Thursday, March 31, 2011
Eventually, we plan on beginning project/development tours as well to coincide with happy hours or urban conversations that the CNU hosts in order to raise the level of dialog and understanding while democratizing the conversation as well as any resident of the city can be just the urbanist of a practicing professional. For tonight though, it will just be about tasty adult beverages, conversations about cities, development, urbanism, or what have you, amongst friends (old and new) and colleagues.
So if you care about your city or your neighborhood, come on out. Brian McLaren promises to buy a beer for the first three attendees (not sure if that includes himself and yours truly), but I intend to double down on his offer as well. Perhaps for the last three survivors. I am Irish after all.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Inconsistencies pervaded throughout. We heard an explanation of how Dallas, as a representative of 20th century urban development, was different any form of cities we've ever seen before, interspersed with flip-flopping between "this is bad" and "well, this is the present, therefore it is the future" statements. Never did we hear an explanation for WHY? we need walkability or a connection between lack of walkability and its various symptoms (which were pointed out), such as obesity.
In talking about detailed design, he strays from his point about how one city is different from another when suggesting he measured the exact dimension of some amphiteater in Greece or Sicily or wherever. Why? This is Dallas. By his rationale, shouldn't it be different in Dallas? Yes and no, but not for the reasons he suggests. The reason it has some relevance locally, is the design was likely based on human proportion, which means if human proportion was and is still a defining factor in urban places and spaces, the design proportions are appropriate then and now, here and there.
So to say that because we have highways and we're Dallas therefore everything MUST be different is equally invalidated. Because we're still human and highway development just doesn't work. So if human-scale is universal then without doubt, we can say there are principles at work that shaped the cities of the past and will reshape Dallas of the future to be more like every other city.
The framework of the Sun Belt city. Its highways.
Sloan casually dismisses ideas to remove freeways with a graphic similar to this, which makes no sense whatsoever. Apparently proposing a completely irrational counter-argument to your thesis is grounds for legitimizing yours.
Sloan's linear city, which doesn't actually create any new real estate or provide impetus for upgrading of highway adjacent real estate beyond hopes and dreams that it could work.
Walkable areas within the city are buffered, set away from freeways. As you see, the highways have no relationship with the walkable areas other than to constrict them/restrict their size.
Instead, I would suggest a long-term plan to strip highways from within loop 12, which is beginning to look more and more like a highway anyway, clearing enough room for a real city to exist within.
Some of the current walkable areas in Dallas: Bishop Arts/Oak Cliff, Main Street/Downtown, State-Thomas/Uptown, Henderson/Greenville, Knox/Henderson.
Removing the freeways (as Paris is planning to do entirely from within the Peripherique), creates new real estate for development and further allows the current areas to expand and blend into one another. We too often think of neighborhoods as having hard edges and needing gateways. Real neighborhoods are defined by their hearts, the edges of which blur.
Application for The Leonard Kagan Design FellowshipI won the study abroad grant, spending subsequent time and the money awarded to visit Copenhagen. Once again, that in itself, should not qualify me for anything more than a new passport to replace the one that got nicked while in Denmark.
Written June 2006
“…planners think in two dimensions, architects think in three, but urban designers must think in four.”
It is only natural for designers (of any medium) to contemplate the future, and in particular, the future of that thing we call design. However, most, if not all, efforts are pure speculation based on little more than conjecture. There is inherently a certain amount of unpredictability in world events that drive culture, and in turn, design. This proposal for Kagan Fellowship will take an increasingly accepted geological truism, the Hubbert Peak Oil Theory, and apply it to urban design and city building.
M. King Hubbert was a geophysicist through the middle of the 20th century and the first to propose that oil production and supply existed on a bell curve. Once production “peaked,” essentially at the midpoint of supply, the remaining half of the oil reserves would become increasingly difficult and costly to extract. At first dismissed as nonsense, Hubbert accurately predicted the peak of production within all U.S. oil fields collectively in the early seventies.
Today, modern geophysicists are predicting worldwide oil peak somewhere between 2004 and 2020. Mounting evidence reveals that two of the world’s largest oil fields may have already peaked, suggesting the possibility that we are witnessing critical events that will affect every aspect of society, including the way we live in and build our cities.
