Monday, April 30, 2012

Build for your Climate

This is why tall, glass towers in sunny, hot, windy climates aren't such a good idea.  Let alone surrounded by paving.  Heat island!  Multiplied by ambient, reflective solar gain!  We can bake eggs on the street!  See, our streets are multi-modal.

Tim at D Magazine adds to his excellent cover story on the tussle between Museum Tower, the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the 30-40 degrees of seperation between them.  Fahrenheit.

I added the below comment:

Greener on the inside. Less green on the outside. Then it’s hardly green at all, innit? Such is the failing of narrow abstractions like LEED and green building codes that only look inside one building at a time. Light/heat is still going somewhere. The costs are merely deferred elsewhere and to others. Externalized, literally.

As for the Nasher's legal claim?  While nothing is in the zoning for them to stand on, and the covenants on the Museum Tower site expired in 2008, it seems to me there is still a case for a "taking" somewhere within the nebulous depths of property rights law.   Certainly, the value and ability to capitalize on their land is diminished because of the heat, discomfort, and potential damage to valuable artwork within the Nasher property.

Furthermore, if that doesn't make for a case against the other property owner, does that make for a case against the city due to inaction?  Where cities will regulate pollution, noise, and other disturbances between property, from my understanding there has been little precedence in the way of ambient light/heat outside of the Disney Concert Hall in LA.  Where that was a public entity diminishing quality of life on surrounding private property the issue here is a bit messier.  And more expensive.

Which brings me back to my original take on the entire thing.  Because the resolution doesn't appear to be inexpensive and neither will want to alter their building AND that there seems to be little precedent, this may very well work its way up arbitration, to law suits, to appeals, and up the legal system.  Where it stops, nobody knows.

IH-345 Tear Out Presentation

It is here.  I can't embed yet, because I'm not a "pro" with slideboom.  If anybody has a good presentation site, lemme know.  Some of the text appeared to jump around into weird spots on some of the slides, so if anything looks weird its a language translation issue.  I swear.

It ended up being about 100 slides. I only presented the second half the other night to the CNU happy hour because I didn't want to keep everybody forever.  By putting the entirety of it here only those interested enough in the whole thing can peruse at their leisure. The forthcoming report tracks with this second half, which jumps straight into the immediate issues at hand, providing more depth, data, and sourcing.

The first 50 slides or so are heavy on background and foundational theory in order to build the case for highway tear-outs and why adding new capacity (and most of our urban policies) don't meet the needs of communities.  And further, often bankrupt the public coffers with little in return.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just Exactly How Much is $400 Billion?

OK, so the Dallas Biz Journal has a short article on Irving's eagerness for the Orange DART line to open, linking Las Colinas to downtown Dallas.  Eventually, it will link the DART system to DFW airport.  And why shouldn't they be excited?  They've seen just about every city around them get linked up with something other than freeways, while they've sat on the to do list.  It will be a great thing for Irving and the rest of DFW once the airport link is online.  Except, this doozy caught my eye:

The 14-mile, $1.3 billion Orange Line is expected to generate at least $400 billion in transit-oriented development in Irving.

I know this is likely a typo.  But I'd be more likely to believe $400 nillion than billion.  After all the n is closer to the m than the b on the QWERTY keyboard.  Or maybe it was just a lost in translation issue due to poor reception on what I'd have to presume was an AT&T served iPhone (not that I particularly liked sprint or my old phone pre-iPhone, but the sound quality WAS crystal clear).  The journalist heard billion when whoever he was interviewing actually said million.

But let's have some fun shall we and pretend that it wasn't a typo?  What exactly would $400 billion in new TOD development look like in Irving?

Well, it would be approximately 1000 new Bank of America buildings, the tallest skyscraper in downtown Dallas:

Or, if that is too old school for you and you're looking for some cutting edge LEED-worthy syle high-rises, let's plop 400 of the Time Warner Center buildings on Central Park in Manhattan.  Minus the Central Park.  And the Manhattan.  But don't worry, the transit is there:

Too many of one type of building for you?  OK, let's build new cities from scratch.  And not just a few, but 10 new Songdo Business Districts:

That's a rendering of course.  I'm assuming the architects presumed there might be people occupying the buildings or piloting those sailboats.  Because it is an all-at-once city from scratch lacking the self-reinforcing feedback loops of organically grown cities, it looks more like this:

New Asian mega-cities from scratch.  Times ten.  In Irving.

