Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Quote for the Day

From a great article at the Atlantic on the inevitability of gentrification and the nostalgists who either lament or fight it. Things either get better or they get worse...and investment alone without self-aware design is no guarantee which direction it will nudge the inertia:
The same processes created—and, as Sorkin and Zukin would have it, destroyed—contemporary SoHo, Tribeca, and the East Village. In their analyses of each, it’s clear that they pine for—and mistake as susceptible to preservation—the same sort of transitional moment Jacobs evokes in Death and Life, when an architecturally interesting enclave holds in ephemeral balance the emerging and the residual.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to positive or negative magnetic forces within the city. If an element of the urban puzzle are quite literally repulsive, either redesign it to be more humane and integral to the place or remove it altogether, and the flexibility to allow the processes to occur within a framework that encourages positive urban experience and functionality.

I, for one, have no problem whatsoever with Manhattan and other parts of NYC trending upward in price. It means a restoration to proper land valuation where land and space is worth the most in the heart of the city, where urban metabolism is at its greatest.

I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY TODAY, SO INSTEAD...

Walkable Urbanism photos and other nonsense I've dumped into a folder named "pictures":


I think this may be Legacy. I should probably know these things.



What poor framing by the photog. Street plz


What a cute puppeeeeee.


Knowing Parisians, some confused this for a sewer.



Brooklyn.



Gonzo wishes to remind you this is no time for psychodelic drugs. The post-modern cityscape is weird enough.



Part of me wants to guess Bethesda, but methinks the density and quality of materials aren't quite high enough. I'd prefer this picture if there was somebody, anybody using the space.



"They always give sh!tty basement apartments letters instead of numbers." ~ Tyler Durden'd



Do you really do much driving or is it just start and stop?



Surgery baby wants to know if you'd like novocaine with your dystopia.



Yes, plz.



You're doing it wrongz.



Oh, sweet Valenthia.



ADA lawsuit written all over this one.



-30- for profligate house building is right. I'd say home building, but for many of these structures the only ones that will make their home here are varmints ~ Carl Spackler'd

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Revisiting CoHousing as a Community Model

I say this meaning "one model." So much has gone wrong within the architecture, development and city building industries in their attempts at finding THE model, as if one is somehow better than another. What this implies is that there is only one solution, rather than a continuum defined by the market, mass-customized to their own needs and wants.

To a client a few weeks ago while spitballing ideas for a new format for affordable, urban housing I said, "make up for the increment between market-rate housing and affordable housing by not subsidizing amenity (as many apartment buildings do). Let the neighborhood be the amenity."

In effect, what those other apartments do is internalize community. It reflects a lack of trust in what is outside of the walls, the castle and moat necessitated by fearful populous. For cities to function optimally, those outward connections must be mended, which means both trust in "the other" and the public spaces and transportation designed to be safe, amenable, and sociopetal.

I am reminded by a quote that came across my email inbox today:

“In San Francisco, a home becomes your bedroom, the city is where you live.”

--Planning Commission President Ron Miguel, SF Chronicle, 6/27/10

This captures the fundamental wiring of the 21st century city and reminds of an idea I once put forward:

But, these are still physical examples (ed: referring to Vancouver's point-tower over podium model), that while good IMO, do not effectively address the social issue of the vertical cul-de-sac. One idea would be for mid-to-high rise co-housing, and the understanding that there are hierarchies of social, public, or semi-public space based on the size of the community.

This stems from the idea that any one person's community, the amount of people they can ever really "know" at one time is approximately 150. I probably need to track this back to source the info, but something tells me it was one of those tidbits that stuck with me from a psychology or sociology class. In this case, the vertical co-housing would be the person's "community." Whether they choose to know everybody within their building is beside the point, but the opportunity is there.

The vertical cohousing was based on the idea of eliminating excess inefficiencies in individual plumbing lines, savings on sharing of electricity and appliances, and all but elimating inefficient floor space, meaning no hallways. The elevator opens directly into a shared kitchen/dining area that would be shared by 4 to 8 units per floor and potentiall two floors per kitchen area. This would be organized as a tenant's "nuclear family."

The rest of the common amenities would be structured similarly based on the amount of people to use it. Meaning every four or so floors there is a common gathering area, be it a workout facility, a pool, game room, home theater, etc. These areas would be the "extended family."

The idea of which has been done with many high-rise towers in Europe that create garden floors every fifteen or twenty floors in modern "green" office towers, ie creating social spaces for subsets within the larger unit. However, as I have said, to some extent this minimizes the person/place/thing interactions or feedback loops that create more intelligent places, ie rather than being 100 on the street, there might be 20 every 100 feet in elevation (although I imagine diminishing returns based on the exponential overlapping that occurs in these semi-lattice networks).

The base of the building, would have a community-wide amenity area. One building we worked on was supposed to have a wii station for resident use.

The last level of the hierarchy is the public, which is the street, or city at-large, and this is where the building would have its "third places"; how the building engages the street and the city. Here could be some overlap with the community-wide amenity area as I have seen in my building with the bar/grocery store as a popular hangout after work for building residents.


Monday, June 28, 2010

The Reptilian Brain

Robert Wilonsky at the Observer knows how to push my buttons with frightening economical efficiency: a two-word email and a link to a reporkulous presentation (with emphasis on the pork) by one Wendell Cox of the Institute for Intellectual Dishonesty.* Next thing I know, I'm dropping everything I'm doing to torture myself through a half hour of blanket statements that are often factually-oriented, but taken without context or deeper understanding that it undermines any credibility Cox might have, yet we accept him as credible anyway because well-heeled interests present him as such.

*Not his real organization, but is there really a difference?

On the other hand, if I have won enough credibility with you dear reader over time, you may be willing to accept my reactionary response to Wendell Cox. That being that he is a shill for the road lobby. Now this is also based in fact, as the directors of the group this presentation was given to The American Highway Users Alliance have documented tax returns representing the interests of Ford, GM, and Toyota. Users is right, but it isn't highways getting used it is all of us, the taxpayers.

Now if I haven't yet earned credibility then in this post I'll go through his presentation point by point to debunk and discredit everything he says.

First thing to know about Cox is that he is the kind of guy who claims he's for "choice" as long as all subsidy goes towards roads and cars and not to any other form of transportation whatsoever. Free marketeer, this guy.



Next, is the graphics. Pretty, in depth, nor subtle, these presentations are crafted by people lacking the least bit of intuitive sense of semiotics. All it takes is the opening picture to elucidate this point. "Boy, that sher is a purdy highway and cityscape... it's all washed out in gray and brown hues of the air, just the way I like to breathe it through my mouth hole."



My favorite part is that, well I would present the exact same picture as a "what not to do." Not only because it looks ridiculous and out of scale, but even if the point is that "highways create mobility," I'm seeing several lanes thoroughly clogged and several others completely unused. Neither, in the ideal scenario of which Cox poses to present. The rest of the presentation sprouts from there with similar shallowness of thought, understanding, and rhetoric that never leaves behind an amateurish capability to handle data, statistics, or reality.