It is important to remember that this does not mean oil will just dry up and vanish. Quite likely rather, the planet may never truly run out of oil. However, it does mean that sometime potentially in the near future, that it will make little economic sense to use the energy equivalent of 3 barrels of oil to extract 2 barrels from the ground.
The Hubbert Peak theory offers us a certain amount of predictability for an industrial society based on resource extraction and consumption. It is logical to conclude that these events will alter the world so drastically that society will transition from today’s modern industrial economy into something entirely different.
For the last 70 years, most development in American cities has been centered upon accessibility from an automobile, leaving other options for circulation difficult at best. This relatively new pattern of development is most strikingly evident in the Sun Belt. While there may be a number of reasons that auto-dependence begins to wane, from purely an economic standpoint to health and well-being, we are proposing that a decline in oil production based on Hubbert’s Peak will gradually wean Americans off their car dependence. This will have drastic effects on American Cities. Importantly, this will not be an overnight phenomenon; rather it will be a continual transition period as availability of cheap oil declines.
Driven by a similar pathology as the modern industrial economy, Sun Belt cities have been built disposably. The majority of structures have a life span of twenty or so years. Interestingly (and ironically), those uses that may have the most limited usefulness on into the future have been built with the greatest amount of permanence. To narrow the focus of this incredibly broad topic, we are proposing to limit study to the adaptation of typical conditions relating downtown highways, large arterials, parking structures, and potentially others as they become evident. Our purpose is to ensure that these structures and their associated land can be utilized in a strategy for the gradual densification of the city center as their original purpose of accommodating the automobile gradually becomes irrelevant.
Certain assumptions will be made in order to maintain the focus of this study, such as that there will be no “magic bullet” that adequately replaces oil as a cheap energy source able to operate the country’s fleet of cars as they are today. Also, the decline will be gradual, allowing for phasing strategies of the semi-permanent structures. However, we will assume some measure of electricity is still available through the scaling up in production of wind and solar energy sources. Further still, we chose these particular structures because of their vast nature and expense (of original construction and potential demolition), which we will assume is of too great in magnitude to be merely, and once again, “disposed.”
This application is proposing travel to Denmark to study Stroget, the large car-free area in center city Copenhagen for purposes of examining the functionality of spaces and how uses interact with spaces sans automobile with particular attention to phasing, scale, proportion, use patterns, and circulation to better understand how that could translate to the future of ever-evolving Sun Belt cities. In addition, Dallas, for familiarity purposes (iconographic of American auto-dependent culture) is chosen to serve as lab rat, where selected highways, arterials, and parking garages will be identified as typical case studies for car-free design evolution. In addition, we intend to focus on how these elements could be phased, or their negative effects minimized – if not adapted into positive utilization when there current function is no longer necessary or in similar demand, over time as the automobile becomes an unrealistic and unviable transportation alternative.
But if highways were built to leverage real estate development, ie economic develompent (private spending begets public spending) and we have since experienced that development, what does all the spending just to upkeep the highways get us? Just more in debt.
Portland's sunken highway is probably as well connected across as any highway in the world. However, the heart of the neighborhoods adjacent are always away from the freeways, with the freeways providing the edge to the local critical mass. The center of gravity here is Pioneer Square, a people place.
Every true, walkable place in this city exists away from highways with a distance-reinforced buffer. A city without highways through it, maintains a direct relationship between property value, trafficked corridors, and the prevalent centrality through the intersections of these primary corridors. For an example of a city that still has a full hierarchical array of centers, see: Vancouver.
However, a highway can't be slowed or it is no longer a highway. Furthermore, the sunken or elevated highways cannot interface with development. If you are to redesign them, you are fundamentally changing it and therefore, tearing it down anyway, just to rebuild it.
Others include: Jefferson, Davis, MLK, Exposition, McKinney, Ross, Lemmon, Oak Lawn, Fort Worth Ave., Garland Road, etc. These will be the bones of the future Dallas, a walkable, functional Dallas. Focusing on these neighborhood scaled-centers and redeveloping them to reinforce the existing neighborhoods, while replacing the highways entirely with boulevards and walkable urban development is the future. Certainly not some Le Corbusier inspired theoretical wandering down a cul-de-sac of ideology and self-aggrandizement.
