Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hasta Luego

I've written a few times, perhaps lovingly, about a place called Valencia, Spain. I grew fascinated and then fond of it via numerous (too many) hours spent on google earth. Via GE, I've been able to travel to countless cities around the world without ever having to leave Dallas. But I haven't spent more time (virtually) anywhere else than Valencia. And while the internet allows me to visit any city in the world on a daily basis to satisfy a curiosity or study various forms and places, there really is no substitution for the real thing.

Well, this week I'm headed there. First, there will be a brief stop in Barcelona for a few days (where I've never been) and then we'll be AVEing (cuz Spain has some new fangled thing called hi-speed rail) down to Valencia for the next five to six days. Then it is back to Madrid for a day and half before returning to Dallas. I've been to Spain before, but only the Costa del Sol and Madrid for spring break whilst a student living in Rome.

Thanks to the good people representing the government of Valencia here in Dallas who have set me up with plenty of information and some contact info for local architecture and design firms to meet with. I'll be looking to pick their brain about the evolution of the city, particularly with regard the finance/real estate driven growth and subsequent crash. What effect has it had on the overall economy (aside from the 22% unemployment), urban form, and overall resilience of the place.

I'm fascinated particularly by the suburbs of Valencia, which I've written extensively about. I'm also intrigued by the aforementioned new development in and around these suburban areas, which by many American metrics appears to be of a high quality of development, but without any demand to support it. It was strictly supply-side and the resultant images appear similarly generic and soulless, as opposed to the rest of the cities (or suburban cores for that matter).

It's possible I could post from over there, but I can think of anywhere between 400 and ten million things I'd rather be doing than on a computer. Somewhere in the top 10 is sipping Sangria on the Mediterranean (OK gargling).

I made this post about three years ago now, and it turns out that I'll actually be staying in the hotel on the sleepy side street plaza where this picture was taken:

[274874.jpg]

The following is a truly massive development at the northernmost bleeding edge of Madrid. To give you some sense of the scope and scale of this development, all of which is newly completed, under construction, or mothballed (cuz like, yeah duh), imagine if everything between 30 on the south and Turtle Creek to the north, Trinity River on the west to Greenville Avenue to the east was completely redeveloped.

Yeah. That is how big this construction site is. I'm not saying that's a good thing, in fact just the opposite, because it was completely fueled by financial shenanigans creating value where there was none and delivering far too much product for the market to absorb. It may turn out to be a great neighborhood some day, but its generic, often arbitrary 2-dimensional shapes from the air often translate to rather soulless experience on the ground:


Blah. But who knows. All it takes is the 30,000 more people to fill up all the residential development then maybe a soul will emerge. It remains to be seen.


On the other hand, is the Valencian suburb of Torrent, which I profiled in this post. For being barely more than 1 mile square, Torrent manages to fit 70,000 people into the small satellite city, all within walking distance of a train station bringing you into Valencia. The most important part however (as detailed in the above link) is that there is a full range of housing types, transitioning in density from the core (around the train stops) out to the agricultural fringe. You can live in a dense apartment dwelling or a single family home. As I often state, choice in housing and transportation is a critical component to a healthy city.

What I hadn't realized when writing about Torrent in the past was the "Victory" scaled/style development that has sprung up in the past three years.



You'll be happy to know that I just bought a brand new camera for this trip (and all others), so when I return I'll have full reports of the places I visit with hundreds and hundreds of photos, so no more cloudy, pixellated iphone camera pics.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Creative Panhandling

Remember when I said "creative panhandling" was an indicator of a livable place? No, the link is off to the right, but the point was that between the amount of 1) residents and 2) tourists - both a product of desirability, there was a market for 1) panhandling, but 2) a lot of competition amongst said panhandlers. You don't find many simply asking for bus/train fare as you do here (speaking of, where do they have to catch a train to? Gotta get some new chinos at the urban outfitters in Mockingbird Station?).

In Paris:

PSA: On Subsidy and Charity

DMagazine's FrontBurner blog has a link to a worthless Financial Times report/article about how strong Dallas is, as indicated by the number of cranes(?!) in downtown. In a normal world, yes, that would be a key indicator. But, was Dubai strong in 2008? Is China, where half the cranes of the world are churning out entire cities soon to be occupied by...no one unless by gunpoint. Is that strong? And as I point out in the comments:
I’m struggling to figure out what/where the other cranes might be: Convention Center Hotel, Nature/Science Museum, Dallas Baptist, and Hunt-Hill Bridge, and Parkland (is that downtown) are the only possibilities. All of which are subsidized or donated charitably. The city won’t truly come back (and what is back? back to the future?) until downtown development can be profitable without subsidy and with taxable floor-area downtown.
Oh, and I forgot Museum Tower. However, you tell me if million dollar condos sat within an off-ramp is a good investment for the police/fire pensions (and I'm all in favor of pensions going into real estate, but not until the systemic issues related to short-term vs. long-term gains are worked out).

In actuality, we're treading water (at best). As I suggested in the comments, if we were truly dedicated to downtown, we'd be trying to figure out how to flip the fundamental equation in downtown Dallas real estate, that land prices are far higher than demand warrants in order to make development work. We've gotten by thus far, by heavily subsidizing projects to this point.
We can't possibly keep treading water before we drown. Instead, the 360 plan drew development plans that can't possibly work without obscene levels of subsidy and participation from the city's side. And trust me, I'm no tea partier, but both developer AND city would prefer that scenario just to be out of each other's hair.

Fortunately, I've figured out how to flip the equation so that demand is higher than land costs. Take out freeways (where the city/state/and feds own land depending upon which Right-of-way). Broken record, I know. It will cost, what a 1/5th of what we're trying to spend rebuilding the various freeways in/around downtown?

And we can flood the development market with land at cut rates (in exchange for agreements for a certain level of quality development), remove the fundamental impediment to necessary desirability (highways which make living in Oklahoma rational), and set up a TIF to build the street/block/park infrastructure (hell maybe even streetcars, woot!), because of the increase in taxable land value from ZERO, to whatever that increment might be? $30/sq.ft for dirt? Higher?! Rather than the only return being sooty lungs and deformed and/or premature babies (and I'm not joking).

In one sense it is a public safety issue, which potentially brings condemnation into play. Ironic, considering we hate condemnation b/c it was used to build freeways. It may now be our salvation.

When something is an economically, environmentally, and socially profitable, really...how do you say no? "Cuz it's too hard?" That ain't (excuse me grammar-snoot sister) the Dallas way. Perhaps I can shame/goad Dallas into it...the "world class" cities are doing it.

Sorry for interruption. Recommence irrationality, insanity, and "doing things big!111!!!" or something.


