Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Linkages

The first article today is an interesting one from SmartPlanet about our cognitive maps and getting lost in buildings. They go on to blame architects who have incredibly advanced understanding of space in three-dimensions:

What they found:

  • People navigate differently. Some use contextual clues — “Make a right at the stairwell” — and some use cardinal directions to find their way.
  • Cognitive maps are prone to bias, and can distort reality. Culture and gender are factors.
  • The design of a building exacerbates these effects, thanks to identical-looking corridors, short lines of sight and asymmetrical floor layouts.

The more difficult the building, the more a person must rely on their (imperfect, incomplete) cognitive map.

Take the award-winning Seattle Central Library: the first five levels of the library defy expectations and are all different — so different, in fact, that the outside walls don’t always line up. Sight lines could help ease the shock, but the library’s long escalators skip floors, making it difficult to see where they begin and end.

Interestingly, the researchers says that architects have such strong spatial skills — they make three-dimensional space from two-dimensional blueprints, of course — that they may fail at imagining their design from the perspective of someone with poor spatial skills.

What they are saying is that architects are increasingly pushing the limits of how to comprehend and think about space in 3-dimensions. You might call this innovation. You also might call this selfish. Are they the end user of this space? Often not. The end users typically don't appreciate the mental gymnastics it takes to make a Seattle Public Library or a Denver Art Museum. Dummies. They deserve the vertigo.

I cite these two buildings specifically because I have visited the Seattle Public Library. It was loud and uncomfortable, exactly what you want from a reading room. I'm not typically afraid of heights or have trouble intuiting spatial relationships and suggested pathways. I felt like this building was going to collapse and I wanted out of it as quickly as possible. As for the DAM, many people have left claiming feelings of nausea. One can't say if it was the odd angles of the buildings spaces and corridors, canted for Libeskind's self-gratification or the art within.

Contrast this with the architects and designers in Renaissance times that wanted to understand human proportion, scale, and awareness of space. The designs reflect it.

Design for people. Not other architects or Architectural Record.
In what might as well be called Pravda, an online journal called "Gensler On" interviews, you guessed it, a Gensler principal about Gensler type of projects, big ones. In this case, it comes off as some sort of cheerleading for times of yore when money flowed like wine into skyscrapers that remarkably no one moved into and banks were healthy and raking in cash and not failing all over the world because of faulty supply driven investments. Run-on, I does it.

The actual article is called, Can Super Tall Buildings Be Green?, which could make for a perfectly fine article if you wanted to argue something beyond "tall is dense" and "tall is aspirational." I'd quote it, but there is really nothing of substance there and I find it hard to believe this was written in this century let alone this decade rather than 1995 or 2005, which the rationale mirrors.

First, tall is dense, yes. But tall can be another form of sprawl. By sending people further up into the sky, that creates demand for services to follow them upward. For example, a 100-story tower will have cafes or coffee shops or "sky gardens" and different things every 20-floors or so. Amazing, we like things close to us.

He undermines his own argument suggesting super tall is necessary for street life and that he's from NYC. The best parts of NYC and Vancouver are not the skyscrapers. It is the street life between the smaller buildings, that don't dominate the sunlight, necessary for actual street life and just plain life, such as trees.

Second, the tall is aspirational argument is another form of quantitative growth that got us into this economic morass. Quantitative growth took on two forms of real estate, outward growth (sprawl - Vegas, Phoenix) and upward growth (Miami Condo towers, Dubai), or even the rare outward and upward like Chinese pop-up cities. All of which are supply-side. There was little to no real demand, which is why they 1) attracted speculation and 2) are now empty.

Furthermore, the entire market was rather nefarious, not just because of the banks handiwork, but because of all of the corrupt 3rd world money finding its way into American, London, Indian, and Chinese real estate. Dirty money and imaginary money is no way to run an economy or build a city.

Your architecture firm, staffed and structured to work on these kinds of projects, has a very short future in its current iteration. I've never thought of Gensler as thought leaders on cities, ever, but that won't stop them from telling you they are and cheerleading for a return to the boom decade of the noughties.

Some day banks will wisen up and start investing only in projects that improve quality of place and are based in real, demand-driven fundamentals. It is in their financial interest to do so.
To end on two happy notes, we'll shift to places focused on qualitative growth, or the improvement of their cities:

The Irish Times visits Freiburg, Germany looking for lessons:

Prof Kevin Leyden, an American now based at NUI Galway’s Centre for Innovation and Structural Change, was struck by how hard Freiburg has “worked and planned to be energy-efficient and carbon-conscious as well as creating real neighbourhoods with a sense of place. There is also a commitment to green space, playgrounds and local shops”. Dr Daseking, who has been Freiburg’s chief planner for 27 years, said the “breaking point” came in the early 1980s when the city council decided that big shopping malls on the outskirts would be “zoned out”. As a result, smaller shops had the chance to survive and “people get their daily requirements by walking or cycling, not driving”.

One of the stupid things Dublin did, and Freiburg didn’t do, was to get rid of its trams.

As a result, the city’s tramlines – running from north to south and east to west, with the main station as the network’s hub – were extended to serve new “fingers” of development stretching out in all four directions – including new suburbs like Vauban and Riesefeld.

Housing is socially mixed, with rich and poor living in close proximity, on remarkably quiet streets devoid of through-traffic. Children play in green areas or quite safely on the streets. “By building like this, you can influence the use of cars,” Dr Daseking said. “Freiburg has only 440 cars per 1,000 in population, but in Vauban it’s only 85 per 1,000”.

1. Florence
2. Paris
3. Dubrovnik
4. New York City
5. Vancouver
6. Munich
7. Edinburgh
8. Boston
9. Melbourne
10. Sydney
Since it is from Frommers, guessing it is geared to bigger, more tourist destinations. The key to walkability is proximity, density of network (moreso than density of people), which means density of movement corridors, the type of movement corridors that allow for density of networks (grids vs. dendritic highway/arterial), and quality of spaces (streets, sidewalks, plazas, public spaces).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bars of a Different Scale

Ryan Avent has a post up at his personal blog, The Bellows, about wanting neighborhood scaled bars in DC after a recent visit to London, famed for its neighborhood pubs, not much unlike Cheers where it acts as a hub of the community. He goes on to both suggest that nightlife demands clustering while lamenting it from a personal standpoint. Can't we have just a regular quiet bar that is able to make ends meet by local clientele?

The answer is yes, as I've detailed in the Parking Paper and some of the discussions regarding Greenville Ave., Henderson Ave., and the potential of Ross Ave as the regional conduit for the activities too intense for the neighborhood scale of Greenville/Henderson.

I also posted this in the comments at his blog:

You’re absolutely right to call out the causes/effects of clustering. What we are dealing with in Dallas is a case where the clustering is happening on traditional neighborhood service streets where you once found a full ecology of commercial establishments. They all became bars drawing from the entire metroplex. The parking and the noise eat into the nearby neighborhoods causing conflict.

