. Multiple new clubs, bars, and restaurants have opened are more are on the way. Also, service-oriented businesses like barbershops have opened along with mainstays that never closed (Rudolph's Meat Market, Mozzarella Company). In that case, I felt it was necessary. I feel the problem in Deep Ellum was way worse than what's going on in Lowest Greenville.
I think he's right on to pinpoint and extract the carcinogenic cyst rather than cut the whole appendage off, which is reactionary at best and totalitarian or crazy at worst. But, sometimes we do crazy really well. I think he's also right in that the local businesses that have been in operation for years should aid in pointing out the trouble spots. It is in their best interest. As a frequenter of many a late night establishment myself and a lover of beers fine and ordinary both, I haven't been to Lower Greenville in nearly a year. The last two times I was there, liberally applied mace to entire crowds wafted into the bars affecting half the patrons. I know I don't have to cough out pepper spray in other areas of the city.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Free Beer Friday Guess the City

As always, same rules apply: Be the first correct guess in the comments and must arrive to the Happy Hour location car-free to retrieve your prize.

The name of this week's guess the city comes not from the defensive bulwarks to protect the city but rather the river crossing. The mistake was my presumption from wrongly anglicizing the name while doing this research.

This is a fun one, perhaps only for city nerds like myself though. It is a city of new and old. The old portion is as well preserved medieval city, this side of Bruges (which I promise it is not the same City). The growth of the medieval portion of the City is defined by concentric rings of canals. The difference between this city and Bruges (hint coming: besides being in a different country) is that twenty years ago it was deemed a "growth area". The new growth has literally doubled the city land area.

While the old is charming as most medieval cities, the new is a cavalcade of hits and misses. the misses is usual due to excessive whimsy.

Now let's take the main boulevard linking the new developments:

Ahh, no cars. Only bikes are allowed to continue into the heart of the new town, which is quite literally named New Town. And what is with the kids everywhere? Have they taken over the town? Did they use the 'M' word?
Where are you parents? We already played with them. Now we want to play with youuuuuuu.

However, once entering the main square, you can see that it is rather lifeless. Is it because it is new and not yet mature? Is it because it is disconnected from its surroundings? Is it because there are no cars allowed in? Is it because of the poor urban design around the area? Let's look at it quickly:

Yikes. Hits and misses even in plan. I promise you that we did not teleport to a new Chinese masterplanned city.

How about we explore the various pieces of the new part:

Guesses? Smiley town is not the answer.

Smell of Fresh Air

The infamous 'they' say that smell is the sense most closely wired with memory. Why should you believe 'they'? Because I said so. See how that works?

Like many past walks through downtown Dallas, I encountered a number of new and occasionally pleasant and occasionally wretched odors along the way. All of which reminded me that I need to resurrect a fun old post from the early days of this very blog: Olfactory Mapping!

The intent of this is to correlate geo-location with the consistency of presence of certain smells. Previously recorded and still existent:

1 - Hot Trash - seasonal.
2 - Dog Urine - should now be expanded from the patch of grass by DP&L Lofts to the entire closed street pedestrian plaza.
3 - Bacon and Syrup - mmmm, breakfast.
4 - Garlic - mmmm, lunch and dinner.

New to the map:

5 - Gravy. Yes, the parking lot smelled like gravy. I think the prevailing winds were carrying whatever Hall's Chicken on Commerce was cookin' up.

6 - Bad Fish. Didn't walk past it this morning, but given that the smell is there every other day, I'll just run with it. I dare somebody to sit under the exhaust vent on Akard Street of Dallas Fish Market for 1 hour 5 minutes. There is a crisp $5 bill in it for you.

7 - Human Feces. In the City of Bruges, Belgium nooks and crannies can be useful places to stage an execution if that happens to be your chosen career path. In the panopticon like setting of dense city form, they are offer some of the few places to hide. In Dallas, they become places of defecation. Find a nook or cranny in downtown, you'll find a snickers bar. I recommend against including this in your next scavenger hunt.

Who has some more to include?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thirsty Thursday Links o' the Day

Don't have much time today, so I'll be banging these out quickly. What I read this morning that I found interesting:

The count now stands at 2 Chairs of Federal Reserve Branches to go on record stating that 'Too Big to Fail' is at worst a sham and at best a disastrous policy. Last time, it was from Dallas, this time KC:
In a 1999 speech on financial megamergers, I concluded that “To the extent these institutions become ‘too big to fail,’ and … uninsured depositors and other creditors are protected by implicit government guarantees, the consequences can be quite serious. Indeed, the result may be a less stable and a less efficient financial system.”

