Friday, April 29, 2011
...and a bit of brief rambling down allegorical culs-de-sac.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
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.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
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.
Monday, April 25, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Friday, April 22, 2011
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.
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.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
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.
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.
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
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
"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."
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 dishonest...you'll see what I'm getting at.
--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?
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?