Mayoral Race

Well, it's down to two, but that didn't stop me from enjoying this piece put together by You+Media and Sam Merten:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Forgotten 4th and 5th Dimensions of Urbanism

I rather like this image. What is it you ask? Well, it is a 5-dimensional geometric object. It actually has very little to do with the dimensions (that we yet know of) in the physics world, which are all theoretical above 3.

As a quick remedial lesson, the first three geometric dimensions: height, width, and depth. We can see this with buildings, the building blocks of the system of cities. The cells. Both buildings and cities have a height, width, and depth.

There are also other forces at work which may or may not be able to be measured. The fourth dimension is commonly accepted to be time. That's easily measured. But it is also a force in a way in conjunction with the creators of cities, us. All of us. This force is emotion. Our needs and wants. Cities are the invention to facilitate the appeasement of those needs which are expressed by Maslow's hierarchy of needs:
Notice the diversity spectrum and the pyramidal form. 100% of the population have the most basic human needs. Or at least approaching 100%. Less and less need the higher order of needs. So our cities have to first suffice the basic needs of shelter, food, air, and water. And we build our cities to facilitate these needs.

Cities inherently are an equation. They have inputs and outputs. Cost in, benefit out. We participate in this equation, the upfront costs, because cities have inherent advantages which are slowly but surely being measured. Physicists call the inputs "sub-linear," in that the more we cluster, densify, the less inputs that have to go into a system. The less costs via infrastructure and energy.

On the flipside of the equation, is output. We cluster to innovate. Innovation, as well as the access to jobs, labor, talent, skills, ideas, and others, allows for a "super-linear" output of wealth. So if there are natural advantages to clustering, surely there is a force creating that. It is what I qualify as the 5th dimension, or Gravity, of cities.

To explain it, I'm going to use some Einstein on ya:


Above, you see two graphics. Yes, two. The above is a grid in plan view. Below is the same grid in section. Imagine it as a map with longitudes and latitudes in the above. And a map lying flat below. Also, imagine this as a city. A grid of streets organized around a central crossroads. In Dallas's case, this was a strategic railroad crossroads, which created opportunity, ability to meet needs and desires of life, and so people clustered around it.


Eventually, a center of gravity emerges. This can be a central open space, a market, or just an intersection (later we'll get into how centers of gravity form). In Einstein's terms, he theorized that gravity exists on a plane. Imagine the circle above as a planet.


That planet, that center of gravity, its very essence of being, then bends the plane it exists within. In plan view (in terms of the city), we cut direct routes to that center of gravity. As its pull evolves and grows stronger, we want straighter, easier, quicker, more direct routes to that place. We then shape our city around those centers of gravity.



Eventually, because of its pull, it forms other "hangers on," so to speak. The singular center of gravity can't get any bigger or support any more mass, so other, lesser ones begin to form. Think of the earth and moon. The moon spins around (because it also has its own center of gravity). In city terms, it is subordinate to the larger center of gravity, but exists within the same system. A hierarchy begins to form.


For a real world example, let's look at some old ass cities to explain all the concepts above. The top two are Baghdad. You see the original city plan, a ceremonial religious temple formed at a crossroads. Eventually, it grew as people clustered, agglomerated around it.

The lower two show the preeminent example of a city constantly in evolution, Rome. The classical Roman plan shows a circus, a place that attracts people. Over time, the actual purpose of the space evolved into a flexible public space that has constantly changed purpose as the needs of the people have changed, but most importantly, see the way the city blocks have been divied up to allow for density, yet movement. No buildings are too big as to obstruct the free flow of movement (in this case primarily pedestrian). But the individual buildings themselves are still necessary, otherwise there wouldn't be a source or destination. Both parts of the equation are necessary.

I bring this entire post/idea up because our "planning" (and by planning that inherently implies future, therefore, time) has been corrupted by modernist design. The idea of a singular genius that can foresee the entire system at once. But that isn't how cities work. Every masterplan that is done, tries to envision a climax-state condition based on today's realities. It is fundamentally flawed.

So what happens if the equation is broken? Dysfunctional? And how does it become dysfunctional?

In terms of planning, it means the entire profession and how it operates needs to be rethought, rebooted from the ground up. Otherwise, as we are seeing with just about every masterplan that isn't delivered in one giant phase, the reality never equals the vision. This threatens to de-legitimize a perfectly legitimate, noble profession.

So what are the elements in the equation? In my opinion, it all revolves around our innate "humanness," our emotions. Our needs, wants, desires. Critically, this means (and I think it is commonly accepted) that our system of laws has adapted in a way that we need to meet our needs without expensing the ability of others to meet theirs. Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness and all that. Or property if you prefer Locke. But quality and value of property can also, similarly, be impinged by what is around it.

People will always be repelled by this...
It's unpleasant, it is unsafe. People retreat from it like a hand from a hot stove. We know it would be bad for us to walk along or across it. We're also learning that the airborne particulate matter has harmful effects on our lungs and perhaps even more importantly, the gestation of the babies we bear.

It also costs a ton of money and gets little value in return. At one point there was a financial return. The highways allowed land far far away to be viable. In Dallas's case, this means outside the actual city of Dallas. You could now "live in Dallas," without actually having to live in Dallas. In other words, you could exist as a parasite. Not just a secondary center of gravity, but an entirely destructive relationship. Like this kind of moon:


Highways are useful in linking two (and more) regional economies (aka cities) together. Cities, are comprised of a foreground of movement and a background of residential fabric that organizes and clusters around those movement corridors. Our primary mistake was in thinking, hey, let's move cars FASTER on those corridors. It's EFFICIENT, Grrrr!!!! (Here is where I remind you the nazis were efficient. Efficiency can be pernicious. It is not a goal in and of itself. It merely amplifies the either bad or good.

See the L'Enfant plan for DC. You can clearly see a foreground network (the bones) of the system. Linked to centers of gravity, public spaces and important buildings. Commercial activity wants to be on these primary corridors for traffic and access. But if the character of those corridors is poor, inhumane, it undermines the value.

So our foreground corridors, the primary structural elements of a city became infected with this virus of efficiency. Move every car as fast as possible. Which brought more cars and more cars and then corrupted the system. We now have this fundamental disconnect where commercial real estate wants, nay, NEEDS to be along those movement corridors. But if those corridors are inhumane, repellent, nobody wants to be there. They then undermine the very value of the movement along them. A broken system. Commercial real estate provides a great deal of the amenity in our world such as shops and services, nearby jobs, etc. all of which are only amenities if indeed they are easily accessible AND the area around them is safe and attractive. Too often the modern conceit of "accessibility" meant big roads, which undermines both safety and attractiveness.