Next, you pick up the voice intonation and the sense that this entire room is filled with crotchety, old white dudes who know only one model for reality. In other words, exactly the kind of guys that would populate such a thing as the American Highway Users Alliance or the kind of organization compelled to embolden "highway USERS" in their websites meta-tags (html geek'd) as some sort of populist cover in the event anyone gets the crazy idea from their rhetoric and positions that they might ya know, not actually represent the common person.

The nice answer to the question of who exactly these guys are is that they represent the financial interests of industries tied to the teet of the federal government, which once again reminds of the Klosterman quote about all technology eventually is bad. This is it. The technology is the car. We overbuilt comparative to its actual usefulness and it is proving difficult to extract it from our lives, not because of need or want, but because of the painful transition of certain jobs. Particularly, the jobs of these guys.

The other side of AHUA is a group posing as libertarian that proudly opposes tolls (not libertarian) and seeks maximum subsidies for highways (not libertarian). Those subsidies mind you, come from the pockets of the average everyday man for whom they masquerade as crusaders. Poor Peter gets robbed once again to fatten the wallet of already wealthy Paul. In other words, they perfectly represent the 20th century economy; the dead skin we, the rest of the country, are busily and painfully trying to molt in favor of a new and improved, repurposed economic phenotype.

I like my hypocrisy marinated overnight with deep, rich notes if for no other reason than an aroma so rich I can taste it whilst pulling up to the valet to park the car that I don't have. How about you?

If I'm to give AHUA and Cox credit, they understand that if they ensure never-ending road construction, this inevitably disperses population so that no other form of transportation works except for private automobile. Then we're held captive to building such infrastructure, supplying inefficient bus service to the working poor, who are also scattered, and subjugated to fluctuations in oil prices based on the whims of foreign cartels. This is painting them in a good light.

They also support domestic drilling any and everywhere as the solution to dealing with foreign dictators and oil markets. Any problems with that recently? I feel like taking a cruise on the Gulf of Mexico and flicking burnt cigarettes that I don't smoke off the bow of a boat with these guys tied to the hull.

Despite its advocacy for the common man and "million of americans and businesses," AHUA has a whopping 145 twitter followers. Grass roots indeed. Fundamentally, this points to the crisis of republican governance (not the party, the form), that this group can be so influential in determination of policy directions and public spending with no popular support to speak of.


You know it leads to a bad presentation when these bullets say nothing about the actual points of discussion. In fact, I could put together a presentation with the same bullets and say the exact opposite...which, is exactly what I'm going to do here.

Also, notice the re red outline accompanied by words like "threat." These are appeals to the reptilian brain, the most basic, primal, and reactionary. It ignores logic and reasoning and skips straight to instilling fear. Why? Either their actual arguments lack merit or this is literally the way they think. Neither explanation really matters.

Within the presentation, Cox's fundamental point is that of mobility. What they either cleverly and deceitfully do (or ignorantly don't understand) is that transportation policy and funding shifted solely to cars undermines real mobility. Distance, propinquity, and diversity of choice are all elements in the equation of mobility. If someone has to drive to ten different locations scattered across suburbia, find parking in order to accomplish ten different errands and I can handle them within five blocks, who is more mobile? Which is more efficient? Which is more cost effective?

Furthermore, accessibility is another element of mobility. They expect everybody to drive and everybody to own a car. Behind closed doors, I imagine them half-jokingly suggest removing drivers test and age limitations for licensure over cigars and aged brandy. The truth is that the handicapped, elderly, those who can't or don't want to afford cars, and children under 16 have reduced freedom of mobility, and burden others because of it in car-centric environments.

Another pseudo-libertarian, Randall O'Toole suggested a good solution to disaster preparedness in the event of another hurricane Katrina is for the federal government to buy all residents of NOLA cars to evacuate when adequate rail service could have moved thousands every few minutes and avoided the logjam. And O'Toole is actually considered the more serious one!

They are "libertarians" that wanted to subsidize car ownership. This should tell you how committed they are to their principles. This is also the same logic they apply to all other solutions, regrettably.

The rest of the presentation is full of super-duper trustworthy appearing statistics and tables. All of which are little more than broad sweeping generalizations providing no declarative proof of causality between cars/highways and prosperity even though each is passed off as such. Frankly, I think the impoverished state of municipal budgets spread too thinly to the breaking point provides proof that any correlation is one of timing if not outright temporary hallucination.

Post-WW2 prosperity had far more to do with loans to rebuilding nations after WW2, not having to deal with the wake of armies in the millions colliding on our continent and the subsequent rebuilding, and growth fueled by cheap oil following the Nazi version of economic development which was to funnel tax money to highway construction and militarism defense.

I'll give them credit for one thing. They understand the hyper-rational Descartian world where statistics of any kind are roundly accepted without question. In fact, they count on it.




For example: don't ask questions. From this you are to assume that because commutes in PHX and DFW are super short in comparison to the other cities listed that PHX, DFW, and Houston are the cities dreams are made of. OMG, look at NYC. It's almost unamerican! Kill it!

Of course, none of these are sourced. Furthermore, each is an empty statistic taken in a bubble with no context. There is nothing to be said of 1) quality of that trip, 2) productivity of that trip, and 3) externalities of each trip.

For example, if it takes you an hour to commute in Osaka, Paris, or NY but that trip is spent on a comfortable train ride where you can sip an espresso, read the paper, and read/respond to emails, bookended by short, safe, pleasant walks, while millions of others are making similar journeys that don't pollute, kill tens of thousands on the commute (as highways do), and aren't choked up routinely by said accidents creating traffic jams undermining mobility and time savings, which is really better? Cox claims one way is better strictly by the most simple of metrics.

One point I've made over and over again is the fallibility of neo-classical economics which attempts to objectively assess values and work strictly within a system where everything is priced by the market. But, if you ignore the majority of the elements in the equation, those things that either can't be priced aka invaluable or you ignore them, you are being either disingenuous or outright stupid.

http://www.houstonfreeways.com/modern/images/2004-04-11_high_five_aerial/high_five_19_looking_s_along_75_2005-04-11_19_500.jpg
How many schools or textbooks could be afforded with the cost of this? Or, what could you buy or save with what wouldn't have had to be taxed out of your paycheck?

Threat to Prosperity: "There are some who wish to slow if not stop completely the expansion of highways which would increase traffic congestion."

In a way he is right. If we stopped building more highways (which we can't afford or maintain by the way), we would create congestion. Except it would be pedestrian congestion and bicycle congestion, the kind that doesn't have negative externalities like with the automobile version of congestion where you are trapped in a suffocated metal box, with noxious fumes all around you, on a field of concrete and can't go anywhere because you're blocked in by your mortal enemies, every single other person on the road.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_D5kx0bUGx_c/SFrcesEToTI/AAAAAAAAATM/xqBVjBxLr_8/s400/DSC01160.JPG
Positive Congestion

The good kind of congestion only has positive externalities, such as healthy populous that is less of a burden on a healthcare system, increased commerce based on foot traffic, better localization and synergies of real estate clustering, less money spent per capita on infrastructure construction and maintenance, less money shipped overseas in support of our oil habit, and the other people providing that congestion aren't your enemy in a competitive situation, but a cooperative one where the presence of each of you makes the other more safe and their experience more enjoyable. Nobody goes to the highway to people watch.

