Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Linkages

A couple of possibly disconnected morning thoughts via twitter this morning:

First, was it the Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time where the protagonist [spoiler alert], an autistic child believed/joked that economists were dolts and mathematicians were the true geniuses? I'm reminded of this as mathematicians and physicists are increasingly turning their gaze to understanding the complexities of the city.

Meanwhile, economists (that I really like) like Matt Yglesias, Edward Glaeser, and Ryan Avent seem obsessed with the idea of skyscrapers as density. As economists do, I suspect they're glossing over, ie externalizing, the negative externalities of skyscrapers, which are highly energy intensive no matter the supposedly green properties. Penguins don't huddle in low and compact groups to avoid weather extremes for sh1ts and giggles.

So I posted this simplification as well:
New York City (five boroughs) population/square mile: 27,000
Barcelona: 42,000

If we want to cherry pick Manhattan and its 71,000 ppl/sq. mi.
Then we can cherry pick the high end, centralized equivalent L'Eixample: 92,000

Barcelona only has a few buildings over 10-12 stories, mostly concentrated along the beach, tourist oriented.

If you're wondering how awful L'Eixample must be being so dense, you should know that it is the highest value area of the city. Where most of the corporations locate and old money locals reside. Diagonal, the equivalent of Broadway, cuts a (what else?) diagonal swath through the city. The street that all others connect to. The crossroads of Barcelona.

File:Eixample aire.jpg

File:Barcelona districte II.svg

People often think of the medieval Barcelona, near Las Ramblas as the center, but it isn't. Not the center for locals, but the center for tourists rather. Diagonal is the true heart of the city as it as expanded away from the coast to the mountains, much like Manhattan and Broadway is the epicenter of New York.

Furthermore, skyscrapers may add "density" (perhaps theoretically since many of Manhattan's are empty at night), but they also disconnect from the street, which is where the metabolism of a city is made visible. The complexity. Instead, it is shuttled up and down within internalized elevator shafts as we once again attempt to avoid the street. "Everything is right here where you need it!" On the 13th floor.

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Ok, maybe relatedly. Time to recycle a two-year old post on Museum Tower now that it is almost finished and apparently frying the sculptures in the Nasher Sculpture Center. Sure, it's sleek. Don't confuse my argument. People often distort criticisms pointed as specifics as deriding every aspect, particularly those aspects that people like. Such as the shimmering glass tower. Yes, it's sleek. It's also the least important aspect. And that's what we're wrongly focused on with most new projects, the irrelevant.

I don't get: 1) the economics and how this is a good investment of the police and fire pensions and 2) the "green" aspects. Perhaps, glass towers that concentrate solar and wind loads aren't the best solution to the local Dallas climate. To combat the solar load, the glass is made reflective. Thus, frying everything outside of the building. At least the building is convex rather than concave and not causing severe burns like that hotel in City Center in Las Vegas. This is not uncommon for reflective surfaces acting ignorantly and belligerent in urban environs where we must all get along. The Disney Concert Hall in LA had to be coated in non-reflective material as its titanium cladding raised ambient temperatures on surrounding condo buildings 15 degrees.

Of course, putting a building inside a highway exit cloverleaf isn't a great idea and they did that anyway. As Homer Simpson would say, S M R T.
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Lastly, what's the Mega Millions lotto up to, $600 million? Maybe the city of Dallas can play a few numbers. I take that back. We'd end up spending it on 14 giant ferris wheels. One for each city council district.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Urbanology on iTunes

Adjust your ipods accordingly:


The Urbanology Show

Humpday Linkages

A couple of noteworthy items:

Copenhagen has released their official bi-annual cycling report. Though it is intentially not a dense or unwieldy document, it is heavy on legitimate public surveys and very specific, quantifiable goals and targets for the city to meet. Meaning, city staff has a direction, a purpose to guide them.

A couple of quick notes gleaned from it: CPH had 3 fatalities. Down from 5 the previous year. DFW as a whole would probably feel as though that's a good week.

Secondly, the League of American bicyclists did some quick math conversions from Kronor & Kilos to Dollars & Miles regarding Copenhagen's Socio-economic report. The CPH report, converted into dollars and miles, found a $0.41 gain for every mile cycled and a $0.20 loss for every mile driven. Let's parse that:

Therefore, it is stating that every mile connection is worth a dollar. Because of the cost of infrastructure (to build and maintain) as well as the operations and maintenance costs on the user, a mile drive is worth $0.80. In other words, a $0.20 drain on the economy. Bikes, being cheap for users, cheap to implement, and nearly harmless to infrastructure is worth $1.41, adding $0.41 to the economy.

As we've discussed in the past, interconnections are what make the economy go. It is how innovation happens and how goods are exchanged. Making these entirely by car is the way to exsanguinate, or bleed to death, as the local economy loses $0.20 for every mile. A car-centric city is a heavy tax burden to bear. One that I doubt any will survive more than a few decades.

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His post and my presentation references a street type matrix that inherently understands the dual purpose nature of public streets: of link and place. Therefore there is a continuum of street types. Are they high link (move a lot of people) or low link (move very few people)? Are they high place, high value? Or low value?

This was a tool suggested by Stephen Marshall in his book Streets & Patterns and provides a new and better model for transportation planning. The way we limit our street types today ensures that they are one or the other. They can't be both. Otherwise the pedestrians, trees, and other various amenities in High Place streets become hazards.

The result is a destructive tension built into the transportation and real estate system. Real estate value WANTS to be near High Link roads, but not too close, and therefore development patterns tend to take a defensive posture, internalizing rather than integrating with the larger world.

Imagine if all the various cells and organs in your body decided to just do their own thing. You'd turn into more of an ooze and less of a sentient, living organism. Kind of like sprawl smeared across the landscape.