The solution I have been proposing is to designate neighborhood centers distinct from regional centers. These have to be located in areas suitable to supporting the varying scales, ie a regional center has to be supported by the regional transpo infrastructure, such as having a regional metro stop there. It should also have a parking authority to manage supply/demand of parking and price it accordingly. Because of the increased infrastructure, these will also be denser areas.

On the other hand, neighborhood centers should probably have a parking cap, so that retail doesn’t over cluster in certain areas, thus protecting neighborhoods and a BID be established to manage the array of business types in support of the nearby neighborhoods. These will be less dense/less intense areas but there will be a broader array of retailers serving daily needs of the neighborhood. It behooves the businesses to be sized and scaled for the neighborhood and vice versa.

To sketch out what these look like, I think of New Orleans. Where Bourbon Street is the regional draw (or larger) and the place for loud and rowdy, Magazine Street might be that neighborhood service spine and there might only be a bar every few blocks that belongs to and is supported by the neighborhood.

Curb Cuts: Cause and Effect

This is a post I have been mulling over for some time. It was not until witnessing a related incident that I decided it was time to crank it out.

As anybody familiar with downtown Dallas streets knows, you must tread lightly. Particularly, during rush hours as you are rushing to catch that train or wherever. Cars dart in and out of parking garage with little remorse, restraint, or caution. It can be even worse when out for a dog walk and the distance between dog and self become dangerous enough that you worry fido might get run over at every garage exit.

The event I witnessed is one that presumably happens every day. Except this one office tower parking garage has a police officer directing traffic for a parking garage exit onto a one-way, barely used street. You would think this wouldn't be necessary. I suppose like the presence of speed bumps, this is evidence of poor planning and design.

As I was walking up to this particular conflict point, I could foresee an issue arising. The police officer was having a distracted conversation with somebody while waving on cars that may or may not have been on their way up the exit ramp. From the opposite direction as myself, a woman was chatting on her cell phone.

Wouldn't you know it, but a car burst from the invisible ramp and nearly hit the woman on the cell phone. An argument between the woman and cop ensued before the cop lost patience and suggested she get a move on before cuffs came out.

Was there fault to go around? Surely, probably on all counts. The woman on the cell phone acted afterwards like she knew a car was coming out, the car had no reason to slow down or give caution as the cop was waving it on, the cop probably shouldn't be having random conversations when conducting traffic.

I'm left to wonder, what is a cop doing directing traffic from a private garage? Yes, yes, public safety and all that, but isn't there a safer system than cars shooting out of buildings like this (ed. note: mute this awful music):

Now, let's think about what ingress/egress/curb cuts/garage access points really are. They are no different than say, storefronts for pedestrians. They are the way a building interfaces with its transportation system.

I would argue that the best cities in the world are those where the building is accessed nearly universally by foot, except for a few transfer facilities such as bike parking, transit stations, and centralized parking facilities where stakeholders such as pedestrians and land owners have some sense, hey, I can expect to interact with cars around here. This also adds some measure of wayfinding for drivers, if they can find the clearly marked garages.

Like nearly all things in complex, interwoven systems like cities, curb cuts are both cause and effect, adding to or subtracting from the inertia of various processes. When blocks are carved up by curb cuts in order to deliver drivers directly to buildings, that is the effect. The by-product of a car-centric transportation system. The same one that shackles all of us willingly or unwillingly, affordably or unaffordably to participating in this system by owning and operating a car within it.

Curb cuts are a cause, inducing different actions, behaviors, and outcomes for a few reasons. One, I already mentioned, that it discourages pedestrian activity on the street by making it unsafe, and perhaps more detrimental, stressful. You can't focus on other things like window shopping or whatever because you're worried about Morpheus and his brand new Cadillac CTS to chop you off at your waist.

The other things all of these curb cuts do is takes up valuable square footage in buildings, 1) on the ground floor where you would typically like many different pedestrian access points to buildings, aka street friendly interfaces, and 2) these are obviously leading to either service docks, surface parking, or garage parking, ie even more space that is unsalable and costly to construct.

The resultant building or urban form is one that I would call self-interested, as in not enlightened self-interest. In anthropomorphic terms, this would be a selfish building block. It says, "I want my access to my garage, and I don't care what it does to other buildings," which is often a perfectly logical, and rational response. But, it isn't an enlightened response.

The best neighborhoods are those where the valuable is greater than the sum of parts. This only happens when building blocks (used as short-hand for urban blocks that may or may not have more than one building on them) reach out and relate to the public realm and buildings around them. One building improves the value of those around it and it receives the same in kind from the 3, 5, or 10 building blocks nearby. The more building blocks that amplify the neighborhood, the return on enlightenment increases factorially based on 1)quality or value and 2) proximity.

So I decided to map the curb cuts in downtown Dallas to see if any patterns emerged. Keep in mind that in the ideal city there would be very few 'car interfaces' as 1) transportation share is balanced better between modes (foot, bike, car, bus, train), and 2) parking would largely be relegated to on-street so there would be no curb cuts. Thus creating motive to develop real estate that is more valuable than housing cars, but in housing commerce and/or people. Pricing car storage out of downtown, parking is relegated to outside the city at transit facilities or pricey, centralized parking garages.

At first blush, they appear pretty balanced, spread across the city. Sparse only in two types of places, truly dead zones and truly alive zones. There is also an awful lot of them. Doubtful I'll ever have the time to map a similar sized area in other cities, but you can bet there is a direct relationship of car-dominance to amount of curb cuts.

Here, I mapped a few of the denser clusters as well as Main Street in green. The sparse areas around the edges of downtown are due to surface parking lots not requiring many access points that would cut into value, aka more spots, and giant dead areas like around the convention center. Other sparse areas, would include around Belo and what are nominally known as parks in the southwest portion of downtown.

The most eggregious areas seem to act as buffers around the successful little pulse of Main Street. If Main Street is our living and dining room, the two big red blobs are our two-car garage. Like a conventional suburban house, the pride of place goes to the garage, rather than the welcoming embrace of a front porch or stoop (the pedestrian interface).

The red areas tended not to be the worst only because of vehicular egress points but loading and unloading areas where sidewalks were negligible at best. This is another case of a building being selfish, allowing for loading and unloading based on convenience for the loader and unloader rather than to the benefit of street life.

In Copenhagen and Rome for example, two places I have spent a decent amount of time, loading and unloading happens in the street early in the morning when there is very little pedestrian or car traffic (where cars are allowed in those cities). This is enlightened self-interest because you use the public infrastructure for loading rather than building it yourself and then having a hostile street presence, shutting off the amplified powers of a city that engages rather than withdraws.

The concept applies to open space as well, as open space is no different in terms of access from 'closed' space except that it doesn't have a roof. It still needs an interface. Main Street Gardens was intended to have parking below it originally and thankfully an operator couldn't be found. We lucked out. Otherwise, we would have another Pershing Square in L.A. on our hands.

Here are a few pictures of Pershing Square. In the first two, notice the garage access ramps. These line all four sides.

The result is a barrier to pedestrian activity and perhaps even worse a barrier to visibility. It creates places that can't be seen and when you do that, you get the kind of activity that likes to be in places that aren't seen. The best of which is sleeping.