Desirable = Value. This is a constant and an unbreakable law of urbanism.

Proximity = Value. However, this is dependent upon the quality of our transportation network. How do we traverse the distances between proximate destinations? And therefore...

Movement = or =/= Value. Here is where the entire system lives or dies. If there is a direct relationship between movement, aka traffic, and real estate value the system is healthy, stable, and resilient. If there is an indirect relationship between traffic and value, aka when cars and big roads choke the life out of places, the system is dysfunctional. It is broken.

There is a clear learning curve amongst cities on how quick on the uptake they are. Some have learned this faster than others and I would posit the longer it takes for, ahem, us, the more painful the transition will be. That is, if there is anything worth saving at all.

On the other hand, we'll always be attracted to this.
Notice the people. I say this only half facetiously, but seriously, people, PEOPLE and the presence thereof are the number 1 indicator of a healthy urban place. A place where people want to be, want to be near each other. We're social beings. Furthermore, cities are the greatest invention man has ever made. They spur innovation by bringing two people, two disparate ideas together, and fusing them to create something entirely new. Then, the city acts as the laboratory, testing those ideas. Those we find of value stand the test of time. Bad ideas, those of no value to humans, get cast aside, forgotten forever to history. Now look back at the two previous images. Which one has a future?

And if you can't decide based on aesthetics, think about how much the infrastructure of each place costs in relation to population density. Which can we even afford?


Returning back to this image, we see a series of what appear to be centers of gravity. One necessary part of the center of gravity equation, is that we must be attracted to it. We want to be there. So it has to be designed well. On the other hand, it might not necessarily HAVE to be designed well if the gravitational pull is strong enough. This happens when areas are strategic, generally at important cross-roads. Bill Hillier would call this Pervasive Centrality. I call it convergence. Crossroads of movement (of whatever form).

That movement is energy. The next step in the Center of Gravity equation is to slow that energy. The energy is critical, but if it is moving too fast, if it is too volatile, it will erode the mass. Think of dropping a sugar cube into a glass of ice water. Water is charged, believe it or not. Electrons are bouncing all over the place. And they beat up the object until it dissolves.

So we have to calm that energy, condense it into a slow vibration, forming critical mass. Slow movement is tolerable. Furthermore, because it means other active ingredients, in this case people, are there, and that we're attracted to other people. We can have a center of gravity. But we still have to have a delivery system of people to place. As you see those links in the 5-D object between "dots" or centers of gravity.

Our problem is that the delivery system we've created, all geared around the car and the highway, undermines the very purpose of cities and the power of the clusters they facilitate. High speed movement, throughout history has proven antithetical to quality of place. But, because of the once increasing regionality of our economies and now globalism, high speed long distance connections are a necessity.

But they can only exist tangentially. The infrastructure is destructive except for one form. The internet (which does have its own infrastructure, including radiation, all of which we're unsure of its side effects) is the least harmful way to make most of these regional and international connections.

Because of the inherent advantages of cities, the optimal condition is clustered and accessible yet desirable. Between the internet, proper city form and the tangential relationship of regional/international interconnectivity, it is possible. Can we achieve it?


Monday, May 16, 2011

Charlie Brown Christmas Trees

They even dress like hipsters.

We keep trying to buy shiny aluminum flourescent pink and golden yellow trees, plopping them around the city in the hopes they might grow roots. They're expensive, but we treat the city like all it needs is a good go on Supermarket Sweep. Gimme one of these. How about one of those. There is no complexity. Nothing more to discover. After the first look-see, people get bored w/ simple objects where the entire allure is its newness. They go out of style like seasonal colors as dictated by Milanese runways.

It's amazing too how often the consultants suggest this or that doo-dad will create a "destination." "A sense of place and/or arrival." "A gateway." When singular objects never do such things. Missing the complex, organic process that are cities. Rising. Falling. Improving. Degrading. Always with good reason. A vibe, a soul, or a "sense of place" (you choose the word) is created by fusion, many things interacting together with a net positive outcome. Otherwise it goes away. We have options us people.

We think that since it worked for Bilbao. It shall work for us. It's that simple right? Well, London added a slick pedestrian bridge. Who needs the London? No need to fix the more troubling issues if we can just throw money at problems. Whether that money comes from public subsidy or private charity. We've done both and done them often. Perhaps even wallpaper them in cash to make them disappear. Green like camoflouge, I suppose. Big cost, little returns. Not unlike trying to shrub up invaded or desolate areas with excessive landscaping. If we call it "landscape urbanism" it will sound urban, right? Who needs spatial integration? That just seems like hard work.

All we have to do is buy some thing and walkable neighborhoods will magically appear. Nevermind that in cases like Bilbao there is far more already in place to work with. The vanilla ice cream was already in place before putting the cherry on top of the sundae foundation. Might we keep throwing cherries eventually one should spawn ice cream right? A consultant said so. It must be true.

Meanwhile, various Charlie Browns around the area fell in love with little saplings. They might be shabby. They may not look like much, but they're alive. And therefore have both meaning and growth potential. Look at Fort Worth. Their Better Block has been made permanent.

I witnessed a dad and a gaggle of kids riding by on bikes last Friday afternoon on Magnolia Avenue. A group of three twenty-something girls rode the wrong way in traffic, not in the bike lane. Such things happen when they feel safe. Pretty sure no one minded. They caused no harm. No traffic model will tell you that will appear with the right provision, i.e. a safe place to do as such. "Well, if the equation says no. No it is." All hail antiquated formulae.

Instead, Fort Worth South and its citizenry have planted their christmas tree and are growing an actual forest. Little cost, big reward. Except this vigilante/guerrilla/tactical urbanism is not enough. Sure, it will get us over to the next threshold, but if we want to embrace big visions, we also have to think big. Not bridges, museums, or stuff. But restitching our neighborhoods together so they begin to grow and blend and are more attractive and desirable than Frisco or Allen or McKinney or Rockwall.

And we have to. Think big. Act big. But it must also have big returns economically, environmentally, and socially. It's the highways stupid. You recoup the public sector's best asset (land), sell it off for development, get tax base, and greater affordability for residents.

Residents that, in this scenario, wouldn't need to spend half their paycheck on car/gas/insurance. Wouldn't need to worry that their greatest investment (their home) value drops to zero and is worth little more than the copper wire inside of it. And we'd all get cleaner air, more recreational opportunities, police and fire services that aren't stretched so thinly, nor would we blow school budgets busing kids everywhere.