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Interesting concept here: the Austin Center for Design is a non-profit focused on education, homelessness, and poverty. The way I understand it, they aim to equip and empower the less fortunate to be entrepreneurs. I think this might be a future direction of instutions like libraries, which at their core are hubs of information exchange regardless of medium (ie books). All of us in the community are both teachers and students in a variety of subjects of our interest. I once suggested to a city (with very low percentage of educated adults) something similar but couldn't find any case studies that actually executed it. Here's one.

Slippery Slope of Public Private Partnerships

I'm going to have a linkages post here shortly, but wanted to make a quick post and warning about public-private partnerships. Virtually all infill development these days is done via a variety of tools available to local governments (and larger bodies) to incentivize or encourage a type of investment that is not happening otherwise. This usually means a certain part of town or a certain type of development (for the rhetorical purposes we're going to refer mostly to infill development that is at least nominally "mixed-use" herein).

Types of public participation in private development include tax incentives, neighborhood empowerment zones (NEZ), Public or Business Improvement Districts, Tax Increment Financing (which finances public improvements from future expected tax revenues from new development above what was there before), etc. Virtually every recent mixed-use, infill development that you can think of in DFW had some a la carte menu of incentives in order to make them happen with varying degrees of success.

In essence, it is an overlap of interests that are mutually aligned. These could be called win-wins. Developer wants to make money and stay in business. The city wants (typically) tax base and occasionally are interested in quality of life issues as well. Except, as mentioned above, tax incentives are often provided. Potential developers all over the city are looking for such tax breaks in order to make their deal work, most recently, the developers under contract for the Crozier Tech site.

The immediate problem is that you're giving up tax revenue in order to get tax revenue. It's a risky game to play as there is no guarantee that further investment will ever come. Why? And herein lies the deeper issue. All of these tools are primarily used to add supply. None ever add demand for an area. If the land cost to demand ratio was healthier, ie profitable towards investment there wouldn't need to be any public assistance.

Look no further than the kind of development that had been occurring at the extreme edge of the city. Often, low density developers have even built all of their own internal infrastructure, though the cities still provide the connections to them. Though most of these have stopped because the demand side was fueled by funny money, imagined wealth, the promise housing prices would go nowhere but up, and easy to get mortgages.

In other words, none of those things still exist and cities are coming to the realization that they get left with the long-term infrastructural burden that low density development just doesn't pay for. Once a road is built, that sh1t ain't free. It has to support the kind of development, ie tax base, that can and will maintain it long into the future.

In terms of infill development, most developers don't want to be the pioneer, the first one into an "unproven market," ie a sketchy area. As the saying goes, pioneers get the arrows, settlers get the land. To combat this, cities and the federal government concoct an array of the tools as mentioned above, but again these are generally entirely supply-side. If you build it (the first few developments), they will come. So they think. Except there is no guarantee of demand. A building is supplied, the developer is covered as the public side kicks in what the developer thinks is their increment of risk (i.e., who knows if enough people will move in at the rents they need to make a dollar) by the public partnership.

Their thinking is usually, that if they can just get the first couple projects off the ground, the rest will take care of themselves. Again, two more problems arise. Some developers could become entitled, expecting certain amount of $ or their take their toys and go home. And in turn, the cities end up spending a few million here and a few million there on every single project in an area. And in the end, you wonder if all that was spent was even worth it.

Ultimately, there is and has been very little analysis of why some work and some don't. What underlying characteristics are at play? It obviously isn't simply the superficialities such as "mixed-use." Those that do have a fine-grain network of local connectivity, a small-street and block structure over a large enough area to have a critical mass. They're connected globally, but those global connections (usually rail, highways, or arterials) are boundaries of the district. They connect tangentially to this local success, but inhibit it from expanding further.

That's not to say the public sector doesn't have a role. They absolutely do. Except currently we build infrastructure that displaces demand locally and ships it out further and further away, thus interrupting the natural self-organizational aspect of organic systems/cities. We need infrastructure that brings us together, that is sociopetal, not sociofugal where we instill increasing distance and therefore cost of connectivity. It is those connections that are why cities exist, between talent, goods, ideas, services, jobs, genes, you name it.

Jane Jacobs warned against the blurring of public and private boundaries, but rather they can be mutually aligned but also defined. People from one side of the spectrum tend to take her words as a validation of their own adopted dogma. "Moderates" think there ought to be a blend of all things and why not? PPPs are the band-aid that prevents the whole system from falling apart.

Part of her reasoning was the potential for cronyism built into PPP. Certain projects or certain financial interests take precedence and get favorable treatment despite the legitimacy of their proposal. This form of political corruption is then played out as a corruption of the living system, into a zombie-like state.

What we need is a healthier marketplace with more clear divisions between public and private. Cities provide the infrastructure, the interconnectivity of networks and systems, but in the form that is sustainable. That is desirable and therefore density is a natural by-product. And if a place has low desirability, low opportunity, then it will be low density. There is a natural order to these things and our current M.O. for city building inhibits this.

It is advantageous for a variety of personal reasons to be closer to work, other people, amenities, etc. This crosses socio-economic strata. The wealthy want to be near amenity (though they have the means to live elsewhere if so desired), the poor need to be near opportunity/employment, and the middle class have a little of both.

The public sector has to focus on an infrastructure of demand, build a legitimate street and block structure based on local interconnectivity, to empower citizens, and remove the cost burden of the automobile on citizens and the local economy (I'll have something important on this in linkages later).

I'm not saying I'm fully against public-private partnerships. All hands must be on deck, but we can't become too dependent upon them. We've built a broken city. A dead zombie in need of defibrillation every now and then. But the ultimate goal must be a living city and that starts with an infrastructure of demand, opportunity, and empowerment. Exactly what a public body is supposed to do. The private sector will meet provide the supply.

