Monday, January 31, 2011

Come for the Impulse, Stay for the Safety

I've said this before and I'll say it again. People respond positively to impulses. "Hey, that looks cool! I wanna try that out." The most successful efforts to stimulate bicycling and pedestrian life is by appealing to emotion. As Jason Roberts echoed the other day in convo, by focusing on safety, most efforts and videos supposedly in favor of bicycling do more harm than good by pointing out how unsafe cycling often is. This video is one that appeals to emotion. Hey, isn't that cool.


Of course, this doesn't abdicate government's role in providing safety. It won't make anybody pick up a bike and start riding, but it will keep those riding. Otherwise, somebody might try it once, get nearly run over by an SUV whose driver is busy chatting away on their cell phone. They roll right through an intersection, making a right-hand turn, paying little heed to anybody else that might be on the road. And why not? The road is designed for them to turn off their brain.

Thanks to Howard at BikeDenton for passing this along via twitter.


Bishop Arts in the NYT

With the million-fold increase in national attention for the rest of the week, I guess it isn't all that surprising that the NYT found Bishop Arts and the rest of Oak Cliff:

In Dallas, the Bishop Arts district is a hipster enclave with a clutch of recent shop and restaurant openings, while the new West 7th district in Fort Worth is ideally situated next to all the big museums.

Travelers who tend to put Dallas at the bottom of their Texas bucket list probably haven’t been to the Bishop Arts district, where cyclists outnumber drivers, pedestrians stroll past historic buildings and the words “local,” “artisan” and “crafted” slip their way into conversations over dinners that begin with regionally grown greens and fine wines. Since October, five restaurants and four stores have opened, each owned by chefs and merchants as passionate and proud of their Oak Cliff neighborhood as they are of their individual endeavors.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cargo Cult Urbanism

The internet is a funny and beautiful thing. A mirror to humanity in a way; in that you see/read/learn something new, then integrate that new knowledge and re-frame it so it helps you understand or to explain other things. You then blog about it.

Today, I came across a commencement speech given to Cal Tech students by Nobel Laureate and all-around badass Richard Feynman. Feynman is one of those individuals who occupy the special and sacred ground for this blog reserved for those walking the fine line between nihilism and purpose, genius and insanity. We appreciate those who work hard, achieve something, and live like a rockstar while doing so. I digress...


In the speech, Feynman introduced a new concept he called "cargo cult science." He explains:
I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.
Perhaps you can already tell why this struck a nerve with me because I often find myself similarly annoyed at certain developments, err attempts at something-like-urbanism around the state, country, and world. You may even have seen the expression of some of these frustrations. See: Park Lane Place, Victory, and the latest Villages at Allen and Whatever.

I have no particular beef with these particular places, they just so happen to unluckily be the chosen representatives for something bigger, which was the intent of the Villages@A&W article. Projects where the will was in the right place but not the aptitude, fortitude, or something like it.

In many ways, these poor projects are caught between two distinct and opposing forces. Suburban lifestyles that try to control every last detail to the point of often suffocating actual spontaneity, aka life and urbanity, which is very loosely controlled. If there is any control at all, it is found through some natural order out of the chaos where every bit actor is looking out for their own enlightened best interest, which means the neighborhoods best interest.

When I first described the idea for the VAW column to the D editors, which spawned the subsequent artwork, I described it as such:

It's like trying to bake a cake. You have all the ingredients, but you willfully or ignorantly try to make the cake without proper measurements or step-by-step instructions. All you end up with is an undefinable vat of goo.

This characterization applies unfortunately to VAW and PLP. Somebody in some boardroom somewhere found buzzwords in the latest Urban Land Monthly, "mixed-use" "urban" "walkable" "live-work-play" "transit-oriented development" "live above the shop," etc. and decided to try their hand at it. To quote a personal favorite movie, "sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken."

I get so frustrated by these because their heart was in the right place and the successes/failures measured to date are surely only short-term because the measurements, the order, the interconnectedness is all wrong. It is like trying to make a sentence without syntax. What if I removed all punctuation, qualifiers, participles, adverbs, adjectives, etc. then mixed up the words and sentences in no particular order. It wouldn't make any sense and if it did, there would be no character, nor liveliness to it.

