Friday, April 29, 2011

The Parks, Mixing and Mashing

From the afternoon session, I must say this was my first time seeing James Burnett speak. I must apologize for jumping the gun lumping him in with most of the landscape urbanists who speak in such jargon-y nonsense and use words like "urbanism" to describe some faux nature. Burnett's design of the Woodall Rogers Park is great. Absolutely great.

Not sure any of the watercolors available online really do it justice. It's organized. It's formal. It's designed for people. It's wonderfully clever structurally, figuring out how to get trees on it without making them look like odd, potted lollipops. It adds enough structure to add verticality and (hopefully) help to block the serpentine like rising and falling of the freeway on both sides.

It's unfortunate though. I find it diametrically opposite to the two "gardens" also known as parks on Main Street. As I've pointed out in the convergence studies of downtown, those two parks are in the absolute perfect location. Perfect to build upon and bookend the success of Main Street. Perfect to revitalize the areas adjacent as they are the precise point where downtown begins to fall apart. However, the designs leave a lot to be desired. Particularly Belo Gardens. Yet another public open space downtown designed for "quiet contemplation."

On. Main. Street... Downtown. Where 100,000 people are everyday (give/take). This killed Thanksgiving Square and everything immediately around it.

As for Main Street Garden, I've made my points about it. Again, perfect location. Great buildings along it. Downtown badly needed some breathing room. A multi-purpose lawn, which bizarrely rises to fall, fighting natural topography. My bigger point is with the over-programming. Which, Burnett himself went out of his way to point out about his design. That he didn't want it cluttered with programming and wish lists that often accompany places/parks trying to be all things to all people. I don't know how coincidental that is given some of the consultants for Woodall Rogers Deck Park reached out to me some time ago to get my opinion of it after I squealed like a baby on an airplane about MSG.

So on Main Street, we've got great sites, perfect for economic development and to work as a centerpiece of neighborhoods in downtown, yet less than desirable designs.

At Woodall Rogers Deck Park, we have a tremendous design, but less than ideal location. I know, I know. Globally, it is supposed to seam together uptown and downtown, provide a new heart of the city as downtown has migrated north, and all of that. However, all the land is immediately spoken for (with the notable exception of the drive-thru (!) bank).. What is to leverage?

Developers I know have poked around on that site, but I'm guessing the bank (or whoever owns it) wants an absurd amount. Way too much given the spaghetti nonsense and non-neighborhood of LoMac to the north. There is no street life because of the suburban road dimensions. How are the new towers in this area supposed to hold value in urban sites without any urbanism? You tell me. I'm glad I didn't buy there. If I was to advise the homeowners associations, I'd suggest pooling money to get redesigns of all the streets in LoMac to protect their investments. But that's just me.

But back to the point, and you know where I'm going with this. It seems to make so much more sense to remove freeways and use the revenue generation from land sales to pay for amenities like parks to stitch areas back together than band-aids, like this one. It will be interesting to watch it going forward because it is impossible not to compare it to the big dig, which besides the absurd $20 billion price tag is both a design and functional disappointment (again, especially at the price). It made an area less bad. Not great. We need great great.

Identity Crisis

The burning rot beneath our roads...

...and a bit of brief rambling down allegorical culs-de-sac.

You hear this often, that Dallas has an identity crisis. It's a precept that I not only buy, but have probably helped to sell to some extent. The physical implication is that of an urban frankenstein, a monster loosely pieced together, but nothing quite like an actual human. I guess that is what happens when you try to engineer or fabricate life, particularly without the right DNA. We're not exactly technically proficient enough to engineer a robot with a heart of gold yet like Wall-E.

To mix metaphors, trying to great authentic, real, livable, walkable urbanism in DFW is like trying to run PC apps on Mac platforms. Feel free to reverse those two if that is your preference. Ya know, customize.

The deeper question is WHY does Dallas have an identity crisis. This morning, I was sitting in the Peter Walker lecture at the Nasher Sculpture Center. At these kind of events, something never feels quite right about them. The grip and grin. The glad-handing. I often feel a bit like Nick Carraway at a socialite soiree in West Egg. This particularly time thinking about the local predilection for bringing in national celebrities from the design world.

It should be stated that I like Peter Walker's design work, at least when framed carefully like photography. It lacks either a locational self-awareness or a desire to broach bigger issues (despite occasional claims to the contrary). Here's a spot, it will have a nice little design on it. It is elegant and simple. Highly abstract. It lacks complexity and works well as an object itself just like the buildings he lamented "often getting plunked" into spaces. In a way, a perfect mirror for his lecture delivery. He wasn't talking down to people, but speaking in lay terms. It wasn't overly academic, but I'm also not sure that the complexity of urbanism resides in him. He does his job, he does it well.

But when it comes to bigger, systemic issues of what makes Dallas "green," or sustainable, or livable, or resilient, these kind of out-of-town experts invariably resort to placation and pandering. "You're Dallas. You're the bees knees." What was billed as "Designing Green Dallas," or whatever, was predictably little more than green smoke.

When you love someone you're honest w/ them. You don't only tell them what they want to hear, to manipulate or use them. That's more like a hooker/john relationship. Ya know, sort of like the relationship between Highland Park and Dallas.

And there Dallas is left, on the side of the road, like a sex crime victim by its abuser who claims, "taxes are too high in Dallas." Well, they're high because the city was gutted by sprawl and the money that left the taxable boundaries yet is more than happy to take advantage of the economic engine that the core city provides.

I wonder if out-of-towners are capable of the appropriate kind of direct honesty that a broken, brittle, monoculture needs when approaching collapse. Does anybody from the outside love Dallas enough to say what needs to be heard? Or are they pandering for high fee, landscape decoration work? You're the bees knees. Please hire me.

Let's be honest, Dallas is built around the car. Not because any imaginary market demanded it, but because of the desperate grasping at federal dollars, mostly for highways, which then created markets. Value in land that had none prior. And the term, "green" implies little more than the color itself. Some grass, some trees. That oughta take care of it.

Unfortunately, that land, based on that transportation system, requires oil to be tremendously cheap. We thought that roads and houses as far as the eye could see created the middle class, forgetting about the spoils of war. Now, we're seeing the destruction of the very middle class that is now in homes worth less than what was paid, built to last only about 20 years or so, and stuck out in the middle of nowhere and forced to slurp up rising gas prices. Imagine what happens to gas prices when the economy actually picks up. Do we really want more of that kind of economic "progress?" Sex crime victim. Used.

So who loves Dallas? Are they even from Dallas? And in a city so atomized, so fractured into not just dividing into a dozen municipal boundaries, but even within Dallas, and more particularly the socio-economic stratigraphy, is it the people who bring in, or hire, or pay for Calatrava bridges, not once, not twice, but thrice, even though his first design/constructed bridge was pulled off the shelf from one of his very first bridge designs. You have an abusive spouse Dallas. One who treats urbanism like a shopping spree.