More than a decade later, the only thing I can change about this statement is that the government guarantees are no longer just implicit. Actions during the financial crisis have made this protection quite explicit.
That was only included for the 'I told you so' aspect, but here is what I found to be incredibly prescient:
History tells us that for a country to succeed and endure economically it must adhere to a simple set of principles. No matter the market’s complexity, these principles anchor both its financial system and overall economy. And the most fundamental of these principles is a commitment to maintaining the integrity of the institutions within the system. This commitment provides a culture of sound business ethics, a confidence in the rule of law, the reliability of contracts, and a culture of fair play on a level field.

If we stray from our core principles of fairness or ignore the rule of law, we distort the playing field and inevitably cultivate a crisis. When the markets are no longer competitive, firms become a monopoly or an oligopoly and it matters more who you know than what you know. Then, the economy loses its ability to innovate and succeed. When the market perceives an unfair advantage of some over others, the very foundation of the economic system is compromised.
The emboldened statement should be words to live by. It seemingly applies to nearly all fields and is part of an argument that I have brewing in various stages of outline/draft form.
Regarding the laws of unintended consequences and why I despise projection pseudo-science...

I'm not afraid of toll roads. As I've stated before, if any form of transportation needs to pay for itself, like for realz, in both theoretical and practical terms, it is that of individual mechanized automobility and the necessary infrastructure to support it. The issue was that public dollars were overextended in either building or maintaining the public infrastructure of a suburb/arterial/highway world and that if it were only built and maintained by private capital and investment all would be right with the world.

Well, it turns out, like always, it is never that simple and the real issue is the simple weight of all that concrete. San Diego toll road goes bust:

On average, nearly 22,600 cars travel the road each day, far below initial projections of 60,000. Riders typically marvel at the seemingly empty stretches of pavement, even during peak traffic hours.
“The idea was to see if the private sector could succeed in building highways,” said Marlon Boarnet, a professor of planning policy and design at the University of California Irvine. “But one thing that history is teaching us is that it is more complicated that we thought.”
But once the higher tolls kicked in, they stopped completely. Monk and others said many rush-hour commuters now cut through residential neighborhoods to avoid paying the higher tolls.

Hulsizer does not believe last year’s toll hike was unwise. He cited company data showing only a slight decrease in traffic and an uptick in revenue following the increase. The company also noted that it has made improvements to its toll machines in an attempt to address drivers’ complaints.

The real issue here is that this like unfortunately all transportation systems, it is being thought of as a profit-based industry in a bubble, disconnected from all 'externalities.' However, as we know, transportation can't be disassociated from that which it is inextricably linked, development.

The real purpose for tolls is to tone down traffic and encourage more location efficient housing and real estate and more efficient, safer, and cleaner forms of transportation. While it may turn a profit in early or middle stages, at some point, the failure of toll roads is built-in to the very system itself.

Which is why, in the end, tolls and road building (and transportation, in general) is best left to public entities that are enabled to take the 'loss' of transportation startup/operation/maintenance costs, which can divert revenue to more necessary/"profitable" public expenditures. If invested wisely would see return in the form of high quality private development, tax base, meaning reduced overall tax burden on citizens long-term, and a more livable city.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Danger of Catchy Soundbites that sometimes probably more like usually they're wrong. At TreeHugger:

Almost every time we post something on the meat debate we get a slew of emotional comments from readers that sit on either side. The vegan side was backed up by sustainable food icon Michael Pollan who, at Pop!Tech 09, memorably quipped, "A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius."

Not to toot my own horn, but when I first heard this, my gut told me that Pollan was a bit off. And, thanks to science, my gut has been proven right.

Way back in 2005, Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the Department of the Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago published a paper that compared the carbon footprint of both a meat-based and a plant-based diet. As Reuters reported:

They found that the difference between an heavy meat-eating diet and a vegan diet was about 2 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year. The difference between a Prius and an SUV (they used a Suburban, which gets about the same mileage as a Hummer) was 4.76 tons per year.
And Beefeater Gin might just be the foulest swill on the planet this side of grappa. What does that have to do with anything? Nuttin'. I'm just sayin'.

Too Old Toosday, Quote of the Day

From NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg:
"I would have mass transit be given away for nothing and charge an awful lot for bringing an automobile into the city."

