Monday, October 31, 2011

Plazas: Best and Worst

These are difficult lists to make. Who has actually visited every single plaza and public space in the world whether physically or virtually (ie google earth)? And even then, what is the criteria? Is it entirely subjective? How an individual writer enjoyed the place? Or are there some objective metrics at play? And if so, what was the methodology? Is it land value? Number of pedestrians? Revenue of the interfacing ground floor commercial spaces? One measurement I've used in the past is number of geotagged photos are uploaded into google earth of a place. People like to share the places they love, therefore "lovable places" have a density of photos.

None of these questions are answered by the Atlantic Cities and the analysis is limited (unless you dig into the PPS database), but the best part about that is you can make your own lists:

Link to their top 10 and bottom 10. Dallas is spared from either. However, if I were to select the best and worst public plazas in DFW, I'm first dumbstruck by how few actual public squares there are, but that is what happens when the form of cities is exploded from one of corridors and openings, solids and voids, to endless voids punctuated by object buildings. There no longer are outdoor rooms that provide a counterpoint to the more closed in corridors, creating breathing space to some extent.

However, that paints the corridors in less than ideal language and that couldn't be less of the case. The closer in corridors allow for increased cross shopping and density of synergism. Then when these corridors converge, lots of people end up in one space, hence the need for a greater opening, plazas at significant location.

Here are some of my best and worst of DFW:


Bad suburban - One of the interesting parts of the "suburban" category is that they'll actually be quite urban because as I said, suburban form doesn't yield the form of squares and plazas that are integrated with built surroundings. Therefore, in this context I will use "suburban" as a locational tool, meaning Not downtowns Dallas or Not Fort Worth.

Garland Town Square. An interesting and telling note here, all of the photos in Google Earth at this square are of the Art Deco Theater. Nobody pointing their camera towards the plaza. When visiting, you wonder why anybody would even go down into the space when the street is far more comfortable. If you buy William Whyte's work, he warned against sunken plazas, in that people are more comfortable pausing to sit and watch from elevated or periphery positions, not from within the fish bowl effect of a central sunken place.


Bad Urban. JP Morgan Chase - Similar rules apply, except magnified. There are many many many more people in downtown Dallas than in downtown Garland at any given time, perhaps on a 1000x order of magnitude. But then the effect of the sunken plaza is intensified by the 70-story tower looming over it.

I actually think it could be quite successful if it were filled in. I always liked the potential of the little dome outfront on Ross Avenue as a Campanile of sort, providing a bit of form to the plaza. Of course, that plaza has to interface better with it, rather than being 20-feet below. Notice, picture, no people. Though, I expect this might be a popular smoking locale for office workers.
Dome at the JPMorgan Chase Tower

Bad Urban. Wyly Theater.

One of the few images actually facing out from inside, it illustrates the kind of place only architects can appreciate because of the grading gymnastics accomplished. People don't like to be gymnasts unless they're parkour enthusiasts.
Winspear Opera House

So of course the rendering filled it with people. People like places with other people in it. Only problem is these people are photoshopped. They're entirely theoretical. Nobody is ever in this space. Furthermore, the fundamental problem is it interacts/interfaces with but one building. There aren't 'faces' on multiple sides that interact and energize the space. It is one ticket office that is used once every so often during events and two walls on either side.


Good Urban. AT&T Plaza. I believe that to be the official name, not to be confused with the other AT&T Plaza at the American Airlines Center. It helped that AT&T relocated into downtown Dallas and filled up the better part of the surrounding buildings, but what helped even moreso was the removal of the dreadful stone bus shelters. Not that bus shelters are bad, but they interrupted the visual and physical porosity into the space. Humans are repelled from spaces they can't see into. The best trait of this space however is the microclimate created. I have sat in this space in the middle of the Texas Summer heat and have witnessed many others doing the same. It might be 105 degrees elsewhere, but due to the shade, the breeze, and the water, it feels about 20 degrees cooler.

To be continued...feel free to add suggestions.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review: Instant City by Steve Inskeep


So I received an advanced copy of the book Instant City by Steve Inskeep in exchange for doing a review of the book. This is that review:

Steve Inskeep is co-host of Morning Edition on NPR, a journalist. And like a good journalist, in Instant City Inkseep details the events of a single day in Karachi, Pakistan. A horrible day that should have been a solemn and spiritual one for people of Karachi, instead marred by bombings and arson destroying the center of the city. He unpacks the events of the day by following the threads of Pakistan's history, the central figures involved in the formation and duration of the country until those threads intertwined on December 28th, 2009.

And perhaps the most honest part of the book and Inskeep's reporting is that he doesn't fill in the missing expository gaps that remain inexplicable with editorializing. He'll leave that to the people he interviews trying to explain accounts of the often similarly inexplicable, or at least unjustifiable. Pakistan and its capital city Karachi remain a mystery, a Wild West, where millions just try to live their lives and make a living, while global economic forces, geopolitics, and sectarianism collide in one place, with the vast majority of the citizenry simply an innocent bystander between the colliding forces and impersonal forces. In many ways, the humanism gets lost, by the most fervent dogmatists, religious and economic.

Instant City, the name and the book, is about the cities of the world that have grown and expanded so quickly as to have grown beyond all boundaries, order, or control - organized or otherwise, like a wild fire. He delineates the history of Karachi, its evolution and the division of India and Pakistan, Hindus and Muslims, and the effects dramatic convulsions has upon people, much like an anthropologist might

He gives the best account I've come across describing the differences between the various Islamic sects - which I shamefully admit didn't know the various distinctions between the Sufis, Shiites, Sunnites, etc. despite our country's military involvement in the region over the past several decades. And when reading Inskeep describe what might seem rather harmless to my secular self, you're left to wonder, "seriously? That is what they're fighting over." The reality, as Inskeep discovers, is that for the most part, they're not. The underlying forces are typically about land, money, power, etc. You know, the usuals. The religion is simply a vessel, a convenient way to martial the anonymous into unspeakable actions.

During the book, I often found myself certainly without sympathy, but perhaps more frightening, occasionally without empathy either. Perhaps it was the structure of the book, which mostly consisted of flashbacks, jumping around in time rather than a linear, chronological narrative. Or maybe even that I, as the reader and a similarly disconnected individual within a globalized world, am no different than the various investors with economic stake in a city so far away from effecting their daily lives. There is no motivation to help those who kill and be killed because they're unknown. I didn't grow attached to the characters (real people) and at times didn't care what happened. Just like the shareholders whose economic interests are tied into maintaining the disorder that plagues most of the 3rd world. If that is even a term anymore.

It tells a story of all "Instant Cities" in this globalized world. Cities so young and volatile, that goes a long way to explaining the various motivations, actions, anywhere else, even our city. What can be explained, and perhaps even more importantly, what can't, is a lesson worth reading.




Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sylvan:Thirty Reimagined as Catalyst for Something Bigger

For friends on the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, I put together a couple of concepts this week (on my own time/dime) to elaborate on my previously expressed opinion of the Sylvan:Thirty project and the West Dallas plan in general, found here. Where that was polemical, high on rhetoric if only to entertain myself syntactically, these concepts are more serious, dedicated to envisioning a plan that is viable from day 1, but also can lead to implementation of further phases, whether by the hands of the same developer or multiple parties.

As you'll see, I'm only counting square footages of development within the "limits of construction" of the Sylvan Thirty property line. This is considered "Phase 1." From there, I created two options, both of which I believe to be viable, that is if a parking garage works there. Since they're already showing a garage, I chose to include one in each scheme. Furthermore, since a certain portion of the garage would be dedicated to retail, the public segment of the garage can be funded via TIF. In option A, I'm using the garage and connected density of 4-story stick residential over ground floor retail as the buffer from the highway.

In option B, I allow the grocery to face the freeway to be 2-faced, towards the freeway and its surface parking fronting the "going home" side of the highway, then have cafe/bookstore/coffee shop/etc facing the mixed-use street. Also, in option B I chose to pursue a more logically ideal scenario that pushes density towards the "main and main" intersection of Fort Worth & Sylvan. This of course envisions a truly improved Fort Worth Avenue (which coincidentally only moves the same amount of vehicular traffic as Main Street in downtown which is one lane each way). So on Fort Worth Ave, I'm showing 4-lanes of traffic, parallel parking, and copenhagen style cycle tracks.

When you net out the new public street from the traffic signal on Sylvan, both schemes have an FAR of about 1.2.

The other things accomplished by these schemes, besides creating the first piece of a larger puzzle, the essence of urban design and development, where the pieces all complement each other, contributing to a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Placemaking 101.

One of the fundamental failings of Sun Belt real estate markets and their inherent understanding of something notionally known as "property rights" is the distinction between self-interest and enlightened self-interest. Isolated puzzle pieces fall apart. And given the interest that went into the West Dallas Plan, there is a lot at stake with the first phase. Therefore, it is in the interest of the citizens of Dallas to get some return out of the Sylvan:Thirty project. That being, a great place. And no great place exists in a vacuum. It will take at the minimum all of the parcels I'm showing below.

And this is how the city needs to be approaching the project, bringing carrots and sticks to the table in order to achieve something that spreads like fire. If fire was less burn-y and a bit more user-friendly form of investment. Ultimately, the carrot might be first dibs at the development rights of the future phases, or just increased profits by the insurances that neighboring development will raise value and sense of place, rather than diminish it, or worse yet be wholly unknown.

Quick side note, the graphic detail mirrors the thought that went into each phase. The later phases are meant to be abstractions connoting intent rather than specific development product in that at this point it is rather fruitless to take a reading of the market and product types of a future development well down the road. Whereas, phase 1 is here and now.

Click to embiggenate (sic):

Option B

Option A:


Examples of drive lane/parking/bike lane/sidewalk/building interface:

If You Read One Thing Today...

Let it be this:


Some select lines that ought to invoke a gag reflex in liberals and conservatives in equal ipecac-inducing measure if you don't have time to read the full 7-page article. It'll leave you wondering, "what's an honest businessman to do around here?"

Though 94 percent of schools in Texas teach a sex-ed curriculum based on abstinence-only – an approach that led one watchdog group to conclude that "shaming and fear-based instruction are the standard means of teaching students about sexuality" in Texas – Perry nonetheless signed an executive order mandating that those same girls subjected to those abstinence-only classes receive an STD vaccine. You can't talk about STDs to sixth-grade girls, but if it's worth $120 a shot to a pharmaceutical company like Merck, you can jam the birds-and-the-bees lesson right into their arms.
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In Perry's Texas, state regulation doesn't work because regulatory seats can be bought, and the free market doesn't work because connections and influence matter more than competition and performance. The landfill run by Perry's pals at Waste Control Specialists represents an extreme example of both dysfunctional ends of the governor's approach to government, a taxpayer-financed hole in the ground that is as extremely unsafe as it is woefully uneconomic. "The WCS plant," says Lon Burnam, a Texas state representative, "is the ultimate example of Perry's crony capitalism."
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The system of uncapped donations means that Perry's superinsiders effectively operate as mobsters who hold a chit on the state's government. "These are obscenely huge amounts," says McDonald. "You can give a politician $100 or $1,000 because you like his ideology. But when you start giving him $250,000 or $500,000, you gotta think you are getting something in return."

So what did Harold Simmons get for his money? A lot.

For starters, a group of Perry appointees on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gave Simmons a license to build his hazardous nuke dump, even after the TCEQ's own team of scientists agreed that the project was too risky, given how dangerously close it lies to the Ogalalla aquifer, which provides drinking water for seven states.

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In a supremely ironic demonstration of how the modern system of payola capitalism works, Simmons is now being paid millions by taxpayers, via the federal Energy Department, to clean up his own mess, moving radioactive waste from his dump in Ohio to the one in Texas.

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What's more, the company even got the government to pay for the landfill, lobbying the town of Andrews to float a $75 million bond issue to finance the construction of two new dump sites on the property. And in a final insult, WCS managed to negotiate a loophole exempting it from having to pay school taxes in Andrews. Instead, it offers a few small scholarships a year.
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Perhaps the single most interesting favor that Perry doled out is one that directly violated his supposedly "conservative" Tea Party principles. One of his first big moves as governor was to back the Trans-Texas Corridor, a $175 billion project to privatize the state's highways. This was to be the mother of all public-works projects, a 4,000-mile highway network, at some points four football fields wide, that would also include commuter rails, freight rails and telecom pipelines. The TTC, in essence, was the ultimate Tea Party nightmare, a massive public boondoggle that would have created a huge network of new tolls and required a nearly unprecedented use of eminent domain to help the state seize nearly 500,000 acres of land from ranchers and farmers.

Though most of the project was shot down by the state legislature, Perry did manage to push through several parts of it, most notably a few stretches of new highway construction around Houston and Dallas. Some of the beneficiaries of those projects were American firms that had donated lots of money to Perry and the governors association, like Williams Brothers Construction ($621,000), Parsons Corporation ($410,000) and JP Morgan Chase ($191,000). But another beneficiary was a Spanish firm called Cintra, part of a consortium that won the development rights for the original TTC project.

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Cintra ultimately received about $5 billion in contracts from the state to develop three major highway projects, one of which, a toll road in central Texas, is one of the few surviving remnants of the hated TTC.
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That's if the road ever gets finished. Cintra received a similar contract to run a toll road in Indiana, but it soon ran into financial problems and had to jack up tolls to pay for the $3.8 billion project. In Texas, Cintra will have some latitude to raise rates on its roads, and if you don't like it, well, fuck you.
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In addition to the highway contract with Cintra, Perry this year signed a bill written in part by a lobbyist for a British firm called Balfour Beatty, paving the way for the state to sell virtually everything that isn't nailed down to anyone – foreigners included. The bill, Hall says, allows "all public buildings, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, ports, mass transit projects, telecommunications, etc. to be sold off to corporations." Even more incredibly, the bill authorizes companies to borrow money from the state, which will also help secure their debt. In other words, Perry passed a bill under which a foreign company could theoretically borrow money from Texas taxpayers to buy the taxpayer's own state property back from him, at a discount!
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But the most treasonous Perry deal of all came when he tried to do a macabre favor for his political hero, former senator Phil Gramm. Gramm gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Perry's campaign, essentially emptying the remnants of his own campaign war chest into Perry's when he left public office and went to work for the Swiss bank UBS. In 2002, Gramm came to Perry's administration with a proposal that would allow the bank to take out life insurance policies on retired Texas teachers. Under the deal, UBS would collect on the policies of the teachers when they died, and reward the state with a small cut for arranging the wagers. Teachers who balked at letting UBS profit from their death were reportedly to be paid $100 to sign on the dotted line. The state insurance commissioner, a Perry appointee, approved a special waiver to allow the deal to go through, but the project collapsed after a media backlash.

To recap: Rick Perry sold the right to tax Texas highway drivers to Spanish billionaires, let a British firm write a law authorizing the sale of virtually all Texas state property to foreign corporations, and tried to literally sell the lives of retired Texas schoolteachers to a Swiss bank.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Yes, I'm Trying To Tell You Jesus Christ Can't Hit a Curveball


Up Your Butt, Jobu

Apologies, but Harris - or as Phillies fans like to think of him, Jamie Moyer - is one of the great underrated comical characters of all-time.

With the few minutes I have to spare this morning, I wanted to expand a bit on what I was having some fun with on twitter earlier today where I was making sports to city metaphors. Metaphors are fun, they're easy. They're as good of a way to explain something to the unindoctrinated (?). This might be something you haven't spent the last ten years researching, studying, but intuitively you'll get it. As soon as I can draw a parallel to something more familiar.

I usually like references to biology, ecology, or computing, all systems thinking, which make for excellent corollaries to urban systems and the various dynamics therein. Perhaps, with a twinge of world series fever, my mind went to baseball (read bottom to top):


patrick kennedy
Or kid w no natural talent (like say geographic features) whose parents buy most expensive equipment. Build from foundation of fundamentals.
patrick kennedy
Dallas is like the home run hitter stuck in the minors bc it can't field or hit a curve ball.
patrick kennedy
The irony is, to aim higher, we have to set our sights lower and focus on the fundamentals of cities.
patrick kennedy
If you want to cite "world class" this is the level of competition. Barcelona not Waco.
patrick kennedy
It dawns on me that Barcelona has stuck with me more than any other city, the way an album gets better with each listen.

I guess the motivation stems from a Dallas City Council person hyping the spending another $10 million for yet a second redesign of a bridge that already exists, "This is Dallas. We do things big." Or something similar to that effect. Shocking that "world class" wasn't invoked, that cringe-inducing phrase of ignorance.

Sometimes doing things "big" works, but there is a rhyme or reason. Even great cities get themselves in some trouble swinging for the fences. Vancouver is in debt up to their eye-balls b/c nobody has bought all the olympic village units-turned-condos like they expected/hoped (perhaps if they weren't priced based on a hyper-inflated residential market due to rabid Chinese investment?).

Valencia, Spain - a highly underrated place, overshadowed by Madrid, Barcelona, Pamplona bull-running, Ibizan party scene, and the British preference for Costas Del Sol y Blanca - is under some serious water because of their billion euro investment in City of Arts and Sciences, which terminates the river Turia's old course before rerouting and conversion into a linear park. It's basically the Dallas Arts District if it was public money (debt) instead of private money doing the funding, in that it has very little relationship to the city surrounding.

But Valencia also did many BIG things that go rather unnoticed and will benefit the city for a long-time, it is now the most bike-friendly city in Spain and is tied into the longest high-speed rail network in Europe. I reached 288 kph en route to Madrid, a trip that took barely more than an hour over a distance similar to Austin or Houston to Dallas.

Dallas' obsession with the big, the bravado, and the grandiose is what gets it in trouble. It is why we make claims of "world class" yet our competition is more Waco, OKC, or Tulsa than it is Barcelona, Paris, NYC, Vancouver, London, or even San Fran, DC, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, etc. if we're filling out a second tier of American cities.

As I mentioned on twitter, we're the kid dreaming of the big leagues that never bothered to learn the fundamentals. We also can't rely on the natural talent of geographic beauty that imbuing Vancouver, Seattle, San Fran, or Barcelona with stunning scenery. This summer I ziplined 6,000 feet above Vancouver, the skyline seemingly at the reach of my toes. We don't have that and never will - even if Dubai wants to build mountainous indoor ski slopes or artificial clouds. The one thing we can do, and could do better than anyplace is, is to focus on the fundamentals. That is our key to the big leagues. We can't hit for power, we can't steal bases, but we can be the best fielder at our position, with dedicated hard work and a common goal in mind.

That is to say, we have to get the fundamentals of urbanism right. And do them better than any place else. That means digging down into the underlying causality beneath cities, beginning with human emotion. It is what drives all economies and why cities were formed at the dawn of civilization. Cities are the medium, the platform, and the facilitator of us achieving our wants and needs. They provide the most efficient way ever of achieving social and economic exchange (and coincidentally, it turns out, they do so in the most environmentally friendly way ever known outside of living off the land, which is a statistical impossibility given the numbers on the earth these days).

The form of a city is the embodiment of an economy, its physical manifestation. It is a center of gravity, a hub of physical activity and interconnectedness. If the economy is the spirit, the city is its body. And like a body, the cells must be most interconnected, most incommunication with those closest.

Yet we've tried to link our toes to our ears and our knees to our elbows with cripplingly expensive regional infrastructure, mostly highways and arterials. Regional connectivity is fine, however it can't interrupt the fine-grain local connectivity of complete neighborhoods. So too, global connectivity, airports mostly, but these are typically tangential because of the undesirable aspect of jet noise, jet fuel, and safety precautions.

It is amazingly naive and ill-informed when we think we need highways and arterials to the level we have them (despite the fact that they're all in a crumbling state of disrepair) for the sake of connectivity. Anything is further from the truth. All cities are able to deliver goods, services, and opportunity to those that want and needs them. The only difference is the type of spending the city wants to do to interconnect such things.

Think of all the cities in the world where you can accomplish and reach every single one of your needs without a car. All the great ones. The fact is that building highly destructive regional transportation system have isolated and fragmented the fundamental building blocks of great cities, complete, interconnected neighborhoods, that blend from one to another almost seamlessly. Pundits like Joel Kotkin don't know what they're talking about with mononodal vs polynodal cities. Every city in the world is polycentric. And those centers exist at a variety of scales. Because he looks at Manhattan skyline and sees one place is his own misunderstanding when it is really comprised of countless neighborhoods, the seams and connections filled with vitality.

And the similar theory that the market mandated such regional transportation is also hooie. Sure, there was an overwhelming impulse to get away from the poverty, pollution, pestilent-stricken industrial city. But running from the problem only unveiled new problems. And we're seeing that market correction as poverty relocates to the burbs where land and buildings are cheap, but opportunity and amenity scarce.

A lag time exists, yet we think of this as an anomaly because our lifespan is entirely within that anomaly. Value, particularly long-term and lasting, is where the interconnectedness is. Location does still matter. It was only recently in the placeless decentralized landscape of the Sun Belt where "build it they will come" gained any traction in real estate circles. And that was because there was no underlying rational order, no purpose. Except, then everybody leaves. Again, no long-term stability of place, of order.

The intercity highways (not to be confused with interstates) flipped the supply-demand equation of cities, from rational, logical places to irrational, illogical, broken places with no order. They made the traditional cores, hubs of cities, the downtowns, the Davis Streets, the Lakewoods, that complete hieararchy of central places within neighborhoods at a variety of scales undesirable.

Freeways are more disconnective than they are connective. It is easier for me to get from downtown Dallas to Plano than it is to get anywhere within three miles of downtown Dallas. Similarly, that regional connectivity turned land otherwise useless except for food production (that is to say, quite useful) into something viable for other uses, such as housing. Combined with the various subsidies, tax breaks and transportation spending, all the population relocation outward was perfectly rational on an individual basis. But in some, it was cannibalistic. And we're seeing the slow, painful unwinding just beginning to play out.

We have to get back to basics. And that means understanding the fundamentals of cities. The ability to achieve your wants and needs of daily life within your own neighborhood. Everything outside of that is gravy. We have to focus on the neighborhoods, and for the most part, the largest barrier is infrastructural planning, design, and investment. As the legendary football coach Joe Paterno says, "focus on the little things and the big things will take care of themselves." It's like he understands the emergent nature of cities.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NCTCOG 2035 Plan

Since I just pulled these numbers for something else, might as well post them here as well. From COG's 2035 Transportation Plan, which projects to spend a total of $101 billion on various transportation projects, much of which I suspect won't happen, but here are their projections anyway:

DFW, NCTCOG's 2035 Plan:

TOTAL EXPENDITURES: $101 Billion
Road Maintenance: 10,193M
Freeways/Tollways: 35,078M
HOV/Managed Facilities: 1,647M
Arterial System: 5,057M
Other Arterials: 4,391M
Congestion Mgmt:3,335M
Air Quality/Enviro: 3,231M
Bike/Ped: 1,495M
Sustainable Dvlpmnt/Transpo: 653M
Transit O&M: 17,135M
Rail System Expansion: 17,391M
Bus: 1,486M
Paratransit: 24.4M

Testing 1, 2, 3...

Was going thru some old files I had, let's see if they post ok if I just drag and drop from my old website's "back-of-house" cache:


This was the plan I did for the Dallas Convention Center Hotel from a previous life. Here is what I've also written about it, aqui y aqui.

It was intended to be part of a larger plan, to stimulate increased investment in an otherwise lifeless part of downtown. As you can find in the links, I suggested using only 5 of the 8 acres of the proposed site that the actual hotel now stands on for the hotel, allowing a total of 3 blocks to be created out of the site. This would then allow for some life between buildings. Ya know, why people actually go to conventions that aren't in the cartoonish hell-holes of Vegas and Orlando. But we're not exactly very good at understanding nor implementing the jumpstarting of place. Far too easy just to throw a bunch of money at dumb objects and hope they come to life. All the cheerleading just makes Pinocchio's nose grow.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fort Worth's Ciclovia

From my friend Kevin at Fortworthology, he created a video of PEOPLE ACTING COMPLETELY IRRESPONSIBLY AND UNSAFE! HOW DARE THEY LET KIDS BIKE ON THE STREETS?! CARS NEED TO BE MOVING FASTER, FASTER, FASTER!


Know what? I'm willing to bet the amount of pedestrians and bicyclists moving on this street on that day is greater than the number of vehicles that would typically move on the road. True mobility (based on linking people to people and people to destinations they desire) vs theoretical mobility that is based on speed of movement.

Directions???

I must get asked for directions more than the average bear. It certainly is because I probably log more walking miles than just about any other person in this city. Maybe not. But likely within the types of areas that intersect my life and those of tourists or the general public at-large that has no idea where they are and where they're going. And to the luck of the asker, the askee, moi, probably knows whatever immediate vicinity within, say, a half-mile radius of wherever the question might be posed. In fact, earlier today, I was asked twice for directions. Once for the DMA and another time for a place, "any place," suitable for lunch.

So while the answer of why I'm always asked for directions is pretty simple (and I've been asked in the native tongue for directions throughout Spain and Italy multiple times as well in various cities), the answer of why so many questions are being asked for directions is a bit more complex. As I paranthetically mentioned, visitors are always asking for directions in any/every city. But at the same time, most of those other cities have a greater proportion of people, both askers and askees, meaning less of a chance that it always seems to be me getting asked.

And, I must add, that I never mind and have always been happy to help because I empathize, if not sympathize, with the asker. I know where I'm going, if only through experience because the city's road network is largely incomprehensible. Dead ends, one-ways, highway on- and off-ramps, mergers, etc. all in the name of regional movement creates its own barrier to comprehension and wayfinding despite the stated goal of movement. There is no order, hierarchy, or clarity to a system that is fundamentally sociofugal rather than sociopetal. It is centerless. This means that it fails as a system. Any network must have a order of hubs. These comprise the central nervous system, so to speak. And this must be given structure by the "bones" of transportation.

It is this hierarchy that provides both visitors and even the real estate market some clarity, some measure of understanding and order that invites them into a more participatory system. A decentralized system has no order, it cannot be comprehended. And this is partially why every single day I also see cars pulling down the wrong way on one-way roads or down the train-only DART line. People assume there is more logic than actually exists within a fundamentally broken system.

There is also the issue of road names and order. In New York and many other cities there is an order to the numbering/nomenclature of the roads that provides an increasing level of clarity. There is also the Japanese tradition of addressing based on blocks and nesting individualized addresses within those blocks, almost like a matryoshka doll. It is quite effective, because it is precisely in line with the orderly "nesting" of increasingly private space that exists within an emergent network, a fractal.

Also, a brief thought on one-way roads because people often cite other cities (NYC, in particular) that has one-way roads. The key point is that in NY, the density is so great and the walkability so, um, possible, that the road is still effectively two-way, as pedestrians can still move in either direction. Also, on many of the streets, there are subways below moving in both directions, so the system is infinitely more complex than what we're dealing with in Dallas. Lastly, their roads are also full, thus requiring the increased street by street capacity of one-ways, although whether that really increases capacity is highly, HIGHLY, debatable. The bigger issue is, once again, we're not NYC, and one-ways are inappropriate here.

Dallas Pedicabs

So apparently, I've been so disconnected via preoccupation with other endeavors that I missed the announcement of the Dallas Pedicab company. So imagine my surprise when looking for a cab on Saturday night in uptown Dallas and along comes a pedaling pedicab, free of passengers. I quickly hailed it down and proudly proclaimed to the driver, "mush!" On the brilliant spring and fall evenings of Texas, it is great to remain outdoors, connected to the wind whipping you in the face. It helps to have a few drinks in you to block out the on-rushing traffic on roads not suitable for safe bicycling.

I've always loved riding in pedicabs in whenever visiting Austin. In fact, I try to ONLY ride in pedicabs when in Austin, unless the distance is a bridge too far. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps it is our generation's preoccupation with bicycles/bicycling, as its own form of nostalgic escapism and adopted independence through the mobility the bicycle allowed within a car-dependent childhood. I don't even know how the pricing schedule ranks in comparison to actual cabbies. Certainly, the startup and operating overhead is much lower than driving and maintaining a car.

On our trip this weekend, I didn't even get a price tag for the trip. He simply said, "whatever you feel like paying me." Is it simply because they're trying to grow the business at this point? I don't know. I do know that he said they can't cross the highway from uptown to downtown, another bridge too far, and an impossibly perfect synopsis of the disconnection posed by inter-city freeways. It's amazing how much more mobile cities without freeways are than cities with. But you won't hear that from traffic engineers, the road lobby, or TTI.

So I asked the dude to cross the highway nonetheless. When asked to donate for his troubles, I offered a twenty, for about five minutes of work. Call it a silent protest against the barrier of the highways.

FYI:
Here is the link to Dallas Pedicab's site with their contact information for rides when need be.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Website

Forgive the self-promotion, but after all this is the internet and a blog and what else are they for? My young company has a new website up. You can find it here:


Some kinks still exist to work out, such as migrating the hosting platform because we haven't been able to successfully mask it until we let our existing hosting service expire. So for now, it will redirect to a substitute domain name.

Also, we just got our permits for our new office space, which will be a storefront of a mixed-use building in uptown. So in short order (once all the renovation work is complete) I'll be bicycling to work. At least the days that I don't walk.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On "Congestion" and TTI

The latest TTI report is out. That is, the Texas Transportation Institute released their gargantuan annual mobility report on what they deem the problems of and solutions to "congestion." If you want it, here is a link to all of Dallas's data.

They do this for every major city. It is the illusion of diligence. Fill it with all sorts of objectively measured numbers then come to the exact same conclusion every single time: Need Moar Lane Miles. Such a smart boy. He's going places. Lotsa $$ in road building (for the very few), so we're going to need an awful lot of gobblety gook nonsense that no one in their right mind will delve into to make it look like it's worth something. There's numbers. It must be right.

Unfortunately, TTI has basically been the be-all and say-all for how transportation is measured, planned, financed, and constructed across the country. How's that working out for you? As transpo expert Tod Litman points out there are flaws. TTI has been without significant critic until CEOs for Cities released there scathing indictment of TTI's methodology last year, Driven Apart.

Here is what you need to know about TTI and subsequently how cities, states, and DOTs think about. In other words, how we get it all wrong:

Mobility only means speed. They base the summation of their conclusions on a simple statistic, how fast are the cars going? Not as fast as others? Going to need more highways. As we know, what do highways do? They're 1) expensive 2)only paid for by taxpayers 3)road builders get a mint 4)make land around them undesirable, while 5) making exurban land viable and 6) are unsafe. The faster we're moving the less safe we are. And isn't any public entity's first and foremost goal public safety? Maslow would say so (perhaps unless clean water/air are no longer givens).

However, we still have a need to get places. That is what cities are anyway. They are a medium for social and economic exchange. They allow us to achieve our wants and needs while being the cauldron of foment for human progress, incubators of innovation, metabolizers of ideas: chewing up the rest while spitting out the best.

Are cars a part of that equation of getting between want and need? Of course they are one part of the equation. But then why are transportation dollars so badly shifted towards car and car-based infrastructure. You mean aside from corruption?

The reality is that imbalance of spending on transportation infrastucture towards a goal of free, easy, efficient movement and misses it completely. Once everybody is in a car, there is always the opportunity for a traffic jam. Because the road system is dendritic, funneling everybody towards certain, few routes, there is no choice, whereas a grid is more flexible. Because the entire city is in a car and everything spreads out (so we can move faster)

But if I can walk to all my needs, but do so slower than Plano mom speeding down the freeway, does that mean I'm less mobile? According to TTI, yes. I need a highway between my mixed-use building and the corner store (and it has been delivered, in effect, see: Elm Street).

They say congestion is bad. But what kind of congestion? That is never answered. Because it is an entirely car based report, it doesn't make the distinction between good congestion and bad congestion. Bad congestion is when movement comes to a standstill, ie a traffic jam. Good congestion is where lots of people are in one place but can still move. This can't happen via automobile. It can happen however through mass transit, but even more so pedestrian networks. The most valuable places in the world are highly congested by pedestrians. If TTI had their way, there would be no pedestrians. They're simply speedbumps impeding cars from moving as fast as humanly possible, yet with entirely arbitrarily and only occasionally enforced speed limitations.

Yet the places where you drive the slowest, bad says TTI, are those we love the most (and most valuable): Champs Elysees, Times Square, etc. These places are congested with pedestrians, who freely decide to be there. Unlike any highway TTI recommends building. Very few WANT to be there, but have to because of the transportation network of TTI's dreams.

But the worst part of the matter, is there is no connection between movement and value/investment, particularly the kind that is permanent, that creates a return for cities long into the future. So that each generation isn't paying to build and rebuild every other decade an entirely new city. Instead, that platform already exists. Spain may be in debt to some extent because of their public investments in high speed rail and subways, but they'll pay off long into the future while we have to pay to disassemble some of these freeways in order to build a highly operational city of the future.

Value is created at points of intersection, whether this be two likes forms of transportation (a crossroads), two unlike forms (rail stop meeting pedestrian network), or the convergence of two previously seeming opposing ideas.

A city is best thought of in two planes, the first, is the hierarchical intersection of nodes, what you might call the central nervous system of a city. The crossroads of the network. Value is in relation to the order on the hierarchy of the node/nerve center/convergence point. Value is determined by desirability and manifested by density.

The other plane is the flesh. The residential body that nestles up against the nerve centers as amenities and their interconnections as means to live each and everybody's own lives according to their means, needs, and wants. Except that TTI says you NEED to have a car, your MEANS will have to be spent on gasoline, maintenance, insurance, and the inevitable medical bills when you wreck travelling happily at 120mph, and they don't give a damn what you WANT because those financing TTI do WANT bigger and bigger roads.

TTI is effectively telling us to drive a hatchet (highway) through the patient's nerve center. It seemed like an effective means of curing cancer when cavemen practiced medicine. So why let cavemen play doctor to our cities?

For another metaphor, it is the equivalent of using leaches to cure the patient. Sucking the lifeblood from a city, pedestrians at the nerve centers, and placing them in cars at the edge, in automatonic trudgery down the conveyor belt of life. To work, from work. Stare at bumper. Communicate via monosyllabic honks. Might this be the zombie phase before the ultimate finality? The cannibalistic ponzi scheme ends with the patient dead.

Quotable, the Tangentialism of Regional Networks

Just got a note sent to me from DFWReimagined:

"Out of the million folks who work in Dallas city limits, 727,000 are suburbanites who come for work then scoot when it gets dark."

My response:
The highways allowed it. We're rational people who make rational decisions. As the Baum-Snow study points out, for every new highway introduced within a city, aka an intracity highway (rather than an intercity highway) a city experiences an 18% population reduction. The reason is the highways made land near city less desirable AND less accessible (interrelated concepts). AND, they repositioned land at the increasingly further edge from worthless (lest it's arable) to viable. Like squeezing all of the air out of an inflated balloon.

It should be more advantageous for business to be at accessible hubs of movement, nodes, nerve centers, at which a downtown always has been and ought to be at the top of the hierarchy (ought because of the amount of infrastructure sunk into it). Cities need permanence. Lovable cities have a connection to the past, present, and future.

It should also be relatively difficult to live far away and get to these cores, lest the regional or larger form of transportation has a light imprint upon local fabric, which it never does: see highways, airports, railroads (i.e. "other side of the tracks) etc.

This is how spatial integration plays out. Real convenience and accessibility versus perceived. Take for example Barcelona. You can fly or train in from afar and then immediately get around the city with ease via a variety of transportation routes, most significantly the subway, which is excellent. By being underground, yes it is expensive, but the tracks can operate quickly and efficiently while not disrupting the local networks above. You can get anywhere in the city quickly and cheaply, only to emerge in a new neighborhood, complex, living, breathing, intact.

Disruption to those local networks decreases accessibility and thereby decreasing investment in the area, resulting in decay. Sometimes this is surface rail that does this, but more often it is highways. Raising highways, burying highways, neither of which help much for the cost to do so. Little bang, high buck because it still makes it convenient to live in and pay taxes somewhere else. You're allowed to take advantage of society but not participate in it. To act rationally, is to act corrosively.

So, are regional networks that intersect the local, ie the city as a complex integration of neighborhood units, tangentially *really* that expensive if we're looking at 1)long-term and 2)cost AND benefit from a broader standpoint?

#OccupyWallStreet I'd Like You To Meet the Tea Party

(and forgive me from straying from my general topic):

There, now you've been introduced. Perhaps you can even become friends. I really don't think at heart there is much differentiation until you get to the wide disparity of superficial issues that dominate politics these days. And frankly, if we distill the root of the problems down to the basic core, I'm guessing we can find a simple and direct message AND purpose for the OccupyWallStreeters.

The OccupyWallStreeters are largely considered to be a left-wing movement. Whether that perception is true or not, what is true is that it more or less mirrors the leftern (sic) portion (1/2) of the United States, in that it is a big disorganized umbrella. For supposed communitarians, you certainly are a rather disorganized bunch. All of which somehow manages to be ironic yet appropriate.

The Tea Party is mostly considered to be a right-wing populist movement. And for the most part, at the grass roots level, the people who are actually joining the rally, I believe it to be...at least in their hearts. They have real concerns. However, there are definite levers of power and investment behind the Tea Party, which gives it direction, force, and voice at the highest levels of corporately controlled media.

That dichotomy is where the opportunity lies, for the OccupyWallStreeters to expand their umbrella so that it officially is not a left-right issue, but a human one, an American one. It also will allow Occupy Wall Street to find a purpose, a clearly defined goal to push for. This is necessary, because as long as there are a million different directions certainly a few will turn off some other segment of the population.

Here is what they should do:
  1. Distill the issue down into one of people vs corporations. Sure, corporations are businesses and businesses employ people, but it is the shear size and power of the few that is distorting both democracy and capitalism. This is how you'll achieve a critical mass, left and right, black and white, old and young, the 99%.
  2. Reach out to the Tea Party. You're both people, there is common ground. And you're not always going to agree on everything so let those minor details work out democratically after...
  3. Push for the transparency of campaign donations at the very minimum, with stiff penalties for undisclosed donations. At the very least, we'll know who is bought and paid for and by whom.
  4. Push for the breaking up of monopolies. This can be achieved through executive order. Those that exist in a variety of industries stifle innovation, fix prices, alter public policy, and wield too much weight over market rates for both goods and labor. And in fact, more smaller companies employ more people than few larger ones. I don't give a damn about "efficiency." I do care about opportunity, fairness, and true competition, aka a healthy capitalist society. With emphasis on the "society."
  5. Push for the end of corporate personhood under the eyes of the law. If corporations are people, then they should be locked up because they behave like sociopaths. For a detailed history on the rise of corporate personhood, I'd like to point you to Unequal Protection. Also, my personal favorite sign from OccupyDallas: "I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one."
Oh and lastly, by reaching out to the Tea Party with this simple, basic premise of human rights versus corporate rights, you are pitting them against themselves. Which side will they take? Theoretically, they should join forces. However, if they don't then you are effectively discrediting their entire movement as one of a corporate pawn. This is a win-win situation for you.

Whether you disagree on healthcare or education or which color tie to wear, it does not matter. Those things will work themselves out once you gut the root of the problem, which is the long, slow (but accelerating) descent from a rambunctious cauldron of democracy, innovation, capitalism, and opportunity, one where our stability and place in the world derived precisely from that messiness, into one of Mussolini-style fascism, that is corporatism = government. He thought it would be more efficient that way. He was right.