A city where much of the wealth was built on sprawl, itself cannibalistic by nature, much like the economic equation behind it, led to incredible wealth disparity. Layers so far apart they can't even relate to their needs. One side, with money keeps dropping new pyramids at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And since there is no structural foundation, those pyramids are only to fall down upon those at the bottom. Burdened, trying feed itself (in a food delivery system so abstracted beyond any nutritional content), trying to learn how to read from a school system itself broken by the economic implications of sprawl.

What's left to love? Hope, I guess. Or is the one we love still just a child that needs to fall down a few times before it learns? And do we even have the time to wait? Isn't it our job, as locals, as citizens, as caretakers, and stewards, to tell our child, not to take candy from strangers?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

CNU_NTX Happy Hour

Join us at our next monthly happy hour at The Londoner in State Thomas on Thursday, April 28 at 5:30 p.m.--see you there!

^ The official announcement from the organization. I'll pry myself away for a beer break -- perhaps even some bangers and mash, as I'm drowned in work this week.

Syntax of Downtown Dallas

Blogging/tweeting will be very light again today as you would think we were working to redevelop the Kremlin. I'm not, but such is the process here in the great state of Texas.

The below image is a graphical analysis I put together with the aid of the Space Syntax software. You may have read me quote Bill Hillier a few or several or many times over the three years I've been blogging, but space syntax is the brainchild and product of his several decades of work and research as professor of architecture and urban morphology at the University of London.

Click to embiggen.

Space syntax and the associated analysis are intended to measure overall spatial integration, which is what Hillier and his associates/proteges/students use to correlate with overall land value. They've put together countless studies showing the direct relationship between spatial integration and lowered levels of crime, increased pedestrian counts, commercial business, and overall land values, aka what I call desirability.

I should add that Hillier's objective with this work was to offer up some measure of objectivity. Some rules that track throughout the course of cities present, past, and future when so much, too many, decisions regarding cities are determined subjectively. Entirely so, i.e. architects or engineers or whoever thinking something is pretty and convincing you so via ideology and rhetoric. Space syntax was created in order to track with (supposedly) objective econometrics which provided the other half of the development decision making process. This is not to say that subjectivity and econometrics should be ignored, but rather supplemented by this data.
--end addendum--

As you see in the map of downtown Dallas, the thick dark red line is Main Street. Red means highest degree of spatial integration (in relation to all those within the confines of the study area). Ross Avenue is second highest and you see it in orange. What is both striking and predictable is how lowly the rest of downtown Dallas scores. And the space syntax software doesn't even account for one-way roads which, based on the logic of spatial integration, would lower scores throughout the area.

The results track hand-in-hand w/ my previous analyses using turning/curb radii and a concept I call convergence, which is not unexpected at all, since space syntax provided the logical foundation for my expansion of what space syntax does and what I perceived to be some of its limitations necessary for turning into readily made computing software.

I verified the previous paragraph in email conversations with Harvard Loeb fellow and current managing director of Space Syntax Tim Stonor, who kindly replied to my inquisitions about space syntax, some of the graphics they produced, my perceived limitations, and my convergence analyses. In particular, I was interested in a graphic they put together which turned integration values into building heights for a 3-D representation of land value, tracking with what I've said before that density = desirability.

High integration means high value in the "movement economy," i.e. access and the commercial viability to capitalize on it. This then in turn means high level of service (commercial) and amenity. Which then, in turn, ought to mean high level of demand for residential proximity to said amenities. In theory, it and the process to deliver the above, means a full urban ecology in bloom where each nourishes the other in positive feedback loops.

If we take that idea to the downtown Dallas graphic we can see (or at least verify what we understand intuitively) why Main Street is so successful, yet its success has yet to spill off of Main Street. I've offered other conclusions including the scale/size/speed of the roads boxing in Main Street (and their one-way nature). But this graphic expands on that, suggesting that not many areas of downtown are very well connected into the larger system.

Thinking again about downtown and the plethora of high-rise towers throughout downtown and specifically in areas of low integration, we are left to wonder, were these mistakes? I would say, likely not (at least in the frame of the discussion of space syntax -- whether the towers themselves and their associated infrastructure/delivery system create barriers is another story). Instead, many of the towers were built thinking Dallas, and downtown, was on the upswing. Meanwhile, the overall spatial integration of much of downtown was systematically being eroded by our transportation ideology and investments.

For example, you start building a tower in downtown in 1980 right as Woodall Rogers expressway is going under construction. You think that means more access and increased value from the base point of where you started/bought the land/invested. Instead, it decreased access and spatial integration, eroding the area around your investment, but making housing developments in Plano and Frisco seem like a grand idea. Rational locators.

You did perfectly fine financially if you built and got the F out, selling your asset before the price correction by way of long-term market response.

So we're left with lots of built floor space in downtown Dallas with very low levels of spatial integration throughout. Meaning, more floor area space than what the land value would suggest is appropriate for a direct relationship. Also stated as, we've overvalued the land of downtown Dallas in its current state.

The logical answer would be to systematically attempt to increase the overall spatial integration of the area. This is where the beauty of the software comes in. You can compare/contrast theoretical/possible scenarios. This is exactly what I intend to do as I get time. I also plan on putting the entire city into the software...but, again, this is all time dependent and I have to get back to work, because I do this stuff just for fun and to learn about my city.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

South Downtown

Question from a reader/colleague asked for my opinions on the barriers to growth/development around City Hall. I respond:

You're on the right track. Virtually everything down there is conspiring against investment in the area. Its current stasis is pretty close to highest and best use despite the amount of public subsidy that has gone into the area (which caused the majority of the problems). Not any one of the maladies in isolation would be enough to decimate the area, but in concert they've done quite the job.

Remember, pre-war these were some of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. It once had desirability. Today it has virtually none. And as density = desirability, we have a whole lot of nothing. So it is important to list everything that has some negative influence on the overall desirability. Because without desirability that means no capital (unless it is of the charitable sort -- which, once again, could be argued does more harm than good) will enter that part of town. If the area can't be profitable, then it is a sick area that is in need of some healing. We have to be honest and accurate with our diagnosis of symptoms and maladies.
  • City hall and its plaza are both bad. But by themselves, could still exist within an urban neighborhood...
  • Canton/Young is a horribly designed suburban street. It is tremendously overscaled as are the curvatures and radii of it. All undermine pedestrianization, but once again, by itself is not enough to kill an area.
  • The freeways and the related spaghetti interchanges around them are especially destructive of real estate value/desirability.
  • Furthermore, even the freeways outside of the immediate loop have been especially destructive. Those that isolated Fair Park and the Cedars like a tourniquet effectively made those areas gangrenous. Thus corroding the Southern half of downtown as well.
  • The Bridge (shelter). The use itself is not necessarily destructive. You can't find many neighborhoods in New York or Toronto or Vancouver that DON'T have some sort of halfway house or shelter or soup kitchen. The problem is the suburban compound design of it. You might as well have flashing red lights that say "don't invest down here." In those other cities, the use blends into existing buildings that blend into the neighborhood fabric. Again, the problem isn't that there are homeless or indigent. It is that there are no other people where everybody blends together, a by-product of no desirability or livability unless you particularly like living within a cloverleaf on a freeway.
  • Despite the best efforts to make the Convention Center permeable with roads/rail running beneath it, it is a giant barrier. No pedestrian (willingly) will want to walk from one side to the other. Furthermore, by its nature of single-use megalith means very little will want to cluster up against it, meaning nothing to walk to on either side anyway.