I'm already hyper-sensitive to these big, round projected numbers.  As I've said before, most of which are conjured out of thin air without fostering the market to actually support legitimate market-oriented development towards a real urbanism.  The other key line in the article is that upon completion the DART orange line will take 90 minutes to reach DFW terminal A from West End station.  90 minutes.

As long as DART is not only not as convenient as driving, but potentially 3x more time consuming, the market will never shift to favor of transit-oriented development.  Now I love transit-oriented development.  Choice of transpo combined with the density aligned with intersections of networked movements is the way cities will survive and thrive.

We're trying to have our cake and eat it too.  Unfortunately, that tips the balance in favor of auto-oriented transportation, which like transit and virtually all other forms of transportation, doesn't pay for itself.  So instead, we end up paying a billion dollars for something while cutting the legs out from under it.  I suppose zombie like real estate market is better than the alternative though.  Not having transit at all and dying a slow death via exsanguination.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dallas, 1930

So an anonymous commenter pointed me towards these Dallas aerials from 1930 via SMU after I gleefully blogged about the 1938 San Fran aerials on Google Earth (which are ridiculously hi-res for the time period).  Feel free to call me a nerd as much as you want.  Last night, I began stitching some of these together:

Hopefully with this newfangled blogger interface this resizes and formats ok.  The original is about 70 inches by 60 inches.  Photoshop is a helluva drug.  With historic aerials, I'm OD'ing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Facebookin' Debates

Kevin at Fortworthology posted onto the page's facebook the plan of a few FW neighborhoods and their intention to put their local neighborhood thoroughfare onto a road diet.  They wish to take a four lane road down to one lane each way with a shared, central turning lane.  In other words, they saw what the Near Southside did with Magnolia Avenue and want the exact same thing:  a calmer, safer, revitalized road with increased investment, stewardship, and land value.  Those commies.  Then, on the facebook page, a journalist decided to opine with this beauty:

 Neighborhoods do not govern major thoroughfares. Thank goodness

Now, I have my sympathetic moments towards the failings of bottom up planning in the Platonic sense that most citizens are poorly informed regarding urban issues and processes.  However, in the case of transportation, the "experts" are informed even worse.  Yet continue doing as they're doing and are the reason for the mis- and dis-information filling the citizenry.

When it comes to neighborhoods, I am in favor of bottom-up citizen driven planning because nobody is more of an expert in a local neighborhood than those who live it every day.  When regional thoroughfares clash with local neighborhoods clash, we start to get in a murky gray area between the two.  Similarly, along that Platonic narrative, it implies the "elite" have to be more competent than the rabble.  However, when top down is more broken than bottom up, we have to favor bottom up.  This is precisely the reason why the initial guerrilla urbanism efforts of the Better Block struck a nerve.  Because it was citizens taking power back from top down bureaucrats unwilling or unable to meet the needs of the citizenry in favor of more of the same, which is profoundly broken.

Because I'm incapable (or unwilling) to not opine myself and because I'm actually versed in these subjects, particularly the precise areas of how and where transportation planning and policy is broken, I had to respond in kind:

Neighborhoods (taxpayers and actual stakeholders in the health and well-being of their surrounding environment) NOT having any say b/c a road is on a thoroughfare plan thus under the jurisdiction of people whose interest is not in living on or near dangerously fast, failing roads but rather solely in widening roads into faster, more dangerous, and spectacularly failing roads (out of corruption or incompetence in how cities actually function) is exactly how we got into this local, state, and national infrastructural deficit of extensive infrastructure without the tax base to sustain it.

Thank God.  And by "God," I mean transportation/thoroughfare planners who wield taxpayer money and decisions affecting the taxpayer/stakeholder's neighborhoods as if they're all the Gods rolled into one and embodied.  And like Greek Gods, they're angry and smitey.  Cities be damned to the depths of hell.  Also known as, exactly what they've become.  

Wednesday Linkages

Can't exactly link to it as it is a separate program, but Google Earth now has high-res aerials of San Francisco from 1938 and 1945.  It's fun to click back and forth between present and past, seeing where and how things have changed.  Or have gone unchanged.  London also has a 1945 aerial up.  Though it isn't quite as high quality as the SF maps.  Wonder where some others might be lurking...
Beck Ventures is making a $2 billion bet on a place called Dallas Midtown.  Never heard of it?  Well, it's been tried before right next door.  The bet was $1 billion and a lot of people went bust and nothing happened.  Well, not nothing.  The name Midtown was born.  The $2billion is for Valley View mall.  Presumably scraping the entire thing.  Though we shall see.  As it is being unveiled as I type this.