As I wrote in the D column on VAW:
The developer...put in every detail prescribed by the manual of good urban design. Decorative lights stand over tree-lined streets. Parking has been consolidated into a centralized garage to promote walking. Fountains large and small offer the comforting sound of bubbling water. A plaza ringed with chess tables surrounds an oversize chessboard with accompanying supersize pawns, rooks, and knights. There are programmed activities for children and parents alike, and the retail tenants strike a balance between local businesses and national chain retailers. It’s all there.
Other things cut from this laundry list of "good urbanism" include: housing over retail, a hotel, a civic presence (city hall and a civic center), and RAISED CROSSWALKS! I would die to be able to get raised crosswalks into a project. They went to the expense for raised crosswalks but not quality urban syntax, which is really the driving force in creating real, authentic value, long, lasting, and profitable - economically, socially, and environmentally.

If nothing else, I write this blog to help prevent missteps, to raise the level of awareness and aid in the democratization of design. Accurate assessments and evaluations are only achieved through brutal honesty, which is also only achieved with a citizenry empowered with knowledge and understanding. And for Dallas to get to the place we all want it to be, a truly great, livable city that is the envy of the world, it won't happen behind closed doors.

Forgive for the occasional caustic tone. Truth is, it is quite fun to write that way sometimes. I try to balance it with the positive. The next column I write for D Magazine will be along these lines, how to resuscitate Victory. Expect it in the April issue, I think - if I have the time lag right.

On Cesar Chavez

Dallas Progress has a new post up about the city's plan to widen Cesar Chavez, aka the extension of Central Expressway through downtown. Regarding the basics there really isn't much more to add, but ya know, being a downtown resident and professional urban designer, I might as well add a few points.

The basics of the plan is to turn the road where it is one-way to two-way. Problem is, it already is two-way. Its couplet is a block away on Pearl. One-way couplets were supposed to be the answer for more capacity. Apparently that isn't enough. Now we need to take those one-way couplets and make them two-way. I might be all for the idea if it meant using the existing right-of-way. Not doubling it.

Cesar Chavez is already four lanes wide. It should also be mentioned that it is virtually empty 90% of the time. Pearl, its couplet, is five. How much more capacity do we really need? I joke that the ideal "end" for downtown is all parks and "parkways," aka wide streets labeled boulevards with a sliver of useless but maintenance intensive grass down the middle. There will be no buildings and no people in downtown. They just add to the "traffic" and "congestion" problem.

Next, the wider road will take the buildable blocks from about 375 feet wide to 275 feet, while eliminating buildings along the way. While smaller blocks are generally more walkable, it does the opposite when they're surrounded by bigger streets, making the blocks virtually undevelopable.

Aren't we trying to get more people living downtown? Since when does taking away developable square footage for some misguided ideal for improved traffic flow, a means to the end as proposed in the Forward Dallas Comprehensive Plan and the Downtown 360 plan. These are plans, achieved and approved (or almost approved) through a supposedly public process and should guide all decision making. Why are we backing away from these policies for more of the same policies that gutted downtown to begin with?

Furthermore, Dallas is expected to double in population size. While population projections are notoriously hairy stuff, this is the number used as the vessel to float all public policy initiatives. Dallas is growing (either woohoo! or oh ish!). What are we going to do. Well the metroplex, physically can't get any broader. The market is at its edge, showing the value of the perimeter to be vastly overestimated. The value to be mined in development is all of the underdeveloped areas within the city boundaries and near urban cores, grayfields.

If the metroplex is going to double in population, certainly the city of Dallas will have to capture a large percentage of that growing population for tax-base in order to cover all of the infrastructure it hosts to support the entire metroplex as its fountainhead. The city is going to densify. We will 1) need all of the space we can get to maximize land use.

Furthermore, if we're going to double in population, we can't possibly double the amount of car-infrastructure. We can't even afford the amount we have now. Dallas will never be as drivable as it is today. It is all down hill from here. More people, less road space per capita. It is guaranteed. Let me repeat that:

DALLAS WILL NEVER BE AS DRIVABLE AS IT IS TODAY, THURSDAY JANUARY 27th, 2011.