Legitimate studies, unlike those that Cox uses, show that increased road and highway capacity only temporarily reduces congestion, but ultimately worsens all of the negative outcomes as listed above.



He also likes to play up the big red ghostbusters circle with a line through it, suggesting that we are trying to ban things or control the way people live. It's like they craft these presentations for children...or at least those with the minds of children. In the spirit that we project our own thought processes onto others, it doesn't speak highly for people that treat others as if they have the mind of children does it?



"Contempt for the American Way of Life..."

This also is not a new playbook really. They're anti-american hippy commies!!!! Tired. Yes, the Urban Land Institute, made up predominantly of conservative, buttoned-up real estate developers is really a radical left-wing socialist front group. Next ULI meeting I'm checking for little red books in breast pockets and Che Guevara t-shirts under those black and gray suits.

Actually, any legitimate city planner is perfectly happy to allow any of those things as long as they pay their full cost in a properly competitive environment. We wish to end subsidies which create an unfair competitive balance, particularly to those products and industries with significant negative external byproducts, such as car traffic congestion, obesity, asthma, pollution, runoff/flooding, etc.

These subsidies began in the early 20th century as a response to the squalor industrial cities had become. The are not appropriate for what cities are today and they don't respond to the way cities exist in the prideful hearts and minds of their inhabitants. We want to care for our cities. We want to showcase them. We want them to be great.


Frankly, the rest of this is retreads of similar cherry-picked data that I find it a waste of time to go point by point once the fundamental logic is undermined, obviously every single point is as well. O'Toole, Cox, etc.? They are all dinosaurs fearing extinction. Unfortunately for them, time is cruel to those without useful ideas.

They're hanging around only as the apparatus of the industries entrenched by massive federal subsidy. They like to play pretend libertarian, but they are really only fighting to maintain the free hand outs for their industry. Cox, O'Toole, et al are more than happy to unscrupulously sell their integrity for a cut of that cash money.

They are afraid of change and are backed into a corner by the kind of dramatic sweeping change that only happens because of the calcification of their industries. Evolution happens in two ways: radical and gradual. Gradual is painless. Radical occurs only through collapse. The world they've entrenched crumbled rather than accept and encourage gradual, free- and fair-market adaptation...

And that sudden repurposing shift is proving traumatic to their industries. We would be so kind as to let them die in peace.

Monday Morning Linkages

http://pix.motivatedphotos.com/2008/7/31/633531404494216461-INSOMNIA.jpg

Around the world of walkable urbanism news, commentary, articles, and various other curiosities noted from the weekend and early morning insomnia:
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Propounding something I have advocated for a long long time, Green Biz suggests dropping taxes on good things, things we want to encourage like Income Tax (which was introduced to cover expenses during the American Civil War when the sale of war bonds proved inadequate and like many things established dug in like a tick and has proven impossible to rid ourselves despite its antiquity) and covering the difference with what we need less of, that is consumption, particularly of the conspicuous or profligate sort:

A Stuff Tax will not solve all of our problems. But it would hold us all responsible for what we consume, encourage employment and nudge our economy in the right direction. Until then, Uncle Sam will keep earning his dime by taxing employment and work -- both the hairdresser who bikes to work and the hedge fund manager with two power boats and a private jet.

And that does not help our budget, our unemployed or our environment.

TreeHugger dips their toe in the water as well, here.
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Funny, I was just explaining this phenomenon Saturday before the US World Cup game, to which I joked, "I wonder when we'll get a Frank Gehry" as if to suggest a building more as a sculptural piece extremely limited in its impact and meaning.

Forbes discusses the "Bilbao Effect" and how many cities have expected similar revitalization and visitation from museums and cultural totems have not had the same level of success. The brief answer is that a design response (whether program or physical layout and design) must be contextually appropriate for time, location, and need of the city and its people. Merely, taking what one city has done and applying it (in Dallas's case extremely liberally) over and over again is nothing more than taking a copy of a copy, each less impactful than the previous as it doesn't respond to local issues, the audience to whom it design works for.

Unfortunately, the worthy analysis is limited to an isolated throwaway line at the end of the article:
Despite attempts to emulate the "Bilbao effect" elsewhere in the world, very few new museums or galleries outside capital cities have succeeded in getting so many visitors. Gehry's architecture and the Guggenheim's art have proved an irresistible combination.
I outlined a much longer post that I'll get around to writing up sometime about the visceral and largely negative reaction by such efforts.
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As chain and box stores struggle and/or negotiate with cities about the inflexibility of the extremely value engineered design and function of their stores (ie cheap and efficient as possible), here is a list of formats Tesco stores have established in Europe to fit into a variety of contexts. An example:
Metro (approx. 7,000-15,000 sq ft) We opened our first Metro in 1992, bringing the convenience of Tesco to town and city centre locations, and now have over 170 stores. Metros cater for thousands of busy customers each week and offer a tailored range of mainly food products, including ready-meals and sandwiches.
Design and programmatic flexibility has allowed Tesco to invade urban markets and "follow the rooftops" into the City in places that would reject their conventional store formats. Ya know, because they have cities and neighborhoods worth defending.



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Taiwan proves high speed rail can be profitable, sort of.

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And lastly, as many readers may know, I like to take lessons from various natural sciences and apply them to cities. Here, a new theory is proposed explaining the concept of "quantum entanglement" as the "adhesive" maintaining interconnectivity of genetic strains. Does that help to explain the vital yet very fragile bonds of community, that it takes virtually infinite connections lacing a neighborhood into resilience? That is, until a freeway is proposed to tear through the heart of it like a scythe from the angel of community death, the DOT.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Denouement



This may seem off-topic for this blog, but is it? Half the point is about getting out from behind our securely locked doors, our fear of the unknown and the other, respect for fellow man. Sometimes there are moments in sports that are bigger than the capacity of the sport or all of sports to effectively bottle up. Like when a fractured country comes together. Strangers randomly selected by fate high-five, sing, hug, cry.

Why? It was just a soccer game. Or was it?

Whatever happens tomorrow vs. Ghana and hopefully in unknown games further down the single-loss elimination playoff road will no doubt be a let down compared to what transpired Wednesday. And that is ok.

Whether the United States ever fully accepts soccer the way other countries have is besides the point. Our attention too divided amongst a never ending series of distractions.

Somehow every other soccer game from this point forward in this World Cup and maybe even all World Cups hence, has some how, some way been reduced to denouement, the slow resolution of a fuse with a given timeline. The peak experience having already been crossed.

The United States Men's National Soccer Team has as good of a chance as any team to reach the final 4 given our draw, but actually winning the world cup is probably asking a bit much. But that is what we do. We demand the best. Sometimes moments in sports are transcendent. Sometime we need to demand the best of ourselves, each other, and our cities as well.

There, on topic.

Parking in Dallas

Eye Test: Picture 1, picture 2? Picture 1, picture 2?