Freeways, Exposed.

Thanks to Robert Wilonsky at the Observer for giving this some exposure. I decided to expand on the freeways as liabilities to core cities meme I started some time ago and have been running with for years now:

The notion that it is too expensive is sort of like the idea that they are too big to fail. So we should just keep failing? It is defeatist.

It is far more expensive to maintain the highways than to get rid of them (which actually suppresses an asset for the state/city -- both broke -- valuable real estate close to the engine of downtown). Furthermore, building a highway at first means getting some return in economic development by way of unlocking new land further out. But once all that land is gobbled up and the city has expanded outward as far as it possibly can (as identified by half-built subdivisions -- you've seen them flying in), then the proposition of freeways is all expense and little return.

If you actually want to think about the math, how much do we spend replacing/expanding sections of freeways? hundreds of millions? In the case of Project Pegasus, we're talking about $2billion. On hold because we don't have the money, thankfully. It is intended to add capacity, speed traffic, yadda yadda. Every capacity expansion leads to induced demand. Roads get traffic. Big ones also expel any incentive to live or be anywhere near them. The demolition part of that budget can run about 20% of the total cost.

Instead of getting the exact same result, new road, more traffic, we get actual neighborhoods. We sell off the hundreds of acres available to a range of private developers. We set up a TIF to build the network of neighborhood-scaled streets and parks for the new neighborhoods as I promise you land value will go up (and be taxable since it is now improved, private land). And guess what happens, people who were formerly swindled by the "drive til you qualify nonsense" abandon those half-built neighborhoods in Oklahoma with zero amenities and a mandatory hour-long commute to participate in the local economy powered by Dallas and return home, back to Dallas. A family can shed one of their cars and the $7-10K yearly cost that goes with it. They can now walk, bike, ride DART, or an expanded streetcar system. Transportation mode balances out (and this also means less cars on every other road to get in your way if you happen to be driving). Sounds like win-wins all-around to me.

For a long time, I was under the assumption that freeways actually were quite permanent because of the nature of their construction. It turns out that between the very nature of their construction, the intense pressure put on them by use (which is created by the road in the first place), and the need for these roads to be in primo condition at all times lest they erode, they are actually quite impermanent. Hence, the failing grade given to the nation's freeway/bridge/infrastructure system.

It should be stated (once again) that different types of freeways must be distinguished. There are intra-city freeways and inter-city freeways. Inter-city freeways are absolutely necessary in interconnecting regional economies, i.e. Houston to DFW. Eisenhower's interstate system was a great achievement for the country and propelled us as a nation forward. However, as history suggests, the predominant form of transportation inevitably gets corrupted. It takes Keynesianism to its destructive logical end. Meaning, people are making money off of the construction of over-sized roads, so you aren't stopping this gravy train, that (at least in the near-term) is providing some notion of progress.

The highways that expedited the evacuation of downtowns and downtown adjacent areas once served a purpose. Cities of the industrial age were overcrowded, dirty, polluted, poverty- and disease-stricken. Today, what industry is left in this country is either clean or on its way out from urban cores as land is just too expensive (kind of like land that is too valuable for freeways). Leaving downtowns for residential populations and commercial businesses that seek the advantages of clustering.

But to for businesses to cluster effectively and citizens that desire real live community you also need local inter-connectivity. The inner-loop (and virtually all of the freeways in Dallas proper) interrupt local connectivity, the foundation of all great neighborhoods/cities, which instead exist within bubbles frayed at the edges, almost in spite of all the factors weighing against them. If they were interconnected, they could strengthen each other instead. Have you ever noticed that it is near impossible to get from downtown to its most adjacent neighborhoods, but a piece of cake to get out of Dallas altogether? Like uptown, these areas possess the greatest potential for new qualitative growth, for new development, new tax base.

DART could use the increased ridership brought about by a less convenient driving infrastructure, the real estate industry could use a more predictable pattern that is less scattered and chaotic as brought about by the centrifugal force of freeways, the city could use the tax base from a more desirable urban core and more available land for more affordable, in-town housing. Citizens could use a system less shackled to car ownership and the expenses therein, reinstating that necessary pillar of any free market system, real, live, actual choice.

Certainly there are legal hoops. But if you can't get a broke city and a broke state to see the light then I guess we're all just screwed and the defeatist tone of Downtown 360 is appropriate.

But in the end, I'm not sure we'll have to make the choice and economic factors (both macro- and micro-) will make it for us and there won't be freeways within loop 12 by 2050.

Additional reading:

Chuck Marohn of the Strong Towns blog, a recovering traffic engineer:

And the Socialism of the Highwaymen by Market Urbanism:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Downtown Dallas + Deep Ellum =

Reader of this here blog has decided to pick up the cause of freeway removal in Dallas, starting a facebook page Save Downtown Dallas: Tear Out Central Expressway. Go like it, if you like of course. I did.

Along those lines, I'll repost the ScienceDaily article about Brown Economist Nathaniel Baum-Snow's study that intra-city freeways, when introduced into cities, correlate with an 18% reduction in population. Of course, ScienceDaily has to miss the point and put up a map of Eisenhower's interstate system. Until we can differentiate between inter-city (good) and intra-city (bad), the colossal mistake many of these were will continue to go unnoticed as cities, like Dallas, bear the burden of intra-regional transportation infrastructure at (for the most part) their own expense in the way of disappearing tax base which moves beyond their jurisdictional boundaries.

Houston doesn't have this problem since they annex everything around them. On the other hand, if we were to only flip the mindset a bit, we can see this as an advantage. Those people beyond Dallas aren't voting in Dallas elections. Why are making transportation decisions on behalf of people who don't live in Dallas?

Because of Dallas's "landlocked" nature, we actually could use far more competition between DFW cities. I know, I know, NCTCOG is hailed all the time as a model of regional governance. For the most part, because they do two things, 1) elicit cooperation amongst all the cities within the interconnected beyond-boundaries economy that this is, and 2) get federal money. They are quite excellent at 2. Unfortunately, that can mean freeways/road expansion projects.

To quote Namond Bryce/Senator Clay Davis, "I'll take any muh-effers money if they givin' it away." That's Dallas. A corrupt politician and the 8th grade equivalent of one. Of course, I'm making a parallel to a fictional television series, but is it so fictional?

Any effort to get more freeways/expand road capacity undermines all efforts at expanding scope/efficacy of other forms of transportation. Rail, bikes, new kicks for pedestrians become little more than niceties used primarily by the indigent as everybody else thinks life is just gas climbs to $5/gallon. What then?