Any efforts to do so, are futile and frankly a waste of money. Your money. Do you know how many Better Blocks, which build walkable centers of gravity for neighborhoods and empower small businesses by condensing people into captive areas (by creating interesting, walkable, safe areas), therefore bringing markets to small businesses that have trouble finding an audience, can be built for the $12 to 20 million this project is supposed to cost?

Angela needs to back away from this one. Supply-side solutions to traffic congestion has proven over and over again to fail (despite early successes). The only way to manage car-traffic is by decreasing the demand for it, built on ease and reduced cost of doing so.

Or perhaps better said, supply-side solutions focused SOLELY on cars increase the amount of cars on the road and decrease everything else, which by the way can fit and therefore move far more people. Expanding supply of car-space decreases overall mobility.

While stuck in traffic, haven't you ever ghasped "I wish all you people were off the road!" Well, the only way to get them off the road and have it all to yourself is thru a walkable city that is more transit-convenient.

The only way to ensure mobility in a future denser Dallas, is to focus all efforts on increased connectivity, walkability, bikability, and more logical, accessible, convenient transit service. By doing so, will make private investment in density that much more appealing. The density (and tax base) that we want (or supposedly want) needs walkability. It is the only way density survives.

The call for increased clarity is bunk. The driver of all that chaos and confusion is the ring of highways and the spaghetti on/off-ramps along, around, and among them. Adding pavement doesn't alleviate disorder. It adds to it. Want to create order. Do it within the pavement and right-of-way already out there.

Lastly, is this anyway to celebrate who Cesar Chavez was? Taking away choice of transportation while we're going to build 800-miles of bike lanes, an affordable form of transportation supportive of the 1- to 3-mile commutes between downtown and the goldmine that is the underdeveloped neighborhoods adjacent?




Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More on Parking

This was sent along to me today:

Washington, DC is now joining the group of jurisdictions where parking ratios for new developments are going from required minimum ratios, to maximum allowable ratios. This is being done to reduce the car-centricity of District residents and those who work there. Developers are collectively breathing a sigh of relief and celebrating, as the cost to build below-grade parking is typically $40,000 per space (or significantly more if you have to go “robotic”), and it is very hard, if not impossible to make a profit on the spaces.

P. Michael Saint of The Saint Group is one of the professionals who has seen this coming across the country and internationally, as his business is to devise, coordinate and execute public campaigns on behalf of developers to get their projects accepted by the community (and thus more likely to be approved by the regulators). If you want to keep up on zoning and land use news, be sure to check out The Saint Report for the latest.

As one of my mentors told me, the two most important things about urban development are to be able to confidently answer these two questions in the affirmative: 1) Can you park it?, and 2) Can you get the neighbors?

Will parking maximums present new problems? Probably, as developers must always build to the market. Just as zoning agencies were and are still behind the times by keeping high minimum ratios in locations served by transit, the zoning agencies will probably overdo it by imposing maximums that don’t allow for enough parking for developers to cater properly to their end user. This will end up exacerbating the challenge of finding street parking, and rile the neighbors up. And around and around we will go.

The emailer added that he didn't believe a blanket across the city approach such as this would be appropriate in Dallas and I wholeheartedly agree.

First, a very brief bit of background. What the above article is saying is that the typical zoning approach was that any new development would have to provide at least a given number of parking spaces (off-street) based on the amount of square-footage is being developed per use. Eh?

An example: a new mixed-use development might have 50,000 sq.ft of retail and 250 apartment units above. Retail is often parked at 5 spaces per 1,000 sq.ft (with some variations for specialty uses like restaurants or movie theaters which are geared toward seats). The convention for residential is 1 per bedroom. I can guess what these ratios might be because nearly every municipality in the country cut-and-pasted zoning codes from one another since the 20's.

We'll just assume that the retail specialties balance out to 5 to 1(for simplicity of calculations), although market rate for retail parking is trending down to 4:1 - as market-rate is less calcified then zoning, but an unfortunate and similar byproduct of inertia. Your correspondent's guess is that the recent market-driven reduction is two-fold. A response to the visible, empirical evidence that parking lots are way under-utilized except for (everybody's favorite phrase) "the day after Thanksgiving" AND that parking costs cash-money. And, if it is sitting empty 99% of the time it isn't helping to deliver business, a sunk cost. That puts retail parking for this hypothetical project mandated at 250 spaces.

