Thursday, July 29, 2010
and Part 4:
The need for Complexity through Simplification
A blanket code cannot effectively adapt to site conditions effectively. In response to this shortcoming, we have created over one-thousand Planned Development Ordinances, meaning each zoning case becomes a lengthy and expensive negotiation for both the private entity and the City. The zoning code for our City must be FOR shared principles towards an improved City and against things mandatory parking minimums that interrupt the natural fabric of a City with wasteful surface parking space. The eventual patterns would be the basic principles and goals through which all more detailed decisions would be filtered. There are no basic principles that limit the destructive effect of parking on urban fabric and economies or guide our city towards increased lovability and vitality.
None of us lives in the future; therefore, we cannot dictate the rules of the City to citizens of Dallas 2050 as many of our antiquated zoning rules have done for us. Our goal should be a new code that shapes the City in a way that in one hundred years, City form will be so lovable and useful to the citizens they will protect what we, the Dallas citizens of today, have created. Furthermore, the code should be flexible and adaptable enough to still apply or be malleable enough to respond to the needs of the time adequately.
It is no longer the 1980s. City building strictly for cars is no longer considered a futuristic utopia. It is costly individually and collectively. Our parking standards in effect require car ownership and the debt that goes with it. Dallas continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country and in order to accommodate the influx of people, the City must evolve in a sustainable fashion, and that means making infill development attractive to and profitable for investment.
Accommodate sustainable and creative development forms.
Dallas and its densifying areas cannot compete with suburbia and should not have similar codes. Nor can it compete with the great cities of the world, as Dallas often aspires, with 20th century models, but rather by best representing the 21st century. This does not call for otherworldly futurism, but for appropriate guidance of the market and to allow the new city to represent the outgrowth of the desires and personalities therein. Great cities are defined by their authenticity and this must be the underlying logic for cultivating it.
In other words, we must begin to frame policy to allow for natural demand-oriented corrections to the market, which would ensure maximum flexibility and eschew the tendency for cementing policy that is resistant to the natural change that all cities undergo perpetually.
Now is time to be proactive rather than reactive, to guide what we want our city to be, how we want it to look, how we want it to function, and how we interact within it. The parking code is one of those outdated, formative coding mechanisms that has a profound effect on eventual urban form.
Via FortWorthology, there is a great OpEd at the Star-Telegram in favor of, well accepting the Federal money for a streetcar. Duh.
Let's recap. In both Dallas and Fort Worth, we have several "neighborhoods" ripe for reinvestment. They were originally created by streetcar as outward pressure and a new technology "unlocked" the value of the land a mile or a few outside of the City Center. For a variety of reasons, the lines failed, mostly through a lack of density.
To many, before this discussion started, a return of the streetcar sounded more like a tourism gimmick than a game-changing modern transit system. Two years into the discussion, however, most of us actively working to revitalize our central city would never call the proposed modern streetcar a gimmick. We have seen how the competitive advantages of walkable, transit-oriented urbanism have returned and how modern streetcar systems are transforming central cities into sustainable economic engines.
Companies are locating along modern streetcar lines, and developers are building thousands of housing units along existing city streets instead of along new and expensive roads at the edge of town. Highly skilled workers with choices are shopping for cities that offer a full range of transportation options.
Fort Worth needs to enhance its appeal to new businesses and residents. We can't ignore the negative effects of sprawl-related problems -- congestion, unhealthy air and far too many generic developments that aren't sustaining their value. Those issues have deep roots and won't go away soon, making it clear that we must promote a vibrant, distinctive and prosperous central city to stay competitive with our peers and that we must act quickly.
Skeptics of streetcars generally fall into two-camps: those that have their interests against such things as freedom of mobility, ie controlling interests in a monopoly of transportation and those that hide behind some religion of "free market" willfully ignoring that no transportation in this country is designed or created by the "free market." This represents a letting go of the reigns of inertia that will ultimately grind our cities into some failed state while praying to that same religion to guide us into a happy afterlife of rainbows and unicorns. Fortunately, we have the power to steer that inertia towards a positive outcome, albeit not easily.
Cities need residential density. Streetcar needs density. These downtown-adjacent neighborhoods are the perfect spot, less burdened by the more intense activity of downtown business districts, while being close enough to those centers of gravity to walk, bike, or say streetcar to the amenities therein,
In order to deliver supply to match the demand for urban housing, these areas need transportation alternatives. Otherwise, the development will be engineered by and respond to car-oriented design. Meaning roads will be too overscaled and unwalkable. Parking facilities will be too big and therefore too expensive. And it all becomes a barrier to investment and you end up with a drive-thru McDonald's, which might generate 1/20th of the tax base. More potential residents move to a mind-numbing garden apartment in [insert suburb here so as to not offend one] built of sticks and paper and will last about twenty years before it becomes a slum and is then razed. Thumbs up.
Somewhat changing subjects...
There is a medium-sized town somewhere in this country I once suggested should look into unearthing their buried streetcar tracks as one component of a downtown revitalization plan. Shot down, too expensive. Of course it was. But, we're also talking about 30- or 50-year visions and available federal match. Another key strategy I proposed was to recapture excessive right-of-way in overly-scaled one-way streets through downtown.
The idea was two-fold. First, to calm traffic and "road diet" (verb) the streets so that they were more context-sensitive to a downtown location, and second, to roll that land into private development projects as an incentive to (re)develop into more intense, walkable and mixed uses and get some much needed residential back downtown. I've been seeing that idea pop up more and more across the country these days now that more budgets have burst.
Now? Streetcar porn:
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The need to “overwrite” prescription with proscription.
The lesson is that we also must allow for flexibility during changing times, needs, and technologies driving future city form that we cannot comprehend or predict with any accuracy. In any living system, complexity is a necessity to ensure its survival. More heterogeneous means more resilience. Cities are no different. In many ways, we squelched complexity in favor of uniformity, which was merely a direct response to codes that ensured uniformity and lack of innovation. We are now feeling the pain of those decisions.
In order to climb out of recessionary lulls, like any business, our City needs to best embody the spirit of the times. We need to unleash creativity of the millions of Dallas residents, in order to shape the future of the city toward one common goal of a more livable, more vital, more empowering city for all.