Isn't it in Dallas's best interest to look after its citizenry? To make the city more livable by getting rid of the very things that chased everybody out? Everybody will say, "OMG businesses will all die," just like they did in Copenhagen when they started taking cars off of streets. Or as they warned Vancouver when they wouldn't let freeways get built in the first place. Or when Portland or San Francisco began removing freeways from their inner-city. Do you think any of those places regrets those decisions? Do you think they said, "man, I sure hope Oakland and San Jose don't mind."

Then they'll say, "OMG traffic will be a nightmare!" And it very well might for a few days, maybe a week. Then you know what happens? That traffic begins to find other ways around. If it was to go to work, they might take the train instead. If it was to go shopping at an outlet, perhaps they do it online. If it was to drive somewhere that had to be driven, perhaps they find another route or go somewhere closer.

An amazing thing happens when you cut road capacity. Traffic demand falls with it. It doesn't just merely re-route. But some percentage disappears. This doesn't mean the economy shuts down and we all lock ourselves in our emergency shelters eating yankee beans by candlelight waiting for Armageddon to subside. Here is an excerpt for Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic:
If you do not believe that new roads bring new drivers (ed. note.: as the author explains in the previous section this is a concept known as "induced demand"), consider what happens when roads are taken away. Surely all the traffic must simply divert to other roads, no? In the short-term, perhaps, but over time the total level of traffic actually drops. In a study of what they called "disappearing traffic," a team of British researchers looked at a broad list of projects in England and elsewhere where roads had been taken away either for construction or by design. Predictably, traffic flows dropped at the affected area. Most of the time, though, the increase in traffic on alternative routes was nowhere near the traffic "lost" on the affected roads.
As I wrote the other day, in happily pointing out that Joel Kotkin has zero clue what he's talking about suggesting that the internet replaces walkability (which makes no logical sense whatsoever), the internet along with price corrections to driving as a way of life will be replaced by more affordable, more efficient, and FASTER forms of interconnectivity: 1) internet replaces many regional(and longer) connections, and 2) spatial relocation to walkability replaces others. Thus converting the abandoned city to a lively city:

Here is what will happen if in fact we were to remove one of the many freeways carving up our city like an Easter ham. We would open up hundreds of acres of land for development, which means increased affordability as well as increased livability (ie more walkable urbanism). We would have an increased tax base and the ability to provide more services, particularly at a neighborhood level. Businesses wouldn't shy away from Dallas, but instead say, "hey, they've got something going on there," and look to relocate here without having to fork over tax breaks to get them.

Quality of life is going to be the driver of the 21st century economy. Job growth will come from the businesses looking to locate in areas precisely because of the area, the quality of life, and to be near all of the other similarly-minded people doing similar constructive things.

And as far as the suburbs go. This would be the best thing possible for them as well, like 30-year old children still living at home. At some point ya gotta cut the cord. They wouldn't be so dependent upon the core city. They would have to become more resilient, more walkable, more diverse, more independent themselves.

DART needs the ridership. The state needs to spend less on infrastructure (and certainly wouldn't mind unloading its biggest asset (Right-of-way) in order to balance its own budgetary crisis). Cities need tax base. And citizens could probably handle far less Vehicle Miles Traveled and the associated gas/ownership/maintenance costs that go along with them.

Lucky for us, we have the perfect storm of opportunity and economics swirling around us to make it happen. If we were only willing to piss off our neighbors a bit. I'm sure they'll forgive us.

Turning Radii and Effect on People Places

You many recall the other day I took the time to map all of the places in downtown and uptown Dallas where outdoor dining was possible. The thinking goes like this, you have a place that is a people magnet. It is a magnet because it is an enjoyable place to spend time. Meaning it is attractive. Businesses then want to capitalize on this impulse to sit and enjoy the day outside, people watch, peruse a paper, whatever, but BE THERE in that place. The outdoor chairs and tables are then an indicator of a quality place.

The next question might be, but why in these places and not others? As with all things "urban," there is rarely a singularity of answers, but a series of overlapping, occasionally conflicting, ones. When I talk about places being either attractive or repellent, these are generally objective in the coarse-grained knob. As in, what humans find amenable or not is generally universal, but to what degree, the fine-grained knob on the microscope, is subjective.

Princeton professor Anton Nelesson has been putting together visual imagery surveys for years and years and years, like the following:

This image gives you an example of how we find some places attractive (a positive response) or repulsive (negative). As this blog post by Nathan Norris suggests, there is a economic value increment to places that are attractive, ie people show up.

But it is still more complicated than that. For example, in the outdoor cafe map we see more dots in the West End than in the Main Street district. Would anybody, particularly downtown (or even Dallas) residents say they like West End better than Main Street? I doubt it. In fact, as I said in the cafe post, all places are either trending up or down. We must add more layers.

Another way to understand quality of place is by understanding its access. Two concepts come to mind being propinquity (or the location of stuff in proximity) and convergence (the centrality of a place). The first is important because if there is a significant population nearby local access is likely strong. People can walk there. Furthermore, it is likely stable as neighborhoods are more stable than businesses.

In conjunction the two concepts strengthen the local and global access of a place. Local connections are important for neighborhood centers, global access (or at least regional), makes for larger destinations on the food chain of commercial clusters. Access is important as this Space Syntax presentation points out that 80% of retail businesses cluster in the 20% most accessible places.

But too much global access can easily disrupt local connectivity, particularly car-oriented access as it tends to be the form of transportation in most direct conflict with pedestrian activity. And because, as shown above, we rate these areas lowly in attractiveness, value is almost assuredly going to wane.

One way to measure this is through turning radii of curbs and streets. As Andres Duany has summarized for pedestrians to cross streets with increased turning radii, pedestrians now must cross twice the distance and avoid cars going twice the speed.

This image from the US DOT usefully shows an 18-wheeler driving on a city street. Unwittingly, making my point. First of all, 18-wheelers don't belong on city streets, but we engineer our streets to accommodate them. Or other types of service vehicles like delivery trucks or emergency response equipment like fire trucks. All of which can be scaled appropriately to place. Instead, we let the tail wag the dog.

Have you ever been walking downtown and waiting for the pedestrian light to give you the go-ahead and even once it does, cars are rolling through right-hand turns without stopping? This can generally only happen with radii that are too large. With smaller curb radii, cars must invariably stop.

Similarly, what we often call "suburban, loopy-doopy roads" (technical term) are also designed for cars to proceed at high-speeds. Neither of these designs give any thought to the pedestrian, let alone priority to the more at risk form of transportation. I say at risk for two reasons. First, is that obviously if car and pedestrian run into each other, the pedestrian is likely going to be the one injured. Which brings about point 2: because the pedestrian is more in danger, the smaller form of transportation always disappears when the larger is given priority.