Cars =/= Independence. They did in the 50s and 60s, when James Dean drag racing symbolized independence for an entire generation.
Today, everyone is shackled into automobile ownership or risk being disenfranchised and quarantined from the local economy.
This is why to our generation, the next generation, sees anything but cars as independence. We were a generation dependent upon mom or dad to drive us anywhere, or a school bus. This is hardly independence.
Instead, we found independence on two wheels powered by our feet. Only then we could go explore as much of the world around our adolescent selves as far as our little legs could pedal.
It’s no wonder there is a rise in interest in bicycling locally and around the country.
Adding on to my previous post, I was doing an interview with a reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the other day. The topic of the article she was working on was about boomer retirees and where they are headed to, specifically to college towns. One of the reasons I cited, was the walkability of many college towns (in specific State College, PA where as a student you don’t need to see your car for four months at a time).
As boomers begin to retire, many are looking to downsize their empty nest homes, get rid of superfluities like second/third cars, and as they begin to age, their ability to drive diminishes, thus becoming dependent upon others for transportation if NOT in walkable neighborhoods. There is a reason that places like Upper East Side, Key West, etc. are the most desirable places to retire and college towns like State College, Tempe, Austin, Gainesville, Athens, etc. are emerging as popular destinations as well.
Each of these is infinitely better than most of those awful retirement villages which more closely resemble geriatric warehouses than something resembling life. Do they desire independence? Of course, they do! Isn’t that the point of retirement? So they give up the assembly line trudgery (sic) of their daily commute in order to find some semblance of long lost independence that cars provided in their youths, and only in their youths.
The conversation eventually veered to where I live, Dallas, and that I live here (happily) without a car. Of course, the reporter was dumbfounded. “How on earth do you do that?”
That very perception is reality to most. You have to live in a sprawling metroplex with a car. That reality is dependence.
I feel compelled to repost this graphic contrasting the organic, fractally emergent city that is vibrant, that provides inclusion via mobility for all of its citizens. Then our city and those like it.
This isn't because it is the way "I wish for things to be." Although I do.
It is the way for Sun Belt cities to survive. Yes, that sounds melodramatic, but I promise you it is 100% true. Detroit and the Rust Belt are on life support because post-industrialization was unkind to cities of economic homogeneity.
What is the driving cities today, is quality of life and the quality of places that said life occurs within. The Sun Belt, due to the transportation and zoning policies that control it, are uniform. They all look the same, because they pretty much are the same. A homogeneity of PLACE exists. Homogeny leads to fragility.
Cities that exist for centuries are resilient. We must build our cities for resilience, beyond your, mine, or anybody else's daily specific needs. We will adapt those to whatever form a city takes, for better or worse, for as long as said city exists.
Unique character is dependent upon walkability (loosely = density+proximity), which allows for the emergence of local individuals, buildings, businesses, and character to display itself. These things can't exist within the framework of sprawling cities where generica reigns. This is why the spectrum of color exists within the lively city graphic. It represents the broad spectrum of individuals within a city that allows for that character to be expressed.
There is actually a deeper theoretical foundation to this based on study of neural networks. And if you've read this blog for any amount of time, you should recall that the city, like the internet, are modeled after the human brain. They are all about connections, everywhere to everywhere, but the most important connections are those that are closest, where the most activity occurs. If synapses are firing all over your brain, say, like having to run from Plano, to Mesquite, to Carrollton during your daily or weekly errand runs, that pretty much makes for an insane person. Both former and latter.
When I read through the responses of the Fort Worth mayoral candidates, I see people unwilling or unable to see the magnitude of what Sun Belt cities are facing over the next few decades and stand up to the task at hand. Far easier to whistle while it burns and pander to the audience, I suppose.
At least the previous mayor was occasionally able to articulate the issue.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
It is quite surprising these days that some commentators assume tall buildings define density. Most tall buildings built in recent years have contained luxury condos, big condos, in fact, that don't add up to the density observers think. Even when subsidized -- and too many of the towers are -- they are predominantly luxury prices. Moreover, all those high-rise low and middle-income housing towers that Robert Moses and others built and that observers assume represent "density" actually diminished density.
