Friday, May 28, 2010


Happy hour is at the Londoner Dallas, in the heart of the State-Thomas neighborhood in uptown. I'll arrive bespectacled in a monocle riding a unicycle. How will you get there?

If you ever come across someone from this City, expect to hit the pub and talk politics, where you'll order a guiness and they'll grab a bud heavy and proceed to discuss who they hate more than anybody you possibly could with an exquisite singularity of vision.

As they rant, your American conscious awareness drifts from the topic at hand to beverage of choice where you are struck by the irony, apparently indicative of their strong desire to americanize.

However, like any good copycat, they sought to mimic only what we did best:
  • gutting core of their City for cars by way of parking garages;
  • mindless if not potentially fraudulent commercial lending;
  • and a rampant building spree marked by outward and upward growth completely independent of any demand.
Despite those on-goings, the City hasn't changed enough to where you wouldn't recognize it. But, don't bother to ask how they're doing or they might ask you for some change. Where, we will then reach into our pockets, find that the bottom has been cut out, and steal their change jar before sprinting down the street, around the bend, and out of sight.

We're selling the view. Just look at it.

Of course, that view is supplied by buildings shockingly disconnected from the scale of the rest of the City. While a certain measure of real estate development is dependent upon a "visionary" intuition, it also needs to be tempered by some restraint occasionally. Or just reality. That works as well.


Last night I was able to attend the Dallas Bike Plan open house at City Hall for what was a standing room only house in the Council Chambers. At first that seems impressive until you think that a City of over 1 million only has about 200 people or so attending a public hearing. /200 is an estimate. I have no idea how many people the council chambers holds.

Having run a number of similar public workshops and open houses, I was well aware of what to expect. These things are always feel good moments for those running them. Why? Because everyone responsible for getting a particular study/proposal moving forward have a conception in their own mind of what the result could/should/or would be. The arguments are yet to be had when those various visions begin to intersect or compete. The challenge is always marshaling the various powers that be into one cohesive direction.

Since I don't feel like organizing this into one cohesive narrative (and at this point it probably shouldn't be until the plan gets some actual vision to it), I'll leave you with the good and the bad from the evening:

The Mayor and the councilmembers who showed up, some of whom even stuck around until the end. This effort definitely seems to have their full support and the Mayor gets an A+ from me for acknowledging that this is one step towards densification and a more sustainable, prosperous City.

The excruciating half hour of acknowledgements, back-patting, and self-congratulatory remarks before the presentation even started. I understand that some credit is due for steering the tremendous inertia of car-oriented commuting in the right direction, but let's not count our chickens before their hatched. Will you stand up to transpo or DOT when they shrilly scream, "OMG, we won't hit level of service A if you remove that lane of traffic! We have arbitrary formulas that prove it!!!!11" Hmm?

Toole Design. We hired the right people. I was very impressed when they stressed that this wasn't a trails plan. We have trails and we have plans to connect them. This is a roads plan for bicycle lanes and cyclist safety.

Don't limit or censor yourself already Toole. More than a few times they showed a few examples of road treatments prioritizing the safety of cyclists and/or pedestrians over car movement where the setting was either foreign or the solution was deemed too radical for Dallas. Already. Push the envelope. Have no fear. We need a broad range of context-appropriate solutions to deal with our road network appropriately. When Dallas gets behind something it gets behind it all the way. Just look at our road and highway system. World class!!!

The crowd as mentioned before was enthusiastic, engaged, and well...there.

I would guess at least 90% are the hardcore enthusiasts that bike already. The plan isn't about them (although their safety is a part of it as well), although their enthusiasm is what made it happen in the first place and what have to sustain in order to carry it through to realization.

While education is an important part of safety, this isn't about bringing all cyclists up to your level of expertise in navigating Dallas traffic. This is about winding Dallas traffic down while simultaneously supplying the accommodations so that everyone else that wasn't there, or doesn't currently bike because they are intimidated can feel safe cycling to work or wherever rather than using their car, the petrol to power that car, and the space to park that car.