If, based on the evidence of where cafes emerge as well as guided by Anton Nelessen's visual preference surveys that nearly always rate car-oriented places as negative places to be, we can map places with car-friendly streets with the assumption that, "these are probably unlikely to be areas of pedestrian activity. And furthermore, not only will they not have pedestrian activity, but they will have a negative impact on everything immediately around them as well.

So I mapped areas of downtown with overly large radii and we get the following map:

I limited the graphic strictly to city streets and the on/off-ramps to highways, meaning I didn't bother mapping the highway turning radii, b/c, well, of course.

Here it is with the cafes also mapped:

You can see that for the most part, the cafes avoid red areas. With the notable exception of Victory. And perhaps just maybe we can see one of the reasons why Victory has and will continue to struggle, mostly because of its isolation brought about by the car-oriented nature of the streets and blocks all around it.

And lastly, here is the map with curb cuts overlaid. Curbcuts could be compared to a storefront, except the complete opposite. Both are designed interfaces between movement and place, street and building. But, if the predominant movement is designed for cars, yup, of course we're going to have curb cuts. And indeed, more curb cuts than storefronts, which are the design response to walkability, unless you like cars crashing through your windows.

The next step will be to map all of the storefronts that engage the streets in downtown Dallas. My guess is we'll continue to see a similar pattern. That the active storefronts will be in the few areas that remain for the pedestrian. These maps show that all of our places of value are constricted. Meaning the value of our city itself is also constricted and likely going to wane unless we do something about it.

Monday Morning Linkages

Straight away to the bidness...

NYC is like, "bruh, how come there are so many cars clogging up our streets? We built all of these garages to keep them off the street and everything." And then sanity is restored:

That parking minimums are in place near New York City’s subway stations is “madness,” said Walter Hook, executive director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

In most European cities, he said, parking minimums have been replaced with parking maximums that keep developers “to those levels of parking which the traffic system can bear.” In many downtowns, he continued, there is a hard cap on the total amount of parking. “You can’t actually add a single unit of off-street parking unless you take out a parking space from the street,” Hook explained.

Simple point made, simply: If you make all/any aspects of driving cheap and/or easy, people will generally do just that. If you don't want so many cars, don't make driving so cheap/easy, which includes both finding and paying for parking spaces.

Across Europe, cities have come to understand that oversupply or subsidy of parking leads to too much driving. The effect is considerable. In Vienna, for example, when the city began to charge for on-street parking, the number of vehicle kilometers traveled plummeted from 10 million annually to 3 million.
Hit the link for all of the other approaches/figures, including this gem from the British government no less:
in the words of the British government, to “promote sustainable transport choices, reduce the land-take of development, enable schemes to fit into central urban sites, promote linked-trips and access to development for those without use of a car, and to tackle congestion.”

In response to this weekend's Earth Day festival in the Arts District comes a sobering reminder about the bees:
The reality is a bit less romantic. The honey bees responsible for pollinating major U.S. crops are loaded on trucks, wrapped in plastic and driven hundreds if not thousands of miles to where they are needed. They are often fed high fructose corn syrup to give them the energy to accomplish their Herculean tasks. Think of it: Feeding corn syrup to a honey bee. That, surely, is nature turned on her head.
There we have our answer. The bees are disappearing because they're on a diet of corn syrup. Likely sitting in their dens watching Big Brother and washing it all down with a gallon of Brawndo. South Carolina, wassup?! /machine gun fire.

I add this because I was struck by all the displays of green buildings, green cars, green parks, and green doo-dads. But there was also little to no mention or understanding of the system between these things, as if they're each museum exhibits. Nevermind how we get between our green roofed mixed-use enclave and the Trinity River Park in our fully electric automobile that comes from coal power and rides on endless tethers of braided strands of concrete. Or that recycling is an incredibly dirty process that with each cycle downgrades the product being recycled while exhuming some of the dirty petrochemicals into the air. Until we understand (and address) the material and nutrient flows of our products (and our cities -- how we move about and give life to our cities), all of our efforts and one day a year celebrations are just bee sanctuaries.

San Francisco has begun putting together a cluster of pop-up shops in parking lots out of...shipping containers. Who'da thunk it. No idea how the economics of this thing are working, but in a more temperate climate of SF, surely the structures require less modification than they would here:
Vacant lots in the middle of cities are spurring all kinds of temporary uses, from guerrilla gardens to public art. And one of the most interesting experiments is happening in San Francisco, with a project that is the first of its kind in the US. In the Hayes Valley neighborhood, two blocks at the end of Octavia Boulevard are being transformed into a festive combination dubbed Proxy, a temporary grouping of restaurants, retail shops, and outdoor gathering spaces. The mini-cluster is designed to give way to other permanent developments in a few years.
Provisional urbanism. There it is. I'd love to get information on who the landowner is, I'm assuming somebody purchased the parking lot to develop, but is holding off until a better lending climate, how much they're charging the businesses for rental space, etc. etc. I love the idea, as I've suggested it several times, but I'm starting to wonder if that better building climate 1)shows up, or 2) do people like the provisional aspect so much that it becomes permanent? If that is the case, I would recommend designing it provisionally too, so that it doesn't look 'too finished.' It's a fine line, because you also don't want to scare people away.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Free Beer Friday Guess The City

It's Back!!1!

I'm even going to give some healthy hints because this place is so soulless and devoid of all/anything interesting that you'll need it.

In the 50s/60s, London decided, "oy, we're bloody overcrowded, mate." So they decided to build cities, aka satellite towns for residents well outside the city limits despite the fact that they just had the ish bombed out of them a decade ago and had plenty of rebuilding to do. Out to the countryside mate.

So the biggest, best, and brightest architects of the day, including one Norman Foster, were hired to concoct and construct the grandest city evar!

The following images depict the city as I know it. Meaning, as google earth represents it. Meaning, sure as sh1t looks as soulless in images as I expect it to in person. Meaning, "man, nobody seems to be in any of those pictures."

It is the perfect modernist paradigm on the level of Brasilia or Canberra. There is no connection or intermingling between various "pods" of development which exist in isolation between the transportation infrastructure which also exists only in an abstract singularity. It moves. You live over there. Grunt. Groan. Caveman club girl on head. Drag by hair.

In many ways it is the perfect modernist city. Everything is its own monoculture, streamlined, assembly lined. Modernism hates messiness. Urbanism is just too messy. So is life. So is democracy. Let's hire some starchitects. They'll design something perfect. In abstract. That ignores all surroundings. And if we're lucky, maybe they'll even make fun of us with their design. Oh how I wish I had enough money to hire a starchitect who will design a Raccoon Trap that will poke fun at all of us.

Okey doke. Guess the city either in the comments or by strolling up and yelling out the name of the city at the bar I'll be patronizing tonight, one State & Allen Lounge in uptown Dallas, with their super tasty pizza and burgers, set in the midst of one of the most walkable neighborhoods in all of Dallas:

We need sculpted people because 1) they're more perfect than real people, and 2) real people are never here...