With shared, common purpose yet clearly defined boundaries, the two sectors (public and private) can move in conjunction, but without getting in each other's way nearly as much as they do now.

If we look at the model I've established for how cities evolve or devolve based on systems thinking:

Organization of Living Systems:
Purpose (begets) Interconnectivity (begets) Elements

I've repackaged that as a self-reinforcing or self-defeating process of cities:

Purpose (begets) Integration (begets) Accommodation

Integration = demand.
However, it doesn't so much create demand as releases demand. Demand is latent. It is human need. Interconnectivity/Integration just allow for the meeting of human needs, ie empowerment.

Accommodation = supply

If we stack this vertically we can think of it like this:

PURPOSE (shared amongst stakeholders, both public and private)

INTEGRATION (public sector releases demand thru connecting infrastructural networks)

ACCOMMODATION (private sector meets demand with supply of things like hotels, businesses, housing, etc. located based on the value inherent in the integration model).

Wash, Rinse, and Repeat and build a legitimate living, sustainable city. Don't Rinse than Wash. Or else you'll get Psoriasis.



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Exsanguination

I wrote this for a professional urbanist List-Serv so I might as well cross-post based on a New Yorker column on raising gas taxes:

I'm all for Pigovian taxes, but do we really think they're politically feasible in this case? In the Sun Belt? Of course, the New Yorker wants gas taxes. New York isn't affected, free of the burden of fluctuating gas prices. Cheap gas is in the DNA of the sun belt. Consequently, Dallas just got a $4.4 billion bill to maintain its roads. Even if at some point we do agree that roads and/or gas must be "right priced" to pay for themselves, their maintenance, and upkeep, will it change our road building ways? Maybe eventually? We gotta get rid of these potholes somehow, right?

Will it change our living patterns? Not in time. Many people, and educated ones at that seem to think rising gas taxes will cure the Sun Belt and bring everybody back, jumping for joy towards urbanism, walkability, etc. But we can't build enough housing or rebuild the road networks towards legitimate walkability fast enough. People like to point to charts like this that VMTs dropped when gas prices rose:

But when you aren't distorting the Y-axis to amplify the degree of change in VMT, it looks more like this:

With 267% rise in gas prices over ten years, there was a 5% drop in VMT. A drop which likely had more to do with people being out of work since VMT is on the rise again with gas prices also on the rise. If gas hits 5, 6, 10 dollars per gallon, we, in the sun belt won't magically become urban. We'll just exsanguinate, like Detroit and the rust belt with the lost of industrial production.

It's like a tsunami. Sure, there was a little rumble off shore, but it's likely nothing, right? All of a sudden everybody's under water. Eventually, future generations will see areas prospering without the burden's of car ownership and infrastructure. Population will decline just as fast as it rose, like a bacteria colony exhausting its source of food. That is, unless we drastically change course.

Nothing will change until transportation planning, design, and funding change. And frankly, because DOTs represent states and not cities and therefore do not have the best interest of cities at heart, it likely means the necessary weakening of DOTs.

A tax policy isn't enough. We need fundamental reform in how we build all transportation and therefore how we build cities.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Your Friday Quote for the Day

Jane Jacobs:

"[T]he New Urbanists want to have lively centers in the places that they develop, where people run into each other doing errands and that sort of thing. And yet, from what I've seen of their plans and the places they have built, they don't seem to have a sense of the anatomy of these hearts, these centers. They've placed them as if they were shopping centers. They don't connect."

I'm a new urbanist. I'm an old urbanist. I'm an urbanist. I agree 100% with her. She's right. And not only because I agree with her. But she's echoing everything I've been saying recently, and I've been echoing her. She's often credited with inspiring the emergence of systems theory, complexity studies, and, ahem, emergence. Those mathematicians, et al., are now coming back, returning from their divergent path from urbanism, bringing the evolved theory along with them. Coming full circle and re-applying their principles to the city, the ultimate complex, living system of self-organization.

Or as TxDOT might put it, "something to bulldoze."

Converging Parallel Geographies: An Analogy for Placemaking

I mentioned on the Urbanology podcast the two parallel geographies of the internet and the actual physical landscape of cities. I talked about how the internet would actually advance urbanism and clustering because of web 2.0's evolution as an agent of self-organization. We're still people, we still have human needs. We'll never be the automatons interacting only by computers. Unless of course, you think it's possible to mate and reproduce via these here interwebs.

Therefore, we're amending our creation of the internet to further align and enhance our other great human invention, cities. The two parallel geographies are converging, enmeshing. Unlike what Joel Kotkin thinks, that the internet will enable all of us to live in far flung suburban locales, that they're diverging. I also think Kotkin's university and academic credentials are essentially made-up and underwritten by dubious economic forces, but that's another story.

Here are two maps:
The internet...

And the syntactical integration map of London...

They're quite predictably similar when accounting for the variations in physical geographic features. The internet has no such problems. They both measure and map the connections between people, places, and things.

This is how IT types are more inherently and intuitively in tune with how cities function (or dysfunction). It is about direct connections of many interconnecting things. However, in the physical geography, proximity still and will always matter. Until we learn to teleport. And likely even then.

What's apparent in both is that there are two hierarchical gradients at work (both created through processes of natural self-organization - ie people empowered to meet their own wants and needs). You have the meta-gradient which covers the entire organism, the city (which vary in scale in competition with other cities). There is less overall value the further away you are from everything.

Within that there is an internal hierarchy of places or hubs where google is the equivalent to the internet as Times Square to New York.