Luxury skyscrapers may be barred from historic districts but they grow like weeds on the periphery of those districts, a perverse testament to the value of historic neighborhoods. Just look at lower Manhattan, from Gansvoort to NoHo, Upper West Side or the assortment of Brooklyn neighborhoods now so popular. New luxury towers capitalize on the appeal of the historic district but add nothing to it.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
One way we could save funding for Texas schools: massively slash the budget for building new sprawl-generating roads. Just sayin'.Since we have more than enough roads and lanes already (and building more outside of city centers will only generate more sprawl to suck money out of cities and worsen pollution and traffic), switch TxDOT to a new set of priorities - maintenance and repair only for most roads, and improving transit and roads (not widening) in urban, walkable areas where you get the most bang for the buck.
Last I checked DFW had second most lane miles per capita of any major American city behind Kansas City. It probably isn't too far of a stretch to suggest they rank quite highly in the world then.
As per physicist Geoffrey West's work, a highly functional city gets superlinear outputs as it grows, ie bigger it gets the more wealth it generates but also bad outputs like crime & waste go up too.
On the flipside, the bigger a functional city gets the less and less inputs it needs. The inputs in the economic equation of cities are energy & infrastructure. As a city gets bigger and bigger, it should need less and less of these to function.
Therefore, a functional city has low cost inputs, more profit (but also more problems, as stated). Needless to say sun belt cities rank very poorly by these metrics.
The sublinear input/superlinear output is the efficiency equation of cities and the very reason they exist. We're building anti-cities, and my guess is, if we don't change our ways, we're busy building the next Detroit or catastrophic failure.
In the 20s, Detroit was considered the "Paris of the West" as in western Hemisphere. Nobody would have ever dreamed it would become the bombed out wasteland it is today. It was an economic monoculture. We're now in the post-industrial age where PLACE matters most and what defines a city rather than industry. Dallas and Fort Worth suffer from a homogeny of PLACE and will similarly fade away in fifty years.
Monocultures are not resilient. Our cities and economies are dependent entirely on cheap gasoline. With the volatility in oil prices, the equation is right for some certain gas price to act as a sort of tipping/freeze point where the entire city siezes up and can no longer function.
As to your first point, there has to be some motivation for saving public schools and I wonder if that exists... Or if the strongest motivation is to kill them (or as Grover Norquist would say, "drown them in a bathtub").
The irony is that public spending for roads fits the prevailing ideology bc it plays to the skewed version of "freedom" that cars supposedly provide. "you can drive anywhere! Anytime! It'll be just like a car commercial where the landscapes are beautiful and nobody else is on the road!"
Simulacra & Simulation.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Get rich by lowering the price. Sound counterintuitive? It is logical and has proven successful in Newcastle, Australia, and DUMBO (the New York City neighborhood known as Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Drop the rental rate of ground-floor space to near free—with flexible, short-term micro-leases—to appeal to startups. Manage the tenants to ensure cross-pollination. But, by all means, get people there who will populate Victory Park day and night through cohabitational work-studio spaces. If some fail, so be it. Encourage quick turnover to keep spaces filled. As the new tenants establish a vibe, you can incrementally increase rents.
There is a group called Digital DUMBO that acts as a chamber of commerce for the tech firms there. The same people are behind Digital Dallas. Victory Park could enlist them as a partner for finding creative startups. Being “digital,” Digital Dallas might not know it needs physical proximity to other like-minded firms, but as economist Edward Glaeser points out in his new book, Triumph of the City, experimental groups are far more productive when collaborating in person.
urbanism - "the synergism of compatible and complementary design between two or more uses."
Is it enough to build these gigantic monuments to modernity (in an otherwise not-so-modern and remote place) and assume that the razzle-dazzle will lure the tourists? Dallas's experiment illustrates the flaws in developments that consider the needs of architecture at the expense of people. A culture district without the glue of wandering pedestrians (or an atmosphere of working artists; or let's face it, streets) may struggle to earn its keep.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Intriguing plan, though I can only envision a Big Dig-like submersion of that stretch of 75, rather than an all-out closure, which (assuming current traffic just gets worse) would channel southbound cars into the W-R and then the horrific 35 to 30 stretch, or suddenly make Haskell a new rush-hour drag.