Coincidence/Irony/Timing, Delicious Ingredients for Fireworks Displays

This should be accompanied by giant flashing letters:


Perhaps, my favorite part however, is the accompanying text from the DMN:
The whole corridor has a tired, frenzied feel to it, as if the buildings themselves are worn out from fighting the traffic and smog along LBJ. Clearly improvements are called for, and the reconstruction may help transform the whole area.
Even with the defeated, "better than nuthin'" tone, the writer clearly misses the point that the tired buildings are so because we, the city and its associated real estate markets badly overvalued freeway adjacent land. We thought it meant improved access and visibility. Derp.

More of the same should fix the problem. What's that definition of insanity again?

If You Read One Thing Today...

...make it this:

Screen cap from Idiocracy. Fittingly, filmed in Texas.

Are we ready to acknowledge that the Tea Party is devoid of principles beyond the rather empty rhetoric of "less taxes." Instead, they are far more enthused by the fear of change. The world is changing. Unfortunately, we, as humans, don't handle rapid change well. Also unfortunately, for us people afraid of rapid change, the less we act, i.e. incrementally adapt, the more rapid change is foisted upon us.

Evolution happens in two ways. Slowly, incrementally, and painlessly. Or in rapid fits and starts, rather quite painful and possibly catastrophic. It can be catastrophic, because when it happens so rapidly there is no constant feedback loop. No trial and error. It is essentially a big guess by our (or whatever organism's) biology. A wish and a prayer.

So, from Wisconsin comes this:
While other programs are cut, highway expansion projects totaling more than $400 million get the green light. Highway expansion raids the general fund of more than $140 million, crushing any arguments that “highway users pay for the costs of roads.” In fact, the general fund and property taxes will pay about half of roadway costs in the future. So-called user fees are soon to be eclipsed by decidedly nonuser fees.
When you look at the increase in highway spending, it is also important to pay attention to where the money goes. Local road aids are cut, meaning that even though there is more money going for major highway expansion, there is less money for local units of government to fix those bone-jarring potholes that crop up every spring. Maintenance dollars for highways are down as well.
Walker has said that the highway expansion is needed for our economic recovery. The governor is putting a lot of faith – and capital – in having superhighways be the cornerstone of the state’s economic recovery. After all, he could have put the money in building better communities with better schools as a basis of economic development.
"Well, highway building led to spending and economic expansion in the past, right? It means more freedom, right?" Derp. Derp. Derp. Awfully Keynesian for a supposed Tea Party fiscal conservative.

Only problem is that highways (at least in the past -- like streetcars) opened up the value of land further away from the city's core. Perfectly well and good, I suppose. That is, if you have demand for housing expansion, particularly outwards. This was a necessity during the industrial period when cities were dirty, disease-ridden, poverty-infested places. Ya know, the last time Robber Barons were in charge of things.

Democracy isn't really worth having if you cede the power. And if we're going to do so, you'd think one or two would realize the value increment in high quality cities, but that might empower too many people. Best to tell them, "HIGHWAYS/CARS EQUAL FREEDOM!1! DURRRR"

How do you like that car payment? Insurance payment? Registration? The cost to have police out on roads enforcing speeding/traffic rules, which is quite the waste of money when it comes to what police ought to be doing. Like police work.

There is no reason today why cities can't be tremendously clean, livable places. In fact, they have to be if we want to compete globally. Any dirty industry has either moved overseas (you debate the good/bad there) or it has or will soon have to move to the suburbs/exurbs where land is cheaper.

You doubt that process will happen? Consider yourself lucky if an industry targets your property in McKinney or Celina for relocation. Otherwise, it's back to the farm for your land. And this is if you're still semi-lucky and some dollar value can be affixed to your dirt. Woodland Critters don't pay much for real estate.

Furthermore, between the surplus of housing, the shadow inventory of housing that banks are sitting on, and the pent-up demand for in-town housing (now that cities aren't such filthy disgusting, unsafe places), there is no demand to meet out in the middle of nowhere. Zero. Zilch.

And the highways we spent on (the excessive ones beyond Eisenhower's initial interstate system), we can't even maintain. Sure, they might have created some economic development, but now? Just to maintain them, we are fronting billions of dollars with the only return being not utter disaster as a highway or highway bridge collapses, which yes, has already happened. So every dollar we spend now generates zero in return.

Talk about roads to nowhere. Keep voting for these people if you enjoy the thrill of sky diving, or the superman ride at six flags, but there is no parachute. No bungee cord. It is more like driving a car off a cliff. That last step is gonna be a doozy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

DMN endorses Scott Griggs for Council District 3

DMN, you really needn't write all those words. These were the only ones that mattered:
Regrettably, its City Council representative has increasingly not lived up to what this district deserves, and this newspaper is recommending attorney Scott Griggs over incumbent Dave Neumann in the May 14 election. The 36-year-old Griggs is steeped in knowledge about city affairs and brimming with ideas to improve not just District 3 but southern Dallas as a whole.

Latest D Mag Column

The new issue is up online along with my column. Find it here. One bit that didn't make the cut was a brief discussion about how we keep designing public spaces for "contemplation," and "seclusion," and whether that is even appropriate for downtown, on Main Street, where 100,000+ people come everyday to work. Here is the piece that was cut:

In defense of the wall, a media representative for Belo defended the wall to the Observer stating that the wall “was necessary for preserving the intimate feel of the garden.” However, if you’ve been to Thanksgiving Square anytime recently, you know that intimacy and a fortress of solitude means nobody is there to use the park. Furthermore, downtowns require a perception of safety and walls instill the opposite when you can’t see what is happening beyond it. We want the vitality created by lots of people in downtown yet design places for people to enjoy individually, even suggesting that others would spoil the experience. Perhaps the entire design concept of the garden is flawed in a place where 100,000 people visit each day to work, yet for it to be successful and used properly by its own definition, only one will be admitted at a time.

Bit that did make the cut:
Walls are antithetical to good urban design. Walls quarantine physical pathogens to the living system of cities, often referred to as Locally Undesirable Land Uses (LULUs). Typically with LULUs, incompatible projects wind up as neighbors—your house sitting next to, say, a lead smelter. But it doesn’t get much more complementary than putting a park next to a residential building, which is why parks drive up the value of residential land within walking distance. Urbanism is about agglomerating compatible projects so that the value of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Think of a jigsaw puzzle. Any two pieces have a relationship. Everything has its place. The closer the pieces, the stronger that relationship must be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Outdoor Cafes

So I decided to pick up Google Earth Pro, because I missed her so. I used to climb vine-covered trellises to read sonnets to her as she watched from above approvingly with batting eyelashes. I said "doth" a lot. Or was that DOS?

But I did so to have access to much higher-resolution aerial imagery. Little did I know that Google Earth Pro has added traffic counts from just about every street across the country (or at least places that I cared to check) as well as demographic data from the 2010 census. I decided to measure the densest areas of the city.