But please, dopey students and deluded professors, continue to tell me that Times Square is what it is because of LED boards. If that was the case Victory in Dallas would be jumping.

The reason it isn't is because Dallas gets the formula backwards. It should go like this:

In terms of self-organized living systems:
Purpose --- > Interconnections ---- > Elements

Similarly, with the internet & cities that same formula could be described thusly:
Emotion (need & want) --- > Integration --- > Accommodation (then decoration)

This is why 99% of designer types are utterly clueless and/or arrogantly deluded. And it's not entirely their fault. They're people. We are drawn to the immediate, the tangible. The things we touch and see, ie the Elements. As the late Donella Meadows wrote in Thinking in Systems, Elements are the least consequential.

Trying to change an entire city by adding a "name-brand" building is like trying to build a snowflake by hand.

We see websites but we don't see the internet. We see Morphosis buildings and Calatrava Bridges, but we don't see the bonds between people. We do see the infrastructure, but the dysfunctional city is the one where that invisible city doesn't align to the physical. Whatever purpose underlies the decisions made here, seems to be first and foremost moving the car. All else be damned. Such as empowering people to meet their needs without owning said car.

Rome of the centrally planned empire is bent and broken over 2000 years to mold better to human need:




The people who attempt "revitalization" via the supplication of "stuff" are under the impression that their design (or the design of their personal cult superhero (cult of personality is all-powerful in the land of the ideological)) is so great and desirable that their design will bend the world to it. This only works on a micro-scale. They attempt to provide accommodation which will then bring about integration (ie people coming to that place) and that is why most of these attempts (supply-side urbanism) fail miserably. Or at least, the return on investment is far greater than expectations or promise. And usually lower than the amount of investment. Why?

The reason is that integration, those interconnections of networks, connects people. It empowers them to meet their needs and wants. It is the release valve of demand. When you integrate networks, the return on invesment is exponential, provided it is sustainable/maintainable.

BILBAO EFFECT
The best example of this is Bilbao.

People can see Gehry's building. They can point to it. They can touch it. But it was the least influential in Bilbao's recent renaissance than anything else substantial that the city undertook. First, they repurposed. A coal/shipping town repurposed as globalization moved industrial jobs elsewhere. They focused on empowering the arts (they had a lot of people out of work, bored, and tinkering).

Because the city is an archipelago of sub-hierarchies, loosely connected, they needed to reintegrate their city's networks. They built an entirely new subway system. They expanded their port as well as their airport. They integrated these various local and global infrastructures of interconnection. All of this began 10 years before the Guggenheim, which was a mere cherry on top.

NETWORK ANALOGY
Because the same processes are at work between the internet and cities (connecting people to meet needs and wants. The root force is human emotion (need & want) for social & economic exchange (mostly), I often draw the analogy between Place and your Computer. We wish to connect to people, places, and things. Both physically and digitally. To get a computer/place to work first you have to plug it in, essentially empower it:

To multiply its value, it has to then be interconnected at larger scales...networked.
Locally, regionally, and ultimately...globally:
Here's the rub...when those connections of local, regional, and global begin to interrupt integration (roads/wires) they limit the overall value and diminish the experience. Imagine ever bigger roads and trunk cables connecting every place on the planet. Oh wait.


Value = sum of integration (local + global)

However, the infrastructure of global integration often subtracts from local integration. Imagine trunk cables plugged into every house. Similarly, highway infrastructure and airports and railroads interrupt local connectivity and therefore diminish value. This is why these things should be mitigated, meeting local neighborhood fabric tangentially.

And therefore we go wireless to minimize the overall infrastructure of our interconnections.


However, there will always be value in the local street. Because that's where the local physical interface occurs (building face, entries/retina screen), and in between, place happens:







Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Trams, Trains, Trolley, and Trampolines

Between reading a ridiculously amazing article from the Atlantic on the pervasive takeover of market society from the market economy over lunch, I was following along @Spacing's coverage of the debate in Toronto whether to link some suburb to the city via subway or LRT. And by LRT and the discussion about it being at-grade in the street ROW, I'll assume that means legitimate LRT, ie tram. As opposed to DART which is closer to heavy rail like TRE than LRT.

I almost spit out my salad reading that Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, an irrational, militant opponent of bicycles 'on his roads', favored a subway. This shocked me at first as I thought the debate was subway vs. no subway. Until he started talking about how LRT or trams would slow traffic. And when they share lanes, yes, they often do. Which is precisely why we should favor them (speaking in general and not as a Torontonian(?), which I'm not). This, before even discussing the cost savings of LRT ($20M/mi.) vs subway (<$200M/mi.).

Both have advantages and disadvantages like all things urban and that's why debate is necessary. But I want to talk about rail and its often dueling connective and disconnective with particular attention to things that aren't always as they seem.

First, a primer:
All rail is disconnective in some way. That is the nature of infrastructure. And the movement of cities is a delicate balance. The bigger the infrastructure the more corrosive it is upon the fabric and value of place.

Typical regional rail like DART or TRE are only connective at their station points. The rest of the way the rail lines become a barrier to overall integration. Ever wonder where the term "other side of the tracks came from?" Yet, station areas are typically beautiful, desirable places? Blame the railroad infrastructure of gravitation points and disconnective segments.

Hence, subways. Subways solve the majority of those problems.

As I often say, it is regional infrastructure that meets local infrastructure tangentially. However, its trade-offs are two-fold: it is very expensive and really only makes sense if the density is already there (at least in terms of buildings if not people, ie empty downtowns). And second, subways like elevated rail lines bring the 3-dimensional movement into play, which itself is disconnective. Whether underground or overground, extreme lengths must be taken to make these platforms less uncomfortable.