Or else we'll be passed by our competition, which is every other southern city. There is a capital of the east (NYC). A capital of the north/midwest (Chicago), a capital of the west (LA), and all of the cities around them fall into line hiearchically. There is no capital of the south. Austin wants to be it. As does Houston. Will we let them beat us as we plant our fiberglass christmas trees? Sure there will be bellyaching, but I promise you it's the key to an actually "world class" city.

Destruction is also a form of creation. Particularly, when it obliterates the noose around our neck. We need to breathe. And a car-city de-car-ing itself would make for far better national and international press than our missteps.

Post-Modernism, Pedestrianism, and the Meaning of (City)Life

I thought we were past this. I hoped we were once again finding meaning, purpose. Not just meaning in our work and our lives, but actual meaning in the words we use. Apparently not. And we're back in the spiral of things/words meaning whatever we want them to mean, therefore they have no meaning at all, no shared relationship between sender and receiver in the communication equation.



As you see, the aqua zone is the "Pedestrian Primary Zone." And we celebrate the pedestrian's primacy by placing said pedestrians (some might call them humans, but in this particular case some might refer to them as sub-humans) within a 3-sided box of freeways. On the fourth, the Trinity River side, we are proposing a 4th, ummm parkway, aka highway. On top of those matters, the pedestrian zone is currently bisected by Industrial Riverfront Boulevard, which is proposed to have a 160-170' building face-to-building-face distance across it.

Where is a pedestrian to go? Spin around in circles? Do laps around the jail? Where are they to come from? Helicopter in? A new stealth blackhawk in every garage perhaps?

But really... the entire idea of a "pedestrian zone" shows our misunderstanding of cities and pedestrianization as well. In that way, every mall in this city is a "pedestrian zone." Might as well just go ahead and call it a "free speech zone" or "Super Happy Fun Town" too. Because all you have to do is draw some colors on a plan, label them as you wish, and voila, super and happy.

Maybe, just maybe, after all of these efforts fail, we won't be able to keep lying to ourselves about the various potential of all these nonsensical projects.

As I stated in the Unfair Park comments section of the article, if we're to be serious about using public investment to leverage private development, there are 3 things we can do: 1) build the Trinity (without the parkway), 2) Start Project Pegasus as far as the demolition phases go and then forget to rebuild it, i.e. get rid of it, or 3) remove the prison. And it will likely take 2 out of 3 to really make anything viable down there. Otherwise, this is all very expensive tilting at windmills with money better leveraged elsewhere.

Monday Linkages

First thing first. I spent much of this past weekend buzzing about various parts of Fort Worth that I hadn't yet explored before. Previously I had spent a decent amount of time in and around downtown, the West 7th development, TCU, and the Cultural District and that was about it. As part of various wedding events and the logistics of me getting to certain places without a car invariably led me to places I had not yet been, like meeting up with Kevin of Fortworthology for coffee/tea at the new local coffee house on Magnolia (Avoca) before I headed to wedding party rehearsal.

It pains me to say it, but Fort Worth has much better bones left in tact than do we here at the bigger brother (sister? What sex would Dallas be if we were to anthropomorphize?) Magnolia Ave is like Bishop Arts but like 5x of it, including the active, engaged young professionals that have bought into the neighborhood to the south. It surely is only a matter of time until the broken fabric to the north, between Magnolia and downtown is redeveloped.

In another part of town, much of North Main Street between downtown and the stockyards was surprisingly intact as well. Only the remaining fabric seemed to oscillate from one side of the street to the other, rarely mirroring proper form on both sides of the street. On the other hand, North Main was proud home to this byoot (sic):

http://v10.lscache2.c.bigcache.googleapis.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/8574262.jpg

It might just be the single ugliest building I've ever laid eyes on. So they also have that on us.
-------------------------------
Elsewhere on the interwebs:

A bill in the TX house could use your help. It is about Complete Streets and would require any city using state or federal money to make the street complete. Of course, this wouldn't effect highway dollars, which would be pretty killer to tie those two things together since they, when running through urbanized parts of the city, are very much to blame.
--------------------------

Michael Pollan, author of such indispensible books as Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food (you likely might know him from Food, Inc. as well), wrote a column over 20(!) years ago against the American front yard/lawn. It is all the more relevant today:
Americans like Olmsted and Scott did not invent the lawn; lawns had been popular in England since Tudor times. But in England, lawns were usually found only on estates; the Americans democratized them, cutting the vast manorial greenswards into quarter-acre slices everyone could afford. Also, the English never considered the lawn an end in itself: it served as a setting for lawn games and as a backdrop for flowerbeds and trees. Scott subordinated all other elements of the landscape to the lawn; flowers were permissible, but only on the periphery of the grass: “Let your lawn be your home’s velvet robe, and your flowers its not too promiscuous decoration.”
Of course, also by democratizing the "estate yard," you're also bringing it down to levels incapable of maintaining it to a certain standard (which inevitably led to nigh-fascistic homeowners association strictures). Like so:

via Old Urbanist. In the words of Lloyd Christmas, "Austria?...beeyoooootiful."
------------------------

Old Urbanist walks through a comparison of European suburbs and American suburbs illustrating the (obvious) difference, but also spelling out that there really is no value to the front lawn (unless you're growing something on it. And even then, it might as well be more contiguous and in the back for a number of reasons including that it is inefficient to have distance between the conduit of movement (the road) and the interface with the use (building front door).
------------------------------

I figured Freakanomics was mostly discredited by now, and maybe that detracts from this column, where they delve into Malcolm Gladwell-level quasi-depth (that being very little) about freeway removal actually helping traffic. Freakanomics does have a role to play however, in that their entire value is pointing out essentially the inaccuracies inherent of hyper-specialized fields that become so adept at doing one thing very well, that they fail to take into accout spin-off and/or auxiliary effects of their work.

Similarly and ironically, this is not in anyway addressed in this particular column. They're stuck simply in the "moving traffic" realm, not in the overall impact of "moving traffic" on possibly more important things like more economically and environmentally efficient and effective ways of making the exact same connections. Predictably, transportation planners and engineers jump into the fray and further discredit their entire profession by not getting it AT ALL. So I felt compelled to weigh into the comments:

Lol. “traffic demand models.” the ones that are rigged to conclude more supply is always necessary? Like or don’t like this article because it supports or contradicts your assumptions, pick up Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt for a deeper view of the issues.

What happened in the cases cited above as well as in Seoul and Milwaukee which removed a freeway b/c they couldn’t afford to maintain it (expect far more of that around the country), resulted in improved overall connectivity and spatial integration as freeways are about regional to regional connectivity, undermining local connectivity, the backbone of cities.

Furthermore, what occurs is a form of “import replacement.” more things are done locally, now that a freeway is removed, a place becomes safer and more desirable, thus denser and more valuable.

