Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Linkages

A necessary question to begin asking: is congestion really bad?  Atlantic Cities applies some math showing GDP is actually correlated with congestion:
Such a finding seems counterintuitive on its surface. How could being stuck in traffic lead people to be more productive? The relationship is almost certainly not causal. Instead, regional GDP and traffic congestion are tied to a common moderating variable - the presence of a vibrant, economically-productive city. And as city economies grow, so too does the demand for travel. People travel for work and meetings, for shopping and recreation. They produce and demand goods and services, which further increases travel demand. And when the streets become congested and driving inconvenient, people move to more accessible areas, rebuild at higher densities, travel shorter distances, and shift travel modes.
There are a few things to take away from this.  First, is that congestion is inevitable in high metabolism places, ie areas of high GDP.  There are lots of interactions of social and economic exchange.  Because those things happen between people, congestion is inevitable and even desirable if you believe that social and economic exchange improves quality of life.  Then the question becomes are there delays in facilitating those connections due to what we deem congestion.  The delays happen when trains derail (rare) or have other service disruptions as well as your everyday traffic jam.

Furthermore, delays occur via proximity or lack thereof to be precise.  TTI, who puts the financial number lost due to congestion, believes this means we need more road capacity to alleviate said congestion.  The problem is that more road capacity only serves to exacerbate the problem by spreading people further apart, reducing the value of proximity.  In other words, congestion isn't bad.  Delay is bad.

So in reality, we have to understand (and internalize) that there is good congestion and bad congestion.  Bad congestion is car-based.  It is like LDL cholesterol.  It's what clogs arteries.  Pedestrian "congestion" is the good cholesterol, or HDL.  It provides needed nutrients to cells and organs (ie real estate value).  In other words, adding highway/arterial capacity is like consuming nothing but fast food, sodas, and chips for every meal, in other words supersizing the city.  Ultimately, killing the city...softly.
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Your macro-economic must-read for the day:
Chinese money, which we might as well call "in the know money," is not so quietly exiting the Chinese market.
Domestic money in China will be the first to head for the exit – insiders will always know more than outsiders about the underlying economic conditions.  So the exodus of cash could indicate that the Chinese story is coming to a close – and that will have significant consequences for the global economy.  It is another signal that emerging markets will not be supporting global demand anytime soon.  I think the team at alphaville is right – this story is slipping under the radar while we all have our eyes focused on the farce in Europe.  But it could be the real game changer in the global economy.
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Robert Wilonsky has put the entirety of the 1911 George Kessler plan for Dallas up online.
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Lastly, UT Dallas has been rated one of the greenest universities in the country, which should tell you something about the Princeton Reviews methodology:
“Students expect their school of choice to be responsible for the environment, so we are,” Junt says. “I also think that we must protect the resources of North Texas be it water, energy or green space. Why does this make for a better campus? Well, I want to work in a place that I’m proud of and I am so proud of the university, both from an academic standpoint to our fabulous students to our amazing buildings and our excellent sustainability programs.”
This is all true, well and good.  The efforts to conserve water, plant trees, build LEED platinum buildings should be commended.  However, that doesn't necessarily make for a green campus.  The Princeton Review is measuring and ranking what they can.  You can't fully judge how green a campus, neighborhood, or place is simply by measuring the environmental performance of a building or even a collection of buildings.

A city (as well as a campus) is not just a collection of buildings, but the linkages between the buildings, necessary for social & economic (or informational) exchange to occur.  By facilitating those connections, we create demand for space which becomes buildings.  Making those buildings environmentally friendly is great.  But what about those connections?

Where are the students and faculty living?  What percentage of students live on campus?  How many commute?  If they commute can they train?  Bike?  Can the student body achieve all of their daily (and nightly) needs within walking distance.  A simpler yet probably more indicative metric for measuring how green a campus is might simply be to measure how much parking is on campus, or better yet, what percentage of a campus area is given over to parking.

My point is not to knock UTD because, as noted, they're doing some good things, but rather to point out the meaningless rankings Princeton Review and others tend to put together.  Though, this should also point out where UTD can get better (and greener) by turning the campus and surroundings into a more "complete" neighborhood.