From entrance (Bilbao):
To platforms (Stockholm):

Tram-a-lam:
Tram: There are lots of versions of the modern tram, many of which have their own dedicated right-of-way with pretty emerald green grass corridors, like Grenoble. Whether sharing space with vehicles or in their own corridor tends to (and should) change based on context. Denser, more populated, busier, urban places will have less space. Thus, the need for sharing space.

But due to Mayor Ford's commentary and the common misunderstanding of the value of the McKinney Avenue Trolley, I want to focus on trams/trolleys that share lanes in urban locales.

MATA:
The McKinney Avenue Trolley on McKinney Avenue. Because it's a form of transportation, we think it's one and only value is to move people linearly from point A to point B. And because it is slow we ridicule it. It's only for tourists (though people commute to/fro work every day on it). And its old. And stupid. And I hate it. And they're probably all communazis or something.

Here's its real value. It does have frequent stops, is slow moving and "inefficient." McKinney would be a raceway if it wasn't for MATA slowing everything down. And that's what makes it so actually efficient. McKinney would be a giant barrier where no pedestrians would walk, congregate, eat, nor cross if it wasn't for MATA.

A streets interconnective value is not 1-dimensional. For the most part it is 2-dimensional. A network. The complexity of the network determines overall value. Higher overall interconnectivity, higher land value. Higher land value, higher density.

See the following diagrams suggesting degrees of spatial integration at the hyper-local level based on observation:

A level 0 street: Disconnective.
This is Lemmon Avenue. People don't cross the road for a variety of reasons, speed of traffic, width, etc. Value depreciates. Area disintegrates.

Level 1 street: Integrated
This is Greenville Avenue. Pedestrians will cross, but primarily only at crosswalks and intersections unless the road is all clear.

Level 2: Main Street - Highly Integrated
Pedestrians will cross wherever. Traffic is slowed because it is two-way and there exists ample friction in the way of "collision hazards," ie pedestrians, trees, etc. Also known as things people like.

McKinney without the streetcar would be somewhere between a 0 and a 1 and likely have a negative effect on overall value of the area. With the trolley, McKinney is between a 1 and 2. These are multipliers. Under 1 and the area corrodes to some degree. Over 1 and value is added.

The value of the streetcar is two-fold. It moves people who don't wish to drive nor park in downtown ($75/month). And it slows cars furthering the cross-connective integration of the area. Meaning: more pedestrians. And pedestrians are the ones that populate the stores and shops that we crave on our streets. Uptown Pub recently removed its streetside parking for more patio space. Why? It's customers were mostly walking. It adds square footage for more tables/seating. And, if people do drive they have to pay to the valet in the back.

Thank the trolley. For being inefficient.

FernGully

Lot on the brain this morning. A morning which I awoke to seeing this rendering of some sociopath's personal utopia:


Hey hey. Check out the people. Oh, did I say people? I meant apparitions. This is the epitome of landscape urbanism. IT HAS TALL NATIVE GRASSES. You didn't hear me. TALL NATIVE GRASSES. And funny angles on buildings intersecting with 2-dimensional alluvial patterns in a 3-dimensional MC Escher of bridges and planes for entirely arbitrary reasons. I guess to prove they can. Nevermind that actual people would feel like they're being watched as if ants being watched and poked and prodded by some giant god in a lab coat.

It hasn't a clue about actual urbanism, or the function of cities, or people. Such is why their designs work best without people. At least the birds have taken over. It's almost as if their bible, because they are true ideologues, is this book. Basically, all of human need is sacrificed for water filtration. I'd too say habitat, but by mixing residential towers in the park, they're fouling that up as well.


Is that so different? Yes, actually it is. Because the buildings are old. And old is bad. So I decided to make my own rendering of landscape urbanism:


Landscape Urbanism: The Magical Rescue.

Sorry, I don't believe in magic.

Emotional Blogging

Forgive me. There will be blood...and curse words.

I was nearly hit by a truck and it wasn't an accident. I had to dive out of the way.

This just happened on my typical walk to work. I live downtown and walk to my recently renovated new office space in the heart of the State-Thomas neighborhood in uptown.

Sometimes I trolley. When I do, I don't mind that the short one-mile trip takes up to 30 minutes. I can crack a book while waiting for the next ride, then read it on the trolley.

But when I do walk, depending on my route (I do have a slight amount of choice, considering there are no direct routes, but also very few crossing points between downtown and uptown on the other hand) I have to cross Maple-Routh Connection:

It's the obnoxious S-shaped road that only a traffic engineer could love.

Whatever. My adrenaline is dropping and I wish to maintain my rancor for the sake of rhetoric.

When I do cross Maple-Routh (my other option is through the Arts District and then under Woodall Rogers which is also no picnic), I'm always hyper careful. It's a road designer for cars to drive fast (over a whole 1/4-mile stretch between traffic signals. STOP. GO! STOP.) Because of its S-shape and the buildings around it, there is little visibility for cars or pedestrians. And since they're punching the gas to save 5 seconds between the tanning salon and quickie mart to pick up a 64-ounce big gulp of diet coke, they can't stop in time if driving conditions aren't perfect. ie. they have to slow or stop for what traffic engineers call 'collision hazards.' Or as I like to say, me.

Since the perfect road condition to a traffic engineer is nobody else on the road, I am hyper aware of crossing only when no cars are coming either way. Check left. Look right. Glance back to the left. Ensure the coast is clear before stepping foot on the road.