Still, thinking about it, it could well be worth it for all that land that would open up, and the connection of downtown with East Dallas. Hmm...
March 21, 2011 4:42 PM
At first, we always only think that it would be outlandish to live without that Plano to Dallas connection, until:
1) we start to think that only Plano (or any other suburban municipality) wins in this situation. Dallas loses and must bare the brunt of the externalities of freeways through a city which is built NOT for freeways (whereas suburbs are built entirely based upon a freeway oriented system). This is why many American cities have been hollowed out in their core and the intracity highways were the straws for the parasites to suck the blood from. This is also why Eisenhower was opposed to his interstate system extending into actual cities (or the spending of which would become so addictive).
2) a freeway is closed for an extended period of time, such as Woodall Rogers as the park is constructed, or
3) we get tired of our commute being so dreadful, unproductive, costly, and wasteful, or
4) gas prices get to a point (even though they are already artificially deflated) where more and more start taking transit and saying, "hey, this ain't so bad. I can read a paper, file my nails, gawk at the opposite sex, or have a convo with a crazy person on the train."
5) we start to think about return on investment, which is my main point. Showing the economic benefits to the City and its residents. Big Dig cost over $20 billion (not to mention the costs on top of that of time, delays, etc.) and how much has been leveraged? Most of the area was already built out. Sure, the area is nicer. It still isn't great, but there is more investment, more business, but the ROI ratio was very, very low.
This is my concern for Woodall Rodgers, that it costs 100 million, but how much new tax base comes because of it? Most of the land is spoken for, my guess is best case scenario, 1:1. A good public investment needs to be leveraging 5:1 or 10:1 or 20:1.
Tunneling a freeway is the equivalent of gold plating it. And we don't have money for it. We also don't have money for so much underutilized land along existing freeways. The only answer that really makes sense to me from a public/fiscal standpoint in terms of leveraging new tax base and investment is to tear down a freeway, opening up the public right-of-way land for private development.
Seoul, SK has had a 10:1 return in 5 years after removing its central freeway.
We don't have the money to build Project Pegasus, $2 billion. As soon as we do, or think we do, or convince banks that a new gold plated freeway will leverage tax base to get our bond ratings up high enough to finance it, we'll be right back to tearing down and rebuilding a freeway, and guess what, we won't be getting that auxiliary investment b/c really, nothing has changed.
Public coffers are broke. The biggest asset cities/states have is public Right-of-way.
The initial deconstruction of PP is maybe a 1/4th or 1/5th of the overall budget. The land sale alone of everything beneath it, not to mention everything along side it that is repositioned would more than pay for the destruction, the boulevarding, and hell, maybe even the public school system.
Now all of a sudden, it isn't so easy to drive. It isn't necessary to spend that 7,000/yr on an extra car per household. That is more money in the community (and choice for what to spend it on...or save!). Those are more riders on DART making DART more viable and less dependent on subsidy.
We can't possibly apply the same formulae for trip generation and total road capacity that has defined urban development and transportation planning for so long, making the city what it is today, if we expect this city to double in population. It is quite literally arbitrary and inane, yet wielded as if it is commanded by divine right. If we're doubling in population, can we really imagine what x2 lane miles per capita looks like? Or costs?!!?! Furthermore, how do we know we will even double in population if the entire city is a freeway? Every talented person I know is flocking to Portland, Chicago, Seattle, DC, NYC, Philly, and San Fran.
The people moving to Dallas currently are mostly people that have no other choice and are relocating because of a job...who will also likely move again as soon as another job opens up. Meanwhile, the talent drain to elsewhere is busy creating the next economy and the next engine of jobs while ours is stuck in the quicksand of the 20th century economy despite the current "numbers."
"OMG not easy to drive?! Blasphemy." Find me any place in the world worth being that is 1) easy to drive and 2) easy to park.
If they are, the cars typically crowd out the very reason to be there and eventually it degrades as a place before being entirely abandoned. As I've become fond of saying, the only thing we do better as people than adapting to our environments is bitching about having to do so. And because it is no longer easy to drive, all property value in Dallas (particularly in and around the core) is immediately bumped up as demand to once again proximity to jobs, amenities, other people is once again valued.