Toole showed images of a number of concepts that I whole-heartily encourage, including:
  • Sign Pollution - Signs are ugly and litter the landscape/streetscape. Signage should always be supplementary and good design and wayfinding should be largely intuitive. Otherwise, it just isn't a good design and signage is what is used to cover up those faults. I loved the painted bicyclist on the stone paver. Yes, plz.
  • Back-in Angled Parking - I was around this concept when it was first created while I interned with traffic calming gurus Walter Kulash and Ian Lockwood. Those two probably had as much of an impact on my understanding of cities as anybody. Lesson: no matter your field, it is always good to work with experts in other fields and it is your job to find the tangential relationship.
  • Bike Green Lights at traffic signals. I like that they give at least equal priority to cyclists as a mode of traffic on the streets. My idealistic vision would be that they aren't necessary however.
  • Trail/Road Crossings - These are important and as Toole pointed out, sometimes the right-of-way is given to drivers and the yield to cyclists, sometimes vice versa. This is critical though, because our reflexive solution is always changing planes by way of bridges. Stupid.
  • I like the idea of protected bike lanes uphill and shared lanes with cars downhill. We're not exactly Seattle, but this was a good idea for how to smartly design when you only have a few feet to play with.
  • Routine Accommodation - Much of this work can be done with simple restriping or repaving which occurs every few years anyway as part of the ordinary transpo budget ameliorating worries of increased cost. Of course, I say we just rip up all of the macadam and expose the brick under so many of our streets.
I saw a lot of mention of street sections, but as Toole pointed out the biggest conflict point, where accidents occur most often, is at intersections. Two things to this:
  1. Sections are important, but too often a road gets one section and that section is then extruded for whatever length of the street. The section should vary based on context. For example, much of our city is based on 1-mile square arterial grid. The intersections are where neighborhood retail has clustered in the form of strip centers. These areas need to densify. The intersections are the nodes of place and changing the road section here should be different than the road section between it and the next node 1-mile away. This area between is the 'link' and should be designed as such.
  2. I will be most interested to see if there are recommendations for intersections drawn in plan, or from above. Too many of our intersections are designed with curb radii that are too large allowing for "rolling stops" or cars to roll right thru stop signs or red lights when turning right. In the future cyclists very well might be there. I believe the idea of "cycle boxes" is meant to address this by putting cyclists' stopping point out in front of cars where they are then moved further back from the intersection to ensure sight of the cyclists who are at greater risk of personal injury.
I want measurable goals. In fact, this City needs measurable outcomes. For example, Copenhagen established a goal that they want 0, that is ZERO traffic fatalities in a year. That is a clear, measurable outcome. In that way, we have something to weigh policy and approach. We get too driven by ideology that we lack the ability to go back and determine what worked or what didn't. The lack of these is why we as a city tend to spin in circles like a spastic canine rather than in one concerted, positive direction (ya know other than council districts as vassal fiefdoms).

What those are yet I don't know (the goals board was always too crowded so I couldn't tell how specific they got), let's let Toole arrive at those but here might be some examples:
  • By xxxx year, Dallas will have the greatest percentage of bicycle commuters to work of any city in the country over 250,000 people; or
  • By xxxx year, Dallas will have the highest percentage of bicycle/pedestrian/non-automobile commuters in the country per capita.
  • By xxxx year, Dallas will have more protected bike lanes than any other city in the country.
  • By xxxx year, Dallas will have removed more lanes of car-only traffic than any other country.
  • By xxxx year, areas within 3-5 miles (logical bicycle commuting distance) Dallas has densified its core at a greater rate than any other City in the country.
Those are all long-term, and there need to be short- and mid-term goals as well, but without clear, measurable outcomes (on any policy or directive), we are like Sammy Jankis continually getting electro-shocked everytime we pick up the star-shaped metal object. Then we just end up killing our wife unwittingly, breaking out of a mental institution, and then "solving" the mystery of who killed our wife by going on a mass-murdering spree. And that would be no good.

Remember Sammy Jankis, ya effing quacks.


Get ready for the dreaded double-dip. $3 trillion in commercial real estate is about to go [poof]:
Why do you think banks have stopped lending in this arena? The market is completely saturated with vacant real estate. Commercial real estate either has a market or sits empty. At least with residential real estate if you drop prices low enough you will get buyers. With CRE if you built a complex with no foot traffic you can’t give the stuff away. The loan is only one aspect of costs. You have utilities and other fixed overhead. The fact that banks have pulled back from this market tells us no good deals are coming to the table.
How's that sprawl working out for you? I've always loved the idea of business park. Not loved as in liked, but loved as in amused that people thought they might work. Banks lose. :(
Charles Hugh Smith discusses that the root of the housing problem hasn't been solved and reminds that housing ownership is really "ownership." You're still paying off debt. The banks own the house. Banks Win! :)
Zero Hedge splashes cold water on people foolish, naive, or gullible enough to believe realtors who say "now is the time to buy!" Of course, they do. Their livelihood depends upon you buying. Except:

There are 140 million personal residences in the US. Today, there are 26 million homes either directly or indirectly for sale...Another 8 million mortgage owners are late on their payments and are on the verge of foreclosure, bringing the total overhang to 34 million homes.

Now, let’s look at the buy side. There are 35 million who are underwater on their mortgages and aren’t buying homes anytime soon, nor are the 35 million unemployed and underemployed. That knocks out 50% of the potential buyers.

Here is where it gets really interesting. There are 80 million baby boomers retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day. Assuming that they downsize over time from an average 2,500 sq ft. home to a 1,000 sq. ft. condo, and eventually to a 100 sq. ft. assisted living facility, the total shrinkage in demand is 4.3 billion sq.ft. per year, or 1.7 million average sized homes. That amounts to a shrinkage of aggregate demand for a city the size of San Francisco, every year. You can argue that the following Gen-Xer’s are going to take up the slack, but there are only 65 million of them with a much lower standard of living than their parents.

Ohhhh, frowny face. Banks lose. :(

Perhaps banks should be hiring urban experts to understand where true and lasting value is...
Now, to the fun stuff...

Wired has an awesome article on NYC droppin' the mathematics upside your head to deal with traffic. NYC (smartly) compiles just about every form of data imaginable; a painful reminder of just how far behind Dallas is. This was evident when New York Mag put together their neighborhood livability rankings based heavily upon various publicly available statistics the City has compiled. Dallas, nor the metro, has anything close to it.
Lastly, Laurence Aurbach at Ped Shed links to a new study suggesting that intersection density is the single most critical factor for determining walkability, much moreso than density or diversity. I could have told them that. This was actually livability indicator #8. Perhaps, I should change the name.