For residential, due to the hypothetical it is a bit difficult to guess the breakdown of units. In a multi-family development, a developer will break down the total number of units they're trying to deliver into studios, 1-BRs, 2-BRs, and occasionally 3-BRs depending on the market they're trying to meet. Let's say this is an uptown development, so it will be heavy on studios, 1's, and 2's (for those wanting into uptown - but willing to take on a roommate out of preference or reduced cost). Once again for ease of calcs, we'll say there are 150 studios and 1-BRs, and 100 2-BRs (and if you've read any of my Millennial Generation writing, you know that Millennials are a social creature and more willing to take on roommates just to be in cool areas - this also happens to be a more efficient way to develop if you can be sure to lease all of your bigger units, you just have to gear the project and its area to a Millennial crowd).

So with 150 1's/studios that means 150 parking spaces and an additional 200 parking spaces for the 2-BRs, that is 350 parking spaces for the residential piece alone. Our total number of parking for the project is at 600 spaces (and they would probably want a handful thrown in for the leasing office, but we'll stick with round numbers).

Now, 600 is a lot of parking spaces, the cost of which are heavily dependent on local and time-sensitive material and labor costs. If you build underground parking deck in an expensive city, you're looking at 30 grand minimum per parking space. For above ground parking $10,000 per space is about the norm, except I've anecdotally heard of some being built recently for 6 or 7K.

At 600 spaces and 10K per space, we're looking at $6 million in hard costs for the parking garage. A hefty cost for something that is generally not revenue producing (unless you unbundle unit price from parking space - but that is a trick to reducing parking demand for later - right now we're still trying to meet minimum parking). This can be 20% of construction costs, just in parking, all mandated by zoning law, which eats up all of the expected 10-15% profit, extra costs which could be put into increased amenities and better building materials. It's no wonder all mixed-use projects require a public partnership. The municipality is apologizing for their onerous demands.

But why do city's demand such high parking requirements? The easy answer is that it generally just responds to whatever the "market demands" or developers say the market demands and then the city amends the code every once in a while. But like we said, market demand for parking is a complicated thing that is a product of inertia. It is fluid and it crested at those high numbers. We're now trending downward and have to do zoning gymnastics (because "market" is lower than the minimums) to get reductions in parking so that projects are both affordable and profitable in a down market.

But backing up further, why do city's have minimums in the first place? The larger reason is mobility. Cities wanted to ensure that all citizens could get around. Ensuring a parking space for every person means every person can participate in the local economy (that is, if they can afford a car). The unintended consequences are that all transportation and development feeds off this cycle and next thing you know, all there is is roads and parking. Getting around any other way (bus, foot, bike) is undignified and often downright dangerous. It is forgotten.

The more specific reason is that in the 1950s when automobiles began to crowd out cities NOT built to accommodate cars, they would choke off a city looking for public on-street parking. Cities said, "enough taking up all of our public parking. You need to provide your own parking." Rational, but short-sighted of course. In conjunction with car-first and only transportation policies, it pulled a city apart and created a feedback loop where more people had to drive thus mandating more parking and more parking mandated more people having to drive. On and on until today.

The amount of parking prevents urbanity because of the infrastructure required to support all of those cars. Everything becomes too spread out, too single-purpose.

What minimums do not take into account is "new" emerging forms of mobility such as biking, streetcar, rail, in some cities busing is acceptable to the bourgeois, and of course that new form of mobility called walking.

Another malady is that all parking is hyper-local. Meaning that you're parking every site by that site and assuming everybody is arriving from far away (because our transportation system favors regional mobility over local mobility - that's just they way we think). The retail parking assumes everybody would be driving in from Plano or wherever to patron Mo's Popsicle Stand, when the majority of users are probably right upstairs.

And since this is a dense project, it is probably amongst other density, and therefore the entire neighborhood would/could/dare-I-say-should walk or bike to the Popsicle stand. What facilities do you need to accommodate this parking? A bike rack and a front door is all.