Most of the cities we love from around the world were and continue to be defined by simple patterns. For example, Portofino, Italy had no more complex building codes than certain established priorities such as views to the water. Siena was defined and arranged by physical capabilities of human movement at the time of its development. This led to winding and curving forms in response to geography. Another example is DC, which was designed to preserve the prominence of the democratic institutions housed there. The resulting form is of streets and view corridors organized around the primary monuments and seats of government, as well as height limitations that maintain a pedestrian scale.
The majority of contemporary building and zoning codes are overly prescriptive, in that they predetermine what the end result will be. While to some measure a few of these may be useful still for health and human safety, many should be scrapped in favor of proscription. A prescription is “a rule that defines in detail what to do in a given situation”, a proscription is “a template for defining prescriptive rules, a pattern for a rule,” meaning it is in favor of things, but how to get to that result is up to the determination of the designers, builders, owners in direct response to variable site issues, opportunities, and constraints.
In ten years, what will the City of Dallas look like? How about in twenty? Fifty? One hundred? The answer in the near-term is far easier to imagine than far into the future. That unpredictability ought to give us some insight into the process of zoning and coding for the City.
The United Nations defined sustainability as taking care of the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs as well. In many ways, our building and zoning codes should represent a similar logic in order to rectify the mistakes of previous generations to be more accommodating for our needs and more adaptable for the future. They must achieve the goals set forth by the City yet be adaptable to prevent the institutionalization of what might have been one generation’s preferences instilling an inertia at the expense of another’s.
In a period of economic and general transition for people and their cities, now is the time to revisit codes cemented in place for so long and mold the underlying “genetic” codes of cities for the functional urban form we desire. Geographer Richard Florida similarly refers to the present version of these periods of varying degree of trauma as the Great Reset.
Urban Genetics, the underlying code and resultant physical form
Howard Bloom, popular science author and neurobiologist, calls these recessionary lulls the growing pains of shedding one form of living, that which is no longer useful for another new way of being, existing, and often, a yet to be determined one. According to Bloom and countless other urban theorists, our cities are the physical manifestation of our economies, meaning our phenotype, which with an understanding of genetics is directly connected to our genotype, or underlying genetic code. To get the cities we want, we must alter the genetic code of cities.
Our current challenge is unpredictability: what if we rewire the City’s code incorrectly? The worst thing to do is the obvious, to stick with the status quo or the comfortable. If Bloom is to be believed, we do not yet know what the future city will be because it is yet to emerge from the competition to replace the failing version of the existing. However, it is equally bad is to code a potentially incorrect prediction. We need to allow for flexibility and the determination of potential new urban phenotypes to battle it out and determine the optimal direction for our City. Lesson: Don't code to specifics.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
A common solution to parking problems affecting American cities is often to convert to a market-based pricing approach. While this is appropriate in some locations, a strictly market-based approach works when curb parking is underpriced and overcrowded, however when there is plentiful off-street parking, the problem is the very code demanding excessive spaces.
As Professor Donald Shoup of UCLA writes in his paper on cruising, "Cities can therefore eliminate cruising either by charging market prices for curb parking or by requiring enough off-street spaces to reduce the price of off-street parking to zero. The price of curb parking is one of the few policy variables that cities control directly, but almost all American cities have chosen the wrong policy: requiring plentiful off-street parking rather than charge fair market prices for scarce curb parking."
However, rather than only one problem existing in Dallas, it is not that simple. Simply switching all parking to market is not enough. Expecting different results by following past policies or principles is the definition of folly. This paper intends to point out the multitude of negative outcomes for the city produced by the current parking ordinances as well as a suggested road map for guiding revision.
There are two general parking scenarios emerging in Dallas. Using Jan Gehl’s terminology these are the Invaded City or the Abandoned City. An Invaded area is one where demand to be there remains high enough where visitors often search endlessly for free parking and crowd residential neighborhood streets. In Dallas, some of these areas include West Village, Lower Greenville, and Bishop Arts.
Abandoned places are areas where walking and public life has become almost completely nonexistent due to excessive parking. Downtown Dallas was first invaded by automobiles in the 1950s, only to eventually be abandoned due to reactionary measures. Today, much of downtown remains abandoned although Main Street area seems to be on its way back towards invaded. Neither of which is ideal or acceptable.
If thought about thoroughly and amended strategically and creatively, a new parking code will solve both problems. Ultimately, this report suggests the differentiation of regional centers and local centers from the rest of the development code and make special provisions to these overlays for parking and transportation directives associated with the goals and principles of the area as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan.
As some or none of you may be aware, next week I will be guest blogging for the Dallas Morning News, where the editorial staff was gracious enough to ask me to participate in a week's worth of blogging and dialoging on their site all about Joel Kotkin's book, The Next 100 Million (which is the DMN's Summer Book Club, uh, book).
There I will presumably and unfortunately have to leave the juvenile snark and humor I use if only to entertain myself here at home base. In favor of serious analysis of the book and the man's opinions (I choose not to leave the op-eds and speeches as something altogether separate from the book), I won't be able to discuss the statistical rabbits he pulls out of his hat (or other geographical anomaly with similar assonance if you catch my drift) without context or the entire premise that is based on pointing out stupid people's stupid futuristic predictions to make other stupid macro-predictions seem smart. Where I come from striving to be not smart isn't quite as redeemable as the real thing.
At the DMN's site, which I will of course link to at the appropriate time, I will somehow have to turn the thousands upon thousands of words worth of notes (you think I'm kidding) on the book and his work into a series of 150-350 word posts. This post turned into 250+ words and all I said was next week I'll be posting at the DMN. I'm looking forward to it.
For the rest of this and next week, I'll probably be posting snippets of my draft white paper on reforming the parking code for the 21st century city for review and comment.
Monday, July 26, 2010
What is important here, is the transportation official interacting directly with various downtown employers, which can get discounted transit passes in bulk whereas an individual without said agency-company agreement ends up paying the full fare. The transit agency gets the kind of ridership they need for a variety of reasons, the City gets reduced congestion, and we all get less CO2 spitting internal combustion, overproduced "freedom-making" contraptions.
What many companies end up doing however, is to roll the amount of a monthly transit pass into the salaries of their employees under a misguided attempt at providing "choice." What ends up happening though, we end up pocketing what amounts to little more than a couple of dozen dollars per month and spend several times more money on gas, parking, and car ownership/maintenance than we would otherwise. Perhaps we think it is more convenient, but in the end it wastes our own money, time-saved is often a wash, and the entire city loses money due to man-hours lost in congestion as idling cars belch and fart poison into the air you and I breathe.