Monday, March 22, 2010


One thing that has always bothered me about large-scale urban developments is the renaming aka rebranding of areas as if by Mickey's magic wand from Fantasia. Areas can't be named by marketese through exhaustive, expensive, (and useless) branding exercises without sounding overly generic, undermining its ability to catch on by achieving ownership of the name by the locals.

Some that have proven successful are often broad, encompassing and either tied to its place geographically (various uptowns, midtowns, etc.) or historically (ie meatpacking districts, etc). In that way, they contribute immediately to the sense of place and the viral nature of the conceptualization of a place within the hive mind of the populace. The culture immediately adopts it as something that makes sense and is attributable to the location and character of the place.

A school of thought exists that artists make the best pioneers into new areas. They are flexible with their needs and are looking for cheap space to colonize and work with and be around other creative types. By moving in and fixing up the rundown, they qualitatively improve an area enough to make it register as a target for possible investment area for developers, and further qualitative improvement.

Those creatives who have since colonized Bishop Arts, making it a location safe for more buttoned-up, risk averse, professional types to invest in homes in areas with unique character, have since moved Westward apparently deeming Bishop Arts too passe now that the yuppies have graduated from uptown/West Village. This new emerging area is deemed by the locals as "X-Plus" or X+ for short.

Bottom-up naming and "place" creation like this has cache. It sticks.

Creatives are the worker bees in search of new honey patches for the colony. Some areas have better honey, better bones for long-term resilience, or neighborhood vitality.

From an urban form standpoint, X+ has many things working in its favor: decent nearby housing stock, interesting historic buildings worthy of stewardship and rebirth, and most critically convergence. The convergent form in this case is even the promethean force in the naming of the very place.

Less importantly, it has two things that are outcomes moreso than they are causes - new streetcar and an overall rezoning plan, but will nevertheless help to participate in the gentrification process inherent and inescapable as all places evolve from urban frontier to vibrant, funky and unique locales into staid, yuppie enclaves.

Don't fight it. Work with it. Nurture it and help shape it. The ever-migrating process is the revitalization of your City.

See more:

Key West vs. Lubbock

Round 1: Fight!

Mike Leach, former coach of Texas Tech and connoisseur of pirates and whiskey and all things in between in the Meriam Webster's dictionary, has discovered that his new home of Key West, Florida is, in fact, more pedestrian-friendly than dusty ol' west Texas.

Key West

Apparently, this is THE glamour shot of downtown Lubbock. Do a google image search of "downtown lubbock" and this is pretty much all you get.

Myth of Choice, Continued

I have written a few times about the falsehood that is propagated as "choice" in the American Marketplace. Here, in the original post titled "Myth and Necessity of Choice in the American Scene":
The illusion of choice in the market dictating a suburban world is as innaccurate as the misunderstanding of the American dream, and libertarianism for that matter. The cities we've constructed has created a homogenous world that forces elderly and children to be at the mercy of the car, whereas in more walkable communities all are empowered.
In it, I compared cereal to housing choice and the reality that there is no difference nutritionally between fruity pebbles and honey nut cheerios. It is all an illusion. The cereal and the picket-fenced encased single-family home as American Dream, simulacra.

And in this post Traffic: Not the Movie, regarding transportation patterns and mobility:
Cars promised freedom. But is that freedom real or imaginary? There is typically only one way to the store or to school or to work. The only real freedom we have is the choice between the perceived faster lane and the lane we currently occupy. Does that help or is that just another extra couple of million that we spent on what was thought to be a luxury, more lanes, more flow, hooray!

I would argue that for the sake of an improved city, improved quality of life, AND improved traffic flow that we actually have to limit choice where it is inappropriate, ineffectual, and downright hazardous: the choice of multiple lanes and the fruitless, constant changing of those lanes, despite having no (or limited) choice in route.

Rather, we should replace false choice with increased freedom in areas where the impact is more positive: choice of transportation mode (and the accessibility/provision/and increased safety in all forms of that choice) and the choice of route. Choice of route is only possible with a less dendritic, less hierarchical, gridded system of smaller streets (but more lanes in sum) that is far more resilient to traffic backups.
It seems this idea is picking up steam, as StreetsBlog has picked up an argument made by a blog called Psystenance, echoing the very same idea:
Thus, the fundamental attribution error in transportation choice: You choose driving over transit because transit serves your needs poorly, but Joe Straphanger takes transit because he’s the kind of person who takes transit. This is the sort of trap we find ourselves in when considering how to fund transportation, be it transit, cycling, walking or driving.
It is worth the read if you are into the social science and economics behind cities.