Furthermore, Density is merely the response to desirability and walkable urban form is what accommodates a range of densities based on demand. Diversity, well that is simply a by-product of livability, which has at its root mobility where walkability is still the best mode with the most positive and least negative externalities.

Like all 'alpha' studies, I find the simple measure of intersections per square area, while helpful, overly abstract. In one instance, they seem to be saying that two-way intersections are better for walkability than four-way because they lead to denser intersections. What about dense network of four-way intersections?

This goes beyond walkability and more toward the "neural network" and interconnectivity of the grid in general, but as we all know a four-way intersection generates traffic from 4-directions rather than 2 creating a higher degree of traffic (by foot or car) which retailers need, which in turn can (dependent upon design) generate more foot traffic.

This study could get "smarter," in my opinion if instead of merely counting intersections it assigned a rating system to each of those intersections. In a way measuring node density (or quality thereof) rather than just intersection density and the node rankings would be based on two factors off the top of my head:

1) amount of directions intersecting the intersection, ie a four-way is better than a two-way (distance of which is mitigated by the density calc) and then;

2) a professional subjective factor of quality of pedestrian experience.

This is actually something that I have been thinking about formulating for some time, I just haven't had the time to get around to it yet. I know an academician is probably loathe to apply some subjective criteria, but what is the point of being a professional if you can't add your expertise to an equation that by nature would always be a blunt abstraction.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Via Text-Patterns blog run by English Professor Alan Jacobs...
Chuck Klosterman: "I think that most technology is positive in the short term, and negative in the long term. I wonder, if somebody looked back at the 20th and 21st centuries a thousand years from now, what their perception of the car would be. Or of television. I wonder if over time, they’ll be seen as this thing that drove the culture, but ultimately had more downside than upside. When you think about it, cars are the most central thing in America, in a lot of ways. They’ve probably influenced the way we live more than anything else, and yet every really big problem—whether it’s the environment or who dictates the international economy because of oil—is all tied to cars. Ultimately, cars are bad for civilization. I don’t know if they’ll end us. That’s always the thing when somebody asks you if something is good or bad. You say something is bad, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, you think that’s going to end society?’ No, but something can be bad without ending society!"
This really echoes the parallel I drew with cars as a drug in the post "Sociality Not Facebook will Injure Not Kill the Automobile." And like any new substance a society convulses until it comes to terms with that substance. Too much of anything is noxious:
I'm reminded of an interview with ethno-botanist /slash/ cultural anthropologist /slash/ cool freakin' guy, Wade Davis of the National Geographic, as he discussed the manner in which various drugs affected and in turn were accepted into cultures. I realized that cars were similar to the picture he painted about drugs in society, in that when they are newly introduced, they create a period of dislocation in that culture.
Looking back at what Klosterman is saying, it is easy to dismiss his notion that technology is bad in the long-term, but is he that far off? When you think about it, technology is really just a means, but it isn't an ends. The printing press, the internet, the car are really just tools in connecting people, useful only in their particular time. All that really matters (for those particular technologies) is connecting people. The concept is advanced, but the particular method is tossed the recycling bin of history.

Other technological advancements also responded to human needs and the solutions are constantly evolving to something better. Except the current solution always entrenches itself in the status quo and the new solution has to root it out completely to replace it. Wherein it then becomes its father and positions itself as the "monopoly" on solution. Good short-term. Bad long-term.

You might as well just park that love of your automobile right now. I'm sure somebody somewhere really loved their horse and buggy. Maybe it was even marketed to suckers as the American Dream. Just think, in 50 years you can be the strange, backwards community still driving cars. Luddites.

Maybe the next technology will be the actual Matrix and all experiences are virtual and so real that they replace conscious awareness. And we can sleep in pink pods of goo...


The North Sea produces oil too, but you don't see Scandinavia gettin' high off their own supply.

Livability Indicator: Diversity
Painting by artist Heather Hennick.

I have often heard or read of planners suggesting that areas need diversity as if that quality is something you can will into existence with a magic wand, also known as the architect's magic CAD station pencil. This is most often brought up in regards to revitalizing downtowns or other similar depressed areas. I have always found diversity as a goal for these places to be somewhat patronizing if not paternalistically liberal.

Is diversity absolutely necessary for creating livable places? The short answer is no.

In this post, I will show that diversity is more of a by-product of livability than it is a producer of livable places, which points to it as a very clear indicator of livability (an outcome). While there are certain design measures that can allow for diversity (accessibility, mobility, diversity of housing type), it cannot be willed into existence. However, it does contribute in other ways, which we will also examine.

Therefore, in areas in need of revitalization aka those in need of a greater degree of livability (or desirability), diversity can be a performance measure by which livability is measured. People often mistake revitalization for commerce. But commerce cannot exist sustainably and predictably without people, meaning livability. On the other hand, diversity is an absolute necessity for achieving higher levels of lovability or memorability as it comprises a broader base, the foundation authentic, upon which memorable places are built.