Point being, we don't always make the choice that is in our own best interest despite theorists' attempts to suggest we always do/would/should/could in some imaginary perfect world. Sometimes we do need a little softly paternalistic "nudge" of an opt-out system. If companies participated in a program where instead of providing parking for their employees as well as travel stipends of say, $100 a month, they could save on both and buy passes for all of their employees at $50 a month (hypothetical), thereby giving all of their employees essentially a free transit pass to use at their discretion.
If nothing else, the excuse "my car broke down" would no longer be valid for showing up late to a meeting or shift.
First, New Orleans and the I-70 expressway:
A small fraction of drivers — less than 20 percent — use the Claiborne Expressway as a through route between the east and west portions of the region and beyond. With most through traffic using I-610, the Claiborne I-10’s “use does not match the intended function of an interstate highway,” concludes the report.Point being that it is mostly used as a local route and a freeway is hardly the best design for local connections. As I've said, freeways are 1) a LULU or locally undesirable land use and should remain outside of the neighborhood fabric, and 2) are only economically beneficial in linking metropolitan economies, ie Houston Metro to the DFW Metroplex, but are disadvantageous within the actual cities themselves, as St. Louis blogger points out here:
Two adjacent high-density neighborhoods will be richer than either could be alone because businesses at the edge of each neighborhood will be enriched by pedestrian traffic from the other. Driving a freeway through the middle of a healthy urban neighborhood not only destroys thousands of homes, it rips apart tightly integrated neighborhoods. Pedestrians rarely walk across freeways, so businesses near a new freeway are immediately deprived of half their customers. Similarly, residents near a new freeway lose access to half the businesses near them. The area along the freeway becomes what Jacobs calls a “border vaccuum” and goes into a kind of death spiral: because it contains little pedestrian traffic, businesses there don’t succeed. And because there are no interesting businesses there, even fewer people go there, which hurts the sales of businesses further from the freeway. The harms from such a freeway extends for blocks on either side.We saw freeways in Germany during and after the war and thought, by golly those are a great idea! Military and highway spending did wonders for bringing Weimar Germany out of its deep, deep depression, we can do the same! And then went overboard and never stopped spending looking for what ultimately turned out to be increasingly damaging ways to insert freeways into the daily lives of all of us. It made a few people very wealthy and they are not eagerly awaiting this turning tide of popular perception.
Let's go through this diagrammatically, shall we:
First, we have a typical American gridiron city laid out for real estate simplicity and flat midwestern geography.
The center of gravity forms at the crossroads, the main and main intersection. Businesses and density can reliably locate along these main streets. The density, in a livable, fully functioning city is merely the byproduct of desirability and there is an accurate and direct relationship between the two.
Since the entire network is interconnected, like an electricity grid, the entire system is "energized" or alive.
Now we cut a highway through it for the sake of "interconnection" or jobs or just spending money for the sake of circulating it. We're not generating any real value because assuming this connection is necessary, it could still happen to the periphery of the city like any other LULU.
The red bar is essentially the "port" system for the amount of cars delivered along a dendritic, overly-hierarchical road system, aka parking. This becomes your typical strip retail area. Think of this like a natural stream and ecosystem that all of a sudden is exposed to a new runoff and drainage source. The shear volume erodes the stream banks and slowly but surely kills the ecosystem.
Where the full connected system once energized the entire network, now we only have pockets of connections. One part of town no longer plays a part in strengthening another. They are left to whither away. Durability of the entire network is diminished.
Because desirability is now diminished, people flee. Like in the streambank, life decides "hey, I can find a better, possible life somewhere else." Residents moves outward to further isolated and disconnected pockets that have very little embedded predictable retention of value or durability. Similarly, businesses try to locate for predictable customer base, but that proves impossible as the target location is always moving further and further out as more roads are constructed, and new shopping centers pop up each decade, also further out.
The end result is "anti-city" or places that are worth less than the sum of parts. Our cities and individual properties need to be part of an interconnected larger system in order to be greater than that sum of parts.
Lastly, and relatedly:
Walkable, bikable neighborhoods reduce risk of death 19%. From the lead researcher himself:
Lead researcher, James Woodcock said, "This research confirms that is not just exercising hard that is good for you but even moderate everyday activities, like walking and cycling, can have major health benefits. Just walking to the shops or walking the children to school can lengthen your life -- as well as bringing other benefits for well-being and the environment."But dude, I can't cross that highway without playing a very real game of frogger with my life. And kids live so far from their schools they now must be bussed from all over creation. More negative external outgrowths of anti-city inertia. Now about those school budgets...
Friday, July 23, 2010
We could have made any site in Dallas work. There was just a lot more convenience in Fort Worth -- the convenience of hotels, of having six or seven different restaurants to choose form every day. I know Dallas has all of that and more, but it all being in such a condensed area was a big deal for us.I don't particularly blame them. Every time I am in downtown Fort Worth, the contrast in scale and feel of the streets and blocks in comparison with Dallas is rather striking (even though in Fort Worth it is for only a handful of blocks). It simply feels better, while the analytical side will say it is due to the size of the blocks, the way the buildings interface with the sidewalks and streets, the height of those buildings, etc. The only part of Downtown Dallas that really could have worked for all of their needs would be Pegasus Plaza and it is too small. They outright rejected Main Street Garden, City Hall Plaza, and the Arts District because they would feel lonely.
How does Thierry Henry celebrate his first MLS game? By riding the train to work.
"I was on the train with my friends, with all the fans. It was quite an experience. It was the quickest way to come, so that's how I came. It was cool."
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The rest of the renderings were pretty typical architect fantasy land stuff, completely ignorant of what the users might actually think or feel in such spaces outside of what might land them in architecture record and have other architects thinking, "gee, that's a pretty killer graphic, bro."
I kid you not this is one of the suggestions. That it was designed by the architecture firm without irony as some natural progression of "experience" peddling as little more than economic modeling by logical extension of trend to perpetuity and covered similarly so by inhabitat also without irony is truly mindblowing. Neither is apparently in on the joke that is all futuristic architecture competitions.
This exists only in a fantasy world where we DON'T get fed up with a world where going to Target is the highlight of our day.