Now here are examples of pedestrian-oriented building interfaces at varying scales and intensities:

or, the alternative:

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Blind Nature of Walkscore

I've written ad nauseum about the shortcomings of WalkScore. It is a step in the right direction, but like all statistics, an abstraction. Or in some cases, lies or damned lies. WalkScore even admits where their ratings often go afoul and are working to correct this in beta versions that measure diversity of neighborhood services rather than the mere presence of some/any.

Furthermore, it is a quantitative analysis to express the qualitative, which can't be quantified. Follow my drift? In other words, they express walkability strictly by proximity (which is necessary), but not by quality of the walk. Are there sidewalks? Are they wide enough? Are the buildings constantly changing and engaging to maintain interest and foreshorten the walk? Are cars a threat? Are others around to ensure some measure of common trust and safety?

In a way, it measures the skin to explain bone structure. Not quite accurate or scientific, but better than nothing. And, if anything, it represents a collective shift in priority and awareness that it has caught on at all.

One specific example to even further the disparity between superficial and subcutaneous, Main Street in downtown Dallas is considered the most walkable in all of DFW. Not a stretch, but that it is a 98 out of 100, might be. Is it really as walkable as Center City Philadelphia? Portland? Old town Alexandria, VA? Surely not, but I can accommodate my daily needs here. It is inflated because of the issues mentioned above and it counts tunnel businesses which are mostly only open 11am to 2pm, serving the office population which swells above 150,000 each day from a night time (permanent resident) population of about 5,500.

So I'd like to add two things. First, an email from a friend, occasional blog contributor, and reader:
Just thought it interesting to see Walkscore got metro-wide heat maps now, but still amused to find my old neighborhood scores higher (86) than my new neighborhood (83). Attached pics.

In fact, they made a correction a few months ago that I submitted that accurately made the park much closer than they indicated, boosting the neighborhood up to an 89. I just checked now and that's gone.
Old Neighborhood (86)

New Neighborhood (83)

Now that they do have heat maps, let's look at some:



You'll notice the green dots as downtown (brightest), with uptown and deep ellum latching on, lakewood, fair park, and bishop arts as some of the others. Striking how poorly Ross Ave corridor ranks particularly in relation to all that is around it. Seems like a great opportunity to stitch several parts of town together...wonder where I got that idea...




Confessions of a Traffic Engineer

In Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs decreed what she saw as a foreboding pattern evident in the onrush of all dark ages. One of those criteria, she described as credentialism over education, ie the rush to add professional seeming letters after your name even though most of those are positioned as barriers to defend the profession, not from others as much as progress. It enables a stultification of innovation.

In this post at Strong Towns blog, a traffic engineer repents:
We go to enormous expense to save ourselves small increments of driving time. This would be delusional in and of itself if it were not also making our roads and streets much less safe.
He touches on the differing priorities between public and 'father-knows-best' traffic engineers, but what is most important is the statement above. We spend hundreds of millions to save a minute or two.

The irony of which is that the savings themselves are fleeting, as it has been proven that new road capacity only leads to temporary traffic reduction. And then we spend more money to get that ever-elusive minute back to our morning commute.

Next thing you know, you're living 40 miles from where you work, stuck on a "high-five" spaghetti junction that most likely cost the entire state its education budget in an assembly line of nameless, faceless others, suspended hundreds of feet in the air by a concrete superstructure, but at least it has super sweet stars painted onto it to remind you that you are, in fact, still in Texas.

Want to know why cities, states, and the federal government is broke and the public mired in excessive debt? Listen to a traffic engineer talk about "road improvement."

How We'll All Become Cannibals

In the Dark Knight, the Joker describes human kind as having only a thin line between civilization and barbarism, suggesting "these people will eat each other. All they need is a little push. And I'm gonna give it to 'em."

I use this line both literally and in jest, because surely it is preposterous to think that we would actually eat each other. But, what if we really thought about globalism in terms of food distribution. I've stated many times that they only thing that makes sense in a globalized world logistically is that which can be transported free or, once again more literally, virtually free. As in digitally: information, knowledge, and capital can be distributed and spread throughout the world as and where it is needed (or there is opportunity).

No food that you want to eat is spread digitally. The Jetsons aren't here yet, despite some of our cities trying to look like it.

It is with that stated that I came across this online PDF of a presentation from Toronto FoodShare coop regarding the way food distribution has played a role in shaping the city then and now. Here are the relevant slides applicable to all North American cities most critically:

These slides are pretty self-explanatory, but what it is showing is that Toronto, like many metropolitan areas (particularly North American ones) are much bigger burdens on the earth than their actual physical size. The reason, as stated above is: housing, transportation, and food. And if you think about each of those, the reason they are damaging is because of the sparse disbursement across the landscape and the energy required to traverse between house to work, house to house, house and grocery store, farm to fork, farm to slaughterhouse to processing plant to grocery... You get the idea.

And this shows the logistical web of, in this case, food, but could apply to virtually all the junk we buy. And not just Toronto, but like I said, all cities, but North American ones with our once upon a time real wealth and now just our imagined wealth, are the worst offenders. No big deal right?

Well, what happens if that logistical web breaks down? As this slide shows, Toronto has 3 days of food supply at any one time, dependent upon more and more arriving each day from parts unknown. An entire world's food supply dependent upon the price of gas and a few strategic distribution and logistical centers around the world. Hardly resilient, and in this country, the people are even less so.

Imagine if there is an interruption to this food supply chain. Where does Dallas get its food? Kroger, right? Oh, where does Kroger gets its food from? Kraft and Con Agra, right? Where does Con Agra gets its food from? All over the world. Where does Kraft get their food from? Oh well, that was a trick question, they invent their food.

If they can't get their food to population centers, what will we do?

I guess we'll just start eating each other.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Livability Indicator #18: Graffiti

I have been wanting for some time to create a post about graffiti. Like all things, there can be two sides to it, good and bad. Density is typically reviled by the NIMBY types worried that a dense development will bring crime and lower their property values. When they think density, they are envisioning Flatbush tenements, or section 8 housing, or even typical garden style apartments the litter the sunbelt, built to last 15 years at best, often lasting 20- or 30-plus. They end up caving in on themselves.

Nobody cares for them, because they weren't built to be cared for. Furthermore, where tenements and section 8 barrack housing are forms of warehousing, shoving people into places, garden-style development was originally intended for market-rated housing. Often, these were considered the nicest places to live when new. They were garden-y! It was like a little bit of nature to ease the burden of living around dirty, stinky, smelly others. Oh, xenophobia.

At the time what we didn't realize was the form and arrangement of garden-style apartments (the "train wreck" as seen from above) without public infrastructure were cul-de-sac in nature, vestigial appendages ready to fall off without the lifeblood infusing it. And they die off eventually. All of them. There are basic rules to developing neighborhoods, they can't be disembodied. If they are so, we let them go. We don't care for them and they devolve, fading away into a history that will never be written about them.