[DSC01350.JPG]
Danish Park 'n Ride. All transportation needs its infrastructure. Some are less corrosive than others.

I've written extensively on the general nature of parking (here and here), but rarely have looked at it locally (mostly because the effects are felt the same here as anywhere else) beyond documenting the inordinate amount of both surface parking lots and garages in downtown Dallas.

Over at D, Wick Allison takes on the antiquated parking standards designed to make Downtowns compete with suburbs. Of course, we know you can't do sprawl as well as the suburbs, so instead our downtowns sit punch drunk and confused.

On the other hand, I take issue with the idea that the market can sort it out on its own. While that is true over the long-term, the question is, is it worthwhile to fumble around until the market can find the right answer when cities, neighborhoods, communities, families, taxpayers, and property owners are all suffering from the extraneous effects of too much parking?

The City is looking at a complete revision of its parking codes, but from what I have been told, nobody really knows where or how to begin.

My comments here (edited because I can actually see what I'm writing in my own prompt):
First of all, that 85,000 number is way too low. Dallas has 35,000 surface parking spaces in downtown alone, all of which (or 99% at least) are empty nights and weekends (and too many people falsely think for downtown retail we need more parking – those people don’t know what they’re talking about and are instead spouting conventional wisdom). Furthermore, Professor Donald Shoup of UCLA once calculated there are 4 parking spaces for every car owned in this country. You can quickly see that 85K needs to expand factorially.

What parking minimums establish is a scenario where supply always vastly exceeds demand. Parking by nature is fluid where that demand creates concerted pressure only at certain times of the day, week, or year. We have yet to arrive at a solution that responds to this nature. The only truly successful one is to reduce demand for parking by building walkable urban places where trips by bike, foot, transit or combo of the above reduce the need for parking. We have to rewrite the urban genotype to have the physical phenotype emerge in a way that is valuable, rewarding, sustainable, cost-efficient, and resilient.

The more important question is, how do we appropriately punish a place that has too much parking?

Large seas of parking are disruptive to the necessary interconnected nature of the urban fabric. It is costly to build parking, sometimes as much as 20% of a project's development cost, but for some businesses that is a drop in the bucket. Furthermore, they trigger the very purpose of zoning in the first place, to prevent the erosion of property values of neighboring properties. In the property rights debate, people seem to conveniently ignore the fact that your property is only as strong as what is around you - the very reason for the emergence of NIMBYism and LULUs.

I have worked with numerous hospitals around the country on their urban plans once they realized their land-banking strategies of buying blocks, clearing houses for surface parking, in the event they need to expand buildings/services has created unsafe (perceived or otherwise matters not) situations and a corrosive effect on neighborhoods. I worked on one project (and won a Daniel Burnham AIA award for it) in Springfield, IL where the hospitals literally destroyed the historic neighborhood and local residents wouldn’t put any $ or effort into maintaining their property knowing they would be bought out and house razed next. The result was downward momentum, an entropic cycle of decay and disinvestment. One look no further than Baylor downtown for a local example.

In a way the “market” is slowly, but surely solving the issue as hospitals realize they are at a competitive disadvantage without walkable, safe, vital urban neighborhoods around them. But, is it worth the market fumbling around and tearing apart the bonds of communities? I recommend the book Root Shock with regard to these effects by Mindy Thompson Fullilove.

Is any place really worth spending time in where parking is cheap and easy? Let’s start w/ that as a precept and work from there.

One simple solution is to set up zones, or overlays as Chris Leinberger suggested, where we set parking max’s rather than min’s. Off the top of my head, I think I recall hearing Professor Shoup say that LA’s parking standards (of which Dallas’s are similar) mandate something like 1000% (might even have been 1000x) more parking than San Francisco’s (numbers could be off, but point remains).

I’ve also recommended to someone involved that we ought to put the otherwise useless Comp Plan to work in establishing zones or at least categorizing a hierarchy of proposed density zones to guide the parking standards.

Prof. Shoup is an advocate of Demand-based parking. I think in the long-term we need to get to something similar, however I am not sure it is the most effective solution for Dallas's current situation. In most places around the City, there is no demand and where/when there is, parking is supplied privately.

Places that do have temporary demand load that effect the neighborhoods and business, such as Greenville and Bishop Arts, suffer because they are essentially neighborhood centers that draw from a City-wide base, suggesting that the majority of our neighborhoods are vastly under-served by walkable, clustered neighborhood centers such as these. Supply of walkable places is far less than demand, and the parking code (and zoning in general) is one of the primary reasons. If we had more of these, serving residents within a certain distance, parking would be far less of a problem.

The other thing to identify is where does city generated parking revenue go? Does it go into the general fund and get lost? These revenues should be directed towards localized public improvements. However, all the revenue is sucked up by private entities. So that solution isn't a short-term fix.

Land is so invaluable currently (yet overpriced), that even in a downtown, it is a market-oriented solution to have surface parking lots, which then further undermine land value. Our roads and transportation system, paid for by taxpayers create that market. That is the deeper issue.

I ask the question, since the market can't/won't push out surface lot owners from downtown, do we have the leadership to drive it out?


The Things that Happen in Train Stations

Like advertising on any website (more on that in a bit) or businesses seeking to locate on the busiest of streets, one needs to find its audience. In a city organized along highways and dreadful arterials, we are assaulted with billboards and pole signs. Ugly begets ugly.

Street musicians locate in the populated public parks of cities around the world, much the way pigeons do looking for another crumb with the machine like persistence of a shark at sea. Even those with the most pedestrian of abilities still add something to the urban experience of people clustered in walkable urban places.

But, what if that street musician wasn't someone down on their luck but one of the most famous and celebrated in the world? This article is a few years old now, but the Washington Post did just that. My favorite excerpt:

AS METRO STATIONS GO, L'ENFANT PLAZA IS MORE PLEBEIAN THAN MOST. Even before you arrive, it gets no respect. Metro conductors never seem to get it right: "Leh-fahn." "Layfont." "El'phant."

At the top of the escalators are a shoeshine stand and a busy kiosk that sells newspapers, lottery tickets and a wallfull of magazines with titles such as Mammazons and Girls of Barely Legal. The skin mags move, but it's that lottery ticket dispenser that stays the busiest, with customers queuing up for Daily 6 lotto and Powerball and the ultimate suckers' bait, those pamphlets that sell random number combinations purporting to be "hot." They sell briskly. There's also a quick-check machine to slide in your lotto ticket, post-drawing, to see if you've won. Beneath it is a forlorn pile of crumpled slips.

On Friday, January 12, the people waiting in the lottery line looking for a long shot would get a lucky break -- a free, close-up ticket to a concert by one of the world's most famous musicians -- but only if they were of a mind to take note.

And the video:



You'll notice at the very end, a fan who recognized him adding, "this is one of those things that could only happen in D.C." Clearly, pleased with her idea to locate to such a city.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pic o' the Day

A "road" in Taormina via flickr feed of user Luigi FDV:

Taormina - La vita sulle scale (Stairways) by Luigi FDV.