A biologist would say the greater amount of species in an ecosystem (diversity) the more complete the elaboration of life. In terms of cities, this means a broader base and the potential for a higher plane for what a City can be.

A rain forest (home to a greater array of kingdoms, phylums, families, orders, genuses, and speciese) serves as a natural metaphor as the most complete known elaboration of life. Not uncoincidentally, in many ways it provides life to everywhere else on the globe b/c it is such an exporter (resources, oxygen, co2 sink, etc.). A rain forest is the actualized city. These are the global cities bubbling over with culture and new ideas of thinking and being that are then exported to the rest of the world.

However, this also implies that life exists in lesser diverse situations, ie places deemed livable by various species. So how do we find that point and how does it apply closer to home? In Mercer's recently released Global Livable Cities rankings, they aren't ranking global "rain forests," but places where the more basic needs of all are met the best.

Using Maslow's hierarchy of needs as I am fond of, helps to determine exactly where and how a place might fit within the vague notion of livability. The pyramid is widest at its base where the most amount of people have those needs. We all need food, water, and air to survive. At the top, we don't all need peak experiences of culture to survive. So livability isn't about being "world class." It is about other things.

Because livability is such an elusive concept and one that is difficult to define. The best way is to take the simplest, evidence-based approach. Are people living there? If not, why not? And because Livability can mean different things to different people, are different types of people living there?
Can an individual find a job and afford a residence nearby?

Are senior citizens able to get around? Do they have mobility?

Can children play in the streets or ride their bikes without the constant supervision of helicopter parents or be run over by maniacal valets?

Do women feel threatened or unsafe walking the streets alone or at night? Since women and children typically require a greater degree of safety than say me or Mac from Always Sunny in Philadelphia because we work our glamour muscles, can roundhouse kick and have made a collection of video tapes from Project Badass.

If the answers to these and many other questions are yes, chances are diversity has been attracted for these various basic needs. Therefore the place is Viable, the foundation of Livability because all of the primal needs are met.

The next question to be asked and answered is what defines diversity? While diversity is often associated with race, it can mean a variety of age, gender, income, cultural heritage, background, etc.

As mentioned earlier, design can allow for certain amount of diversity but there are other mitigating factors at play beyond that of mere urban design. For example, nationality or race tend to congregate in areas for comfort, familiarity, or because of language barriers.

Uptown is a livable place, but is fairly narrow in its social makeup. This is reflected in its elaboration, particularly in its neighborhood services, the outgrowths of the residents. The commercial and social experience is similarly narrow, mostly alcohol induced at the many bars that while they may seem different are all as homogenous as its patrons.

However, uptown remains Livable because of its walkability and density. It achieves Social needs. This might be revealed in comparison to conventional drive-to suburban development where services are even more homogenous (greater reliance on chains).

Since only a certain segment of the population are able to satisfy their more basic needs in uptown, shelter and the affordability thereof as the predominant factor, uptown is only livable for a few and the foundation of the neighborhood is quite narrow (at least in its current iteration) and its potential limited.

This can also apply to downtown Dallas. While it is probably more affordable (now that rental prices in downtown are finding their right value), a greater array of income levels are able to live in downtown, but less people find it safe or appealing (for a variety of reasons). So the foundation remains narrower than it needs or should be in order to be as successful as we want.

However, I find it suitable to my needs. Even without a car, I have mobility due to adequate transit and a willingness to erode shoe leather. I can afford space that I like and have a number of bars and restaurants nearby. In my particular subjective criteria, I find it livable.

For example, give me an Indian buffet, a soul food joint, a good sushi house, and a neighborhood bar and I'm a happy man. The proprietors of those establishments should have the ability to be a part of the neighborhood as well if they so choose. But not only the proprietors, but the various generations of their families and their workers should be able to find suitable homes there as well. This further embeds their stake in and stewardship of the community while making it all the more authentic, which I define as unique qualities or character as a direct outgrowth of an area's residents.

I once quipped that the only animals that existed in downtown Dallas were rats, carp, pigeons, and people. We're in good company. That was of course, over 5 years ago and the population has since doubled. You can compare us newcomers to the grackles. To get to the next level, we need our neighborhoods (of which downtown is one) to be a better habitat for more species, more types of people. Whether the diversity follows is irrelevant to livability, but it isn't to making Dallas a more memorable place and competing with the global "rain forests" of the world.

This City produces a preponderance of talent and homemade narcotics. But most of that talent leaves. I'm guessing it leaves because a lack of livability. As a City, we are in the global battle for talent together and our eventual success (or failure) is built on a foundation of livability.

If we want our city and our neighborhoods to be "rain forests" known and mentioned on the global scale, or to move up in the myriad of Livable Cities rankings sure to grow in number, we have to focus all areas on being livable for the greatest range of residents and do so with high quality, creative urban design. Who can then choose to live in the neighborhood that most suits the character for which they are looking. Where they can feel a sense of belonging.

This means ranges of housing types and affordability (shelter). It means access to transit and walkable neighborhoods (mobility). It means clean air, water, and I suppose I should say clean food. It means a free and fair political environment. It means safety through design (CPTED) and enforcement without sacrificing justice. It means fostering diversity and the opportunity for all to contribute what they have to offer the world through livability building a positive feedback loop where diversity uplifts livable systems (attracting diversity) into a more lovable, memorable City.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

GUEST POST: Bicycling in Dallas

Go ahead, drivers. Make my day.