$2bills sounds a bit strong to my smell test, though not completely outrageous.  The area has quite a bit of stability built in around it.  And the sheer size allows them to "control their neighbors," seeing that the neighbors will be them in the 100-acre (+/-) site.  Though you never really know if they're planning on doing all (or any) of the vertical development themselves, scraping, entitling, and flipping, or some sort of joint venture/partnership.  Usually developers stick to one market (say, residential development or office) and sell of sites for the remainder.  I pencil it out to meaning a good amount of midrise, rather than typical four-story stick.  Though it is probably a mix of low-rise residential and mid/high-rise office, given the market right now.

I'll report back when I see the plan.
Perhaps somewhat tangentially related is the Wall Street Journal on Kansas City's primary effort towards urban infill revitalization, the Power & Light district.  The WSJ calls it a budget "hole."  The WSJ being the WSJ, of course, so if things don't pay for themselves, they're immediately labeled as failures, problematic, or "holes."

Usually, the first forays do require a bit of extra effort to make work.  And if you do it right, it readies the table for more profit oriented development to work.  Though, that is the thinking of conventional planning, though I'm becoming increasingly skeptical.  Why?  Because they're not tipping the market in their favor.  Kansas City has the most highway miles per capita in the country (and by a fairly wide margin).  Furthermore, being on a border with Kansas creates a situation where you have high taxes and low amenities/services on the KC side and lower taxes (though even lower amenities) on the Kansas side.

Of course, because of the regional infrastructure, it means you can take advantage of KC amenities like the Sprint Center.  With that said, it is still performing below expectations in terms of sales and property taxes/value.  And that should tell us something about how we generally arrive at those projections.  They're conjured up out of thin air (more on this in a moment).  Where this fails isn't so much as a failure of infill, urban development to me.  But rather a failure of conventional wisdom that stadiums and highway frontage creates value.  My guess is both are partially to blame (stadium: parking, highway: parking, barrier, and overall undesirability) for not allowing a critical mass to form creating a larger urban sub-center adjacent to downtown.
Lastly, and related to both.  Kaid Benfield has a good piece about the formulaic nature of most smart growth.  I was actually thinking about this, this morning on my trolley ride to work.  Our only metric for success in terms of urban infill is an apple store and new residential.  Not the full range of needs, wants, services, amenities that emerge in complete, opportunistic, livable neighborhoods.

In the piece, he says, "the revolution will not be quantified," and he discusses the many ways we measure (poorly) the success or failures of development.  Furthermore, he (rightly) says that the more powerful appeal is to human emotion.  And it's true our metrics are pretty poor.  No statistic can ever be anything more than an abstract subset of the whole picture.  Even though we put so much weight into objectivity when it comes to real estate.  But, what if they begin to intersect?  Could our metrics be on the right track?

Take for example, my quantification of places like Victory and Park Lane Place.  Subjectively, the two come of as soulless places.  Objectively, with measurements like space syntax and intersection density we might be able to put our finger on why they don't work subjectively AND objectively.  That complex, emergent, and authentic places happen on high streets that are highly accessible and provide choice in terms of route and mode of transportation.  And that's what intersection density and space syntax evaluate, the network.  And the network is what gives life, creates value.  Integration begets accommodation.  Demand drives supply.  For more, see my internet = urbanism analogy post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Best in Culture

This here blog has been nominated. Vote as you feel inclined:

How to Make $39 Million Look Less Expensive

Wilonsky at the DMN prodded me with a tweet about the City's Complete Streets 15 Pilot Projects, with a total bill for implementation being $39 million and change.

The Better Block guys and I chased this project based on the idea of incrementalized costs. In that, the full implementation wouldn't be realized (or expensed) until there were cheap trial periods in all of them to acclimate the citizenry and businesses alike along the corridor. In effect, testing and proving up the designs. And therefore, allowing an adaptation phase where things could be tweaked.

The manner the city decided to take incorporated some of these ideas, but ultimately decided on a more conventional approach and we see that in the costs quoted, ranging from between $600K and $6M. Our point was that these costs would be easier to swallow not all at once but after seeing new business and investment buy into the idea of complete streets as sociopetal places that bring people together to hubs of social and economic activity rather than sociofugal, essentially commercial arterials which are truly hell on earth.