Squishing the Country

You know it is picking up steam when main stream political bloggers are discussing sprawl and urban planning now on a daily basis, particularly the common sense conservative ones. Andrew Sullivan links to more discussion of sprawl and its underlying causes. We know all of these already, but it is worthwhile to show the process of knowledge being internalized by the collective conscience. Here we see what the country might be like if it were the density of Brooklyn:


It's a fun graphic, but ought to be rated intellectual NC-17. This is for adults only. No one is really going to make you move to Brooklyn or ewww, interact with others of different socio-economic status.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pre-Monday Linkages

Ali Farokhmanesh
It isn't often you get a glimpse at the subconscious of others. In this case, it would be the nightmares of KU fans; alums.

Sorry for the absence, but it is my favorite week of the year. Even when I worked a regular 9-to-5 job, I found my way to Christie's Sports Bar on McKinney by 11 AM Thursday and Friday every year to ensure I had all four games at once within view without any unnecessary head turning. I love the first round of the NCAA tournament. I love it so much that even now that I am my own boss (and thus far more motivated), I did all my work before 11 AM and after 11 PM last week to get things done. So my spare time often spent blogging has been replaced with screaming, drinking, and basketball watching concurrently.

If you've been disappointed visiting this site and finding nothing new over the last week, fear not. Sometimes, you have to build a mental damn between thoughts and outlet to build up enough material to be worth writing about. I have at least four posts written on the digi-note pad on the iphone, one of which is already 1800 words of loosely connected thoughts. I'm really looking forward to fleshing them out onto this site.

So as for both basketball and thought generation, this week has not disappointed.

I was in first place in all of my brackets until the Kansas catastrophe. I picked Kansas to win it all. That'll teach me the lesson I apparently forgot when I bet a friend against my own beloved Tar Heels in 1989 vs. #1 in the nation Oklahoma. UNC won the game. I suppose, either way I won. Kind of like yesterday. My bets were hedged. Bracket riding on KU, but wholeheartedly pulling for every upset imaginable. I hate when people root for the bracket over history. Their invested $5 on Goliath vs. David. As I tweeted:
Ppl rooting for Kansas right now also cheered for USSR during miracle on ice and Kentucky vs Texas western in 1960.

Other teams that ppl cheering for KU cheered for death star vs alderaan. Nazis. And lions vs Christians
Now, to make the transition between hoops and this blog, Kaid Benfield at NRDC does a bracket based on walkability, using WalkScore to do so. The final 4? Not too unpredictable Georgetown, Wisconsin (Madison), and Vanderbilt (Nashville) and the cinderella Purdue (Lafayette - never been).
While that one wasn't terribly illuminating or interesting, the rest of the articles are:

National Geographic looks at Shanghai:
And now comes Expo 2010, part of a fading franchise Shanghai hopes to resuscitate as a global launching pad. It's a gamble, but the city has reportedly anted up $45 billion, more than Beijing spent on the 2008 Olympic Games. The bulk of the money has gone into infrastructure, including two new airport terminals, a subway expansion, and a Bund makeover. But amid a global economic crisis, will the projected 70 million visitors come? Shanghai hopes to outshine rivals Beijing and Hong Kong, but it also harbors a loftier ambition: to be the global capital of the 21st century. "If any city has a chance, it's Shanghai," says Xiangming Chen, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. "But the city can't just build its way to greatness. The bigger question is, How does it rebuild a sense of community that's been lost in tearing down the old and building up the new?"
More on the conservative intelligentsia coming around to the side of sense, despite the direction of their "base." This time it is David Brooks discussing Brit writer Phillip Blond:
Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.