I could see the engineers then saying, well you're not suppose to cross that road. Instead, we're suppose to stick to 1/4-mile square bubbles, which you cannot leave without having to cross an inhumane arterial. Or else, get in a car. And therein lies the rub. You are forced into a car. Enslaved. Land of the free.
**Side note: I tweeted this morning that the only way to reduce gas prices is to not drive. ONLY. WAY. It cuts your monthly expenses and reduces overall demand when your choice, and my choice, and their choice aggregates by the millions. I save $7000/year by not replacing the car that I totalled. Instead, I moved to a place where I didn't need a car. More expensive? Likely. Divide that over 12 months, that is $583 per month which you could put to better housing, invest it, save it, or if you're a Bank of America employee buy a few grams of coke.
If I were king for a day, I wouldn't fire every single person at TxDOT, COG, and every single transportation planner in every city and county in Texas. But, I'd make them justify their competence towards a job that is more than moving cars. But keeping people safe while facilitating the core function of the city, which is social and economic exchange.

You force people who can't afford it into transportation costs that cripple their ability to make ends meet, participate in society, and better themselves and their family. You bankrupt public commonwealths via tax dollars to pay for your trillion dollar ponzi scheme. And, oh yeah, you kill people.

After I wrote this piece for D Magazine, I received an email from some dude in Colorado suggesting traffic fatalities are the drivers' fault due to human error. Sorry, you can't blame the operator for a system you design. We're not evolved to have reaction times, hand eye (or foot for breaking) coordination over 25-30 mph. The modern assembly line seems so efficient theoretically until you insert human error. And by error, I mean humanity.

Your job is to serve the function of the city. NOT move cars. You massively fail at your job. Here is a sword. It's f***ing Harakiri time.

So after looking both ways and checking out the white 4x4 pickup truck wanting to make a left onto Maple-Routh who clearly seemed to be waiting for me to cross. So I did. As it turns out, they very well may have been getting impatient with me. Because as I'm at the halfway point crossing the road, they're pulling out as I would expect. Except, they're cutting the curve tighter and tighter as if AT me and I'm not dawdling either.

At the point where the adrenaline hit my head and fight or flight tookover and survival instinct took over, I dove out of the way. The truck was clearly going to clip me. The Supersized Fries edition of a driver-side rearview mirror was on course for my should and maybe my head. And the body of the truck was likely going to sideswipe my hip and leg. I didn't like my chances against a 2-ton truck.

Except it wasn't so much fight OR flight. But fight and flight. While in mid air, I let out a JESUS CHRIST! Then after the driver had passed me and clearly slowing down, I belted out a M***** F*****. The driver, not stopped but still rolling slowly, makes a hand gesture. It wasn't a middle finger. I could make out all five. But if it was a sincere apology, wouldn't there be an effort to make eye contact? There was none. Just a quick five fingers in the window before driving away.

A woman walking her dog saw the entire incident. She made some sort of audible noise about it, but I couldn't make it out. My ears were full of adrenaline and rage. I have no patience or tolerance for drivers who think they can bully the more fragile forms of transportation. Yes, I have a F***ing right to the road too.

And yes, if you threaten my life, there will be a response if you don't drive off. However, now that my boiling blood is back to a simmer, it is probably good for both of us that you drove off. I would have broken my hand trying to punch through your window. I was not thinking straight.

If you meant to hit me, you are an ignorant, f***ing coward. If you didn't, you obviously can't handle your automobile. Either way, you're a little man in a big truck.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Copenhagen is not Dallas...

...and that's a good thing. It allows us to know where we are and think critically about what are and should be the real steps forward towards something other than one that is badly falling behind in its market appeal. This is critically important with regards to the Millennial generation.

Millennials are roughly early thirties and down (lines are blurry in generational studies). They are also the next leaders, business builders, JOB CREATORS!1!, etc. They are also as large in terms of numbers and effect on the economy as the baby boomers. They will transform the city in the way that suits them the same way Boomers did. Except just the opposite way. And 77% of them desire walkable urbanism.

Yesterday, I posted a bit of a sarcastic post comparing Dallas to Copenhagen, a place where I spent 8 days partying studying in about 5 years ago. It was admittedly unfair, but it has a point to show just how far Dallas has to go and perhaps more importantly, that we seem to be spinning in circles without clear direction. Copenhagen is a highly livable city (as every ranking EVAR shows).

Copenhagen is famous for its car-free area in the center of the city known as Stroget, which has incrementally, steadily, and consistently been increased in size and reach year by year. At first, the business owners fought against it. And of course they did, businesses are generally adverse to change, especially if they're making money. It's the ones not making money that embrace change.

The businesses making money are specifically adapted to the status quo, and thus they're reticent to accept suggestions for "improvement" such as making the street their business is on car-free. They couldn't fathom how their customers would get to their business. What they assumed was that everybody had to drive, that their market shed was regional rather than local. However as it turned out, once the streets were more desirable and more amenable, the streets could hold more people than cars. And once the popularity rose, it not only grew beyond a local draw to a regional draw, and after several decades, even an international draw (see: my visit).

However, this would not work in Dallas. Not yet. And likely not for a few decades. We're in a far different point in the spectrum of urban development. Copenhagen didn't fundamentally alter their network when cars came to dominate the streets. We ripped ours apart.

But we can learn from their initial effort towards relocalization. Our transportation network favors regional movement at the expense of the local. Value = local integration + global integration. Only Global Integration often has a negative impact on local. Big roads, railroads, airports, etc. detract from local neighborhoods. This is why in the best cities, the relationship between regional/global infrastructure is tangential to the actual fabric of the city. The baby is not sacrificed for the bathwater.

We too have to slowly unwind, but we can't simply do what they did and take the cars off as some have suggested with Main Street. This would exasperate the problem. One of downtown's biggest problems is that transportation choice is limited, particularly for the car in terms of route. We're forced only onto certain roads as the power of the grid and its ability to diffuse traffic and the associated negative impact on streets by destroying the grid. Closing Main to traffic means more traffic is shifted over to Elm and Commerce, further boxing in and fragmenting the areas that do succeed.