Think about these examples as well. Pompidous widened the car travel lanes essentially from building face to building face. It pushed out all the pedestrians and all the businesses died. Since the mid 90s, Paris has systematically been replacing the travel/parking lanes of Champs Elysees along the side with increased pedestrian space. It’s now some of the most valuable real
estate in the world.

When Copenhagen began removing cars and parking spaces all of the businesses objected. They’re doing better than ever today because people want to be there.

And lastly, it is important clarify the difference between intracity and intercity freeways. The intercity are important in linking regional economies. The intra are destructive and disrupt local economies. This is why Eisenhower was appalled when cities and states bastardized his interstate system and ran amok with them.

People liked hitting "dislike" on my post ("OMG that disrupts my worldview!! How dare you!"). I would be perfectly happy to debate any and everyone on this issue. Because I know it better than they do. But they know how to move cars. Of course, none bothered to engage in my bait of a comment.

Instead, they decided to further discredit their profession to the point that soon it will surely prove worthless and thus extinct when they juxtapose statements like, "I'm a professional" and "efficiency is a staple of sustainability." Oh yeah professor? Sort of like your work making some road super-efficient getting from point A to point B some distance away actually prevents fare more efficient (in both time and energy) of say...those Fort Worth South residents bicycling to their various needs and wants on Magnolia?

Seriously. Just retire. You're doing more harm than good. But that could describe large chunks of the entire economy. We've got loads of rebooting to do.


Friday, May 13, 2011

You Know Who Should Be for Highway Removal

Downtown Tower Owners. In their usual short-sighted understanding, would probably assume, "OMG, we need those highways to get people here." But, as I pointed out in the Spatial Integration of Downtown Dallas post, we were busy building towers to a demand that was effectually being gutted by those freeways:
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.
So along comes this story of Comerica Tower being in deep doo-doo, along with many of the other office high-rises in downtown Dallas. Which is expected but perhaps not so coincidental that just yesterday I was sitting across the street looking at it from Press Box Grill having a discussion about its structural integrity. It turns out, and I should've known, considering the broader discussion I was in had a similar arc and conclusion, that the bigger issue isn't one of structural integrity but of financial viability. Said viability, which is pegged to demand which equals desirability.

Can't fill all of that space if no one wants to be there. Unless you drop rents. Can't drop rents and still cover the bills. Can't fill with tenants if downtown is not desirable. Downtown can't be desirable if towers themselves are subtracting from the experience of downtown.

I'm not suggesting getting rid of towers, there is far too much embodied investment and energy tied up into them, but I am suggesting the expectation of more towers is highly unlikely (the mystery of Museum Tower withstanding). Furthermore, to fill them up, perhaps we need to 1) make downtown more desirable and 2) bring housing back closer to the potential employment in the tower by removing the freeways and availing the real estate market to cheap, formerly right-of-way land near downtown.

If you bring residential back closer to downtown (by removing the freeways, thus increasing desirability, then you no longer need to have the freeways to deliver employees from Allen to downtown everyday.

-------

An addendum from the comments in the Observer section where the consensus solution is "mixed-use." Urbanism is always more complicated than that.

The problem is deeper than simple conversion to mixed-use.

A few problems: 1) is the cost of transforming these office towers into residential , 2), can residential deliver the rents/returns that commercial space did, and 3) is there even enough demand to be in downtown Dallas to achieve those rents. The rents of all the other downtown residential buildings would say, likely not. That is not to say they can't be there in the future. Then we have to start looking at why demand is low to live in downtown and why supply of residential is similarly though even though they are partially linked.

The #1 problem in downtown is that land costs are very high (as many landowners expect their land to be worth new towers) and well, demand is low. Demand is a product of desirability, as is density. Both are a product of spatial integration, but that discussion begins to get too wonky for a comments section.

As much as we like to thump our chest, exclaim bravado, and yelp, "world class!" The things we "DO BIG," are only the ineffectual. High cost, little return. And as much as the downtown 360 plan wanted to avoid it, the answer is inner highway loop removal. The cost of which would easily be paid for by the land sale, which then pays off by way of tax base, new, high quality, walkable urban neighborhoods near downtown, meaning a residential base that doesn't need massive amounts of infrastructure (which we can't afford) to get to a downtown office tower.

The inner loop highways make land next to them 1) undesirable and 2) inaccessible (part of the spatial integration aspect), so that the highest and best use all around the "ring" is parking lots, as you can observe. What is built around the "ring," has either been the result of heavy subsidy or charity, the majority of which is tax-exempt.

We, downtown, will forever tread water if every project has to be subsidized and we can't "right-side" the equation of land cost and demand.Lastly, we have to look at having independent (or dependent) neighbors whose tax base is dependent on cheap and easy (or perceived) commutes into downtown as an advantage. Houston, who annexed their 'burbs has to listen to them as constituents. Dallas, in the interest of self-preservation, needs to make it harder to drive into downtown from far flung places.

Houseboats in Las Colinas?


Keep in mind, this is just a half-baked idea at this point. A few weeks back I was on a site visit in Las Colinas. Nothing particularly new was discovered, but all of my previous impressions were reinforced. The biggest issue facing Las Colinas going forward, from an urban design standpoint (and when I say urban design, I mean far more complex than street sections, trees, mixed-use, and building frontages, but rather the spatial integration) it lacks a center.

The lake is a center. And as I've pointed out before water bodies, like many other physical barriers create edge conditions. Edge conditions make for vaccuums of activity as Jane Jacobs would (did) say. Whenever I've been in Las Colinas, I see more cranes using the waterfront than people. It is a dead zone, anthropocentrically speaking.


If the water is too big to cross with bridges (like a river), then pretty much all you can do is make a waterfront park, which is only good for residential. It isn't part of the foreground network necessary for commercial activity.


Las Colinas doesn't need commercial activity lining the water's edge since it is predominantly residential, but it could use more 1) more density, 2) more variety of housing type, 3) more depth of the neighborhoods lining the ring road with its sporadic nodes of very weak centers of gravity, and 4) more visual interest, more clutter along the very clean and dangerously steep freeboard between walking path and falling to the alligators.


So while out there the most recent time, and always looking for an opportunity I thought, "houseboats" since the real estate is essentially free. The way house boats in other cities generally work is that the owner (or landlord as it may be) pays a monthly connection of services fee. I have no idea how complicated it might be to create a hookup at lake's edge to the wider sewage system. Usually this fee ends up being a few hundred per month, but perhaps that fee can be escaped via a form of reduced property taxes that helps pay for infrastructure but doesn't need to account for the consumption of land.