On the other hand, people do want some place to care about. The better a neighborhood functions (or is designed in aggregate over time by the millions of hands molding them) the larger that sphere of "home base" is. This was best illustrated by Donald Appleyard. If you are fortunate enough to live in a great neighborhood, you will most likely describe your home as that place, "I live in Brooklyn." Well Brooklyn is a pretty big place. If your area is pretty crummy, overrun by a car-centric environment, you may describe only the walls you occupy as your home or possibly even smaller.

If an area is isolated from the larger system of a city (infrastructurally, socially, economically, etc.) and, in turn, in decay, we still have a need seeded deep in our DNA to "mark our territory." Since nobody cares about this area and, by extension, me, what do I care if anybody minds how/why I mark my territory or what it then looks like? Broken windows does have some merit, but like any theory, it can be taken too far. Gangs, often perpetrators of the kind of graffiti we deride as bad, might spray paint a symbol or word on buildings or signs to let rival or competing organizations know, stay out.

There is a critical connection here though, and it ties in with Sudhir Venkatesh's book "Gang Leader for a Day." Venkatesh was a graduate sociology student canvassing the area and before he knew it, ended up befriending local crime lords. What he found was an intricately organized, hierarchical structure that in many ways provided for the safety of its neighborhood in ways that the public sector failed to do so.

Perhaps you can sense where I'm going with this. Eventually, the power of the internet, the ability to spread global information virally at the speed of light led to the infamy of a shadowy graffiti artist named Banksy. Banksy was known for middle of the night spray paint stencils that were indeed art (here is a link to google image search for Banksy). Banksy parlayed his work into exhibits at the Tate Modern and an awe-inspiring opening scene to the Simpsons:

I'm guessing Banksy has done more than add art to blank walls but inspired millions to create their own art. When combined with a desperation for safer, cleaner neighborhoods, the spread of urban principles to the interested lay person, and a backlash against cars, the result has been street art around the world.

Since both the good and the bad are typically statements of ownership, expressions of those that occupy the place, eventually street art has become the Better Block, both art showcase as well as physical improvements to the neighborhood. When done right, it takes back the public realm from the car, creating a new center of gravity for the neighborhood. Neighborhoods need centers of gravity.

When roads become barriers, they make edges, therefore neighborhoods retreat from those edges and the center of gravity is internalized, disconnecting it from the urban fabric, virtually assuring an eventual decay. We need our roads to be seams, main streets for local activity. We need them that way, so the place is still connected to the body, the city. In that way it retains its permanence and makes caring for it not a hopeless and fruitless affair.

When the governing institutions fail to foster these places due to arcane, failed and entrenched policies (in this case more worried about moving traffic from two parts of the city that generally have no interest in interacting and/or to fill the coffers of engineering firms seeking to build bigger roads), we all become gang leaders. Renegades that have to take care of our neighborhoods on our own, possibly even illegally as the Better Block has shown.

When the illegal is more positive than the legal, it is time to revisit policy.

What graffiti shows, whether of the well-intentioned or poorly intentioned, is the yearning for something better. In a hand of poker, we're drawing three new cards. The mal-intentioned is also revelatory. It shows an area that is disconnected, isolated from mind or sight of the collective. Not enough care about the area to do something about it. We left it out to die on the vine.

When policy isolates and disconnects the way our highway building mania has done, it is also time to revisit policy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Better Block Goes Viral

My 2nd column for D magazine is up here. You'll also see it in the December Issue of D due on newstands shortly.

It is about the Better Block Project and how it represents an entirely new form of economic development. One that is truly grass roots and, unlike most traditional forms of econ development, does NOT compromise community develompent. In fact, it increases it drastically. There is a lesson there and the likely reason why it has caught fire across the country.
The roots of the Better Block Project trace back to Jan Gehl’s transformative work in Copenhagen in the 1960s, when that city incrementally removed traffic from its car-choked medieval streets and replaced it with pedestrian space. Today, Copenhagen is one of the most livable and prosperous cities in the world. More recently, New York City hired a woman named Janette Sadik-Khan as its transportation commissioner. She overhauled that city’s streets literally overnight with a couple of cans of paint and some traffic cones, creating new bike lanes and plazas. What differentiates the Better Block Project, though, is that it’s not official public policy. It’s guerrilla DIY urbanism.
Let me add to this an anecdote Jason passed along yesterday. He said during one of the Better Blocks, a woman in her 70s walked up to him with tears in her eyes. Jason asked, "what is wrong?" She replied that it reminded her of the Dallas of her youth.

Which reminded me of something I thought about while writing the Greenville Ave post the other day, where the Schuessler brothers described the street they grew up on, with a full ecology of business types both geared to the needs of the neighborhood and a direct outgrowth from it.

It was the Dallas that locals are nostalgic for and newcomers yearn.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Now What?

From Fight Club:
"My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what?
My dad didn't know, so he said get a job.
When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didn't know, so he said, get married.
From Le Corbusier's Radiant City:
The cities will be part of the country; I shall live 30 miles from my office in one direction, under a pine tree; my secretary will live 30 miles away from it too, in the other direction, under another pine tree. We shall both have our own car. We shall use up tires, wear out road surfaces and gears, consume oil and gasoline. All of which will necessitate a great deal of work … enough for all.
We are a nation of 30-year old boys. All of Corbusier's work is finished. We can no longer build houses 30-miles in one direction (or the other). Nor can we build more cars for everyone, we have plenty. We can't use more tires, or roads, or gears, or oil or gas. We road the wind of (those particular) new markets as far as those sails could take us. So now what do we do?

The answer is to not ask others, but search within you.

File This Under: Politicians Who Get It

I'm a big fan of politicians who get it and state so unequivocally or without fear or hesitation. That if urban form breaks down, is fractured, fragmented, and/or disconnected, the entire system breaks down. Our health, the economy, our social structures, the environment all suffer.Photo

The Mayor of Beaufort, South Carolina, a town last seen being burned to the ground in the movie Glory, tells the tale of the ghosts of his city: past, present, and future:

Traditional City - "New Urbanism"

As the City begins our journey to implement our Comprehensive Plan through infill redevelpment and a form based code, there are many issues for all of us to be thinking about. The following is an article written by Beaufort members of the Congress on New Urbanism. It was published in The Lowcountry Weekly.

One of the first lessons is that Beaufort had it "right" before the advent of mass produced automobiles, suburban sprawl and big box retailers.

The question is .. . . can we get our wonderful city back on track so that we can grow our enviable historic and workable form, thereby making Beaufort more healthy, more sustainable and a more efficient platform for delivering services to our residents? I think so!