There is the movement zone, the "furnishing zone" and the direct interaction between building form and channel of movement. To echo a favorite quote and necessary reminder from Lewis Mumford:
The purpose of transportation is to bring people and goods to places where they are needed, and to concentrate the greatest variety of goods and people within that limited area, in order to widen the possibility of choice without making it necessary to travel. A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation; and in any event, it offers change of speed and mode to fit a diversity of human purposes.
If you want to understand cities better, start with one of Mumford's points here as your compass reading and march in that direction for as far as you can handle. Then begin again with each successive statement.

Cycling Reconnects w/ Nature, Lifts the Spirit, and Exercises Your Brain

Via Mind Hacks comes this conclusion from an 1890 journal for mental health on the appeal of cycling:
For most of us the exquisite loveliness and delight of a fine summer's day have a special charm. The very life is luxury. The air is full of sound and sunshine, of the song of birds, and the murmur of insects; the meadows gleam with golden buttercups, we almost fancy we can see the grass grow and the buds open; the bees hum for very joy; there are a thou sand scents, above all, perhaps, that of new-mown hay.

There are doubtless many patients before whom "all the glories of heaven and earth may pass in daily succession without touching their hearts or elevating their minds," but, in time, it is possible even these would, by means of cycling, have their love of Nature, which had been frozen or crushed out, restored. Thus all Nature, which is full of beauties, would not only be a never-failing source of pleasure and interest, but lift them above the petty troubles and sorrows of their daily life.
Riding a bike home the other day, it struck me just how alert one has to be on a bike. While you can effectively shut your brain off and drive on auto-pilot as car traffic patterns have been engineered for the lowest common denominator, day dream whilst walking down the block, or complete work on mass transit as some other faculty provides the effort, on a bike one must maintain a constant state of awareness. This also reminds of the dangerous irony of very poor drivers operating very deadly machinery populating our roadways while one must be near expert to navigate the roads by bike, the simpler, safer, and cheaper method.

While it is nice to let the mind turn off every once in a while, like any muscle it provides a nice reward to exercise our strongest one. A good pain.

Reconnect with the place where you live.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One Billion Bikes

"I cycle to work. I cycle from work. I cycle to University. I cycle pretty much everywhere." Dressed stylishly while casually acknowledging cycling use without shame. And without helmet or fear of personal safety, I might add as well.

And not in China. Because they're busy widening roads and going "green" by widening highways and forcibly moving peasants from their agrarian lifestyles into well-constructed filing cabinets like this one:

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2009/06/28/article-0-05815B1E000005DC-497_634x528.jpg

Oopsy Daisy. Perhaps some oversight and the nasty time for professional accreditation is worthwhile after all.

No, I'm talking about this. Ignore the dreadful cameo to begin the video if you please...unless you like gargantuan d-bags that look uncomfortable using their cheated to gain fame to promote whatever:



These bikes are powered by one billion power bars, and Oh Gawd the amount of air that fill those tires... They're taking all our good air!!!!!1111!!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dallas Sewer Rats

http://www.team-shea.com/richard/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/ignorance-poster.jpg

I once joked that the only things that could live in downtown Dallas were rats, pigeons, and cockroaches. It didn't say much for their human neighbors, of which I became one...and paid much higher rent than I have anywhere else in the City. But more on that in a moment.

It turns out the City's real sewer rats mostly only find their light of day in comments sections of the nearest thing to a pure democracy, the web, making a strong case for the Hamiltonian Federalists of time immemorial. And as a Jeffersonian myself, it kills me to say that.

So in the extremely harmless, limited article about me in the Dallas Morning News turns up this comment*:
Non-conformist nut cases like these need a full cranial exam. Grow up, get a job, and drop this frivolous sustainability fad while you are still young.
*Acknowledgement - If it was done ironically it is brilliant.

Since I have no other avenue or recourse and refuse to ignore blatant ignorance this may not jive with the Southern passive aggression-passing-as-hospitality for which too many have preyed upon and you may be used to, but that isn't the way I was raised. I learned long ago to call out ignorance.

I believe in shining the flashlight on the rats because only fungus thrives in the dark anonymity of the internet. Or similarly, giving them a wider audience in which to make themselves a fool. Here is your audience, anonymous one. You're famous. And cast aside. No one cares. But, we should all live exactly like you right? How very Texan of you.

I could talk about studying overseas or being on the fast track at an international corporation. But that is the past. Or currently having quit said architecture firm to focus on local DFW issues, own my own company, and generate multiple revenue streams because I foresaw the end of the 20th century economy to which you cling.

But this isn't about me. This is about you. You, anonymous internet person. You represent the City. You have earned it. You represent the City of Fear. The one behind the locked doors, behind the gated community, afraid of "the other," xenophobe.

You are everything that holds this City back. Nothing inhibits the search engine of progress like ignorance and intolerance. And lucky for us, those that want this City to succeed, you are dying.

You are a coward, Linus. The kind of person who requires the comforting blanky of the status quo. Knowing you are not different, seeking the acceptance of others. But what is different is changing every day. And it is changing without you Sisyphus.

You are the same guy who yells "get a car, faggot" at cyclists and drives away comfortably knowing everybody else, just like you is in a car and a comfortable distance away to ensure your anonymity and self-assured cowardice. And no I won't censor myself. You said it, anonymous ignorant fool. Why should I help to hide you?

So lithely you reach deep into your quiver of cleverness and utilize your one and only tool to perpetuate ignorance as you fearfully watch others surpass you. Afraid of the changing world, you denigrate those that dare live as they choose. Shun them. Please tell me if you are Atlas and can stop the world from spinning. That would be truly newsworthy.

I moved here because I saw opportunity. I saw a City falsely built and doomed to impending rapid change with little leadership, understanding, or direction. I saw a City built by and for people like you. And yes, I want to capitalize on that. I want to make a career of building a better place. How dare I. How very communist of me.

As for the "fad" of sustainability, how about we let the market decide, no? Moneyed investors pay me money and follow my ideas for reducing the cost of inputs and increased the value of outputs in the economic equation and how that relates to cities. Surely that idea sounds ephemeral if only contradicted by the perpetuation of deep and thorough understanding of cities.

If there is any meaning in life, it is the desire to be eternal. Through body impossible, positive ideas can live forever. The tragedy of the Conformity Enforcer mirrors the role you play. You slow progress enough for the dullards to keep up, but then ultimately negativity is pushed aside in favor of problem solving and positivity. You die and accomplished nothing. An ephemeral city is made of ephemeral people.

You are not smart enough to see the future economy. And that is the burden for the rest of us, to drag the ignorant into the future.

Here's your mirror and microphone to begin burying yourself, 20th century City.

If we want to build a great city, we need more of the timeless and less of you.

Victory vs. LA Live

Dallas is often accused of being little more than desirous of the glitz and glam of LA. Today, we're pitting the Victory development in Dallas (which I once described as a Potemkin Village) with LA Live in Los Angeles. Perhaps the need to describe any place still as a "development" is damning enough. It isn't part of a neighborhood. It has no life beyond its limited programming.