Whether the economics end up working between setting up the infrastructural connections, the cost of the boats, and the demand for a unique kind of housing balances out so that it interests enough people, I have no idea at this point. I imagine that there isn't yet quite enough demand to be in Las Colinas to support creative forms of housing trying to wedge their way near a desirable center of gravity. Some day though, I expect there will be.



A Few Videos/Radio Spots Now that Blogger is Back Up

First is Angie Schmitt of RustWire.com and Streetsblog.net debating some economic development dinosaurs on the Civic Commons radio show. First, note the generational divide. As I've said before, the two diametrically opposed weltanschuungs of the two largest population bubbles this country has ever known are bumping into each other like plate tectonics. Second, note the patronizing tone of the status quo. "You silly girl. This is how things work in the real world." The real world. The only world they've known. Which also happens to be the same one collapsing all around them. Keep on rearranging those deck chairs fellas.


The entire concept of growth is a rather ridiculous one, especially when it is the equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Only if Paul (rhymes w/ sprawl) is a gambling addict. Moreso, as Schmitt correctly points out that when coupled with a falling population base AND falling employment base AND falling wages, that is a recipe for disaster.

Bringing it closer to home where (at least for now) we have a still rising population, we've just been rolling the externalized costs of subsidizing driving and sprawl off and off and off until "oh shit the bill is due. Hopefully, we'll be dead before we have to deal with it." We simply can't afford the level of infrastructure per capita that we've come accustom to. We've been able to avoid it, because of the supposed growth it allowed.

Relatedly, is this interview by Dylan Ratigan, himself a reformed skeptic of the proposal to remove cars from portions of Times Square. The result, as we've seen with nearly every other similar strategy is reduced congestion, increased pedestrian traffic, and more importantly increased spending and land values. Now, 360,000 people move thru Times Square each day:


The reason everybody is skeptical at first is 1) because efforts to add pedestrian malls in the US cities in the 60's failed because the cities were fighting uphill battles vs systemic issues subsidizing sprawl and gutting population base necessary for supporting pedestrianized areas, and 2) because we say, "OMG, cutting traffic lanes will result in chaos, pandemonium, ARMAGEDDDDDONNNNNN!!!!!11!!!"

This is partially a result of being told for all too long that to reduce congestion we need more and bigger roads. We're told this because the formulae say so. The formulae. Unfortunately, those formulae are broken. In fact, they're stupid. Like all statistics and economics, certain things can't be valued or measured. For the sake of making simple equations work (and making us stupid), is we throw those variables out the window. Magically, the formulae now work and invariably always say, "more capacity."

And since we're largely a stupid and lazy people, we wave statistics around as a substitute for actual intelligence.

What they don't take into account, is 1) the value of pedestrians to local economies and desirability of place and 2) even more importantly and directly related to the formula itself is that it is always wrong. It is always wrong because transportation demand is elastic and responsive to supply of capacity. Build more roads, you make driving easier (theoretically and only at first). That then, in effect, allows more people to live further away, because driving is now easy, making land at the edge more valuable, and putting more people on the road. The excess capacity is quickly filled up.

When you do the opposite, removing road capacity, you also reduce demand. This has been proven with every post-road audit. Take lanes away, not only does traffic spread out to other viable optional routes, but overall traffic drops.

Looking closer to home, the three block stretch of Main Street in downtown Dallas (that actually works) now has half the average cars per day than it did 20 years ago. Other parts of Main Street are only down about 10-15%. Yet, I would bet that MORE people are actually moving past this section of Main Street than when more cars did. Simply because more people outside of cars can fit into a space than people in steel and fiberglass boxes.

Lastly, these traffic capacity formulae don't understand human sociology. We are a social creature and like being around other people. We like more meaningful interaction than "beep beep, blink blink, honk honk, /finger." But yet, the all powerful traffic formulae make us anti-social creatures. Now that is some social engineering. So why do we even use them?


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Before I Die...

Kaid Benfield from the NRDC is apparently now cross-posting on the Atlantic's site, where he's put up this pretty amazing piece of participatory public art:

5697746389_914b678b1c.jpg
Rather shocking and not at all surprising how much of this frame is about getting out of NOLA in some shape or form ("visit Africa," "live in another country," become another mythical creature..."). Certainly, the photographer framed it that way, so all we're left with is the photographer's take on things, but it does touch a chord. And that is photography in a nutshell afterall, conveying your viewpoint of something real via a, ahem, viewfinder.

Before I die, I want to play human frogger on a Dallas Freeway. Should be easy enough. All I have to do is start playing in order "to play" at all. The game could end rather abruptly.

/Do not try this at home.

Vicious Clowns


"Hey there little tyke. Come play with me. Don't I look nice? Do you like my makeup?"

I detest pretense. Anything fake. I get the sense most others do as well. I particularly despise the attempts to make "town centers" by dolling up strip/power centers comprised of relentless big boxes and other various smaller, but similarly generic national chains.


This is a new "town square" built near my parents' home in the not-so-great-state of PA, which really, is only great at all for two things: Philly and Penn State University. But, I digress. This abomination was actually built in 2007 if you can believe that. Surely, the good folks in local government thought this was actually a good thing: investment! jobs!

But beneath all that makeup, as you can see in plan, is the same ol' same ol' shopping center, completely disconnected from any relationship to the public realm or the community. It is not a part of the community, but in fact apart from it. The jobs are low paying, low-skill, and hence, the individuals are completely disengaged. Only a fraction of the receipts actually stay within the community.

Instead, each night they are zapped to home base in Minneapolis or Bentonville and then further zapped out to investors around the world. Investors, who don't give a shit about your community and whether it is lovable or lasts more than a few years. They DO give a shit about your money though. They're mining for it. Laying traps for the mice.

This is a google street view of one of the deep setback big boxes. Look! It doesn't even look like a big box. Pay specific attention to the fake spire, the fake windows, AND the entirely fake 2nd story. Since google street view took the pics, I'm left to assume that in exchange for these super awesome facade treatments the developer managed to finagle the township into paying for the new "public streets" aka parking aisles through the site. Nice of them.

Beware of these places. They want to be your friend. They need you to be their friend. They feed on you.




A Lesson in Entropy

The biggest news in Dallas today/yesterday be (oops) IS the opening of an In-n-out Burger. That is all.

unlovable.

Christopher Alexander, author of urban planning/architectural classic A Pattern Language wrote that all human-constructed places evoke either feelings of aliveness or feelings of death (that apparently either nobody understands or we all get at some deep visceral level and the various systemic machinations of the financial and political mechanisms for delivering cities, aka real estate, have us so beaten down into an overall and unending malaise that it is just easier to go along with it than fight. The longer we last until we fight, the more catastrophic will be the cataclysm).

chaos.

en·tro·py (ntr-p)
n. pl. en·tro·pies
1. Symbol S For a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work.
2. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system.
3. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message.
4. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.