On the other hand, I was tooling around on Google Earth in Taranto, Italy last night. I found this image:
One has meaning and is lovable. The other is a circus for imbeciles while Rome burns, an elaborate torture device designed to hypnotize the mindless with spirals and doodads while their increasingly empty wallets are helped on their way to being fully empty.
By the way, check out how much of a difference the use of pots changes the entire feel (and function - in terms of how fast drivers feel comfortable moving through the space) of the place without reengineering the entire street. Furthermore, the street trees are all small, in pots themselves. An accent piece rather than necessity. You wouldn't want to hide the beautiful detailing of the buildings (or the storefront merchandise) with big trees. Big trees are only necessary to hide ugly buildings or create form (outdoor rooms) when buildings fail to handle that part of their task either.
Guerrilla urbanism without the guerrilla part. Just good bang for your buck urbanism.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
As the invite shows, the special guest was a gentleman named Micheal (Mike) Pratt, a man who was involved in starting Digital DUMBO and who I didn't know (or think I knew from Adam). I walked in, we immediately recognized each other and pointed, "didn't...I...just..." Yes, in fact, we had just met the past Wednesday at D Magazine/TEDx's "What Are You Working On?" social event.
As it turns out, he's a pretty important dude and now due to familial obligations, he is now ours based here in Dallas. If I was to put a finger on one standout trait of Pratt's, it is that he sees opportunity in chaos, in creating order out of that chaos by way of instilling and then organizing a culture of community. Community (in the very real or more abstract digital notion) is essential for fostering creativity. Collaboration comes from the space between me and you. WE is always smarter than ME.
First, some background on DUMBO. Like many hip urban areas where the name comes from the common shortening of names for people and places (J-Lo, T-Mac, LoDo, SoHo, etc), it is an acronym for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass.
Because it sits in a V beneath the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, it was what the real estate community would consider useless land: under elevated freeways, on the third side and at-grade freeway, and the fourth waterfront. But, this was the East River, long considered the outfall for 19th and 20th century dirty industry's effluent. It also had terrible access. How do you get there, parachute out of a moving vehicle from the bridge above?
All of its built-in undesirability made for cheap land with an existing urban fabric, some old warehouse space. This is New York City where incredible demand can make any and all land valuable. It also had a subway station at its periphery.
In it, creative start-ups found first, cheap space. Presumably through various previous associations that cheap space was then broadcast to creative acquaintances looking for similar, funky loft-type space. Eventually, as they began to agglomerate still under the radar, digital DUMBO came along and provided a digital center of gravity to go with the emerging physical one.
The digital version brought these businesses and the individuals behind them together. People who would otherwise just pass each other on the street or stand nearby waiting for the next F train, were now meeting at events organized by Digital DUMBO, sharing ideas, sharing business cards, and small startups began pooling skills, collaborating on projects that otherwise might have been too big for one or the other.
From a physical standpoint, the urban morphology nerd in me, loves the way it appears to exist on an island growing from a singular epicenter.
Although much of our dialogue last night revolved around digital media, design and creativity comes in many forms. Type in design into google earth and a number of companies pop-up including building architecture and digital architecture. This isn't the last time I will make that parallel.
DUMBO: the physical, made possible by the organizing power of the digital version.
Now on the map, DUMBO like many new hip spots in any city, was first pioneered by creatives looking for little more than cheap space, then colonized by peers, and once a critical mass was apparent, then organized and marketed outwards. Now, even the big firms want to be a part of the digital organization and physically open up shops there.
In a way, it is gentrifying, both the digital and physical community. And that isn't a bad thing. The pain of gentrification stems from our biologically-wired resistance towards rapid change. At its basic level, gentrification means investment. It is only not ok when there is a clean sweep of the old in favor of the new.
Over the course of the history of all cities, every area has at one time "gentrified." Any place that becomes exclusive or static, eventually becomes boring. To resist investment or inclusion of "the other," means to stagnate and ensure a slow strangulated death. On the other hand through gentrification, exclusivity also comes at an increase in price point.
What happens however, is that those original pioneering creatives rise in class as their creation, their collective organization, their neighborhood rises. They can then move on and focus their energies on creating new places or investing in the next generation of young creatives looking for cheap, cool space and the culture of community to match. They're now experienced in How-to and capitalized, ensuring the uplift of various other portions of the city.
In order to retain the spirit of places, places need organizations and leaders as stewards. Physically, they also need protection once an area rises to what we might consider its ultimate, highest and best use. In DUMBOs case it was to become designated a historic place on the national registry in 2007. It is now protected from getting scraped clean in favor of all glimmering waterfront condo high-rises (which may very well form the connection between DUMBO and the rest of Brooklyn ultimately, as DUMBO-driven demand creates the need for more residential space nearby). The demand driver, the sense of place remains.
Dallas is often considered by the Joel Kotkin's of the world as the epitome of the "polycentric city." Last night, creative acquaintances of Kevin's in town from Chicago, NYC, and Tokyo pointed out that they left Dallas because of a lack of livability. Their words, I promise you. A UTD grad student pointed out that you have to be from Dallas to know where to go for virtually anything, there are no centers of gravity with a sense of place, an understood identity, that registers beyond a local level.
The truth of the matter is that Dallas isn't polycentric as much as it is non-centric, it is the placeless anti-city that Mumford warned about with the rise of personal automobility and the extensive infrastructure to support it. While Bishop Arts, Lower Greenville, uptown, Lakewood, Oak Cliff, X+, Deep Ellum, Design District, Cedars, Expo, Fair Park, etc. may register to us locals, what do those names mean to a recent graduate from Stanford, Columbia, or NYU (which surpassed Princeton for the first time ever in applications last year).
These local Dallas spots are all still neighborhood centers. DUMBO now registers nationally. For the City to compete on the national and global scale that it wants to, these are the areas that have to rise to regional and national prominence. They have to start small. They have to find leaders. They have to build communities online that are self-organized, like-minded, and motivated to parallel with the physical communities they want to live in. But, they also have to welcome an increase in density to accommodate the desire to be a part of these clusters.
DO-IT YOURSELF CITY
Dallas is too busy worrying about how to attract creatives when it needs to focus on keeping them first. I'm always amazed by how much talent this city exports, hands over in exchange for nothing, to other cities, considered more interesting, more livable, more amenable to their creative endeavors and desired quality of life.