I never would've guessed it, but the two most dense parts of the city are right next to each other (not unsurprising), but on the two sides of Fitzhugh, east of N. Central Expressway. These two areas measured 60 people per acre and 51 respectively. I didn't find another area sniffing 40 in what I expected to be the densest areas (most of these were in census tracts of about a tenth of a square-mile) including downtown, uptown, and Turtle Creek.

Just found that interesting.

Also, inspired by the tremendous 2002 Gehl Architects report for the City of Adelaide, I decided to map outdoor cafe/dining areas in and around downtown Dallas. Certainly, I very well might have missed a few. In some cases, it was difficult determining what was still open/what was closed, particularly in say, like Victory.

Furthermore, I didn't count places like the Green Room or St. Pete's Dancing Marlin for outdoor dining that wasn't fundamentally part of the street. It was either on a roof or enclosed in an off-street tent. Might as well be inside. No soup for you.

The significance of mapping outdoor seating is that this is one indicator of a healthy place. Like any statistic or graphic, it is an abstraction and never tells the whole story, but it tells part of one. Like a chapter.

As Gehl often says, the significance of outdoor cafe tables/chairs/patrons is that these are an indicator of places people want to be. As I often say, desirability is the key characteristic, it triggers a positive emotional response in us (to track back w/ the theory that cities are fundamentally responsive to emotion).

One measure of a place (if perhaps impossible to accurately measure) is the percentage of people in a given place ABOVE those that have to be there. They choose to be there. Desirability = choice = people = cafes that want to capitalize on the quality of place and the attractive characteristic.

I reduced the image to half-size to ensure proper uploading. You should still be able to embiggenate to about 9 x 12" or so.

The "desirable" places of downtown Dallas. Recall too that cities exist in at least four dimensions and that areas are constantly rising and falling. Some areas might be on the way up and have more dots in a year or two. Others on the way down (less dots in a year).

Feel free to add some places in the comments that I might have missed. I'll try to put a map of uptown/knox-henderson at a similar scale within a day or two.
edit: here is the map of uptown. I rotated North about 45 degrees to fit all of Ross, some of lower Greenville, Henderson, Knox, Oak Lawn, and all of uptown.

Once again, I'm likely missing a few here and there. Too, there are a few dots that are so close together as to double up. I also intentionally left out some where there was outdoor seating, but was part of a pad site (i.e. singular restaurant building w/ parking all around) or any other formats where the outdoor dining space wasn't an integral part of the streetscape experience.

One thing I found that was interesting, despite the many, many restaurants in the Knox-Henderson area as well as the Turtle Creek/Oak Lawn area, the amount of outdoor dining (at least in terms of percentage of all of the restaurants) was quite low.

The shear amount of dots in the uptown area really highlights the "cafe culture" that has emerged in uptown, which everyone should be reminded, not more than 20-25 years ago was considered one of the roughest parts of town. Today, it is a place to enjoy the day with a beer.

The graphic also helps highlight neighborhood centers. Having just read through Peter Bosselmann's most recent book Urban Transformation, he highlights San Francisco's neighborhood centers, the small-scale, walkable clusters of restaurants and other commercial service uses, geared for daily neighborhood needs. San Francisco had 66, serving 50% of the population within a short walking distance. More importantly, the average "draw shed" or the amount of people each neighborhood center served was 6,000 people.

The next step here is to highlight every cluster of +/- 6,000 people to determine the underserved areas. Thankfully, Google Earth now has 2010 demographic data. Just by looking at this map, I can already guarantee Ross Avenue, devoid of "dots" falls into this category.

A Few Slides on Emotion as the Seed of Cities

Here and there I've mentioned the idea that emotion is the core driver of urban form and evolution, deeper than the many things we typically credit. It has remained only a tangential topic as I haven't fully fleshed out the supporting logic, but basically it is as follows, in a few ppt slides I've used in presentations before...

It starts with cities being the physical representation of economies, which appropriate goods, labor, production, skills, talent, etc. etc.

However, that doesn't quite answer a deeper question, why economies? Fundamentally, we have the various needs and desires as represented by Abraham Maslow:

I would posit that all economies are just a way of satiating these emotions. And over the years, civilization, through trial & error, have determined that things are best and most efficiently distributed through trade (exchange) and sharing of certain things, ie commonwealth - the things we can't afford on our own, like large-scale cultural facilities or things that could very well be priced like clean water/air.

The physical form of cities are then an assembly of the facilities for trade & sharing and the facilitation for doing so, ie transportation networks.

I've also included a few slides on authenticity vs. inauthenticity, suggesting that authenticity is part of this supply chain, where livability is a subjective measure of desirability (how attractive or repulsive various places are). Create places that appeal to our emotions, that are livable, they will then attract people, who populate the place, self-organize (form community), and express themselves through businesses, culture, etc. These expressions are what we refer to when we call something authentic, like Brooklyn is authentic and Manhattan isn't because it is all chains right now.

At least, that is the vague suggestion, but this supply chain from emotion to expressions of culture are what comprises authentic places.

I used Bishop Arts/Oak Cliff as an example and this little detail. The people who live there just so happen to like bicycling, and it shows... expressions. The authentic.

This remains a work in progress...but this is the jumping off point. My main impetus for digging into this idea is that there seems to be such an unhealthy level of distrust in Dallas at the moment, particularly from the citizenry towards the leaders (whether elected or otherwise). I find this tremendously unhealthy as distrust is a repulsive emotion.

It drives us away from each other. It causes us to build walls, and fences, and gates around everything. We build cities where buildings want nothing to do with each other, and very often people that want nothing to do with each other.

We need something positive to rally around. Something significant and meaningful to everyone. Otherwise we'll keep moving apart, which very well could undermine the productivity and efficiency engines that cities are meant to be.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Like a Sweater, Pull any Thread

Be hyper-vigilant. Don't believe anything you hear or read. Especially when it comes from an architect, landscape architect, planner, engineer, etc. who promises anything or professes to know about cities. They may (or may not) be experts. That includes me. Be skeptical.

I was reading thru two books tonight and came across a similar pattern. First, from Stephen Marshall's Cities, Design, & Evolution comes this graphic:

It is from the 1965 report, "Highway Plan for Glasgow," which is not in any way particularly unusual. What is noteworthy is the accompanying text promising a brighter future:
"The very nature of this motorway will define the City into understandable units each with its own identity and from this it will be possible for the citizen to experience what the City means, how it functions and what it symbolizes."
Oh, modernists. The world was supposed to be so bright. You clearly solved all of Glasgow's problems. Or, the particular deficiencies and maladies of industrial cities were cleaned up by various other political and technological processes, and you, the grand utopian designers created your own set of problems. The same area in plan view today:

Why does this matter? Because so many city plans promise so much, particularly from people with varying and sometimes nefarious motivations. They could be perfectly well intentioned, but this also doesn't mean they have any idea what they're talking about.

Which brings me to...