Of course, these reduced demands also do not go unnoticed and to adjust, we don't get rid of minimums. Instead we add another contraption to the Rube-Goldberg machine. Parking reductions can be levied based on density, transit availability, mixed-use sharing, and other demand tools such as "de-coupling" price of parking from rental rates which statistically has been shown to reduce parking demand by 15-20%. When people have to pay for parking (or at least when they knowingly have to), it doesn't seem like such a sweet deal anymore.

The end result is a maximum parking that you have to work hard to find ways to reduce the cost burden on the developer AND the physical burden upon the city. Instead, we should just simplify based on neighborhood.

The entire city shouldn't be subject to one single zoning code, which on paper sounds simple enough, until those nasty peculiarities of site-specific conditions get in the way. Another reason for this is found in Bill Hillier's Space Syntax work (at this point, I sound like an advertisement for the man). What Hillier has shown is that cities exist on two overlapping planes: the movement economy - essentially commerce that is based on locating according to traffic (of all forms) overlaid upon a background fabric of residential. Each of these have a gradation to them based on desirability, that is somewhat interconnected.

Within the movement economy, there is a direct relationship between value and traffic counts. Further, this value is then amended by quality of that traffic (ie if it is by foot it is a more desirable location than if the same amount of traffic is moving past at 80-mph). Also, there is a certain desirability within the residential background to be near these amenities. There is also a draw to be away from all of this activity.

But in the end, the background residential desirability is determined primarily by quality of life in that neighborhood, which includes anything and everything imaginable and is highly personal, subjective.

Because it is so subjective, it is very difficult for a public entity to regulate. But in the 20th century, oh we tried. Did we ever try. And now what we're left with is an oppressive sameness of all places. There is no local personality emergent through self-organization in a free society. Where there is some whisper, it is hailed, ie Oak Cliff, the place that used to be called Deep Ellum, etc. Point being, the public is NOT good at regulating these residential areas.

It is good and a fundamental agent in planning, funding, building, and creating the movement economy, the bones of a city. Eh, I take that back somewhat. We're good and necessary at doing all of those things, but terrible in understanding the connections to and implications of those actions and their effect on placemaking and the residential background's natural adaptation to it.

These are the areas we need to fix, the bones of the movement economy. The rest of the city will re-form around it, as cities always have and always will do. One of these areas is in simplifying the parking by zone:
Establishing overlay "tiers" depending on the size, scale, and attraction of an area. These tiers would be "neighborhood" center and have parking maximums to somewhat govern the amount of commercial square footage that can go into areas that are primarily residential. The higher tier would then be "regional destination" and these would be served by regional transpo (highway, DART, streetcar, etc) and have parking facilities and a parking authority to manage cost per space and overall supply/demand so that parking doesn't negatively affect the area. Greenville and Henderson are both areas that should probably be neighborhood centers since the scale of the road and nearby residential suggests less intense development. They can't handle the surplus of being a regional destination and the conflict between neighborhood and business owners/developers is the evidence. Ross on the other hand would be perfect for a regional destination. It should have streetcar running down it linking west end, arts district, henderson, and lower Greenville. Quite explicitly on the map, Ross is where neighborhood service streets come together to form a regional "main street."

The key to this approach is long-term success as well, in that it doesn't restrict density ever. Only the amount of services per area. For example, it wouldn't maintain all of the single family in and around Henderson, if the market determined that all of that should become townhome/multi-family. All it does is restrict the amount of services to being scaled precisely to that area (since the parking cap would ensure that many would walk or bike from their nearby new home). Consequently, the regional destinations would always be the focus of "more infrastructural significance" and be prioritized when it comes to transit planning (of all scales).



Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Girth of Cities and Wasted Land

Some really profound stuff here from environmental scientist Peter Newman.



Is that different than an environmentalist? I don't know, but his PhD in chemistry certainly separates him from Meadow TreeHugger. Newman, like many of us, long ago realized that humans and our greatest invention ever, cities, are both problem and solution to potential environmental crises. I don't even care if you buy into Peak Oil Theory or Climate Radicalization, what IS significant to every person with half a brain, is his use of the Marchetti Constant, which Newman simplifies to the "one-hour city."