I'm guessing it is no coincidence the majority of online imagery of both places is comprised of shiny, computer generated renderings rather than, ya know, real pictures of the places that are both at least the majority of the way towards complete construction. The imagery that does exist is often of night shots where precise lighting can perhaps conceal flaws or lull visitors into hypnosis to loosen their wallets.

Here we have two very similar developments, both designed and constructed within the last ten years - at the height of the debt-fueled building boom, and organized around sporting venues and general entertainment. Furthermore, they are both highway and downtown adjacent, have direct transit access, and exist within polycentric 20th century, car-oriented cities. They have the same general underlying logic, very much emblematic of turn of the 21st century places...for better or worse.

Recently, we had a hot or not poll for Victory in Dallas where it currently sits at a 3 out of 10, albeit with a far lower voter turnout than Addison Circle received with the FrontBurner bump.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_D5kx0bUGx_c/TAaaQT7zvWI/AAAAAAAACik/oL1mK0z8C_s/s1600/Untitled-4.jpg

For more imagery of Victory, go to this link. For reviews of both, see Wick Allison's from D of Victory and LA Live's which reads as though it could describe either.

For now however, judge by the differences you see or you felt if you've visited both. Here is the pictorial showcase for LA Live:



http://www.lalivemarriott.com/images/cache/8f7fa1188b54c3fa82fc274a60753d13.jpg

Nokia Center

Untitled

Nokia Center

http://chips-davis.com/LALive2008.jpg




Monday, June 21, 2010

What is Livability

Any time a term rises from specialized fields to main stream dialogue, there tends to be a period of transition where the word lacks definition once it escapes the quarantine of academic or professional circles.

For example, sustainability now means everything from the high-tech (light-emitting diodes) to the decidedly low-tech (backyard vegetable gardens). Everybody and their brother describes themselves as an urban designer in the architecture and design world, which apparently the only qualification is counting parking spaces on a strip center or aligning a cloverleaf interchange. Truly urban indeed.

http://www.creativeclass.com/creative_class/_wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/livability04.jpg

It only gets worse when that term readily escapes definition by its very reason for being. In this case livability. In the DMN's article about yours truly, a UT architecture professor mentions the term, but it gets little context. Every time there is a new ranking of world cities based on Livability, puzzlement ensues. Next American City wonders who gets to define it.

The problem is two-fold. First, our inherent need of language to have a set definition and to be so defined by an established authority. The second, and related to said "established authority," is the architecture profession's foolish Ayn Rand inspired need to be said authority, which ultimately and typically mucks up cities more than it does improve them.

Livability escapes definition because it means different things to different people, as it should. It is not top-down or bestowed, but bottom-up and created. Any good urban designer, city builder, developer, or city official's job is about providing the platform for that to occur: choice.

Represent your market as Howard Bloom states in his treatise and defense of Capitalism:
Visit neighborhoods and towns you've never seen. Do what saints and saviors do. Go among your people. People you've never imagined meeting. Get to know them. Stand up for them at meetings. Fight for them when plans are laid. Bring humanity new ways of being, new ways of seeing, and whole new forms of life and play.
While that passage looks remarkably like it is about cities, the book only touches upon cities in a very general or anecdotal manner. In it, Bloom provides the historical and biological imperative of capitalism. So discussing economies why does it read like he's rabble rousing for the next public meeting regarding a new urban plan?

I would, and often do, argue that cities are the physical embodiment of economies. And economies are created and driven by human need. Therefore, human need written deep in our genetic code are the source for why cities are the way they are. Need creates Economy. Economy is City. Need is City.


And these perpetually shift in the spiral of human progress and folly.

Human need is why the internet hasn't spelled the end of real, social interaction as many doomsayers feared we might be locked in a room interacting solely via chatroom. We need human interaction. So we molded the internet into a social tool, web 2.0. Now the web is used to enhance cities, because we need them.

It is why it took a pollster and statistician, Nate Silver of Five-Thirty-Eight.com to understand the variable nature of livability as he helped New York Magazine create a web-based application where people could adjust sliders based on how important certain factors are to them, such as good schools, housing affordability, nearby restaurants, nightlife, and mobility aka access to multiple modes of safe, efficient, distance-appropriate transportation.

While we can safely assume there are certain factors we, as humans, universally require in determining a livable place (typically the bottom rows Maslow's pyramid, such as safety, hence being the widest for the most amount of people with such needs), the variability of such factors are based on our own prioritization process.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_D5kx0bUGx_c/S_v4YDHga8I/AAAAAAAACfc/lLwt_qvXz5Q/s1600/city+pyramid+-+hierarchy+-+diversity.jpg
Unfortunately, we're incredibly bad when we're asked what we're looking for and surveys are often skewed by respondents answers influenced by their own expectation of what they expect the surveyor wants to hear. A far better indicator is the value we place on certain areas or parts of town. It means there can't be such pent up demand for walkable urbanism.

Of course, that requires real choice in the market place beyond which cul-de-sac you decide to lay your head within a stick-and-paper McMansion built to last less than twenty years. It also means mobility aside from the expert skill in deciphering which land is moving the most quickly during rush hour. And it is why the transect is important.

If you are wondering why Zurich, Copenhagen, and Munich rank so highly on livability, but aren't considered Global Cities, it is because they provide the greatest availability of education and opportunity to the widest range of its citizens. It is because they are safe and have a variety of housing types. They take care of the most basic of human needs with access to clean air, clear water, and healthcare. These are the lowest levels of Maslow's pyramid. They are the platform of livability.

We're busy caking on monuments to supposed culture without the availability of the most basic human needs. If a city is Maslow's Pyramid, no structure can stand without a foundation.

When I think about livable cities, I think back on some of my favorite childhood readings, choose-your-own-adventure books. In Livable Cities, you can choose your own adventure where each has the ability to live the way they want and has the faculties available to them to pursue such a life without diminishing the pursuits of others. In some cases, such as transportation, it is about the provision of all modes safely, effectively, and ideally...attractively.

Perpetual subsidies to the auto industry, the highway construction lobby, and towards unnaturally cheap gasoline is one very expensive obstruction.

Professor Almy lumped walkability in with livability and rightly so as it is integral to Livable Places. Walkable places are not those that you must drive to, valet your car, and proceed to walk around (although here in Dallas we have a funny way of describing such places as walkable). Walkable places are those you can walk to, not walk within. Malls are failing throughout the country for this very reason. Walkability is a necessary ingredient as it refers to interconnected, complete neighborhoods where all can participate and do so without lighting their hard-earned money on fire in an internal combustion engine.

With an economy heading towards one that is more individually customizable, cities are only bound to follow to a place that is more self-defined.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Linkages Vol. II

Connecting your brain to the urbanism of the day by foot, like a bicycle kick to the head.

First, I had a long discussion yesterday with a native of Mexico City, or "the Day Effay" as I like to call it. We discussed the success of the bike program and the overall change in culture influenced by a wave of professional youngsters academically trained throughout the world who have returned to make a difference in their home.