As one walks, cycles, kayaks, boats, or drives throughout the Lowcountry Region of the Southeast, complementary natural landscapes and settlement patterns combine to form an inimitable experience. Traditional settlement patterns such as Historic Beaufort, Historic Charleston, Historic Rockville, Historic Bluffton, and Historic Savannah attract locals and visitors, alike, because they are places worth caring about. In fact, most of the places in the Lowcountry that people care about are those that emanate a "historic" or traditional settlement pattern of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Conversely, for the past 50 years, the predominant pattern of human settlement in the Lowcountry has taken the form of conventional suburban development, which has defined a comprehensive planning system characterized by single-use zones (housing pod, the shopping center, the business park, the large church, the isolated school) that are connected by a dendritic pattern of thoroughfares designed for the rapid movement of cars, creating a public realm (space between buildings) which is unfriendly to the pedestrian and dominated by the automobile.
In the process of implementation, the conventional suburban development promotes single-use, automobile-dominated land use patterns, which, in return, generates sprawl.
The negative effects of suburban sprawl include: dependence on foreign oil; declines in air and water quality; an epidemic of obesity and diabetes; places not worth caring about; traffic congestion and the high cost of commuting; unnecessary land consumption; and places that are more expensive for municipalities to serve than those built according to traditional neighborhood development patterns of the past.
So, the question becomes: If the past fifty years of settlement in the Lowcountry has been dominated by the conventional suburban development model, what is the model for the next fifty years?
The answer, in our opinion, is the retrofit of suburbia - or the urbanizing of our suburbs. The retrofit of suburbia is defined as the redevelopment of the conventional suburban development pattern into a pattern that is more sustainable.
Jurisdictions across the country and the world are placing emphasis on the retrofit of their suburbs as the following forces are driving this movement: reduced percentages of households with children and a growing market for multiunit housing in the suburbs; continued growth in the percentage of jobs in suburban locations; rising gas prices making housing on the periphery less affordable; and local smart growth policies and transit investments that are limiting sprawl and redirecting growth to existing infrastructure.
By seeking to create the basis for change beyond their immediate property lines, such projects offer the best chance to overcome entrenched resistance and help suburbs evolve to meet changing needs - or more simply, make them adaptable to future generations of population growth and demand. Such projects are helping to improve connectivity and the sense of place, meet affordable housing needs, and mitigate congestion.
Additionally, in this new economy, political jurisdictions are constantly searching for new creative sources of revenue and fiscally responsible methods to service existing and future populations. The retrofit of suburbia achieves both of the aforementioned goals as it directs growth in areas complete with existing infrastructure (roadways, water, sewer, utilities) and existing municipal service (police, fire, EMS, and solid waste collection), while yielding more revenue for the taxing entities (property tax, school district, accommodations tax, business license fees, hospitality tax) than the existing use of the property.
When evaluating how we will cope with the changes that the Lowcountry faces in regards to the existing built environment, the suburban sprawl land use and transportation model is the antithesis of fiscal responsibility: creative sources of revenue, energy efficiency, environmental stewardship, and walkable urbanism.
The Lowcountry should takes it cue from the City of Beaufort's fabulous Boundary Street Master Plan and Code (the most progressive in the state in terms of the retrofit of suburbia) and demand a much more sustainable settlement pattern that is promoted by zoning and development standards as well as public-private partnerships. There is a clear recognition that growth presents immense challenges in terms of solving the existing and future growth issues in the Lowcountry, and this shift in mentality and policy is exactly what will bring the results we need at this critical moment.

This article was written for Lowcountry Weekly by the Congress for the New Urbanism

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Morning Linkages: Fit to be Slaughtered

But first, a funny picture:

On to the show:

Kunstler laments the willingness of MSM to play a conscious part (if you consider Pinocchio conscious) in the self-deception America seems addicted to, much like anything rhyming with "sass." In this particular case, we're referring to gas. "OMG gas! Gimme gimme gimme!" We're like cookie monster crossed with a crack addict. The critical message:
It seems to me that the chief mass delusion associated with this touted "bonanza" is that Americans would supposedly be able to shift to driving cars that run on natural gas. I believe they will be hugely disappointed. Between the cost of fracking production (and its poor economics), gearing up the manufacture of a new type universal car engine, and installing the infrastructure for methane gas fill-ups - not to mention the supply operation by either new pipelines or trucks carrying liquefied methane gas, we will discover that a.) America lacks the capital, and b.) that households will be too broke to change out the entire US car fleet.
Philadelphia, the place that I still have a draft of my most recent visit unfinished yet eventually (hopefully) destined for publishing on this blog, is working on a city-wide pedestrian plan. The particulars:
One Center City example: The intersection of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and 15th Street. “The major issue for pedestrians at this intersection is conflicts with turning vehicles; specifically, vehicles turning right from 15th onto JFK Boulevard,” the report states. “The width of both streets allows vehicles to maintain higher speeds when turning, and motorists and bicyclists often fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians.”

Suggested fixes include changing the walk signal so that pedestrians get to start crossing JFK Boulevard before cars traveling on 15th Street can proceed through the intersection; installing an additional pedestrian island on 15th Street and reinforcing the message that drivers should take pains not to get stuck in the intersection when the signal changes with an education campaign and street pavement markings.

The plan also recommends five different ways for streets to accommodate cyclists. There are several kinds of bike lanes, including separate lanes on either side of a two-way street; contra-flow lanes which allow bikes to travel in both directions on streets in which cars go one-way only; climbing bike lanes which offer a separate lane for bikes in the uphill direction but a shared bike and vehicle lane going downhill; and bicycle-friendly streets where cars and bikes share the street, but there is not enough space for vehicles to pass bicycles.

The first phase of the plan calls for adding about 60 miles of bike-only lanes to Philadelphia's 200 + miles, Schaaf said.

The goal, she said, is the creation of “complete streets” - streets that serve motor vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians equally well.
This isn't feel good stuff. This is real economic development at work, the unwinding of barriers to cheap, efficient connections between people, places, goods, and services without requiring: a car loan, a mortgage w/ two-car garage, a tune-up, car insurance, a weekly (or daily) fill up at the pump, the taxes to support all of the roads, health insurance for the inevitability of traffic collisions, etc. etc.
A lengthy (and thorough) book review discussing the battle between cars and people for our public spaces (lofty rhetoric (war on... battle over...! I engage in it):
The automobile industry thus tried, for a time, to work with these other groups to ameliorate the problems created by the increasing number of automobiles. However, the industry soon realized that no such collaboration is possible because these other groups consider cars to be either intrinsically unsafe because of their speed, or intrinsically inefficient because of the space they occupy. In 1923, a slump in the sales led to fears that the market for automobiles might have peaked, and urban congestion and traffic safety were cited as reasons. To increase sales, motordom began a campaign to spread the message that speed can be safe, and that walking out of turn could be just as reckless.
Author Richard Price, speaking on a DVD of one of The Wire seasons, once said "God is no second rate novelist." History, you can't beat it/Why I love it.
StreetsBlog has a two part post up on retrofitting suburbia, it first references the book by the same name, which is mostly pretty pictures, wishful thinking, and a design exercise than what it needs to be, an in depth analysis and conclusions as to how to leverage investment towards those pretty pictures. The second half of the post, gets to the point:
In his latest post, Walker describes how municipalities can get a jump on livability by tackling one of the trademarks of suburban America: the commercial arterial street. Because these roads have a tendency to be relatively straight as well as local destination points, they could easily be adapted to suit public transit by carving out space for transit users, pedestrians and cyclists, he says. But it’s important to move quickly, because once thoroughfares are congested, it’s difficult to find space for modes beside the private car, even as traffic conditions demand them.
Change the form and function of streets and intersections and you provide the incentive to change the form of buildings.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Greenville/Henderson: Why everyone is right and the real solution is right under our nose

So this is about to happen as I write. If you don't feel the urge to click the link and leave the comfy cocoon that is the WalkableDFW blogosphere, I'll fill you in. Councilmembers Hunt and Medrano are revealing new streetscape plans for Lower Greenville. And it is good.