What this means is that no matter the city (and here we're using "city" to reference the physically interconnected and interdependent economies that comprise a metropolitan area), it will always be 1 to 1.5 hour across. Transportation format is irrelevant, except for costs (both tangible and intangible) to taxpayer, user, and what we might as well call administrator/caretaker - usually the government.

Newman also shows that there is no relation between highway building and commute times. The city adapts to a dominant mode of transportation and expands or contracts accordingly. Make everybody have to get into cars, we spread out until we're an hour (or so) across.

Building strictly for cars is therefore 1) useless and 2) dangerous. He also talks of collapse. And if you know anything about the collapse of complex systems, you know that the chance of such an occurrence is greatly increased in monocultures, ie not terribly complex systems. Car-centric world is not complex.

It can be called Generica precisely because of this lack of complexity, its oppressive sameness. Its future is limited by and tethered to the volatility in oil prices. The larger implication for land now sat upon by McMansions rather than crops is that we might not be able to feed ourselves if there are massive fluctuations in oil prices or disruptions in the supply of it.

But enough of the big picture what-ifs. How about the very tangible implications of highway spending, which as shown above, only alters the shape of cities, not the speed of them as intended. We would still have all of the same needs and wants, so we would go to all of the same places, just get there as a matter of choice in how we got there. Car-centric development just displaces those, ahem, places. It does not improve anything. It just costs. A LOT. To build, to maintain, and to use.

Below is the High-Five at 75 and 635. How many hundreds of millions did this cost? Also costly, the land it takes up...


At the same scale, you can nearly fit the entirety of the independent nation-state of Vatican City.


The downtown mix-master is another waste. And perhaps more importantly, all of the un- and under-developed land around it, because really, who wants to be near a freeway? Despite the '80s business/developer attitude to increase visibility along a freeway, people/business/workers would rather be on a nice street or plaza, near other people, places, and things. This can only happen in areas unencumbered by freeways.


While we're redeveloping all of this area with real, walkable urban neighborhoods, why don't we fix up the river too. If we're going to have walkable neighborhoods nearby, people might actually want to access the Trinity if they're not playing frogger across a freeway to get to it.


It is amazing how much wasted land sits on public property (the right-of-ways) as well as private property (along the highways). If we were really looking out for the best interest of citizens and property owners, we would tear out freeways to build up tax base via density, reduce tax burden on all citizens (less public land, less infrastructure per capita), and maximize the potential of privately-owned land that mistakenly thought being next to a highway was valuable.

D/FW is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country. Where do we expect to put these people? At the edge, where they have to own a car? The country is also getting poorer if you haven't noticed, meaning we can't afford to build out there unless we're talking about self-sufficient homesteads that provide their own food, energy, and infrastructure (roads/waste treatment). Lastly, if we're already maxed out at our "1-hour wide" city, we can't get any bigger. The opportunity is literally right under our wheels and it is owned by all of us. We just have to demand the best use of it.

Or, we could just acknowledge the 40,000 deaths per year that occur on freeways, declare neighborhood adjacent intra-city freeways a public safety hazard, and condemn them. Wouldn't that be interesting, a City declaring eminent domain on state-owned property?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Math of Cities

CORRECTION: the column states that Springfield, Missouri is the fastest walking city. That should read Springfield, Mass.

If you read my last post (immediately below this one), you'll recall that this was coming. It is my most recent* column for D magazine. I am quite proud of it, as in my estimation it is by leaps and bounds the best one I have written (and at least to yr. correspondent, the most fascinating subject material).

*I say most recent, because I have since submitted another and am working on the next two already (at least in a mental outline sort of way). Furthermore, as I noted in the previous blog posting, I report with both frustration and sense of accomplishment that Jonah Lehrer of the New York Times magazine wrote on the very same subject. Frustration because, GAH! that's what I just wrote and submitted my draft exactly seven days before the NYT published his article. Accomplishment in that we covered the same material and Lehrer is far more accomplished than I to date. Fitting perhaps that his publication would beat me to the punch. Jerk**.