For a business or a city to compete in the 21st century (or any time period really), it isn't enough to simply do something the best or be the biggest, but best embody the spirit of the times. The 21st century will be known as the anthropocene, or era where people and quality of life come first. Portland and Copenhagen are generating the attention they are because they are not so much winning but the first out of the gate. We have the potential and ambition to surpass them.
What the Non-centric City of Dallas is struggling with from a physical and economic standpoint, is its parallel problem of form and function. Form helps foster function. Dallas is for the most part formless. If the city was the web, imagine an internet with no websites, ways to access them, or everything was pay-walled.
The city and the web are both human constructs, both perhaps modeled after the way our own interconnected brain and bodies work. The City and the internet are two parallel geographies and quite possibly the two greatest advances in human civilization.
They are both facilitators of connections, between people, goods, capital, and ideas. They have the potential to allow us to achieve all of our needs and wants, the emotions that make us human and drive the economy.
There is a reason why there is probably far more to learn about cities from Stephen Wolfram than Frank Gehry. One is a true architect just in a digital world, creating communities and facilitating connections, advancing true human possibility, while the other sculpts platinum (a purpose perhaps, but its true transformative value is limited). The parallels don't end there.
Both have hubs, ports, and linkages. Websites are like buildings. The use of the building is like a website's content and they must interface with the stream of movement, the digital transportation between points and destinations. For websites, traffic is critical and they must create clouds of interconnectivity. Buildings must interface with the various forms of transportation and facilitate ease of use.
Both have "sites" that get "developed" according to "codes." Coding which is becoming increasingly open-source, meaning more individual customization and local empowerment. However, our codes for physical cities lags behind. It is still written for the 20th century economy. It is not ever changing and adaptable, but static and antiquated. Imagine if the web was written and interfaced in DOS.
The internet as designed by conventional city code. Your city has you.
From similar simple terminology to the actual read/write nature evolving in both, the 21st century economy will be increasingly defined by 21st century industry, which means 21st century principles, of mass customization, collaboration, and transparency.
The digital geography is the physical geography. The more the lines blur, the better.
Currently the City and many of its future industries are in chaos, scattered all over the City with little interrelationship, or mutual dependence. The City and its potential new industries therefore are less than the sum of its parts. Through organization, clustering, and collaborating they can become more than the sum as many industries that need and want to grow as a driving force of the 21st century economy, one of creativity, collaboration, synergy...of empowerment, are looking for the physical neighborhood mirror.
While the internet was once feared to breed a generation of shut-ins, the opposite has happened. We still yearn for social contact and the internet has become the tool to not only collaborate from distance, but to organize physically and provide the catalyst for change of urban neighborhoods.
Any area of the city needs both a digital and a physical interface, a way to empower the citizens to be a part of a community, to be stewards. It is the cities, the neighborhood organizations, and the leaders (or those that are yet to emerge) that have to facilitate this, that look to organize and recruit the scattered small creative businesses into their potential cluster. To compete in the 21st century, we must foster centers of gravity, of intellectual foment, digitally and geographically.
In many ways, this is exactly what is going on with GoOakCliff, a parallel geography of internet awareness, marketing, and then organizing and empowerment, associated with a specific place, fostering a sense of collective care about neighborhood, about home. These various neighborhood areas have to accept change, and alternative forms of transportation like streetcars in order to support the density that is sure to come, to fulfill the exploding demand for authentic, interesting, vibrant urban locales.
Since many of these organizations don't yet exist, therein lies the opportunity for creative energy. If you're creative, don't leave. Customize your world. Focus your energy here, make a culture of community from scratch, both digitally and physically. Create order out of chaos, form out of the formless, place out of the placeless.
Dallas can't be a great digital mecca without associated great neighborhoods. The people we want to attract aren't ready to flock to Dallas yet. Fortunately, we can create those places, those clusters of innovative activity and expansion of the possible. But business as usual won't get us there.
Like DUMBO, make the city/your neighborhood your creative outlet. This is the self-designed century of collaborative, mass-customization. Take control. Let the Dallas be your canvas.
DUMBO's self-made pocket park
Monday, July 19, 2010
The policy legislates bicyclists, presumably in order to protect them from cars. In a City built strictly for the car, that is like requiring everybody to carry a gun to "be safe" and then ticketing somebody for not wearing a bulletproof vest. In practice, the law itself undermines the goals we have set forth as a City and even the current pursuits such as the bike plan, while raising inconsistencies that threaten trust and legitimacy in the representative government itself.
*I use the term "Lance Armstrong" because Dallas cycling culture is kept to only hardcore enthusiasts. Perhaps, this is our effort at safety. Keep cyclists off the road so they won't get hurt. By doing so we create a far less safe environment where more people die each year due to traffic collisions than by gunshots. Mission Accomplished, indeed.
On Bastille Day, my girlfriend and I met Brandon Castillo, organizer of the Deep Ellum market which was to occur for the first time on Saturday, the 20th. We decided to bike there. My girlfriend just got a bike in order to accompany me on the occasional joy ride and had not yet picked up a helmet. Having seen several other cyclists around town without helmets, I figured, "what the hell? I won't either so as to not draw attention to her for not having one."
From downtown to Malcolm X Blvd in Deep Ellum is probably less than a mile. It was also the weekend, where you might as well see tumbleweed blowing across the empty streets. There are often more vespas on the street than cars. We had no problems getting to the market and checking it out before returning downtown to get something to eat.
On our ride back, a bike patrol officer in a car pulled alongside and asked, "do you have ID?" He went about giving us a citation in the "just doing his job" fashion one might expect of somebody just following orders. He went on to explain that since it was our first offense, all we had to do was take the citation and a helmet to the courthouse and the charge would be waived with a minor court processing fee.
I will do this. I have no problem with DPD. They have always been fair and professional in my personal encounters and interactions with them. We'll ignore the fact that four cyclists then road past as the officer was writing the ticket, two of whom didn't have helmets either, my point of contention goes higher.
The City is currently undergoing a bike plan. If it comes off successfully, in the future we should have miles and miles of bike lanes added to Dallas City streets. The intention is to slim down, pollute less, get cars off the road to reduce congestion and the inherent money/productivity wasted in it, and well... die less. All good things.
With bike culture paddling towards the mainstream, we need choice in transportation modes to increase mobility and the infrastructure in which to avail that choice. We also need consistency of policies in support of the movement towards a safe, more sustainable city.