These are fun. Why? Because I don't have to provide all the written content. Thursday afternoon, 5 to 8 pm, at City Hall in downtown Dallas is the Bike Plan open house. Will anything substantive come of this particular session, probably not. But, it is a chance to commiserate with your like-minded peers...and there'll be punch and pie!

Putting My Hard Hat On and Going to Work.

Yes, I ride my bike. Or, should I say I am the pimple that the city of Dallas drivers can’t seem to rid themselves. I may be a speck in the grand scheme of a City where commuting is an antagonistic affair, but I am certainly the most annoying of all opponents delaying you from that rat race.

It might actually seem feasible to reach a downtown job by bicycle for a resident of the yuppie village region of Uptown Dallas, not more than two miles away. Too long to walk, the trolley is as reliable as its century old parts, and driving just seems ostentatious. It ought to be the perfect distance for what should be a safe, enjoyable ride if in a City that accommodated it.

Well, in the City of Dallas, it isn’t. With the luxury of great weather year round, I began commuting by bike three months ago. The trek is not far. I can see my building from my apartment, but the absurdity of navigating the region on two wheels is far too intimidating for most. As a safe, energy efficient endeavor, it shouldn't be. Alas, we've entitled those pointing and pedaling the much more deadly machines.

People comfortably ride bikes around White Rock Lake and on the Katy Trail, but hardly anyone rides on the street. Why? Because you can’t. Sure, you can physically ride on the street, but good luck. Without a bike lane to be found you are head-to-head with impatient motorists not interested in your safety, but rather, reaching their destination as expediently as the law does or does not allow.

My commute is unable to take the logical, direct route: McKinney Ave, or snake through some side streets that might be more pedestrian friendly. No, my commute begins on the sidewalk to get to the intersection of Hall and Cole, or shall I say, the intersection of bicycle death. After I turn onto Hall, I then weave through a drive-thru bank (without making a deposit or withdrawal mind you) to get to the Katy Trail. Alas, I made it….alive. This is the only enjoyable portion of the commute. The Katy Trail is beautiful to ride alongside other bicyclists, people out for their morning jog, and experience some of the most beautiful green spaces in the city.

ed: Ryan's route vs. the more direct one.

On the roads forget about common courtesy or patience from drivers. Usually the best strategy at intersections is to let every car go first, hoping that the next wave of motorists realizes your turn, but this is risky business. Look out for Sally Sorority in daddy's beamer on her cell phone willing to make you part of the street, or her vehicles grill. Three separate times I have been nearly killed as I perform a basic left turn onto Hall Street, with the right-of-way. Common theme: cell phones. All three motorists have been on their cell phones not paying attention. I could have been a biker, a walker, or a double-decker bus in London. It would matter not. A wreck or manslaughter is in their future. No worries. Daddy will cover it.

Once this portion of the commute is over, the real journey begins as I navigate a sea of parking lots in order to avoid Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, and the late Dale Earnhardt on their way to work. Crossing the highway is always the next obstacle where I stare death straight into its steely grate. Surprisingly, it is not too bad. With a preponderance of lanes, motorists provide bicyclists the right-hand lane. However, I do not doubt for a second that I would be run down for the next changing traffic light.

When my day is up, back to the Texas Motor Speedway we go. The return trip always follows the same route because the only safe section is the Katy Trail no matter how far out of my way it is, which in the afternoon with the sun out is even more enjoyable. There are no safe streets for a bicyclist. Of course not. You are a second class citizen. Perhaps soon we will have to drink out of separate water fountains.

The commuting back and forth is not nearly as bad as the first time one tries it. Like anything else, you get used to it, all of it. You have to accept that this City, not just its inhabitants, its drivers have cast you out. You are undesirable. Even dressed in office attire, as might be the case in any other City in the world, you are lumped into the small niche crowd of hardcore enthusiasts in spandex when all you want to do is get to work.

I suppose it actually is my fault foolishly thinking that biking to work, since it is such a short distance, was a good idea. I mean that bro honking and glaring at me from his Hummer because I properly turned left at the four-way stop, with the right-of-way, is clearly right. Look how important he is, he’s in a car. Duh!

A city shouldn’t have to “get used” to alternative, healthy forms of transportation. This city needs bike lines, a plan for nearby residents to commute safely to downtown, and a real conscience about promoting healthy commuting for a city known for the opposite. I am not Lance Armstrong, but I also don’t want to be that dead squirrel on the pavement.

Ryan DiRaimo is a local architect. He wants you to know that he's 6-5, 240 and plays in the NHL, but not for the Stars. Those endeavors might lead you to believe that he would be too busy to maintain a sports blog, a twitter account, AND be a favorite of the lovely ladies of Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He does all of the above. Except for some.

If anything will appeal to Texan sensibilities it is this. Or just irony.

Since the Addison Circle polling has received some love and attention from FrontBurner, let's give it something to square off against.

Since CNU just wrapped in the ATL, I once lived there, AND I even worked on tiny irrelevant bits of both projects, we are going to put it up against Atlantic Station, in Atlanta, GA. The similarities don't end there.