As for the bikes, they have had very little problem with theft as other cities have had because they instilled accountability. The bike is linked to your credit card and a $25 deposit. Return it within 30 minutes and your ride was free. Afterwards, fees begin to mount up incrementally.

Sometimes cities have to hit rock bottom, or at least a level of discontent amongst its citizens where they become fed up and begin to implement sweeping change. For Mexico City, it was pollution, car traffic, and congestion, all animals of a similar feather. I think a great deal of this also gets to the esoteric concept of the human contract.

Urbanism requires a certain degree of trust in your fellow man. Jane Jacobs' "eyes on the street" concept depends upon it. This is why you feel safer in a crowd than you might in a dark, secluded alley or empty parking lot, seemingly without threat.

This is why I think it would be a monumentally important gesture by AT&T to place Golden Boy in the middle of their plaza rather than tuck him away behind securely locked doors.

A certain percentage of the population will always be a-holes. However, as urbanism can socialize bad buildings, it can also socialize many a bad people. There is no reason for us to live in fear. Otherwise, let's just pack up shop now and give up, lock ourselves inside, and mount a gun turret on our H2.
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Ever notice how drivers act civil towards one another if and only if there has been a power outage and traffic lights default to a blinking red? I have. This Oregonian architect says, "save the $100,000 per signalized intersection and go back to stop signs."
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Lastly, for realz this time, apparently it has become the sheik thing to arrive at your own livability rankings for global cities. This time from the Monocle. I'm unfamiliar. However, I'm not unfamiliar with the cities of the top 25 which are pretty much a slight reshuffling of every other Global Livable Cities ranking. Portland and Honolulu the only American cities.

End of the Week Linkages

Busy week generally equals slow week on the blog unfortunately. To make up for it? Great selection of articles.

First, locally some good news out of Oak Cliff as the good folks at Go Oak Cliff have been able to close a dangerous street at X+, which will be converted into a plaza. The conventional solution would have been to raze the entire neighborhood, napalm it, and widen all roads to increase visibility triangles, "improve" the roads, and some notion of safety as dictated by a computerized formula.

Hey, don't blame me. That's what this here computer done said. Yessiree.

Jason Roberts' words:
The beauty of the project is not only the reclamation of the streets, but NYC is seeing traffic injuries plummet where they’ve installed these, making the public space not only more inviting to families and residents, but also safer.

Surrounding businesses are also booming thanks to the allowance for greater foot traffic (something we also saw at Better Block)…and of course, as Jane Jacobs noted, the heightened number of people out creates more “eyes on the street” which lowers area crime.
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Fast Company has an interview with brilliantly named Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who says "Portland good? Green? I'll make it better!" You read this interview and then try to imagine the same words coming from a local DFW politician and keel over in a fit of rage-enthused hyena cackle:
I would say Clean Energy Works, which is the nation's only consortium that offers on-bill financing for clean energy upgrades and retrofits. It addresses the hidden roadblock for sustainability, which is the lack of financing for clean technology upgrades for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and facilities. This kind of financial tool is now needed more than ever. We've also embarked upon a 25-year strategic plan for the city. Called the Portland Plan, it better aligns the $9.7 billion in government spending that happens in Portland, and over time, make it more accountable to the public. I'm the mayor, but I'm only one of about 45 public decision makers on issues within the city.
This was his first impressive answer of many. The bold part was so striking to me because of his conscious awareness of where progress gets held up and his direct action to unclog the drain. That is called problem solving. We could use a hit of that.
I'm always willing to put an idea out there, and in a friendly way, challenge others to come up with something better. I have a point of view, and I want to challenge others in an energetic and open way to come up with better ideas--and they often do.
No. This is my vassal state which I lord over and only over-priced consultants from cities that don't give a damn about Dallas other than to chuckle at our misfortune and home grown labyrinthine complexity can tell me otherwise. Then I do as they say.
With the federal stimulus, for example, we took our $2.4 million from HUD and the Department of Energy, and used it as venture capital to get Clean Energy Works going. We could have doled it out to individual facilities and buildings, which would have been more direct and politically expedient. But instead, we wanted to create a return on investments in a new industry. In this era of very tight revenues and budget cuts, it's a lot about rethinking: About better aligning what you do have, and about paying attention to the quality and the effectiveness of what you're doing.
/Swoon. He goes on to discuss his desire for every area of neighborhood to be a complete 20-minute neighborhood where you can get everything you need within a 20-minute walk from your home including access to transit and then jobs. The point being to keep $850 million in the wallets of taxpayers.

I have calculated similar exorbitant numbers we light on fire in car-beholden Dallas. Trying to track down the post, but I think I arrived at approximately $1 billion per year the City of Dallas could keep in Dallas taxpayer wallets with reduced auto-dependency. And that doesn't even count the savings of safer, less clogged roads. NYC by the way calculated they save $19 billion.

"Transit is so expensive!" /Shrill whine.

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A new study from UC Davis compares Neighborhood Satisfaction between conventional suburbia and traditional, more walkable neighborhoods. Blowing up conventional wisdom with TNT from the abstract:
We find that neighborhood satisfaction is higher among the traditional neighborhood residents, even after controlling for sociodemographics and other characteristics. Differences in the characteristics associated with satisfaction in each group include the perception of liveliness and diversity, contributing significantly only among the segment of the sample living in traditional neighborhoods, and the perception of economic homogeneity, contributing significantly only among the suburban segment. Features such as parking, yards, and school quality do not emerge as important predictors of satisfaction for either group.
Perhaps schools are more of a trailing indicator, no? Maybe childless folks move in, make a place safe, then families with school age rug rats follow, and improve the nearby schools through their very presence as the families seek a hybrid between the interesting vital neighborhoods of single life and single-family living.

I know Vancouver and Manhattan have been struggling to keep up with school construction and expansion because of all the young families moving in. That would seem to suggest the families weren't looking for schools but rather the neighborhoods... and the schools would follow.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vandelay Industries: In the Importing/Exporting Business

Fascinating and fun interactive map at Forbes showing the inter-county migration patterns in 2008 from across the country.

However, 2008 was still good times for many as ICSC and Home Builders Conventioneers still found themselves skiing down the kind of effervescent white powder only found on the pay-by-the-hour rented skis on the silicone mountains of Las Vegas.

I would be more interested to see 2009 or 2010 when hard times started flushing the chumps, to quote Ulysses Everett McGill.

Here is the map for Dallas County (red is outward, black inward):


Seems like the migration is coming from: Rust Belt, busting housing markets (SoCal, AZ, Vegas, Florida), and the Mid-Atlantic (raises hand). While we seem to be exporting people to south Texas (Austin, San Antonio, Houston), as well as Southern Louisiana, and the Seattle area.

On the other hand, it looks like the party is in Austin:

Faux Urbanism of the Vertical Cul-de-Sac

...or how many co-opted French words can I fit into a title.

http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/img/01-06/0131tower.jpg
(Old image, but I wanted to show its location and every rendering seems to conveniently ignore its context in favor of the shimmery skin.)