**I mean that facetiously.

Ten years later, along came a theoretical physicist named Geoffrey West who’d taken to studying cities after he’d grown bored with things like quarks, dark matter, and string theory. Cities, having defied meaningful mathematical study, were a perfect subject for a left-brained, mathy guy like West. From previous work in biology, studying the size and metabolism of various creatures, he knew there is an economy of scale applied to organisms. Large animals use less energy per body mass than small ones. In his new field of study, he found that cities work on a similar economy of scale. Big cities use less resources and infrastructure—aka input—per capita than small ones. However, he also found that the larger cities get, the more wealth and opportunity—output—they produce per capita.

These natural advantages are why cities have endured for so long. But there is a flip side to the equation. The process of converting that input into output can be thought of as the metabolism of cities. Along with the inherent competitive advantages of cities, increased metabolism also produces more bad things such as pollution, crime, and disease. That’s why innovation is so critical. As West says, the larger a city grows, the faster it must innovate so that it can stave off the negative effects of growth.
Also, it should be noted that this is pretty weighty stuff and could really use more space than the 800-words that I'm allotted each month. So to flesh out the...rest of the story...as it were...140-chrctr TWITTER BLAST!!!!! (to be read from bottom to top)

patrick kennedy
Focusing on lowering inputs (infrastructure/energy) & increasing positive outputs (Econ dvlpmnt) should inform all decision making.
patrick kennedy
Sun Belt cities, organized around highways, perform poorly by both standards.
»
patrick kennedy
Cities on average require less input (85%) & produce greater output (115%). these efficiencies are very purpose of cities.

patrick kennedy
Keep eye out for February @ issue where I summarize these issues & Dallas's need to rapidly innovate to keep up w pop growth.
patrick kennedy
Suburbia a byproduct of this process & why sun belt performs poorly in both input/output efficiencies.
patrick kennedy
To address negative output of cities we effectively outlawed (thru zoning) cities, which meant outlawing it's benificial output as well.
patrick kennedy
We socio-economically homogenized due to both conventional zoning & mindless solution to the negative outputs of cities.
patrick kennedy
Crime also increases through homogeneity, aka clustering by income.
patrick kennedy
Texas is what? 48th of 50 in education.
patrick kennedy
Re: Crime) changes in urban form (or increased police presence-an offset) are short-term solutions. Education, necessary long-term.
patrick kennedy
And crime, there will always be crime but it can be better policed thru better urbanism & reduced thru increased opportunity (education).
patrick kennedy
Thinking of 3 output maladies, disease is managed thru sanitation & healthcare, waste/pollution by closing cradle->grave material flows...
patrick kennedy
Sun Belt cities due to their fragmented, disconnected car centric nature perform poorly by both input and output measures.
patrick kennedy
Cities also use 15% less inputs for every doubling in size (their efficiency).
patrick kennedy
Outputs both good w/ bad: wealth creation as well as crime, disease, pollution/waste.
patrick kennedy
Physicists ave shown every 2x of city growth, outputs increase 115% due to inherent efficiencies of cities (their very reason for being)
patrick kennedy
Retail follows rooftops RT @: ...now we need some higher end restaurants too. That's the challenge.
patrick kennedy
Pathological places being those which are inherently isolated from larger network (city)
patrick kennedy
"defensible space" is only necessary in "pathological" places.
patrick kennedy
Read a great line last night...
patrick kennedy
& whether they DO or DO NOT RT @: important part of placemaking isn't the place that is made, it's the people who occupy it.
patrick kennedy
RT @: the important part of placemaking isn't the place that is made, it's the people who occupy it.
patrick kennedy
Light rail a tough sell in sunbelt bc benefits aren't truly seen for decades it takes for city (body) to adapt to new (bones)
patrick kennedy
Attn @ RT @: Making the case for a light rail plan for Kansas City
patrick kennedy
I use Rem as a stand-in for larger critique.
patrick kennedy
However Rem is yet incapable of removing himself from design. Nature of beast, arch profession about branding.
patrick kennedy
Want to learn about cities, read EO Wilson, not Rem Koolhaas (although Rem understands complexity)
patrick kennedy
Another reason why 21st C. will be the biological century. And the natural sciences, as antithetical as sounds, will lead reurbanization