Both projects are of a similar size in terms of land area. Both are in urban infill locations although Atlantic Station is much closer to its downtown. Both projects are highway and railroad adjacent, but one key difference was also that they were built at different times. Atlantic Station is about five years younger and fueled moreso by credit bubble than was Addison. That and its closer location allowed for a bit higher density and a mega-parking garage constructed below grade.

As a younger project, it also has that new car smell of a place not yet lived in. I'll let you determine the rest of the differences and judge for yourselves. Compare w/ Addison here.

Round 1: DING:

Which recent "new urbanist" project do you like better?
Atlantic Station - Atlanta, GA
Addison Circle - Addison, TX
Free polls from

Atlantic Station,Atlanta GA.
File:Atlantic station 3.jpg
Atlantic Station 07

Atlantic Station; Atlanta, GA

The Future Is Now

Thanks to Bike Denton for sending me this study on congestion and road narrowing vs. capacity expansion. The thing to take from all of it is that congestion is inevitable. Commerce needs it and frankly, people need it as well. We organize our lives, cities, and economies around predictable convergence points, areas where "traffic" will be the highest. The question then becomes, how do we want that to look, to operate, and then it also becomes what can we afford long-term.

Which reminded me of the movie the Time Machine. A rather droll remake with of all the typical silly futuristic trappings like living on the moon and goofy outfits to let dummies know, "yes, this is set in the future." In a world where we so often mistake highways and cars as progress (towards what goal, I don't know) the filmmakers one interesting visualization was their take on NYC in 2030 where all of the street traffic is by bike or foot. Some stills:

It looks like rush hour. Let's take a look at the rush hour and parking facilities for various forms of dominant transportation:

Pedestrian rush hour:


Pedestrian parking:

Bicycle rush hour:

Bicycle parking:

Automobile rush hour:

Automobile parking:

Let's leave the last word to the movie:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I've known about this for a long time and figured it was one of those things that would be shelved for so long that status quo would carry the day. but now it is in the news so I might as well comment on it. Griggs Park in uptown Dallas is supposed to get a makeover.

Having formerly lived in the neighborhood and been a frequent user of that park then and now, I'm pretty well versed in its current usage AND the history of it and its neighborhood. We'll get to those answers in a second.

First, let's discuss the theory behind redressing Griggs Park. That would be that each neighborhood should have their own park suited to their own particular needs. With that said, rules were made to be broken. Or at the very least tested.

The thing with planning theory (or any really) is that they are wielded like weapons. Each on their own deadly enough to win an argument vs. no competing solutions. Unfortunately, planning is about weighing all of the above (and below) and determining the best of many, many paths to pursue.

In the spirit of all things in moderation even moderation, I see three main reasons for testing that theory here. Tests I don't believe changing Griggs Park (at least for now) passes.

I. While one theory might suggest one possible solution, there is also a competing theory. One that is less established, less encoded in the minds of planners everywhere. That theory would be a more contextually-appropriate approach.

Griggs Park is next to a highway. It is not really embedded neighborhood park where there are many more lots or units facing on the park, where the park improves the value of those units and those units demand a better view. Everyone moved into block 588 because it is a cool building with a view of downtown and fields for play or dogs a step away.

The access because it is highway adjacent suggests that this is more of a city park as in city-wide park. We should save the fountains and flowers for neighborhood scaled parks in uptown. Of course, one just infilled with more townhomes (I know. I rarely complain about more in-town housing). /slaps wrist.

II. On the other hand, if we were to run with the theory of neighborhood determination and that the park should reflect the needs of the neighborhood. It might make some initial sense to turn Griggs into a dog-walking park for the yuppies. However, with State Thomas very real and contentious history of displacing an established, deeply rooted African American neighborhood, this could come off as more of the same. This time removes hispanic baseball players. Do we think this is the politically best move?
"You'll still be able to play ball out there; you'll still be able to play rugby and soccer out there," said improvement district CEO Jim Reagan. "You just won't have a lighted ball field."
Ouch. Baseball out. Yes, Drexyl Spivey. It looks like in fact it IS whiteboy day. And this brings up two other issues:
a. The predominantly white, weekday visitors use the fields as well for soccer and kickball and a variety of other free-form ways. Many of whom arrive from all over the metroplex to participate in the various leagues.
b. Also, given that the demographic has changed so severely (by hook or crook - not the point of this post), does it makes sense to continually, superficially apply a use based on current neighborhood demographics and our perception of what their needs are? The current residents use it in so many ways indicates that the users are adapting it to their needs themselves.
If we try to change it every fifteen or so years the demographic will continue to change. We're throwing darts with a pirate patch over one eye at a moving target. It is not out of the realm of possibility that in 2025 other areas with a bit more authenticity emerge as new hotspot urban neighborhoods. I'm thinking particularly of the latent potential of close-in (to downtown) neighborhoods such as Ross Ave, Deep Ellum, Bishop Arts and the Trinity Riverfront. And while the urbanism is mostly good in State Thomas, the architecture isn't the sturdiest.

