Thursday, July 21, 2011

2 Articles & a Monkey in the Middle

First, my new column for the latest D Magazine is up online, likely on newstands today or tomorrow, I do believe. It is on the lifespan of recent house construction. Find it at the linky here:
A house is first a home. It’s only an investment when it is passed between generations. A house in the center of Amsterdam costs the same today as it did 400 years ago, when adjusted for inflation. Of course, the next generation has to see value before it will bother to care for the property. The houses along Swiss Avenue, like those in Amsterdam, received some TLC 60 or so years into their life spans. To last that long, a house needs to be useful, adaptable, and, most important, loved. I’m afraid many exurban neighborhoods, most built to standards far below those of Craig Ranch, face an uncertain future against shifting demographics looking to downsize. What we need most is a more comprehensive understanding of what affordability means. Perhaps we trade some of that excess space for durable, well-crafted houses located in complete neighborhoods. The oversize pantry is externalized as the corner market, the third garage is replaced by a gaggle of bikes, the rec room becomes the neighborhood, and the dining room, its restaurants.
Here's another pic from the BioParc in Valencia, Spain. Perhaps it would be a better picture than the wandering rhino from yesterday. I can't tell if this is a great & ironic example of "the thinker" or that he's just plain bored in his faux-habitat:

I just wanted to get that picture in there. Excuse the post-effects. Was playing around with the new camera.

And here is a second column in this month's D, on the proposed Trinity Toll Road, that I contributed thoughts & background sources to, which should be obvious where my tone enters the fray. I'll help:
The fourth reason the road won’t work is probably the most important, though it has been discussed the least. Highways are bad for cities. Inter-city freeways are necessary to link regional economies like Dallas’ and Houston’s and Austin’s. But intra-city highways—the expensive eight- or 10-lane thoroughfares that turn into parking lots twice a day—those choke the life out of metropolitan areas. Even President Eisenhower, the father of the U.S. interstate system, was opposed to putting highways through cities. They displace people as they’re built and then, as time goes on, highways decentralize populations. They make it easier—and often cheaper—to live farther away from the center of economic activity, which means that just as a city undertakes an expensive infrastructure investment, it loses a portion of its tax base. (ed. note: and over the long-term then more expensive to do both, live outside city and maintain said road) A 2006 study from Brown University found that, on average, each intra-city freeway leads to an 18 percent population loss.

One of the fundamental goals of the Trinity River Project has always been decreasing traffic congestion. Building a highway doesn’t decrease congestion; it makes it worse. Increasing the number of lanes only increases the number of people driving, while decreasing the amount of viable commercial space where a car might be able to get off the road. Modern urbanists now think that building highways is at best a temporary (but very expensive) solution to congestion.

A better answer to Dallas’ traffic problem is to create more transportation options, more ways to get around without a car and better routes to take with one. When San Francisco lost two major freeways after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the city decided that, rather than rebuild, it would replace the freeways with a grid of people-friendly boulevards. Today an area that was once desolate is thriving. With boulevards, a steady, predictable level of congestion actually fuels the local economy. People stop to eat dinner, to shop, to linger in a place that is part of the urban fabric—as opposed to a freeway, which just tears through it. Those places eventually become desirable places to live, which means population density goes up, and the standard of living goes up, too. Forty years ago, people scoffed when Vancouver refused to allow highways through the city. Vancouver today is at least pleasant enough to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Think about this, whatever money is set aside to build that road, how about we move that pot of money over into the build street cars pool of cash money to help rebuild the parts of the city (the donut hole around downtown between 1-3 miles from the city) exactly the areas that modern streetcars aka trams serve perfectly. Ross and Live Oak portions of East Dallas, Deep Ellum, the Fair Park Area, the Cedars, the Industrial--->Riverfront area, which ha! given its new name this toll road would be rather funny wouldn't it? The new road would kill every and any effort to try and revitalize that area, which to be fair, is troublesome with the road or without it for various reasons.