We have to accurately calibrate where we are and what the underlying issues are. Simply seeing what other places have done and attempting to duplicate it locally will only have limited success. Such is the nature of supply-side urbanism. The effort (time/money) vastly exceeds the returns. Instead, we should be looking at ways to increase transportation choice, of route and mode, by strengthening the complexity of the grid network. The network is the golden goose.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dallas vs. Copenhagen, DING!

Hmm...perhaps not a fair fight. But based on this brief article about the five cities most dedicated and perhaps most successful in their shift towards a green urbanism, I found a few relevant numbers on Copenhagen:

First, Copenhagen has 1.2 million people.
Dallas has 1.2 million people.

About 40% of Copenhagen's residents commute by bike each day.
Less than 1% of Dallas commuters hop on a bike (BECAUSE IT RAINED TODAY STUPID)

Bikes cost, what? A hundred bucks to own and operate for a year?
Cars cost about $7,000 per year to own and operate

Copenhagen has goals.
Definable, measurable goals.

Some of these include:
0, zero, nada traffic related fatalities for an entire year.
as well...
they would like to get 50% of commuters onto 2-wheels instead of 4.

Copenhagen has 217 dedicated bike lanes. Copenhagen thinks they can get to their goal of 50% bike ridership by adding 43 more miles of dedicated bike lanes.
Dallas has 0 (But we have a plan for 800! We'll show you stupid Copenhagen. Perhaps quality is better than quantity, mayhaps?)

Oh, and Copenhagen is also home to some of the highest per capita incomes, access to healthcare, education, some of the self-reportedly happiest people in the world, and some of the best educated. But dipping into those factors is fighting dirty (and possibly interrelated).





Quick Q & A and some linkages

A good question was asked in the comments of a previous post and I answered there as well, but thought I might pull it out into its own post. In the post, I discussed the amounts of investment that could be leveraged with our highway tearout plan. The right question to ask and was asked is, "if there is nothing but parking lots in the area now, how can you suggest that it will be anything but parking lots in the future?"

A slightly cleaned up version of my response:

They're parking lots now precisely because of the highway. Delivering people to their jobs in downtown as conveniently as possible from Allen or Mckinney is the highest and best use of the land. Land costs are too high and demand for anything more than parking is too low (though pent-up for something more exists, hence uptown's inflated prices) to do anything.

The parking lot owners are looking for high rise pricing on their land. Nobody can make that work without significant and likely potentially crippling subsidy from the city. And the city is in no position financially to be spending $50 million per project when $50 million is the approximate amount for necessary to leverage this entire project.

So, the thesis behind the idea is to flip the equation. Make public land that is currently dangerous and contributing to the overall dysunctionality of the area, available for cheap. The land sale can then pay for a safe grid of streets, new parks and public spaces for the new development, even new streetcar lines linking downtown w/ Deep Ellum and along Ross Avenue. By doing so, we write down the cost of land which was prohibitively too high while making the area exponentially more desirable. Land costs low, demand high. The market is then unleashed to deliver good urbanism rather than begged and bribed to do mediocre projects. This is the golden goose.

Now for two linkages...

Though politically difficult, in the long term public policy should seek to reshape the national landscape to prioritize denser forms of living. Many metropolitan centers, from New York to Atlanta to San Francisco, have fared better in this downturn. This may hold the key to future economic growth. We should take the opportunity afforded by our new consciousness of suburban poverty and push policy makers to encourage the efficient use of sustainable energy, better integration of public and private transportation, and to offer alternatives to home ownership as the signal achievement of the American way of life by taking the dramatic and long overdue step of abolishing the federal mortgage interest deduction. The American dream of suburban domestic bliss has been fostered by sixty years of public policy; a new American dream of sustainable community and solidarity in urban life is also within reach, if public policy once again lends a hand
And lastly, Leinberger has new data on the Millennials and their preference towards Walkable Urbanism (ignore this demand at the risk of the future of your city):

A 2008 SURVEY found that 77 percent of millennials – the generation of 20-somethings – want to live where they are "close to each other, to services, to places to meet and to work, and they would rather walk than drive."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Urbanology Show

We've finally gone and done it. Kevin Buchanon of FortWorthology and I have started a podcast. The first episode is here and as Kevin describes it:
Episode 1′s topics include: designing streets for people vs. designing them for traffic movement, a brief introduction to Fort Worth’s Near Southside revitalization district, how the Internet and social media is affecting urban revitalization, the polycentric nature of cities, lack of transportation choice, building lighting, demand-driven urbanism vs. supply-driven urbanism, Deconstructivism, the revitalization of Bilbao, Woody Allen, the Enlightenment, and inappropriate Winston Churchill quotes.
Kevin has podcasted before so for me I suppose it was about getting the hang of it. We had been getting together about once a month over beers to talk about the very same things so we decided to start recording and putting those convos on blast, y'all. Though we both tangent trip by nature, the wide variety of topics listed above was surely caffeine induced, as the show was recorded at Avoca Coffee in the Near Southside area of Fort Worth. Next time, it will be over beers, meaning it may be more jovial and/or sanguine.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Good for the Many, as Impossible as Possible



Bicyclists must wear helmets. We're probably not too far away from pedestrians being forced to wear helmets too, if not this:


"This is the future." Don't fight it. Doesn't it seem grand?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Atlanta vs. Dallas

I was speaking with somebody who recently moved to Atlanta this weekend and was back in town. I was shocked when he told me there were only about 450,000 ATLiens within a metro area of 5 million.