There are two pieces of news in this article at the DMN: first, is that like Frankenstein, the Museum Tower is ALIVE. IT'S ALIVE! And that it is funded by the respective pensions of the Dallas Police and Fire departments. The second bit is that the House by Starck and Yoo is a whopping 10% sold and the Ritz is full to the kind of ambiguity you expect from leasing/sales agents at 1/3rd of the units.
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Side note: my guess is that very few are first homes for the buyers either. Some by foolish investors, others bought as 3rd, 5th, or 12th homes by the uber-rich to have a pad in Dallas. The problem of all of the above is that those "residents" add very little to the street scene and livelihood of the urban experience.
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Let's start from the beginning shall we? Dallas (and downtown in particular) needs investment and residents; density and tax base in proper relation to infrastructure so, ya know, we can afford our City once again. As Mike Davis of Dallas Progress points out via tweet, Museum Tower can mean up to $7 million in tax base for the City of Dallas. All good right?

While that is good from a City perspective, I immediately turn and look at it from an investors perspective through the filter of knowledge and understanding of cities. I see product delivery, more supply and no demand. What we don't need is silly mindless investment ignorant of context and urbanism that is doomed to lose money and potentially scare away investment in downtown long into the future.

Investment in Downtown Dallas already missed the market once aiming for uptown level returns fueled by two things: a demand for walkable urbanism and an overheated housing/lending market. Barriers inherent in downtown Dallas required a lower level market (at least a mix), but land costs drove the market back up to the high end.

A few months back, sitting around a desk with some fellow financial and urban minds, we discussed the potential of pensions as an ideal source of investment for high quality urbanism because of the long-term and consistent returns of real estate that is part of an interconnected whole, aka urbanism.



Apparently, we're confusing location and density alone in a vacuum as somehow "urban" and a good investment. Which is why I get the feeling that someone is getting "took."

The same way we did with high end projects like the House (10% full) and the Ritz hovering slightly above that.

That 10% number apparently didn't scare away the developers or the investors for some reason. Why? My guess is that they are merely assuming this was another hum drum bubble and business as usual can begin after a couple years laying in the economic cut.

Eventually, all that leasable space will 1) magically be absorbed, 2) we time the market rebound with the grand opening (as if they're the only ones doing this suggesting they will "have the market to themselves." Every developer I've talked to is trying to time the exact same thing.), and 3) profit.

That's how it works kids.

And that would be fine if the only problem was timing a saturated high end condo market when we desire to add more to that supply.

Never mind the fundamental flaws in buildings/developments like the Ritz, Museum Tower, or all of Victory in that they provide no connection, participation, or interaction with their surroundings. They are anti-urban density, cul-de-sacs in the sky. And thus, the value is less than what went into the development, otherwise known as precisely the reason they aren't selling for what they are priced.

In a luxury condo, in a downtown urban setting, people are paying for the location, the vitality and activity of the area. Value is driven by what is outside the walls. Outside of the museum tower, what can you walk to?

You might say, "but that's not what they're paying for?" Oh yeah professor? Than why build it there? Build it in Allen and it will do just as well.

At first blush one might think the site demands high end: the Arts District, Woodall Rogers Park, etc. However, I would argue (for the time being) that unlike the Transformers there is far less than meets the eye. There is no urbanism, no relationship of buildings to streets and buildings to each other.

Those kinds of places quickly get boring and when the rich get bored, even they move out, often to areas colonized by artists and creative types who are busy pioneering into Deep Ellum and Bishop Arts, making them fun, safe, interesting, AND more valuable. When the wealthy move into those "hip" places, then everybody screams GENTRIFICATION! Welcome to how city's work.

Walkability means value. Not for some esoteric notion of holding hands and happily skipping down the street, but rather proximity. The distance to things you can walk to, the density, and mix creating synergies that drive the variety and real estate value of said destinations. The mix of all that creates the increased incremental value of urbanism where the whole is greater than the sum of parts rather than less.

http://www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com/bigmap/manhattan/ues/nightpresenceiv/0307-16-07.jpg
(Here is a picture of the Upper East Side to drive home the point about necessary ingredients for determining valuable places. The height/density is a direct response or outgrowth of the demand to be in the area.)

The stuff inside of a building or unit, ie quality of counter tops and fixtures, etc are well and good, but those are the fine-grained adjustments to the real estate microscope. Location and proximity, or propinquity, is the big knob.

http://www.teachnet.ie/tburke/cell/microscope.jpg

The problem of the Arts District is its clustering of the venues so tightly that any potential vitality is suffocated by an over abundance of simple boxes. Sure the architecture might be complex but that is only skin deep. Value is driven by complexity. And real complexity is created by the mixture of types, uses, buildings and the interconnection of a walkable urban fabric. The point of walkable urbanism is the value of having your daily destinations within a safe, pleasant walking distance.

This is still Henry Ford assembly line urbanism when we need the technology of the 21st century of smart, interconnected systems thinking with the ability to learn and adapt populating our approach to urbanism and development. Simplicity vs. Complexity.

It is the difference between Wrigley Field and Fenway Park being so loved and "stadium districts" getting, well, torn down every twenty or thirty years. Which was the smarter investment? I'll answer my own question, it is the development that is the cherry on top, the culmination of the messy mix of its urban neighborhood.

Of course, I just spent a thousand words talking about the investment going into the Museum Tower and the only real problem is the clover leaf strangulating it. If that was my pension money, I'd be putting a little extra into protecting my investment and getting rid of that thing so the tower and its residents actually can participate in the City around them.

Underestimate highway engineering's negative effect on real estate value at the peril of your investment.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Guest Post: Charlotte Parking Wars

Here in Dallas, we have had a similar problem. Not with a greenway, but parking for DART stations taking up spaces in a shopping center and remaining all day, while the car's owner works in downtown.

A friend writes:
This was on our local news last night. I thought you might enjoy it. We built a greenway(+1 for CLT) in a place where it's mainly accessible by car(-1 for CLT) so people began parking overflow in a shopping plaza. The shopping plaza patrons are mad b/c they can't park in the closest spot to WalMart. The solution being proposed is constructing a new parking lot, just for the greenway(-1 for CLT). By my calculations building this new greenway is going to have a net negative effect on Charlotte. Which to me contradicts the original reason for building the greenway?
Here is the link to the news story:
4-Mile Creek Greenway is an outdoor lovers paradise for hikers, bikers, dog walkers, and people who love to run and have fun. But, the problem is parking at the entrance is limited and many find it convenient to park across Bevington Place at the Shops at Piper Glen which is limited itself. "Sometimes it's just like somebody took all the cars and just stirred them up, it's crazy and can be a nightmare, especially on the weekends." said frequent shopper Nancy Brimberry. Brenda Schuler adds, "it's too compact it's too small and and there's so many accidents in here."
Here is where I think it is important to remember the old Donald Shoup study that there are four surface parking spaces built in this country for every car. Furthermore, the Piper Glen area where this parking war is taking place is very suburban. Recall that the quote above says it is for hikers, bikers, dog walkers, joggers, etc. All of these people are DRIVING to the green space.

In a drive-to-everywhere world, this will ALWAYS be a problem.