If we want 1) a world class city and 2) a city we can actually afford, this is the way forward.
Here in this can-do, Sun Belt city, the picture looks entirely different. The Dallas Arts District gathers this city’s major arts museums and performance halls in a 19-block area to the northeast of the shimmering downtown skyline. The district is billed as the nation’s largest contiguous urban arts district, and that’s not its only distinction. It may be the only place on earth where buildings by four Pritzker Architecture Prize winners (in this case, I.M. Pei, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas) sit within blocks of each other.
Is it a good idea to organize arts buildings in such a clear and concentrated fashion? Or does the more mixed-up Chicago way make better sense? I ask because, despite its impressive architectural firepower, the Dallas Arts District can be an exceedingly dull place. There are no bookstores, few restaurants outside those in the museums, and not a lot of street life, at least when there are no performances going on. Even some of the architects who’ve designed buildings here privately refer to the district as an architectural petting zoo — long on imported brand-name bling and short on homegrown-urban vitality.
These are, in short, buildings to be proud of, but their urban design is not ideal. The theater’s sunken plaza might as well be a moat while the sleek opera house is set back so far back from the property line that it almost resembles a suburban office headquarters. The buildings resemble stand-alone objects, not altogether different from the flashy office towers that loom above them.
Perhaps, but hundreds, if not thousands, of new housing units are required to lend the district the urban density it needs to thrive. And the district still has deep-seated hurdles to overcome, from its lack of fine-grained urban texture to the way its older buildings turn their backs on the freeway to its lack of convenient light-rail stops. It would be sad indeed if Dallas, having importing some of the world’s best architects, wound up creating the dullest arts district money can buy.
As for what is within the Freeway Deck Park...I think what is within the design is all well and good. However, my concerns with it are a bit broader, generally more global issues outside of the actual scope of the park design:
- First, closing of Harwood through the park is a mistake. I understand the desire for a larger lawn area, but for a park where the fundamental purpose is connectivity, it is a mistake to reduce the amount of connectors so that a full 11 on 11 football game can be played in a downtown that is so thoroughly cut off from its adjacent neighborhoods by the inner highway loop. Limiting the amount of vehicular connections will apply too much vehicular pressure on the few access roads that do exist, further eroding the public realm as well as instill greater impetus to the private development along those few roads to respond to increased "car demand," for lack of a better term.
- Second, the streetcar plan is bothersome to me (ed. note: this comment was made when the streetcar plan was still proposing a downtown circulator loop), in that it cuts short the existing M-Line at the park to make its phase 1 loop between the convention center and the arts district. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how transit can be leveraged for positive, urban, economic development and how streetcars, in particular, function as transport for inner ring workers to get to office space downtown. Under the current plan, if somebody in uptown wants to check out a new restaurant in Bishop Arts district, they will have to make two or three connections to do so which will prevent people from ever making the trip without the car. All meaning that the streetcar effort will be little more than a tourist trap.
- Third, the point of the park is to link downtown and ideally make everyone forget that they happen to be standing over essentially a
death trapfreeway. While it may be a novelty at first, that awareness will never be overcome as the freeway rises on both sides of the park as to become visible. There should be some thinking down the line of getting the air rights from TxDOT to be able to add buildings at each end of the park to create some enclosure, pedestrianize the Pearl and St.Paul as well as further enhance the stitching back together of uptown and downtown. Even if it would be one-story retail buildings with extremely narrow depths, anything would help...except for giant walls, which is what the Winspear is building on the back side of its building toward the freeway and frontage road, which ideally would become part of the urban grid rather than and on/off ramp as it is now.
- I guess my only other potential regret is how little interaction the parcels adjacent will have towards the park, but like all things urban, some of these are at least in transition and will help add to the parks character when they develop.
The Woodall Rogers Deck Park is a great thing for this City and its design in absence of the complete removal of the freeway is the best (well, 2nd best possible) solution. But Bryant Park isn't great without Gramercy. Piazza Navona without Centro Storico. Want to be a World Class City? Yes, that is the competition.
This post isn't intended to poo-poo the park, but remind us that the work isn't yet finished.