Then we have the little thing with a bike helmet law, which seems like a minor little thing. But, in practice it becomes a much larger barrier to cycling than imagined. All of a sudden we have to wear helmets and spandex and get toe-clips and all this stuff when all I want to do is stick a baseball card in my spokes and explore my 'hood much the way I provided myself mobility and adventure as an driver's license-less under-16 year old. I was clearly much more responsible once I turned 16, fo sho. Or far more capable of damage, one or the other.
Any City has the responsibility upon it to create and foster a sense of safety for its citizens. One component of any city, of which we all take part, is its transportation system. In the very best case scenario, we are being overly paternalistic in requiring all cyclists to wear helmets (except on private land with a public access easement like Katy Trail. Just ride to Katy Trail with your helmet and then take it off to ride on the trail...make sense?!).
In doing so however, we prevent bike ridership, which increases the ownership share and dominance the automobile exerts over the road, making it less safe. Any place with more cyclists or more pedestrians is infinitely safer than a street dominated by the car. Oh, it is also more attractive to commerce and higher real estate values, takes on less infrastructural burden, and generates greater tax revenue than properties reacting appropriately to car-only access.
Look at every city where biking has taken hold. Not a helmet to be found, because cycling is perfectly safe:
These cities score higher in livability rankings. Why? Because they're safe enough to ride without a helmet for one.
Requiring a helmet ensures cycling remaines in the realm of Lance Armstrongs and that intimidates the people we want to be riding. The ones who are thinking about it, but are deterred by maniacal 4-wheel drive vehicles and pulling on a pair of spandex.
This guy needs a helmet.
The policy at its worst hints at something deeper, however. There is no law requiring a motorcyclist to wear a helmet. Motorcyclists can go on highways. Motorcycles can move at speeds that kill. I would rather not speculate, but my hunch is that there are far bigger moneyed interests lobbying to preserve that status quo. Not helmetless riders, but the burning of gasoline on expansive roadways.
When what amounts to little more than a petty, nanny-state policy, from a broke City, one has to wonder, are we just fundraising here? Is this how we want to pay for our decades of incompetence and the slow rot of poor city building? By shaking down the citizens when real mixed-use development that needs walkability, bikability, and transit pays its bill?
When the mind wanders down these likely deadends, it is no wonder why there is so much frustration and distrust directed towards City Hall. Inconsistencies in policy and pursuit of inappropriate or failed ones point towards illegitimacy. One begins to wonder if they really represent us or are petty, purposeless, and inconsistent policies like the bike helmet law little more than the extraneous apparatus of a Rube-Goldberg City of no guiding direction beyond the momentum of what inertia is leftover from failed 20th century policies.
I'm quite certain it is the latter.
On to the show:
Derek Powazek citing Yochai Bentler on the revolutionary democratizing agent of the internet and its lamentations:
You know who’s sad about the gatekeepers losing control of the media? Nobody except the gatekeepers. If you care about democracy, thank your lucky stars for the internet, the most open forum for the free exchange of ideas ever invented.
I say: Let’s dance on the graves of the gatekeepers. Let’s build things never before possible. Let’s show what a giant network of brains can really do.
The internet as a single entity and a voice for the rabble isn't the only way this is happening. It's an empowering agent that fosters self-organization and self-customized connections, where we can eliminate the useless and cut out middle men of any economic transaction. There are gatekeepers in all industries and to some extent they are necessary. Language, for example. See the late David Foster Wallace's internal debate* regarding the issue of laissez-faire language evolution and the protectors of a true (potentially arbitrary) protocol of syntax.
Similarly, while gatekeepers can be right or wrong for a field, usually depends on their own abilities, often undermined by the foundations of capitalism as we know (knew?) it. Those same useless, wasteful, or stalling agents in the name of progress. One example, is the music industry, controlled by a few major record labels increasingly turns out more noise and less art, setting up barriers against real talent reaching a broader audience.
While occasionally, against the tide, some musical acts can rise to the top, but they typically need a martyr within that very industry to fall on a sword to give them a chance. The reason the music industry prevents talent from rising as it is naturally wont to do, is that talent can typically write. And writing music means royalties. And royalties mean on-going and perpetual revenue stream.
By cross-platforming between music and television with TV shows like American Idol, the music industry, largely engulfed by gigantic publicly traded companies, is able to build an audience by marketing to the willing masses. The show gives the audience a "stake" in the game by each having their favorite individual, the most popular gets ahead. The most popular will sell the most records because we** feel we have some level of personal connection to that person winning.
The industry, with staff writers on salary and under contract as to not receive royalties, then produces some factory-produced, focus-grouped modern-day elevator music for the all-singing, all-dancing puppet to perform.
It's also all that is wrong with capitalism. More usury and pyramid scheme than facility for talent to garner its true worth.
* Warning: You have to be an uber-nerd to dive into DFW's text.
**Author has never watched a single show of American Idol.
While we're on the topic of changing economies, I've recently come across a fellow tweeter (twitterer? twit?) by the name of Umair Haque, who incidentally happens to write for the Harvard Business Review. I was struck first by Haque's tweets which always seem to mirror my own with regards to a profound generational, perceptual, and functional shift in the fundamental operational underpinnings of the economy (like in a good way).
Eventually I started reading his writings at the HBR, including this one on Apple. There are times when you think you can write and then there are times when you have similar thoughts in your head as to the author but only wish you could convey them as clearly and concisely as he does here:
Apple, when you think about it, is a microcosm of the global economy; a tiny but striking representation of both its strengths and its weaknesses. Apple mass produces "product" (with a smattering of services on top), mega-markets it (across mass media), and sells it in your local mall, mostly to developed-world "consumers."
Here are just a few of the downsides: The raw materials Apple uses are toxic to the environment; Apple's Chinese subcontractors have endured a spate of recent suicides; Apple takes advantage of a questionable Chinese exchange rate regime that effectively exports unemployment to the developed world (and subverts the very notion of "free trade"). And it does all this at a lightspeed pace of "innovation," which results in spirals of obsolescence; last year's junk heads, often, to the landfill. Finally, it's questionable whether Apple's products, as beautiful as they are, offer meaningful benefits to people. Are they just the technological equivalent of Jimmy Choos, the kind of stuff that underpins the consumption addiction at the heart of the global economic crisis in the first place?