OK. Ignore 1. But OMG, read those last four and tell me how much they don't apply to the disorder and uniformity we've constructed. Unlovable, relentless sameness is doomed to devalue, devolve, and self-destruct. Slowly, surely, inevitably.

disinvestment

As I have stated on numerous occasions, most often to interns asking for design advice and nowhere near this level of theory, design (like all things) evolves in one of two ways: 1) either slowly, incrementally, and always built on a foundation of every other competitive step forward, or 2) the old way is completely cast aside by hook, crook, or accident and the transformation is massive and painful. That painful period of transition has been the post-industrial period...for all things economic and/or design. It's time to have purpose and order again.

meaningless

Imagine what happens when the disorder spreads from the system, the form of cities, to society further fragmenting civilization into complete disentegration. Do you think it's an accident that Zombie movies and post-apocalyptic novels are so prevalent? What's dead? What's dying? Where is meaning? What is meaning-ful/-less?

On a long enough time line, survival rate of everything drops to zero.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Parking Calamity and Understanding Evolution

Sounds like a weird juxtaposition no?

I just received an email about parking in Dallas which essentially was a suggestion for what the city should do as it reinvestigates its antiquated and overly generic parking code. You may remember my 13-page paper on parking or if not, you can get acquainted to it here:


I recommend instead, reading my short response to the email, which summarizes the key issues (and the solutions apparently not even being thought about) in a few brief statements:
There really shouldn't be any mandatory "tie" from units to parking. Parking minimums are a guarantee of/substitute for mobility. If mobility is guaranteed otherwise, why should there be any minimums at all?

The one space per bedroom is not forward thinking enough, nor (and more importantly) is it place-based. That is market-rate TODAY and we'll just end up revisiting it in the near future. There should not be a single code or number. It has to be place-based and flexible/adaptable. For example, what if a developer wants to get creative and build 30 condos. With each condo, everybody gets a free vespa. That's a 1500/investment or so rather than the 10K or so for parking, to provide similar mobility. The parking is taken care of by on-street spaces (which are flexible and fluid within a neighborhood). Sure, no covered parking might turn people off, but no development is ever all things to all people (nor should they be). Market self-selects and developers are/ought to be the best expert in meeting certain market segments. Blanket codes ensure a lack of creativity necessary for evolving neighborhoods and producing neighborhoods that are complete ecologies.

And it shouldn't be a pain in the ass to do something "better" than code which is provide less parking than code requires.

Addendum for the blog:
On the other hand, there really ought to be maximum parking standards (basically what is minimum today). The reason is one of, yes, property rights and "takings," a decidedly unfancy legal term describing that what one person does on their piece of land cannot negatively effect the value and ability to sell of your property. Too much parking most definitely negatively effects the public realm and therefore overall value of a place. Pretty much just go anywhere in all of Dallas to see this in live 3D action.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

As Predicted

I was asked, so I shall oblige to opine on the idea of driverless cars, a presentation of which can be seen here:


Like a lot of what plagues architecture and urbanism these days, it is more about the graphic than the reality. Which in a way might even suggest that architects are not at all functioning as thought leaders, but followers. Intellectual products of the system, not solvers of said system.

So we have this idea, which sounds pretty whiz bang at first. But, what problem does it really solve?
  • Pedestrian conflict points.
I want you to notice even in the Tron-like dystopic future imagined above, the pockets of pedestrians (presumably, if we've evolved into firefly-like creatures by this point in the future) isolated by the streams of traffic. The way I understand this very infantile technology is that it is an evolution of the self-parking Lexi (Lexuses?) where it senses the other cars positions. Furthermore, it likely could be tied into a smart system which sees a convergence in traffic modeling, GPS, and said car-on-car hot techmology (sic).

The first question is, can they sense people? The sensors would have to be awfully refined (but I'll get back to this point at the end. So for the sake of argument, let's say they could. And the ultimate purpose is to make traffic safer by taking human error out of the equation and quicker, by smart systems avoiding stoppages, the traffic is able to flow (kind of like a street full of pedestrians would).

Because they never stop, because of this incessant need to prioritize the movement of vehicles over other forms of transportation, they create these isolated pockets of pedestrians. I mean, theoretical pedestrians, because the graphic would actually have us believe that anybody would want to play a game of real life frogger to get into a gigantically overscaled plaza to meet with other theoretical bot-like people. Perhaps once we can imbed our smart phones in our heads they can help us navigate the rushing tides of on-coming driverless cars.
  • Cost...and costs...
The questions this technology will have to answer (beyond my later ones which get into the psychology and sociology of cars) is, can it be afforded. And I don't even mean the scaling up of the means of production (which is another major issue in a rapidly-becoming poorer world -- these are the same questions electric/hydrogen cars have to answer when prototypes cost several million $). Can we afford the infrastructure of private automobile use at such a massive scale. All proof suggests otherwise.

  • Dendritic system
Speaking of costs, nothing about this suggests we don't still need a massive overhaul of the nationwide/citywide/metroplex-wide road system. The current dendritic system which places us from smallest (driveway) to increasingly larger roads (cul-de-sac, local road, arterial, highway, etc.) funneling us all onto the same roads. This creates a situation where all of our places in American cities are either "invaded" or "abandoned." Neither is ideal. Lastly, for a smart system to work, it has to be an improved, stronger, more interconnected grid. That means tearing out the dendritic detritus.
  • Who wants to just ride in a car?
Doesn't the entire scheme take something away from the very reason we like cars? The open road, the freedom (sounds heretical for me to say no?). Think about the absolute IDEAL of cars, car commercials. They are almost without fail in one of two settings: either in high quality walkable urbanism where there are enough cafe go-ers and poor ass pedestrians to broke to have the super cool ride you're in to admiringly watch you and your date cruise past. Or they're out on the Pacific Coast Highway or some other natural setting, on curvy 1- or 2-lane roads. This is actually exactly what I suggest for cars. They have a place, but they're aren't stuck in traffic jams on strip center-lined arterials and desolate highways. Which do we prefer - the Matrix Reloaded freeway or car commercials?
  • Distrust?
Getting back to the very first point of pedestrian conflicts. What happens with the first accident? The first time the technology fails us and an out-of-control car blasts into one of those theoretical crowds of super happy pedestrians cheering on the ever so dull buzz of driverless cars zipping past.