III. Is it more or less maintenance to plant and mow grass or the design, construct, and maintain the future plan? Which brings up the last point:
"There's a higher demand for the fields than the actual supply," Violi said. "People in the City of Dallas don't want to drive out to Carrollton to play."
Of a similar economic mindset, the city is broke. Couldn't some of the money for the design and construction be appropriated to improved maintenance of Griggs and/or other parks for the time being until the supply and demand of parks works itself out?

(And I'm aware that this is probably set aside PID or TIF money.)

The point of all of the above is that there are better places to assert that money and get better, more timely, and useful expenditure from it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Planners as Developers

"The great achievement of the New Urbanists was not the projects they built during the final orgasm of the cheap energy orgy. It was the knowledge they retrieved from the dumpster of history. We really do know where to go from here. Whether the people of the USA have the will to take themselves there now is another issue." - James Howard Kunstler
Image from CoolTown Studios

I guess it isn't entirely coincidental that I came across this quote the same morning I was outlining a post with a similar thesis in my head. The Congress of New Urbanism was just wrapping up this weekend and saying goodnight to the very same housing bubble that fueled its business much like it lit ablaze to what the New Urbanists were offering the antidote.

The reason Kunstler's quote is relevant is that even the best of "New Urbanist" projects have a variety of flaws. Most egregiously, those that finished construction recently as anybody and everybody wanted in on the development game. Their lack of experience, understanding, or sense of craft showed as it became more about delivering product than actual placemaking or any real understanding of urbanism. In fact, in many cases the effort for as much leasable space as possible, the thinking that pure density or FAR was all it took for something to be "urban" undermined urbanity and accidentally limited the worth of the overall development.

Which is why moving forward, developers and financiers will need smart urbanists working for them once the market fully turns and builds a head of steam towards a more sustainable future. The savviest developers should already be thinking this way to be out ahead of the pack in directing areas of interest for future investment where the potential value greatly exceeds the current value and in identifying the barriers to be overcome in achieving that potential. Often those barriers are controlled by the City and it will take urbanists as the liaison between developer and City.

In a City with such anti-urban transportation in place, working with the City in order to bend the fabric to your site is fundamental to good urbanism and achieving highest and lasting value. By working with the City to shape the contextual urban fabric you improve the connective urbanity of both the adjacent neighborhoods and maximize the value of your own development. Even if some of the improvements are too costly to undertake in a phase 1 or 2 of a plan, the seed must be planted and it takes a true urbanist to know what those are. All good urban developments whether 1 lot, 1 block, or 100 acres large must be thinking about how it fits within its context.

While this may be translatable on a national or international scale, it is especially important here in Dallas, a City that lacks a true proactive planning department, like many cities on the coasts. I'm not editorializing whether that is a bad thing or a good thing, because it could be either. What is important is that planners are at the proactive leading edge. In a City like Dallas where private enterprise is the dominant proactive element shaping the city's form requires planners working with developers rather than at architecture firms stuck at the bottom rung of the decision-making process.

When done right, development is about win-win-win solutions, which high value urbanists specialize in identifying. The developer makes profit, the City gets a contributing, sustainable tax base, and the community gets a great place and an improved City. Once upon a time before the rise of NIMBYism, developers were once exalted as grand city builders, the creators of great places, as cities strived to be the best, the most desirable amongst their competitive peer cities.

Unfortunately that changed in the 20th century as their response to anti-urban policy was logically anti-urban development spawning a group known as nimby's or Not In My BackYard. In suburbs, everyone moved for their own unspoiled patch of land until everyone else joined in and spoiled the fun. In cities, we've built vertical cul-de-sacs - density without urbanity and promoted the view... which eventually gets spoiled by other vertical sprawl development so we oppose it. Not in my backyard.

In real urbanism, the amenity is the place. It is the proximity. It is the connection to the livelihood and the exchange that occurs on the street. When those streets are hideous, unsafe, and inhumane, people flee (either upwards vertical sprawl or outwards horizontal sprawl) outlining the effect of the public sector on urban form. In many cases, the failed attempts or missteps toward urbanism were outside the boundaries or control of a particular development.

Which is why we examine all assets from a broader contextual perspective looking beyond the boundaries to understand the influencing factors and dynamics of a place. Looking at any particular property in a vacuum will doom a project. This is another reason why developers require the merged thinking of their keen financial sense with an urbanist's trained eye.

As everyone knows, transportation also matters. But, we have to get smarter and more adapt with how development relates with transportation. No longer is it enough to simply be near a DART station. Now you have to think about detail: the quality, character, and simplicity of the pedestrian connection to alternative transportation.

We are leaving the trial and error period of the last two decades, the experiment in rediscovering the value of urbanism. Fortunately, we have enough good, successful examples that when squinting or framing the view adeptly, we can illustrate the advantages and demonstrate the value of high quality urban development.

However, times are-a changin'. The rules of the game are different. No longer is cheap edge development subsidized by rampant, mindless infrastructural spending (or at least less so) now as cities and the federal government are keen to help fill the gap to make high quality urban infill work as HUD recently announced $3 billion for location-efficient housing developments (following LEED-ND).

There is no longer a bubble that allows us to narrow-mindedly cram leasable square footage onto a site. Real urbanism matters. That is how value is created and sustained for long term profits. Even if your expectation is to flip the site, buyers/property managers/investors will be smarter and will start examining the urban quality and characteristics of the site to ensure long-term value and protect their investment.