Think about this another way, that means Atlanta has the burden of infrastructure for 5 million people but a tax base of only a slight fraction of that. In other words, the core cities are hollowed out by the various infrastructure to support the region. Then those core cities have to bear all the various burdens of that infrastructure such as the pollution, cost of maintenance, safety, and overall undesirability of proximity.

So I looked up the real numbers:

Atlanta population: 416,000
Atlanta Metro: 5.2 million

Dallas population: 1.2 million
DFW metro population: 6.3 million

If we're comparing the burden to tax base ratio, Atlanta's is 12.5 to Dallas' 5.25. But, it's also worth noting that DFW's metro population is split by two centers, Dallas and Fort Worth. When you add FW's population of 740,000, that means the DFW metro infrastructural burden to tax base ratio is only 3.25. *

Considering these are two of the highest highway capacity per capita cities, that's a lot of coin. And we wonder why our infrastructure is failing. But furthermore, wow is Atlanta potentially in for a rough ride when the maintenance bills start coming due.

* However, it is worth noting that this is a very simplified calculation and isn't fully applicable to other metros, such as Houston which annexes just about everything around it and therefore would have closer to a 1:1 burden to tax base ratio.

The Erosion of Ant Colonies



Today, I tweeted something that may sound like it's veering toward the poetic, but the intention is quite real, and that intention is a better understanding of cities.
"The most livable and lovable cities are those that the invisable city aligns best with the physical city."
In his recent book, Ed Glaeser recalls a point that is often made but typically has been ignored and not often cited and recited enough, that the real city is the invisible city. The buildings and roads and everything else we point to and say, "city," are merely the tangible functional tools we've constructed in order to make the city work towards our needs. And those needs are about exchange: of goods, services, skills, ideas, laughs, genes, you name it.

This is what the real city is. The physical city is simply the manifestation of economies around the physical infrastructure to facilitate those connections. There are an infinite number of types of connections. For example, one might be me and my current state of mind and my desired future state of mind. Let's say I'm stressed out. And I want to be less stressed out. Wouldn't it be nice to step out of my house or office and be able to walk down a pleasant street to a nearby park to cool off and maybe just watch the world go by for a bit of time.

The city is about the efficiency (in terms of cost, infrastructure, time, etc) of us being able to meet our needs. To do so that means creating a means of interconnection, ie integrating various complex networks.

The integration of networks is the release valve of pent-up demand for said exchange.

Integration begets accommodation.

Opportunity then arises after interconnectivity is created. Cities emerge and develop at crossroads. A computer's power is increased once it is plugged into a wall, but then its ability amplifies exponentially once it is networked.

The internet is an example of an invisible city. It facilitates the exchange of many of the same thing the city does: goods, services, money, ideas, culture, etc. It also has sites and designers and developers, but like a city it is about facilitating the experience as directly as possible, whether it is to spend time playing around on something or to quickly buy a good, the directness of the internet (facilitated by speed of connection and hubs of information) eliminates or drastically reduces inefficiency.

One of the many maps of the internet.


The crossing over between the digital and the physical:


We make plans and build our buildings and infrastructural interconnections, but sometimes what is built is not in line with what we need.

The evidence of desire lines, where the physically constructed connection does not match up with our needs:

Divergent Paths

Another example. Here is Rome's evolution from being planned and constructed by an emperor through 2000 years of evolution, the human need for direct connection beats away at that which doesn't align:


We beat at the city until it serves us better like charged water molecules dissolving a cube of sugar dropped into a glass. We make it more useful, therefore it becomes more livable and lovable. It is now ours. Much the way we feel about historic buildings that are rehabbed and retrofitted for contemporary uses and demands. Or at even a smaller scale, we like movable seating in parks and we adjust it just that little bit to make it ours. The city is ours. And we shaped it in our own little way.

In the city where everything is the same, is that really meeting our individual needs? Is it failing our ability to shape it?


The city has to be a balance of facilities for said exchanges and ways of interconnecting between those meeting points, buildings and roads. Neighborhoods are nested within cities, buildings within neighborhoods, rooms within buildings, all set within a framework of movement.

The attempt at planning "all at a time" is the attempt to minimize the necessary and long-term disruption between Rome of 12 AD and Rome of 2012 AD. Often this ends up being an exercise in 2-dimensional pattern making. However, the 2-dimensional grid is typically constructed for directness of movement and developable efficiency of the nested blocks.

The question becomes, is our infrastructure of movement truly facilitating its need, directness and ability to meet our need with the minimal amount of expense and waste:


And are we celebrating a bridge because of who it is designed by? Or are we celebrating it because it is a barrier bested in the interlinking of human interaction? And is that bridge the best form of interconnection between a place left behind, with little connectivity?

Value = Demand = Desirability = Degree of Integration.

Degree of Integration = Local connectivity + Global connectivity.

Unfortunately, all too often the physical infrastructure of global connectivity is a net negative, subtracting from local connectivity. They create their own barriers despite trying to link us regionally/globally. Cars and planes and trains may end up being with us forever in some variant form of whatever evolved technology. But the infrastructure subtracts from connectivity except at a few specific points. This is why the best forms of global infrastructure only meet the local tangentially. The access is there, but it doesn't create its own form of disruption to the network. The network is the golden child to be nurtured and cared for, perhaps even worshiped.

This is where the power of the internet is important. It allows us to drastically reduce the amount of infrastructure of global connectivity in order to rebuild local networks.

Diedenbergen, Germany. Note that the highway meets the suburb tangentially. Agricultural production is nearby. The structure of the community is intact. Diedenbergen is a suburb of Hofheim. Hofheim is a suburb of Frankfurt. Nests within nests. This is a healthy, interconnected network. Convenience = proximity, they do not conflict as with the illogical and dysfunctional city.