Britain is always going to be more hospitable to communitarian politics than the more libertarian U.S. But people are social creatures here, too. American society has been atomized by the twin revolutions here, too. This country, too, needs a fresh political wind. America, too, is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.
Left or Right, you have to like the idea of the opposition party gaining some sense, clarity, and positive vision. Otherwise, you are just in it for the "team game" of partisan politics.
At, they bring up what I've been harping on regarding the illusion of choice in the American Marketplace:
Kevin has earlier noted our research on the indirect land use carbon cost of biofuels. But building suburbs in farmland has precisely the same carbon effect, as does anything that competes with food for land; I have estimated (not published, and I might change the number either way with more analysis) that if there were a $20/ton carbon tax, and we counted land use change, the land price of suburban housing around most cities would double. People who say they like living in the suburbs are not expecting to pay a lot of what it really costs to do it. Furthermore, a lot of them are having second thoughts: the fastest-growing demographic in Manhattan is now children: people who can afford to live anywhere they want are increasingly deciding that a real city is the best place to raise a family. My fair city of Berkeley, no transit paradise, has built hundreds and hundreds of downtown rental units without parking spaces, something wise heads predicted would be a disaster of vacancies and parking wars at the curbs of nearby residential streets, but neither of those things has happened.
They also cite the book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, which highlights that it is more beneficial to have two, or three, or four, very real and distinct choices than it is to have what might seem like a million varieties of what is really the exact same thing.
Lastly, keep an eye out for some D Magazine articles citing yours truly. Not sure if they'll be in print version or web (or both), but I will certainly link them when published.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Time is Money...

...wasted. From the Infrastructurist:

Of the cities shown, only Seattle reduced "time wasted," which I'm assuming equates to the difference between rush hour commute times and regular commute times.


Speaking of..

...the Spaceball's quote below, the Onion has bought a new house and it had to do with smiling faces:
I guess what I'm saying is that it's just such a relief when professionals take the time to demonstrate a true respect for my intelligence. By having their picture taken in front of that same sky-blue background used in all my school yearbook photos, it's clear they're trying to put an honest face on whatever transaction might transpire between us, and not at all employing some sleazy, calculated tactic they learned during a business seminar at a hotel by the airport.

Ask the Carless Guy, Volume Something or Other
How many a-holes do we have on this ship?

I received this email from my college roommate today:
listening to public radio this morning they kept talking about a decline in the amount of new homes being built as a bad sign. isn't this going to happen eventually anyway since the amount of open land gets smaller with every house?
I didn't hear it myself. I'm wondering if this was national public radio, or a local DC show, so that I can look up who the interviewer/interviewees were. That always has to be the first question to ask yourself, "what is this guy's angle?" Without knowing that I can't pinpoint why he might be saying that lack of new housing starts is bad, because...well, what is bad?

Is it bad because he is in the real estate industry and knows no other way to operate his business than the status quo that has utterly failed and bankrupted us? Is it because he's an economist and worried about losing jobs in the housing construction industry? Was it bad that the horse and buggy industry is no longer a thriving job growth industry?

Cars have their place. Single family housing has its place. This is the common misconception of me, typically by those who don't know any better or are so mired in ideology or fear of altering their precious status quo. That I excoriate them because of my own preferences. First, that wouldn't be very professional. Second, and personally, I live by a simple rule: Live the way you want, as long as it doesn't negatively affect others and ensure that others have a similar choice to be able to live they way that they want without negatively affecting others.

Want to stop bailing out banks for bad loans on single family houses people couldn't afford? Want to stop wasting money on overextended infrastructure and unnecessary and poorly planned highways? WALKABILITY IS A TAX CUT.

Unfortunately, we built a structural inertia upon zoning, bank loans, tax incentives, and road construction that carried us WAYYYY past equilibrium for those industries. We are now experiencing the pain of this overshoot, like any druggie experiencing withdrawal. Any institutions we establish have to be flexible and adaptable enough to change when we change and learn as we learn, or else it becomes a starship in ludicrous speed with no breaks.

It is the cause of every recession. The severity of which is determined by how far we went off in one direction and how long it takes until we reverse the inertia. I've been howling about the impending housing doom since 2002, but that apparently was steering the Titanic with flippers and scuba gear whilst hanging onto the rudder. I was just too naive and broke having just graduated from school to know how to wager against it.

So no more housing starts may or may not be a bad thing, but we have to look deeper. Where are those housing starts occurring or not occurring? If they are no longer occurring at the edge, in exurbia, that is a good thing. We can't afford more single family homes at the edge nor the infrastructure to them. All the people who CAN afford to be out there, either already are or they choose not to be.

We KNOW we have at least a surplus of 4 million large lot single family homes. We're pretty sure that banks are sitting on x2 that number to inflate the prices on the previous 4 million. With the ARM resets about to happen this year and next, we might be looking at another x2. Some estimates have a surplus of 22 million by 2025.

Building new houses is insane, at least in the way we've been doing it, on land in exurbia that the highest and best use of is probably agricultural production or nature. The housing industry keeps trying to prop up the myth that everybody needs their single family house in BFE, as some sort of sign of independence or surge in middle class choice or prosperity. All marketing BS. They do so, because it is easy on them. Land is cheap, so they externalize transportation costs on the consumer.