When thinking about parks (or anything in isolation) in terms of ROI (Return on Investment) things get a bit tricky. First, parks, like roads, are never expected to be fully self-sufficient. Can we make them that way? Sure, but largely their returns are either enumerable, incalculable, or externalized. There is too much subjectivity floating around to accurately derive an input. How do you value clean air or water compared to me? How important is walkable urbanism?
On the other hand, the best statistic we've been able to arrive at for cities wasn't worked out by mathematicians, but by the market: real estate values. We pay for those subjective items with our dollars. To combat this difficulty, statistician Nate Silver tried to input some "consumer preference" weighting into his livability survey of NYC neighborhoods. Steps in the right direction.
I'll have to track down the graduate thesis from MIT that I have saved floating around on this here computer, but it showed a 24% increase in land values of properties within 300 feet of parks. From memory, I believe that leveraged increment decreased gradually to about 10% bump for 800 feet from the park.
So what's the problem? As I have pointed out before, the area around the Deck Park is largely built out but a few vacant properties immediately to the North and the Arts District to the South. And it is likely to sit that way given the high land value, the saturated high end residential market and flat, probably over supplied office markets. Eventually, those blocks will fill in and the new (and existing) users will need open space to stretch their legs, but I don't expect a rush of anything new in that area for some time.
Well then, what "externalized" benefits will there be? Well, it is a park so it will be used for recreation, festivities, and enjoyment, but for the most part will function as the neighborhood park for LoMac, precisely the kind of place that is like a jumbled puzzle without a piece yet put in place. Urbanism is an assembled puzzle. The pieces come together to form a new picture, something greater than the sum of the parts. Simple analogy, I know, but cities are actually remarkably simple things when you clear out the mental flotsam and visual jetsam.
LoMac has a highway, a park slapped on top, an incomprehensible and impossible to navigate set of anti-urban spaghetti of roads, and a lot of density with no urbanity. In sum, it is precisely the "urban" by-product of silo-ized attempts at urbanism. You get the government you deserve, and the city as well, which is why my money would be in areas set to rise, not those already at their peak.
Since the area is almost fully built out, Woodall Rogers Deck Park might be the cherry on top of the sundae. Except the ice cream is on the floor. The nuts are at the store and the chocolate sauce is all over the kids face with his filthy hand stuck in the jar. In other words, there is still work to be done.
This might seem crazy to say since there is about to be a new park in the neighborhood, a Ritz-Carlton, and hundreds of extremely high end condos, but without broader, more comprehensive thinking about the entire area of LoMac and the park, I promise you that the area is at its peak. Other parts of the City will surpass it as desirable places to live and be as those areas get the livability equation right, which means if you own a condo there, don't expect to sell it for more than you bought it. Return on investment.
So once the park is completed and all ribbons are cut and we take a moment to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, we can take a moment to build the sundae, the complete urban neighborhood.
So, how could it be better?
We have to think about what is outside the boundaries of the park. Despite removing a road in what I believe to be a mistake, one of the park's primary objectives is connectivity, linking downtown and uptown. Since we're disrupting vehicular connectivity, I presume we must be thinking about pedestrian connectivity only.
That is all well and good, but I don't find areas immediately to the North or South to be particularly pedestrian friendly. They are in spots, for example Flora Street, the spine of the Arts District is, but the North-South connectors are anything but. Therefore, in order to make the park successful we absolutely, positively must think about pedestrian connections to and from the park (and widening sidewalks on oversized one-way roads doesn't help).
In order to expand the Deck Park's magnetic qualities, we have to begin stripping away the impediments. We do that by mentally moving outward from the park almost as if we are walking it ourselves.
The first barrier(s) are the parallel access roads running alongside Woodall Rogers. Currently, these look and act more like highway feeders, on- and off-ramps. Mostly because they are. But they should be designed as urban streets, with textured cross-walks, countdown crosswalk signals, parallel parking, and probably narrowed to two lanes just as they are now with the construction. If a car is perturbed by the extra twenty seconds before they can get on 75 back to Plano, so be it. Do you want a more livable city? Make it safe, amenable, and attractive to pedestrians. OMG I can't speed through (insert City from Most Livable Cities list)!!!