Apple, to its great credit, strives mightily to minimize each and every one of these downsides. Yet, that it must do so is the very point. How different, as a linchpin of the economy, is Apple from the Ford of 1930, the GM of 1950, the P&G of 1980, or the GE of 1990? In economic terms, not so much: all are built on the same set of institutions: mass production, mega-marketing, "profit," hierarchy, opacity, "innovation." You know the score — and by now, you might just ask yourself: "isn't it time to move past the industrial age already?"
Just shut up and let it breathe, Patrick...
Der Spiegel interviews Albert Speer, Jr. Yes, but no. Not the Albert Speer known for his overly scaled representations of Romanesque forms for Nazi Germany but his son who has become an accomplished architect himself and says that the slums of the 21st century are being built in Dubai (to which I completely agree, of course for reasons I will get to):
So, fundamentally, buildings such as the Burj Khalifa aren't inventions of the 21st century. Such plans existed earlier, it was just that they weren't feasible technically. Today, we have the means to build such towers. However that doesn't mean it's sensible to build them. It's purely a vanity project.
Overscaled product of dying economy: check.
Perhaps there are enough people in the world who would consider an apartment in such a building to be the cherry on top of their luxurious lifestyle. But this has nothing to do with normalcy or a sustainable lifestyle. When one builds a city -- at least I think so, as a German -- one builds it for the next 200 years rather than the next 10. Take the German city of Freiburg, for example -- the layout of the city is the same as it was in the year 1000. But in Dubai, it is likely that the majority of the buildings there will have to be torn down again before too long
Product of supply-side thinking rather than outgrowth of demand: check.
I am convinced that the slums of the 21st century are, to a certain extent, being built there. Dubai has two sides. On the one hand, it's the Gulf state that doesn't possess any oil but which has nevertheless managed to get its name on the world map within the space of 20 years... Many buildings were built quickly and on the cheap by speculators and are now standing empty.
No foundation for an economy to exist there, other than the epicenter for the black market of the world: check. Eventually, it will become far too seedy for the wealthy that are needed to fill those condos to want to even be there.
One builds cities for people... I believe that Dubai got intoxicated with the idea that everything is possible. The collapse of that system demonstrates that it wasn't the right way to go.
One predictive measure of whether the system of built form and how people interact with it will succeed or fail is Space Syntax, a career's worth of work by a British Professor in the name of adding objective regularities or constants to urban planning and architecture: city building. It is heavy stuff if you want to dive into it, but you can be sure that Dubai and the new portions of car-orientation lack the form where people can predictably and comfortably use the space. In the place of order, Dubai represents an application of American oppulance and profligacy.
We were once wealthy and powerful. Wealth and power then gets associated with the "right way to do things" rather than the actual reasons of that accumulation of wealth and power. Dubai and China are copying what we did wrong and painting a rosy picture of the future economy on top.
Their/Our mistake was in thinking that simply by pending money and siphoning off the circulation of that money somehow created wealth and prosperity. Only through creating and adding value creates wealth and prosperity. Copying the copyers is no way to rebuild our economy.
And lastly, speaking of pyramid scheme real estate economies, while this only deals with property tax revenue, mixed-use development far and away outpaces single-use suburban development, much of which hasn't fully paid for the infrastructure it requires before it is torn down and land repurposed:
Next, Katz showed the results from retail properties. Here comes surprise No. 1.: Big box stores such as WalMart and Sam’s Club, when analyzed for county property tax revenue per acre, produce barely more than a single family house; maybe $150 to $200 more a year, Katz said. (Think of all those acres of parking lots.) “That hardly seems worth all the heat that elected officials take when they approve such development,” he noted in a related, written presentation.
Among retail properties, the biggest per-acre property tax revenue in his county, almost $22,000 per acre, comes from Southgate Mall, the county’s highest-end commercial property with Macy’s, Dillards and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores. That’s not so surprising.
But here’s the shocker: On a horizontal bar chart Katz showed, you see that zooming to the far right side, outpacing all the retail offerings, even the regional shopping mall, is the revenue from a high-rise mixed-use project in downtown Sarasota. It sits on less than an acre and contributes a hefty $800,000 in tax per acre. (Add in city property taxes and it’s $1.2 million.) “It takes a lot of WalMarts to equal the contribution of that one mixed-use building,” Katz noted.
If not just questioning our development product and form, this should also having us more closely examining our tax policies at a fundamental and philosophical level.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Leftist blogger Matt Yglesias links to an article about the federal government shifting policy and subsidy away from an anti-urban bias:
By way of contrast, the budget of the Federal Transit Administration is about $2.4 billion. If you put $300 billion in 30-year treasuries, you’d generate enough income to quintuple that. Which isn’t to say that’s something we can or should do, but merely to observe that suburban sprawl is not a market outcome. In part it’s a question of unintended consequences, but largely it’s a result of “industrial policy” designed to boost firms that make automobiles, drill oil, and build suburban homes. Much of that is legacy at this point but to this day Fannie Mae and Freddie Mack serve to create bias against financing mixed-use projects which is why it can be more economical to build large, empty lobbies rather than fill them with stores.Rightist blogger/columnist Ross Douthat says it is time to not become a nationwide Phoenix and stop McMansion subsidy:
By subsidizing housing in our tax code, we stifle investment in other productive industries. So on the supply side, there are obvious problems. But there are problems on the demand side as well. In the last chapter of The Great Reset, Richard Florida argues that, on top of directing capital out of more productive and innovative sectors of the economy, homeownership provides a serious drag on workforce mobility. Homeowners are much less likely to move than renters, and that problem is redoubled when their houses are underwater. One of the more surprising statistics Florida cites is from a European study that found a correlation between homeownership and unemployment; a 10% rise in homeownership amounted to a 2% rise in unemployment. It’s not a politically popular position to take, but no economist will tell you that homeownership actually helps the economy.And somehow Joel Kotkin still believes his own nonsense.
Meanwhile, in honor of Oak Cliff celebrating Bastille Day, France has gone completely bats (all in French):
In the preliminary draft of the new National Plan of Transport Infrastructure (SNIT) controlled by the government, nearly 170 billion euros are to be invested in 20-30 years time in transport infrastructure, 90% in alternative modes other than road and air, with priority on rail.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
The Pretty People Are Coming! The Pretty People Are Coming!