Cities, particularly young cities that know no better are eager for the tax base. That is, until they get the bill to maintain that infrastructure at such a low density. But the unfortunate reality is that you can't unbundle transpo from housing without having a lot of poor people stuck in the middle of nowhere.

If it is because there is no new housing where we badly need it, where it is tied to cheap, effective, optional choice of transportation then it is a bad thing. And we need to loosen up the credit markets for locational efficient housing starts for rental, ownership, and affordable housing. This should be job one at the federal and state level.

The other key is utter and complete overhaul of all state and federal standards for transportation planning and design, land use and zoning, and affordable housing standards. Some of these are already happening. As I have said before, with all of the press that healthcare and bank bailout get, the best thing that any administration has done in thirty years is the effective merger of HUD, EPA, and DOT under one roof, with the exact right person in charge.

This will be the way out of this uber-recession. We just have to make sure we don't cement this particular direction so we can provide some steering or breaking at a later date. Railroads were once as corrupt if not more so than the highway industry is now. It is the nature of the beast.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Conservatives Against Sprawl

It is starting to pick up steam, as our endless ranting apparently has now apparently migrated rearward from the explicit memory of our collective frontal lobe to the implicit regions of the hemisphere. Personally, I think this is one issue that can be agreed upon by both right and left, possibly for differing reasons, and we can certainly disagree on the best way out of the mess. Here is E.D. Kain at True/Slant citing Kunstler and requesting Andrew Sullivan take up the mantle (which he has in the past):
Sprawl is a result of massive statist interventions into our culture and society, and its symptoms are equally enormous. Everything that conservatism has historically stood for is undermined by sprawl. It is not only the physical manifestation of our decline, it is a poison which continues to contribute to that decline. Its repercussions can be felt in our discourse, in our speech, in our way of thinking. This is not merely a matter of aesthetically pleasing communities, but of communities which allow individuals to be a part of the whole. I doubt this is sustainable, this suburban maze – in any way: fiscally, socially, spiritually. It is, as James Howard Kunstler called it, “a peculiar blip in human experience.”
I can't disagree with anything he states. He doesn't really offer any solutions, but that really isn't his job. Frankly, he gets at the fundamental and logical disconnect in the modern conservative mind that peripherally suggests limited government then gleefully spends on highway projects, forming an endless rhetorical loop that people want their house an hour from their job and the road that caused that to be the only choice must be expanded to allow for "free choice."

Perhaps this tipping point suggests a potential coalescence of common purpose, which will be the only way out of this mess.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Highway Guest Post Part II

So I screwed up in my graphical representation of Toby's highway reroute plan. I should have showed all of the area around Reunion/Industrial as repositioned development opportunity zones. He has since admonished me and provided the section for the highway along the east/north?...uh, downtown side of the Trinity:

Click to embiggen:

He adds:
The +425' elevation is the grade elevation of Union Station taken all the way past Reunion to the new Highways. As discussed, the lanes on either the North or South Travel lanes that are to the right of the support columns could be "through" lanes that have a variable toll depending on traffic conditions. The other lanes have access to interchanges that get you to I-30 or I-35 as they branch off. The "feeder" road could be a repurposed Industrial Blvd that acts as a feeder to the new highway and gets you access into downtown.
I think at this point, we could also add a pedestrian crossing to the overlook to the Trinity. If we're going to still have highways between downtown and the Trinity, this might be the only way to allow for a realistic connection.

Free Beer Friday: Guess the City Goes Bragh. Brah.

It appears tonight's CarFreeInBigD happy hour will be basking in the glory of warm Spring-time Dallas sun at the Stoneleigh P on Maple in uptown, Dallas tonight.

Same rules apply: be the first to select the city in question in the comments, arrive to bar du jour sans auto, demand free beer from yours truly and your wish will be my command...unless I don't like your attitude or all that blah blah smart talk and book learnin' you represent.

In honor of Dallas's yearly celebration of me tomorrow, the Free Beer Friday Guess the City happy hour returns states' side for the first time in a while.

May this river run green with food-colored beer with unfettered passage directly into your gullet, feeding you with happiness and replenishing your stockade of funny for another year.

And with that, I sign off. To tie it into current musical accompaniment. Beer & St. Paddy's Day, I am your passenger.