It creates more pedestrian room, narrows travel lanes, more outdoor cafe space (but it's so hot nobody eats outside in Dallas!!!111), etc. It regains this space primarily through the conversion of angled head-in parking (business favorite as it means more parking) for parallel parking (pedestrian preferred). While this means less parking, typically it is just less convenient parking for employees who hog up all the free parking in front of the businesses and inadvertently harm their own commerce.

On the other hand, limiting parking can be a good thing. You may recall that I've written exhaustive and abridged versions regarding the conflict around parking. Parking was just a vehicle for the bigger issue. The primary point of conflict is that Henderson Ave and Greenville Ave are scaled for neighborhood service retail, but due to their nature (which I'll get in to) are trending toward Regional destination status.

In those previous missives, I suggested that we have to decide (or more particularly, the local stakeholders, neighborhoods, and elected officials) whether we want to allow the de facto "upzoning" to regional status thereby putting the neighborhood under potential threat or cap it at neighborhood service status. By removing parking, we are essentially capping the potential to grow "up" to regional status. However, the work is not yet done as proper management of the "business ecology" or array of business types is still needed. More on that later.

The neighborhood (if occasionally only the vocal minority) tends to prefer status quo. The often silent majority, often wants to see an improvement by way of more amenities nearby. Landowners and investors want to reach the highest and best use.

Because of the scale of Henderson and Greenville, and by scale I mean width, and by width I mean building face to building face on opposite side of the street, the road(s) can only handle so much traffic. By nature that pretty much seals the fate of the road to being a neighborhood service spine, with little clusters of service businesses and amenities every half mile or so, serving a neighborhood within about a 1/2 mile or so. You can still see these clusters to this day.

I had lunch with the Schuessler brothers the other day, the guys behind digital/open-source company called Brain Food. They grew up on Greenville and like most in the professions of the internet intuitively understood good urbanism, whether it be the Greenville they grew up on or Magazine Street in New Orleans.

We talked about how Greenville's neighborhood service clusters had a full ecology of businesses responding to neighborhood needs. One of the brothers, Erik, responded with this amazing list off the top of his head:
    1. New Big Wong
    2. K1 Video
    3. Dry Cleaners
    4. Dodies
    5. Futon Place that sold vacuum cleaners (where libertine is)
    6. Arcadia Shopping Center.
    7. Arcadia Live music venue - Saw Public Enemy, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, ETC. (where it once was)
    8. Florist Shop
    9. Independent Book Store (forgotten the name)
    10. Assassins skate and t-shirt shop
    11. A cool little bakery.
    12. Pawn Shop
    13. Lula B
    14. Gordos (restaurant)
    15. Caribbean restaurant
    16. Small Mercado
    17. Thai Soon
    18. Grinders (the coffee shop where Erykah Badu worked)
    19. Teppo
    20. There was a big magic store, antique place and costume shop where public house, slice and one other store front were.
    21. The Antique Bahr (owned by a guy with the last name bahr)
    22. Rag Wear (great vintage shop, new the daughter of the owners)
    23. Record Gallery (cool record store)
    24. The Hobby Counter (model shop)
    25. Poor David's Pub
    26. Shakespeare's Books
    27. Ali Baba
    28. Some European import place.
    29. 3 antique places
    30. Gachet (but that was newer)
    31. Daddy Jack's but it is still there.
    32. Further down there was
    33. a shoe repair
    34. western auto (really handy)
    35. the Giant Sears (really handy)
    36. Flip's restaurant
    I think there was 3 bars on the whole strip.
    What has become of these areas is mostly a monoculture of bars, restaurants, and clubs, hardly the full array that he listed. No longer responding to the needs of the neighborhood adjacent, it has become (one of) the drinking destinations for the entire Metroplex. It is predominantly drive-to only. I'm sure you can see the problem here. Besides the threat of essentially contextually coerced drinking and driving, people from wherever in the Metroplex are often parking in front yards and have little reason to care about this neighborhood they might very literally be pissing on.

    A monoculture, any monoculture, is by nature fragile, if not downright brittle, vulnerable to the fickleness of changing markets, demographics, tides, the way the wind blows, or a butterfly flapping its wings in Tibet. It could be anything. That is the danger.

    Henderson has a better array of businesses but not quite the form. And after this plan is implemented, it also won't have the amenity and designed walkability that Greenville will have despite the significant amount of investment occurring on and around Henderson.

    While streetscaping is mostly a surface treatment (and a little bit deeper with regard to parking as I mentioned), it is critical to understand why the "regionalism" occurred in the first place. Let's go to a map shall we:

    Since I don't feel like taking the time to pick apart this graphic in layers, I'll walk through the pieces. Also note that I rotated the map about 30 to 45 degrees in order to fit all of Ross.

    First thing to keep in mind is that development is inextricably linked to transportation. Everything is essentially a logical solution set to the first problem. That these areas are sandwiched between (at least) two (primary) repulsive forces: 75 and Ross Avenue. Both designed strictly for the car. Hence, the primary development along them are drive-to types of uses.

    If you allow me to tangent trip for a moment, we rightly thought that investment should happen along high traffic areas. However, we wrongly thought that it could occur along freeways. Freeway frontage, particularly in the areas more difficult to get to between perpendicularly crossing arterials, are vastly overvalued.

    The real value would be along the arterials. However, those have been designed as if we collectively decided to make them as unsafe, uninviting, and frankly, ugly as humanly possible. This is Ross Avenue, and because it is car oriented has little more than autobody shops and strip centers all along it, despite its history at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries as a ceremonial axis.

    Instead, investors wanted to be near enough those traffic sources, without being directly on them. See the blue arrows. It spilled down Henderson from 75 and up Greenville from Ross Avenue to areas that are scaled better for cross-shopping and pedestrian activity. Walkable places make for better places and better business. This should be undeniable fact at this point.

    The yellow blobs are the neighborhoods, in various states of (dis)repair. Some are stable and healthy (usually the further away from Ross and/or 75) others are not so much for a variety of reasons. These neighborhoods have been experiencing erosion at the edges due to car centric development that requires lots of space, lots of parking. The end result is like a little kid touching a hot stove for the first time...or maybe even a slug with salt poured onto it...natch, or possibly better even a turtle withdrawing its appendages inside its shell.

    The neighborhood retreats into a defensive posture. Disconnected physically and, in this case, emotionally from the primary commercial spines rather than blending and integrating as would be the case in ideal neighborhood form.

    The red squiggles represent conflict areas around yellow clusters which given the scale and traffic of Henderson/Greenville should be neighborhood support centers.