Next, since we are hardly using Harwood anymore (correct me if I'm wrong, but that is the one that has been ripped out, right?), we should conceptually make Harwood function as a piece of the infrastructure for the park, a pedestrian welcome mat for the park reaching into both downtown and uptown. Some vehicular access must remain for the various buildings served by it, but since cars won't be using it as a connection, might as well make it serve as much "traffic" as possible: the foot and bike kind. Harwood should look and feel like an extension of the park and it deserves an exceptional design treatment allowing it to stand out all the way to Ross and McKinney.
(Side note: I would strongly recommend vertical elements at both ends of the park to block the views of the rising Leviathan like freeways.)
Lastly, and most ambitiously, a complete rethinking of the spaghetti network of roads, both north and south of the park (cloverleaf) with renewed prioritization for the pedestrian.
Think about this: how do you walk from the Ritz to the American Airlines Center?
- Are you crazy?
- Walk? /quizzical look
- I just drive or cab
- Umm, I have no idea
The distance is little more than a 1/4 mile, but perceptually it might as well be miles away. All of these roads (Field, Akard, Cedar Springs, etc.) deliver traffic to other parts of the Metroplex but function as barriers to connectivity locally. If great cities are built on a foundation of great neighborhoods, wrecking areas for the sake of others further out is anti-city.
There is a rational framework intended by the original city planners beneath the illogical suburbanized road system. It doesn't even feel safe to a driver. You may be too comfortable on them because of familiarity, so drop a tourist in the area and give them directions. Panic ensues. Much like what happens everyday downtown when drivers inevitably turn down the wrong way on the preponderance of one-way roads.
The logic and intuitive wayfinding of the walkable urban grid needs to be revealed in order to unlock the value of the remaining undeveloped and underdeveloped areas of LoMac. Oh, and side benefit: restitching this area will also help to save Victory from floating out to sea. We can't get Oceanfront property type return on investment without thinking outside the park for the "return" we are looking for, which is great, walkable neighborhoods as part of a great American City.
In a recent tweet, I stated that authentic places are always demand driven. So what does this mean for parks? Are they cherries on top or catalysts for change? Chemical reactions don't start on their own.
Following the logic of demand-driven places, parks can be both. If a City decides that it wishes or needs a certain portion of town to revitalize, become safe, attract investment, then a new park can enhance the livability that is lacking, the reason for disinvestment. However, a park alone is rarely enough. It has to be one part of the plan including changes to the transportation network, typically to improve the "green infrastructure" or walkable/bikable access to the park, and possibly even financial incentives to reverse momentum in an area.
On the other hand, a park can be the finishing touch on a neighborhood, the cherry on top so to speak. This is also demand driven. If enough people agglomerate around one magnet that the distance, scale, or density of the new development creates the demand for an additional park or amenity closer to the recent development. This will create a new sub-center (or altogether new center of gravity) for the neighborhood. Does it become an entirely new neighborhood or a hierarchical place within the existing one is a place specific question.
So is Woodall Rogers a catalyst for change or a cherry on top? The answer is that it is (or ought to be) a little bit of both. The new density requires some reasonable greenspace because the transportation network is unwalkable. AND, because the transportation network in the area is so bad, that the park can be the catalyst for transforming it into one that is more walkable, livable.
The stuff inside of a building or unit, ie quality of counter tops and fixtures, etc are well and good, but those are the fine-grained adjustments to the real estate microscope. Location and proximity, or propinquity, is the big knob.The problem of the Arts District is its clustering of the venues so tightly that any potential vitality is suffocated by an over abundance of simple boxes. Sure the architecture might be complex but that is only skin deep. Value is driven by complexity. And real complexity is created by the mixture of types, uses, buildings and the interconnection of a walkable urban fabric. The point of walkable urbanism is the value of having your daily destinations within a safe, pleasant walking distance.
This is still Henry Ford assembly line urbanism when we need the technology of the 21st century of smart, interconnected systems thinking with the ability to learn and adapt populating our approach to urbanism and development. Simplicity vs. Complexity.
It is the difference between Wrigley Field and Fenway Park being so loved and "stadium districts" getting, well, torn down every twenty or thirty years. Which was the smarter investment? I'll answer my own question, it is the development that is the cherry on top, the culmination of the messy mix of its urban neighborhood.