Their point is not an incorrect one. We simply haven't evolved to move or have the reflexes at 60mph. It's not a mystery that traffic is much, much safer at 20-30 mph, and when we're able to make eye-contact, two things closer to our humanity than traffic jams on I-35/45E. Despite the technology intended to make us safer, protect us from the 40,000 deaths per year in the U.S. that automobiles cause, something tells me we'll be a little bit more forgiving of Grampa when he decides to drive through Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica than the Toyota Terminator. After all, we still are far quicker to blame guns for the dipshits, a-holes, and cowards incapable of expressing themselves like civilized adults. My guess is this technology either is never cost efficient, or the first testing failures cause its funding to be slashed.
  • Copenhagen.
Perhaps the technology that will make our trips between places of want and need safer and the cities around those trips more enjoyable is actually a far older, and far smarter form of technology. You know the way a bird is far more efficient than a plane? Or that a spider web is infinitely stronger and more energy efficient than anything we can produce with gobs more energy/effort.

Copenhagen (and Denmark) have set performance based goals for themselves. One of which is zero-auto related fatalities. Ironically, wunderkid architect from the above video, is Danish. From Copenhagen. Not so ironically, he shows in another presentation that he happily lives (and designs) in the absolute most dreary, auto-mobile-centric, modernist part of Copenhagen. It's density! But without the interesting, vibrant street-life! Wait, what was the point of this development again?

Sorry, back to the point, which again tracks back to earlier in this post about the "ideal" of cars. We make fun of car commercials, but in actuality that SHOULD be the ideal. Copenhagen is trying to get traffic related fatalities down from 5 per year to 0. You know how they did it? By disciplining the automobile. By making it pay its own way. By making it share space in the city with bikes, and buses, and trams, and trams, and pedestrians. Because they deserved room too. Because everybody should have the choice of being able to get around to where they want to HOW they want to.

As i tweeted the other day, if your critics are asking how? No longer why? Or what? Then you know you're on the right track. Because figuring out how is always the last step in making a new idea work. I'm still asking why.



Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Weekend

Your walkably urban pic/thought of the day and then something else.

Buildings have body language, representative of their tenants. Is the body language warm & inviting or cutoff, cold, & distant?
A look honey, a room with a view.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Last Response for Today on the State of Planning

I've received a few more responses and critiques of what I've suggested today about the past, present, and future of the planning process and profession that are perfectly logical, however defensive of the idealism within which the current state of public planning operates. Without quoting the words of others, assume my words below are in a response to the presentation of a any excellent planning document. Be it a Comprehensive Plan or similar document or the North Texas 2050 plan or whatever it is called. /disengage directed dismissive tone. People may be tired of documents and plans or they may be tired of leaders not following that work. Either is evidence of a broken process. I go on:
I don't disagree with anything you've said there. But to play devil's advocate, at the end of the day, what do you have? A document. Its quality is beside the point if it yields no action. It is even potentially more destructive if inaction or inability to affect change poisons the entire public process and worse yet the good intentions of planners/designers.

Are a couple thousand people really enough to determine the vision for a city of 6 million? Let's say for a second that mayors (of either city) aren't kowtowing to business interests that are precisely geared to status quo. If I'm mayor, I can say, "well, that is just 6,000 people. I'm responding to the needs of the other 99.9%." Couldn't it also be that those empowered to participate in such a process are self-selected to some extent? And the results were a foregone conclusion? So then they turn the results back over to city staff and consultants (who eventually disappear) and nothing happens. The citizenry (who participated) expected results. But for somebody else to deliver those results. Meanwhile, their neighbor had no idea about it. And since nothing happens b/c of leadership at the top (for either reason expressed above), everybody is turned off and cynical.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for walkable, sustainable urbanism too, but I want a process that works and manifests real change.

What HAS worked and what is virally spreading across the globe, is citizen participation. Not just in process. But in action. Where governments have failed neighborhoods, citizens are acting as urban vigilantes. In some cases it is becoming policy, and that is what I'm recommending.

Then, through working together, the ideas and ideals spread virally through emergent community. Because people are yearning to come back together from atomized, fractured, and fragmented communities. We want to participate, but the current process is off-putting because it has failed us too often. Once those ideals spread and become common goals, we start electing the leaders who arise during that process. See Oak Cliff, they very well might elect Scott Griggs City Councilperson next week. And he's been instrumental in all of it.

When someone asked me once, "could this work in such and such part of North Dallas. What if they didn't want it?" I said "Great. Let them be the masters of their own destiny. Meanwhile, in other neighborhoods one-by-one, leaders are emerging and carrying out similar courses of action to make their hoods more walkable, more amenable to community, and local businesses at the neighborhood level. Eventually those that didn't want it will see the results and want it themselves. It is the necessary competition amongst neighborhoods and cities, that we, w/ COG, have been all too quick to gloss over. As soon as Dallas decides, "you know what, screw these freeways allowing the 'burbs to leach off of us." Population will return to the core. Because all of a sudden driving an hour each way from Frisco is no longer a product of rational choice.

It is an issue of appropriate scale of governance and efficacy of such and works in a similar manner to the study outlined in Ed Glaeser's book Triumph of the City. Groups expected to interact and cooperate in order to accomplish a task, invariably broke down. Groups that worked in person outperformed the online avatars in every case. I'm not saying we should all interact online, but that city-wide problems can't be worked out by the entire populous or even charrettes of a few thousand people.

At the end of the day, democracy works best at the neighborhood level. Where we're all stakeholders, share certain commonalities, want the best for it, and can work things out face to face. It breaks down at the larger, more abstract level where we become a representative democracy. We either elect the right leaders now, or the shit hits the fan from debt (financial, environmental, and social) accumulated through short-term only thinking and action and perhaps someday we realize the errors of our ways and finally get the right leader...or we continue to flounder and flounder away as Detroit has.

What plagued the rust belt was a monoculture of industry. We, in the Sun Belt have a monoculture of place at a time where Quality of Life is the most important factor in where businesses AND perhaps more importantly those with the talent, means, or ability to start/grow the businesses of the future choose to locate. I've been predicting for some time that the Rust Belt's current calamitous situation of figuring out how to downscale/contract is our future unless we get the right leadership. It's happening to some extent (in both Detroit and Dallas) new leadership is bubbling up through the ranks from this very process of emerging and cultivating the new economy and new city with it.

The solution to monoculture is allowing each neighborhood to come together and sort out its own future (while aided and abetted by the resources of the city, the commonwealth -- far cheaper than new/big roads everywhere and expensive consultants or engineering plans), as an expression of those that live within it. A central vision will never do that. More importantly, central decisions on transportation and zoning suffocate it.

Respectfully and appreciative,

patrick kennedy