I'm mixing my revolutions here, but change is in the air. With parking "invading" parts of Knox-Henderson, Lower Greenville potentially outlawing bars, Bishop Arts is one area that is or will be heading for an identity crisis. More on that later. First, the festivities:
The actual Bastille Day wasn't as much celebration as riot, but that term might have also applied to the Bishop Arts District last night. Expecting about 300 people on a hot mid-week summer's night, more like 1000 showed up throughout the evening to play boules on la petanque court built of dirt in the middle of the road, dance to a dj, sample the mussel cooking competition, eat crepes, or completely swamp Eno's which was overwhelmed by the turnout.
In terms of livability indicators, many were present: babies in strollers, bike/vespa parking, diversity of ages, and two future Livability Indicators, anonymity and "tourists." Perhaps not real real tourists as in visiting other countries, but they might as well be. Those that cross the river and ten time zones worth of collective mindset are fascinated by, gasp, people! People walking. People socializing. People taking over the street. It seemed as though nearly every other hand at a camera in it.
Which reminds me, the other day I was scolded on twitter by none other than Virginia Postrel as she said, "you can make Dallas walkable, but people won't walk." Huh. Odd for a national writer and professed libertarian to make such broad statements, speaking for everybody especially when that driving tendency is, ahem, driven not by preference but a lack of choice in mode, a lack of safe provision for walkability, and policies that encourage and actually subsidize car-oriented lifestyle. Tsk tsk to hypocrisy.
And since we're told that nobody wants to walk outside, "it's hot," we went on down to the Bastille Day on Bishop to check out what Jason Roberts is up to these days and say hi to friends new and old. I probably met two dozen new acquaintances there. They expected about 300 - got more like a 1000 throughout the night.
Oak Cliff might as well be 10,000 miles from uptown, but that socio-cultural chasm didn't prevent uptowners from showing up, or at least those fitting a Cliffer's mental sketch of what a pretty uptown yuppy might look like. They've read or heard about the buzz happening to the South and want to be a part of it. We all yearn for authenticity at some basic level do we not?
Two things: Bishop Arts area is going to have an identity crisis. Sure the buildings in the actual district will be preserved, but the immediately adjacent neighborhood will most likely transition, ie intensify, as demand to be near the burning magnetic allure of newly created fire.
I've been saying for some time that computer science types, networkers probably have more to offer bottom-up urbanism than architects or engineers in stultified professions. What Roberts has help to build in Oak Cliff is a real authentic urbanism where the flavor is provided by the locals, by building community and organizing where others want to be a part of it if for no other reason than to just be around other interesting people doing interesting things. This is a view into the 21st century city from a corporate paper pushing office window.
Generic uptown types noticed it and eventually many will want to move into the area, which will need to decide what it wants to be: a regional center with regional access and infrastructure or neighborhood center mostly for the adjacent residences to walk to. Lower Greenville is choosing to reject new investment and preserve things the way they are. Knox-Henderson is under pressure as well. These areas are invaded by "outsiders" looking for walkable urban, energetic environments. To see and be seen. To walk and watch others walk pass. To meet and greet. We simply don't have the supply of walkable urban areas at a variety of scales to support all of the demand.
Second, if and when that intensification happens, this eventually will price out the artist/creative types that built it, made it safe and cool for others to come visit. At this point, much like what happened with uptown, it will no longer be the "cool" spot. This is natural. It happens with clubs as they open and close every six months in a new spot under a new name.
It also happens in cities all over the world. In NYC the cool area is always hopping around, from Greenwich Village to West Village, to Meatpacking, and then eventually across the river to DUMBO and around and around it goes. The difference is they have more in place infrastructure for it to happen more quickly, more urban form and buildings to retrofit.
Once everybody moves in the pioneers move on to another area, upgrading it. At least today, the pioneers have a place to go, urbanism to create, and markets that will follow as the entire metroplex begins to look to self-organize, to densify into interesting, walkable urban clusters, unique from one another. Creatives no longer have to leave Dallas to find an outlet for their creative energy. Now that the movement is afoot, the City itself is the outlet and its neighborhoods are the canvas.
Imagery taken from an admittedly shaky iphone throughout the evening:
Dancing in the streets
The view from Eno's early in the evening
Big Chess on a mini-board
Where are the street sweepers when we need them. This street is dirty!
Gratuitous plug for local artistic statement. Filet it.
As part Frenchman despite the Irish label, attendance is mandatory for this enfant terrible. So I shall ride mon cheval across the bridge to Bishop Arts which is fast becoming my pied a terre. With hand tucked under my lapel et aide-de-campe, I will split my armies in a pincer movement and force surrender upon whatever glasses of champagne await.
Afterwards, I will have a tete-a-tete on a cul-de-sac. OK, now this is obnoxious. Merci beaucoup.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Occasionally I like to tool around Google Earth examining the fabric of other cities, noticing the time periods of various districts, the types of businesses that populate areas, where uploaded user photos are geotagged. Sometimes I even look at Dallas, where I found this picture perfectly named: Ciudad Moderna by Panoramio user: Ricardo David Jusino.
But what in the world?! There aren't any people there. It's a plaza. In a City. Certainly there would be people. Perhaps this is what Jan Gehl is referring to as the "Abandoned City." Never worry. Photoshop to the rescue where sunken plazas and brutal modernism can bend reality like Neo's spoon into the land of dreams. Where lonely architect up late on a Sunday night, working toward a deadline strategically places a leggy, blonde model.
Let's draw some theoretical people just like every architectural rendering you've ever seen. Now we can all ignore the physical properties, objective regularities, and contextual dynamics, let alone detailed design elements that make for empirically proven urban public spaces.
Now quit asking us questions about the planning and design. Of course it works, look! There's people in the drawing! There even doing people like things!! That one's tying their shoe!
I'm still waiting for the graphic (literally) depiction of the bum defecating in a corner. Let's keep this in mind every time we see pretty architectural renderings.
Apparently everybody comes in two's in this version of imaginationland...and perfectly spaced apart, as if that is somehow people actually use open space.
Who is to say this is even in Dallas. It could be in Mumbai for all I know...
India seems to like importing failed American experiments, looks perfectly in place.
The landscaping just looked way too brown and seasonal. Let's give it a tropical brightness. You can't tell it in this photo, but everyone here has malaria.
And my personal favorite, the silhouetted dystopia...ahhh, people running, little girls flying away, that leggy blonde making herself comfortable! What is going on?!