This is a figure ground graphic of Wiesbaden, Germany (white is building form, black is public realm, i.e. not buildings). I found it flipping through Dhiru Thadani's dictionary of urbanism The Language of Towns & Cities (you can buy the two books referenced here at the links provided, but you decide if they're worth the cool $150 they'll set you back).
Side note: forgive the iphone pixellation. I'm too lazy to walk to the home office 40 feet away. On the other hand, I'm not too lazy to be intellectually'll see what I'm getting at.
This is noteworthy because it popped up in a lecture I watched/sat through recently. Except, something was amiss. When it was presented during the lecture, it was suggested the bifurcation notable in the building form was due to allied bombing in WW2. Alarm bells went off in my head at the time, but I let it slide. Neither side looked like post-war german form to me, but whatevs, man. Benefit of the doubt right.

Then I came across it in Thadani's book. Date of the graphic, 1900. I'm not sure any of us need the history lesson that 1900 is well before either World War. Thus confirming my suspicions. Furthermore, after a little research, it turns out that Wiesbaden was spared from carpet bombing unlike so many other German cities, which were more focused on oil refineries and factories producing the various instruments of war, i.e. things that don't look so much like neighborhoods, unless the allies deemed certain towns necessary of Tecumseh Sherman-like total war on party, people and place. Wiesbaden wasn't that important.

On the other hand, these following images ARE of post-war german "urban" form, all in Wiesbaden, but for the most part outside of the area shown in the map above which is nearly 100% the same today as it is represented above:

post-war modernist form... modernist form... modernist form... modernist form...this one actually is represented on the figure ground map above catty-corner to the main train station, but replaces the more urban form represented in the map with something more "modern" and anti-urban.
--side note2: at some point we do have to acknowledge that "new," and "modern," don't necessarily equate to progress in a world/civilization/history defined by trial & error, right? right?
Sorry, I don't mean to be a jerk. But, I take tremendous offense at phony science, intellectual dishonesty, and logical shortcuts. Coincidentally enough, all similar methods used by Le Corbusier, the lecturer mentioned above's favorite architect, who professed that the scientists (and science) of the day supported everything he proposed in the CIAM movement & professional journal written and edited by the man himself.

All of Corbu's work led to the plans, designs, language, promises, and eventual reality in Glasgow (above) and countless other cities around the world.

You start to get an idea why this city, Dallas, is so cynical, so skeptical of being lied to by various leaders, whether elected or the appointed "cognoscenti." If cities are the representation of economies, and economies are fundamentally driven by human emotion, then the predominant emotion of a city DOES matter. You can't build a great, "world-class," livable city where an undercurrent of distrust exists to the boiling point.

We can do better. We need trust, respect, and a higher level of expectation for ourselves and others, whether just out in public, or within our rhetoric and debate. It's time to up the level of dialog, the honesty in the proposals for our city, and most importantly the trust between all of us.

Bringing a Knife to a Food Fight

You may recall I created this graphic comparing lively cities to empty cities where lively ones are built on a foundation of walkability:

This of course rests on our understanding that it is indeed true. And that walkability does in fact make for a better city. I can wax on about why this is so theoretically (freedom of transportation choice, efficiency of connections between and amongst goods, services, labor, talent, etc., desirability of place, etc.), but all that really matters is your opinion. Similarly, whenever I ask groups or crowds I've spoken to, I often ask, "what is your favorite city in the world?" The answers have always fallen within a very narrow range (Vancouver, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Portland, New York, San Francisco, DC., etc.).

These answers come from Sun Belt residents and it is a pretty fair assumption that these places are more walkable than the Sun Belt. In Peter Bosselmann's book Urban Transformation, he highlights all of the walkable neighborhood centers in San Francisco. 66 of them, walkable (within 5 minutes) to 50%(!) of the population of the city. Zounds! I've heard many Dallasites lament what has become of certain streets like Greenville Avenue, which once was home to a far more complex ecology of shops and business types beyond: bar, bar, bar, bar, bar, bar, bar, repeat.

The next question becomes, how do we get from city B (above, empty) to City A (above, lively)?

Ideologues like Joel Kotkin, whose opinion has been skewed by who knows what but likely the common Baby Boomer notion that cars = freedom and James Dean didn't actually die in a car accident, say there is no going back. Going back would NOT be progress. I'm of the opinion that 1) the next generation rejects this notion, and 2) progress also means corrections of mistakes, not wandering down the same intellectual cul-de-sac because we refuse to ask for directions. Kotkin does seem like that kinda guy, no?

Unfortunately for Kotkin, actual intellectuals who operate in the world of objective data have begun putting together various metrics and measures that show why cities are so important, and more critically for this topic, the internet is not an agent of sprawl like Kotkin thinks it is.

I've quoted these two often, but both economist Ed Glaeser and physicist Geoffrey West are arguing that density is necessary for innovation. Great. Now how do we get to density? Kotkin says, the internet allows clustering online. There is no need to cluster physically. Once again, real studies and real world prove otherwise.

First, Glaeser cites in a study in his recent book from the University of Michigan (ick, but in this case I'll hold my sports tribalist nose) where groups that cooperated in person faired far better than those who collaborated online. In fact, the online groups nearly all fell apart amongst finger-pointing, blame, etc. It sort of reminds of two things: 1) the notion posited in Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic that the inability to make eye contact between two drivers dehumanizes the interaction, makes it impersonal, and the "other" becomes the enemy. And 2) well...the chaos of online anonymity.

The other example is real world places like DUMBO that show that creative types not only like being near each other, but it makes collaboration amongst businesses easier, more efficient, and simply...better.

Web 2.0 has emerged, not as a means of spreading us apart, as Kotkin wishes, but as a methods of re-clustering. We tweet, we facebook, we geo-tag places. We text others our locations. We self-organize online so that we can self-organize in person. The internet hasn't dehumanized us, but reminded us of our humanity. It reconnected all of those missing links and interconnectivity that are lost living at the end of a cul-de-sac. We are becoming more gridded online and in person.


(ideally you should be able to click to embiggen)

The emergence of the web coinciding with increased costs of driving (all of the above: gas, roads, cars, etc.), means we won't be living further away from everything and all of our needs are handled online like Kotkin suggests.

Why in the world would the internet replace the easiest and (often) the most enjoyable trips, those that are the shortest, and manageable by foot? It makes zero sense, particularly from an economic standpoint.

Instead, doesn't it make more sense that the internet, through near free transfer of electrons, allows us to replace the more DISTANT, expensive trips. In the most extreme sense, thanks to Google Earth, I can travel anywhere in the world and study any city that I want.

More likely, the internet replaces the majority of our long distant/regional trips, but of course, likely not all. For example, if I want to collaborate with my friend Kevin of FortWorthology on something. We'd likely do the majority of work online. But once a month or so, we would still likely get together, in person, for a beer (which we have done - always by train, the TRE between Dallas and Fort Worth).

The internet, and ever increasingly, our smart phones are the car of the new generation. It allows us to remain connected to friends, work, and our entire city in the way a car never could. And it, as well as its infrastructure, is far cheaper.

The question becomes, do we still want to spend billions on replacing highways? Or just work on getting everybody connected to the digital highways?