Many of the best developers I have come across largely act on intuition to overcome a background in something other than a life spent studying and analyzing cities. They often use simple phrases as guiding principles, which are quite astute and effective as it informs all later, more detailed decision making. In the city building industry we call these patterns. It works because urban morphology is a very natural process.

Many developers want to do the right thing, but the perception remains that they are still the bad guys. It is time to stop being vilified. Developers are the city builders. They toil on the playing field of city building within the rules created by the public policy around them. There very job is to uplift a piece of dirt to its highest potential. But, most of them aren't trained in urban morphology so who are the smart urbanists to guide them now that everybody advertises themselves as an "urban designer?" Well, that's the new place to apply their intuition.

Now is the time to get it right or be left behind.

As a developer and as a city.

Monday Morning Linkages

With CNU18 wrapped up and in the books, Kunstler summarizes and laments this frightening anecdote:
A New Urbanist developer had gotten a small project going for a traditional neighborhood. Despite the global financial clusterfuck, the developer was able to meet the payments of his commercial loan. But the FDIC sent bank examiners around America and they told the small regional banks that if they had more than twenty percent of their loans in commercial real estate (CRE) they would be put out of business. The banks were ordered to reduce their loads of CRE by calling in the loans and liquidating the assets. Ironically, the banks only called in their "performing" loans, the ones that were being regularly paid off, because they were ignoring and even concealing the ones that weren't being paid.
It's hard to do honest business in the wild west.
The unwritten, incalculable tolls of driving are calculated:
"The 20-minute penalty for each hour spent driving ... is completely invisible to most drivers. But it is there lurking in the background, and at the end of the year, it adds up to about 45,000 deaths." (About 3,000 people in Canada and almost 42,000 in the United States die in motor vehicle accidents each year.)
The study's authors go on to conclude that just a few mph (or kph in this case) could drastically improve safety. Yet we still design roads for high speed driving and expect a little sign with a number on it will prevent fatalities. Some day my rage at an utterly failing transportation system might fully come through.
Where we take sh!tty roads, widen them and compare them to the Champs Elysees in order to line pockets of whoever fit more traffic on, take a look at how much "traffic" Paris was able to get onto the Champs Elysees over the weekend:

That would be 2 million people to see, in effect, a weekend farmers market in Paris.

Just imagine. This could be Industrial Boulevard on some parallel universe created by your average run of the mill focus-grouped basic cable dramatic series.
Although, I'm not a fan of his, Joel Garreau only confirmed my opinion of him with factually incorrect if not direct intellectual dishonesty in statements like this:

The automobile results in places with multiple urban cores like Los Angeles.

No, the automobile creates core-less places. Only when overlapped with historic, preserved context and alternative transportation framework do cores result. However, he does redeem himself arrived at a similar conclusion to one that I've been saying (which is the only reason he earns a link):
The dominant form... of transportation today [is] the networked computer. What does adding the networked computer get you? I think the answer is “the Santa-Fe-ing of the World.” This means the rise of places where the entire point of which is face-to-face contact. These places are concentrated and walkable, like villages. Some are embedded in the old downtowns – such as Adams Morgan in Washington, or The Left Bank of Paris, or the charming portions of what in London is referred to, somewhat narcissistically, as “The City.” Some are part of what have traditionally been regarded as suburbs or edge cities, such as Reston, Virginia, or Emeryville/Berkeley, California.
At Dallas City Hall today, there will be a briefing of the long-term transportation planning efforts. I have to say that I like the new D2 option directly to Union Station. Why? Well, one it goes to Union Station. If high speed rail happens, it will go to Union Station which will then have a direct link to the airport via DART and TRE. Second, it runs in front of the Convention Center Hotel. Third, it runs on the surface of Canton/Young meaning it will be $200 million less than the previous Council-preferred option of running UNDER the CC Hotel. Many readers may not be aware of this, but Development Director Theresa O'Donnell deserves credit for this alignment and long-term awareness and understanding.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Joint Happy Hour - Guess the City

As you may know by now, there is a cross-town happy hour scheduled for this afternoon/evening where we join forces with in merry reverie and the promotion of walkable, bikable living in our shared metropolis.

For the full details of the excursion, train fares, schedules, etc. to Houston Street Bar and Patio in downtown Fort Worth, see this post. I'll probably be on either the 4:55 or 5:15 TRE trains to Fort Worth depending entirely upon the promptness and urgency of my travel companions (Omg, I gotta look pretty!!!!11).

You may also be aware that each time we have a happy hour, I have a post full of imagery from some mysterious city found somewhere around the globe. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to guess what city it is (or if you want a free beer from yours truly) in the comments section of this post.

If you are beaten out by the very astute and well-traveled regular readers of this site, try the Guess the City sure to pop up at FortWorthology sometime later today. Over there the competition should be less stiff as no one has been outside of Tarrant County as the oversized belt buckles commonly found adorning our neighbors to the west have yet to successfully navigate security at DFW.

Jokes aside. Here is your wonderfully walkable Guess the City. Prepare for a tsunami of imagery as I couldn't stop exploring the City in Google Earth until Firefox said, "enough!"

Beer on me to the winner. Giddy up cowboys and cowgirls: