Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wednesday Linkages

This will be the last post until next week. I hop a plane to London tomorrow. Until then, you can catch me tonight as part of the Dallas Morning News Future of West Dallas panel at KERA's studios. Or if you can't make that, give a listen to the latest Urbanology podcast, which you can find on iTunes.

Before I get to the linkages, I got the full tour of Thanks-Giving Square yesterday, which was fun and interesting. They do have a worthy purpose and mission, to bring people of all race and creed together. Unfortunately, problematic design inside and outside of the property have combined to diminish the square's stature, utilization, and ultimately its ability to operate as a gathering point for more than smokers (cigarettes by day, crack at night) and doggy doo.

That's right. As we were on tour looking at all the good things within the Square (including its underlying mission), you couldn't help but notice all the ironwork (railings and drain inlets) that had been stolen for whatever meager change could be garnered for them. Enough to get a hit of crack I suppose. The circle of life was evident as the maintenance man Rick, the guy I dubbed Sisyphus for his tireless work shoving slumping liquid rock back up the hill each day, pointed out a crack pipe along our walk.

The lesson is that illicit activity tends to occur in dark places. Shine the light and it scatters. However, I'm using the word light metaphorically, as in human activity. Visual and physical porosity. Thanksgiving square is dark during the day. You can't very well see in and there isn't much reason to go there unless your dog needs to satisfy its bowel movements and you, the office worker, needs to satisfy your nicotine cravings and your building won't let you smoke anymore by the entrance. But it's darker at night.

I'll be writing much more seriously about Thank-Giving Square in the upcoming weeks. This is a place worth saving. At least, its purpose and its place as what used to be a central crossroads of the city if nothing else.
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Three pretty fascinating articles which are thought provoking for various reasons and by themselves weave a narrative of three different cities in three different allegoric places headed in three different directions:

First, Medellin, Colombia. You remember it, right? That's where all the drug kingpins took over in the 80's. It's still a warzone, right?

Huh, investing in public transport and public education. Who'da thunk that would work. Empowering the mobility of its citizenry in two distinct but powerful ways. Sounds like cockamie.
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This is more like it. Baghdad by Starchitect in the 1950's. That'll "save" it. Call up Zaha Hadid.
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Now, far more interesting is this piece by the NYT on Berlin's airports new and old. Really thought provoking stuff on the nature of Berlin, security, and the modern airport experience. The retired urban planner's quotes are particularly poignant at the end.

"...A city surrounded by storks and wolves..." Sounds almost mythical. As if it belongs in Westeros, or something.

The planner told of the need to build bridges to the outside world. And he's right, that is if Berlin wants to "grow." And if that's what they decide politically, more power to them. And this will have consequences. Such as the replacing of the old beloved airport with a new "shopping mall with some planes attached."

Therein lies two modern and divergent issues: one of security and one of experience. The old airport emphasized convenience but was 1/3rd of the determined necessary size. People could go from home to gate in minutes, conveniently. DFW is not unlike this (just further away).

The new airport wants to funnel you through singular security checkpoints. These are awful (ever been through BWI?). They also want you to spend time there ("live, work, shop, play?"). So they build 5-acre shopping malls inside replete with dreadful food courts.

You know where I'd rather shop and eat and play and live and spend time? Either the city I'm leaving or my destination city. I understand the need to make layover time less intolerable, but give us free wifi and we'd sit on hot coals while plugged into colostomy bags if we have to.

I may rant about the need for relocalization, but airports and plane travel isn't going away. Nor would it be a good thing if it did (though it does badly need to reposition itself). But rather than trying to shake every last coin out of the captive market (is that a pat down or are you taking my wallet?), perhaps it would be a more sustainable business model for airlines and cities to get people to their destination cities as quickly and conveniently as possible.

Ahh, yes. But there isn't a business model within the fractured, fragmented, and broken value-extract institutions. There's no room for value-add on this flight.