    Ross Avenue provides the long-term solution to all of this. If I was to run this area through my convergence mapping analysis, my gut tells me it would rate as high or higher than any other street segment in the entire city. It provides the point of confluence of the uptown success spilling across 75 and the eventual return of Deep Ellum with Baylor U. Med Center as an anchor realizing it is the demand driver for all the residential that is needed to help save Deep Ellum.

    Where Henderson and Greenville are scaled for neighborhood support, Ross can and should be a regional destination. It is the best direct connection* to/from downtown Dallas of anywhere in the city, linking West End, the Arts District to Henderson, and Greenville as it essentially becomes Greenville bending northwards.

    *Except for the minor hiccup that occurs where it bends into San Jacinto leaving downtown turning that entire area into a giant clusterfudge.

    Each of the major intersections with Ross want to be high(er) density, walkable clusters on the scale of West Village (but ideally better executed). Because its current design is the primary culprit for its underdeveloped condition, we have to give Ross priority on the Bike Plan, Streetcar Masterplan, and the eventual Complete Streets Masterplan.

    This is the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, VA. One of the success stories nationwide of rightside out development. It is the primary connection between DC and NoVA and has a metro line running below it, so it has a bit more "energy" to it which equates to higher potential density if it is designed to integrate movement with safe, walkable places, aka the formula for highest and best use. Notice it is densest along the primary corridor. This is relatively young, so the contrast between density and low density is pretty drastic. In more mature situations, there is a smoother gradient from high- to mid- to low density.

    On the other hand, for too long in Dallas we have made weak compromises for the sake of moving as many cars as possible (thus obstructing more efficient connections), we build inside-out, mostly due to the all-powerful formula. The result is a confused development prototype where we want to be near energy sources (traffic) just not that near. Look no further than West Village or Park Lane Place for examples of this, internalized (to varying degrees) rather than engaging.

    This generally means two things for developers: 1) weakening potential returns by diverging from the primary stem (which is also logical as long as that stem happens to be from an Australian Stinging Tree - aka car-dominated), and 2) you are opening yourself up to competition and/or cannibalization because there is no built-in hierarchy, predictability, or logical order to real estate within a widely repulsive road network. Virtually any piece of property can be "valuable" and none at all.

    Ephemerality of value is built-in to the system. It serves its immediate value and then must be repositioned. Chaos of sorts. Where there is chaos, disinvestment often follows eventually. Predictability ensures long-term value.

    The current development model puts a disproportionate amount of investment on roads of low connectivity, creating conflict with neighborhoods. On the other hand, our "roads of significance" receive less than investment than they should creating a situation where our primary roads are hardly 1)something to be proud of, 2) provides a poor entry or transitional experience between places such as downtown, and 3) are vastly underdeveloped, meaning we don't have the proportionate amount of tax base/density associated with it to maintain and steward it.

    In sum, Henderson and Greenville are scaled to be neighborhood main streets. Where Greenville and Henderson (and their ancillary neighborhoods) aren't scaled to handle regional draw, Ross is scaled and situated as the main street for East Dallas, much the way McKinney is for north of downtown/uptown. We need our roads to function and be designed according to this distinction of scale/draw/significance to ensure long-term value, necessary for a sense of permanence, for long-term value, critical in creating a city worth caring about.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    The Arts District, Post Script and Prologue

    Last night, I was fortunate enough to be asked by D Magazine to participate on a panel regarding the Arts District, and more specifically, how to improve it. Before I get into it, I also want to say it was great to meet the various blog readers that showed up. Really enjoyed meeting all of you and glad you could take part in the Q and A.

    Along with Deedie Rose, board member of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Charles Santos, TITAS artistic director, and Veletta Lill, former Dallas City Council member and current exec. director of the Dallas Arts District, I was the only urban planner and most likely the only one expected to hurl objective criticism the way of the Arts District.

    Somewhat fearing that and consciously aware of not hogging all the airtime, I tried to walk a fine between criticism and suggestions, analysis of it as it exists and comparisons to other arts districts. Because of that, I felt like everything I said must be distilled into talking points and/or soundbites, which is the genesis of this post where I want to take the time to fully discuss the Arts Districts and the points I was trying to make without boring everybody with talk of artisan guilds in the medieval ages (I'll get there - so tune out if you don't want to hear/read it).

    I have been known to be hard on the Arts District in the past, but consider it out of love. I love Dallas, living in Dallas, the opportunity it presents to mold it, and the ambition of its residents. So, as a Dallas resident, with a deep understanding of how cities work, evolve, and are shaped, I also want Dallas to be the best it can be, without joining the army.

    I often personify cities allegorically to help translate what can come off as gibberish. Similarly, I am a big believer that radical honesty is the first necessary step in self-improvement. With that I want to first offer proper background and analysis of the Dallas Arts District (from hereon referred to as DAD - paternalistic/ironic/I like it) and ideas for its forward evolution.

    First, the DAD is an entirely new animal as far as Arts Districts go. My guess is that most people conceptualize arts districts they are thinking of funky areas where artists agglomerate and transform into hip areas. That is not an incorrect assumption. In fact, that is pretty much how all arts districts have been formed, informally. Only later have some become formalized, with an official organization forming to brand, market, and program events. This stabilizes arts districts and allows them to fend off gentrification (typically).

    This process can be traced (through written records) back to the artisan/trade/craftsmen guilds of the medieval ages, where similar professions clustered for competitive advantage. They did so to 1) organize, 2) share trade secrets and innovations in technique/material, 3) occasionally price fix, and 4) fend off newcomers. I'm not judging on any of those, it's just the way it was. They were humans and we still deal with similar impulses to this day. Funny lot, we are.

    They also did so for marketing awareness. There was no google maps or iphones to look up where the nearest blacksmith was. But, there was a precinct where you could go and walk down the street and compare quality of craft, price, etc. And it was well known what streets/blocks/neighborhoods you would go to to find certain goods. When times were good, the guilds would build grand market halls or masonic temples, etc. harkening back to the quasi-religious roots. These became the centerpieces of their professional "arts" district, anchoring the character of the neighborhood for as long as the trade still found a market (you don't find many blacksmiths around these days).

    A modern version of this, might be the Kansas City arts district, the Crossroads. It evolved informally, eventually became an institution putting down roots, and now the city of Kansas City decided to put a "cherry" on top of this neighborhood with the new Kauffman Performing Arts Center.

    I'll let you debate whether the design and/or scale fits with the area as that is not of relevance to the rest of my post/analysis.

    The other form of an arts district is the more ephemeral. The one that rejects institutionalization, whether consciously or unconsciously. Like the previous version, artists cluster in areas ONLY because of where it is cheap, but facilitates clustering, i.e. the suburbs are cheap, but not in the least bit interesting. Too underscore this point, there is a vibrant art scene out in historic West Texas towns, cheap, historic, fabric facilitates clustering. I believe artists intuitively search for soul in where they locate.

    New York City is my favorite example of this. Artists and other creative types are constantly packing up shop and moving to a new down-trodden area, often because they have either been priced out of an area or that it lost its soul due to the nerve gas of gentrification. Keep in mind, that when I refer to gentrification, I don't mind the rising prices as product of rising demand, but I do object to an area being over-run by chains, hence losing its soul.

    Think about how many times a new area of New York becomes the hip spot. It's almost like clockwork, every five years. If you haven't visited NYC in five years, you're likely to go to SoHo or Meatpacking district thinking they're still the cool spots, only to find those that made it hip have moved on.

    Look at DUMBO in Brooklyn now. A dreadful piece of property under two bridges. Creative types, digital artists, found cheap space, made it cool by focusing their creative energies like a magnifying glass to the sun on it, and reshaping the neighborhood. Artists/Creative types are our worker bees or explorer ants searching out new patches of honey to build nests upon.

    I also think they reject areas the moment they lose their counter culture status, which presents a challenge when institutionalizing an area or putting down roots to a particular location. What do we lose when locating them in one spot, hindering their ability to qualitatively uplift various parts of the city and make them more livable, interesting every generation (or more frequently). More on this in a bit.

    I discuss all of that so that I can point out that the Dallas Arts District was created more by a stroke of a pen than from the grassroots. It has been completely top down and as long as we recognize that, and the inherent strengths and weaknesses from the process, it is ok.

    When you eschew the grassroots evolution of places, by imposing a "district" on an area rather than cultivating the positive evolution, you are essentially jumping the gun. You are immediately putting yourself in a position to subsidize it for a very long time. It's a premature baby that needs an incubator.

    So we have to build all of the facilities more or less through charity on land donated by the city knowing full well the taxes generated on pricey downtown land will be minimal at best (compared to other downtown forms of development). Then we need a Dallas Arts District, under the very capable hands of Veletta Lill, to nurse the thing to life.

    Since it essentially popped out of the ground overnight (in the lifespan of cities rather than people) rather than building organically, and as I stated last night, it is much closer to a World's Fair site than a true Arts District. This is why I compared it to Balboa Park in San Diego last night and also why we probably need to recalibrate our expectations of it.

    Can it ever be a vibrant, funky neighborhood like Ray Street in San Diego? Highly doubtful. But it can be closer to a modern version of Balboa Park, which was not a World's Fair, but a Pan-American Fair. Might as well be the same thing for our discussion.

    San Diego's Balboa Park

    What we have to understand, is that the DAD is more like a World's Fair than what we understand to be arts districts, hearkening all the way back to artisan districts, because those were part of real neighborhoods. The "arts" component wasn't the primary use. The neighborhood residences still were, as in any real neighborhood. Arts, of various sorts, just so happened to be the preeminent "storefront" use, or secondary use, differentiating it from any other neighborhood and its character.

    There is also a full ecology of restaurants, bars, and various other typical neighborhood service retail uses as an outgrowth of the demand of the proximate residential. The primary retail use, that of arts, just happens to provide the character of the neighborhood emblematic of the majority of the residents.

    Like a World's Fair, there is very little actual neighborhood component. In fact, the DAD almost has it backwards if we're trying to describe it as a neighborhood. The residential claims priority, One Arts Plaza, as the tallest building and terminating the axis. To accentuate this inside out nature, its iconic location is contradicted with a very sterile, "blank canvas" sort of design. The "objects" become the fabric. The more is less, the less is more.

    This means that all of those performing arts centers have effectively squelched out any available space to really link other uses directly into it, unless we start calling Ross as the primary spine of a "bigger" arts district, as Veletta alluded to when she started calling the vacant (surface parking) land south of Ross as "Arts District South." Until that land is incorporated, providing many of the other uses that comprise complete neighborhoods, we have a DAD with lots of punctuation points and little prose, i.e. no syntax. We're not making complete sentences, and perhaps not even sense.

    Balboa Park, the primary arts/cultural component was built in 1915 in the middle of protected land that functions very much like San Diego's version of Central Park, rugged, natural terrain, with moments of formality and people space set within a dense grid of streets and blocks. The Arts and Cultural area is also set on a spine, like Flora is for the DAD, with ornate buildings flanking both sides. BP is designed in the Beaux Arts style whereas DAD is more modern (duh). Again, nothing wrong with that.

    Balboa Fountain

    They are both more drive-to/by/thru destinations, but the DAD probably has more potential to better participate with its downtown. With that said, BP is very highly utilized with or without programming, just as a place to breathe, exercise, and be, a Central Park.

    Where BP succeeds and DAD is lacking is in its outdoor spaces and organization. Beaux Arts designers paid specific attention to the hierarchies of spaces where modern designers tend to forget?/eschew?/ignore?/if not destroy outright in order to create a sense of disarray, disorder, disorientation, or confusion. Apparently fun house architecture is in these days. Sideways eyes at you Rem, REX, and Libeskind. Totally off subject, but if your intention is to disorient and make uncomfortable, you should lose your commission if not license. It works in holocaust museums, not in regular museums. See Denver Art Museum, also known as "DAM, we effed that one up."

    The opening question asked last night was, "is the DAD too big?" Very open ended, which I responded that in terms of land area it is not, as most organic arts districts are considerably more vast. In relation to the human scale and how we understand, perceive and navigate space, it is both overwhelming and disorienting, if you understand space syntax, which intends to objectify this human perception of scale, space, and movement within space. Despite being organized around a central axis (Flora) with strong terminating presences (One Arts and DMA), there is a lack of order to Flora and its sub-spaces. In fact, the sub-spaces are for the most part imperceptable.

    Given the size and scale of the facilities in DAD, I think there is a real opportunity to introduce a fine-grain component of both outdoor spaces, walks, pocket parks, that feel like real pocket parks, that are lined with usable space. My idea last night was a series of movable shipping containers, designed to be cool artist gallery/work space to create a real window shopping type of presence and more day/night activity when there are no ticketed performances. These would be intermingled with the food trucks to create a food court type of presence during typical meal hours/special events.

    The beauty of these is that 1) they can be rearranged every few months or so, or during special events to provide a constantly evolving/changing/more interesting experience for visitors. Furthermore, these can be market-rated and initiated with micro-leases and very cheap rent until momentum builds and somebody wants to come along and sign a longer lease.

    That is one potential idea to bring more order to the undifferentiated, undefined green space that dominates the DAD. Perhaps its biggest challenge though is bridging the gap between institutional and counter culture as alluded to earlier in this piece and as I did last night. Somebody asked how do get students there and the types of bands that students want to see to play there. I suggested that currently the Arts District acts as a hub or port, importing culture from afar and bringing it to Dallas, a good thing.

    However, we have so much talent here, that it also provides an opportunity to showcase local talent and export some of it to the rest of the world, a grander stage. Local talent is and always will be more "Dallas" than any top down arts district, and frankly, we have to accept that. There may be plans to do so, but as one artist came up and told me afterwards, "I'm tired of plans." Me too, dude.

    The question becomes, how do you make the institutional and possibly psychologically exclusive palatable to an industry that prefers the counter culture, the underground, that which is NOT accepted by the establishment, in many ways the raison d'etre for the arts?

    I can talk forever about urban form and improved connections (and the physical and economic advantages of tearing out freeways), but if you can answer that question, then we will be that much further along answering the deeper psychological barriers to the success of the DAD.