After reviewing the briefing here, I like many of the streets chosen. However, my point isn't about the expense, but rather how cheap that $39M number is when we reframe the conversation. Let's look at the Magnolia example in Fort Worth, where the TIF paid for restriping of the streets, narrowed the road and added parallel parking. What was a four-lane road, became two-lanes with a shared center turn lane, bike lanes on both sides, and parking. I'll have to verify the cost figures with Kevin from FortWorthology as he's been directly involved, but while I don't think it ran into the millions, the cost was offset by rise in property values (hence the TIF paying for the improvements) and afterwards by an increase in sales receipts.

The key numbers are here:
  • Property values in the Magnolia "Urban Village" (Fort Worth's nomenclature for their priority improvement areas) – 2004: $33.6 million – 2011: $79.6 million
  • Sales receipts jumped in the year after implementation from a little over $3million to over $10million along the Magnolia Street corridor.
Again, I'll have to verify these top-of-my-head numbers with Kevin, but the specifics aren't as important as the general gains. Between the $46M increase in property value and the $7M increase in sales receipts, the city is recouping their upfront costs and will continue to do so in perpetuity because of the increased taxable value and economic activity.

Imagine if we could achieve similar results with our fifteen selected streets? $46M times 15? That's a $690M bump in land value. $7M corridor sales receipt increase times 15? That's $105M. At 2.71% property tax and 1% local sales tax, that equates to the city generating $18.77M more in tax revenue each year along these corridors cumulatively. In other words, that $39M for implementation is paid back in 25 months. After that, it's straight cheddar.

Or, ya know, we could spend to build more highways and ship tax base out of the city proper and do economic development the old fashioned way. I prefer the Magnolia/Complete Streets model.

Of course, this means our fifteen would have to be executed as well as Magnolia in Fort Worth. Can we do that?

Scouring the Archives

I brought these out and dusted them off for somebody looking for debunkings of Joel Kotkin's work. These are from my week as a guest blogger for the Dallas Morning News Summer Book Club one year, so I thought they might be worth a re-post for new readers:

Battery Operated Growth, Without the Battery - on cheap energy and finite resources

A tale of two Valencias - Kotkin projecting his world view rather than availing choice for all (in terms of housing and transpo)

The co-opted american dream and the rise of guerrilla urbanism - sprawl is not market driven as Kotkin would have you believe. Not choice but lack of choice.

Decentralized Relocalization - how the internet will bring us together rather than spread us further apart.

On Bionomics

The City of Millennials - For a demographer, he certainly doesn't know Millennials very well:

Composting Only Takes 10 Hours

This is off-topic. Music, like all art, is intensely personal. Subjective. And similarly, I generally detest live music (with the exception of a few bands). The reason is partially the crowds, but more so the sound quality. It is usually far removed from the highly produced sound thumping through your beats audio headphones via mp3 file.

With this in mind, I was at Edgefest yesterday. The tickets were given to me by a friend for free and little did I know that the Black Keys were playing in town. I love the Black Keys. Ever since I first heard Thickfreakness and mistakenly thought they were middle aged dudes from New Orleans. Such was their mature, soulful, bluesy sound.

I've now seen them four times in the DFW area. The first of which being at the Granada Theater on Greenville. To this day it remains the best show I've ever seen. There may not have been a hundred people there. Between songs I could wander to the bar, grab a beer without waiting in line, then proceed right back to the front of the stage. As they've become more popular with every album release and self-reinvention, I've lamented that the venue size has increased. Good for them, of course. They deserve it. But bad for intimacy and sound quality (supposedly).
Their rise in popularity gives me hope for humanity.

So, yesterday at Edgefest I similarly lamented the poor sound quality throughout the day. Each band's music diluted into a dirge of noise. I was unfamiliar with the majority of bands there, but perhaps I could've liked some or any of them if I could hear them without being assaulted by incoherent cacophony. A sludge of sound if you will as if you were throwing all the trash into a compost heap. It turns out, once Black Keys hit the stage, it wasn't an issue of acoustics at all. They sound just as good live as they do recorded. Even from a quarter-mile away, they sounded great, as we snuck out before the encore to beat traffic. We easily could've sat at an outdoor cafe in Frisco Town Square and taken in the show without having to pay $9 per beer inside Pizza Hut Park.

I'm not sure why other bands would want to tour with the Black Keys. Except for $$, of course. Since apparently their job is to be the compost, producing the fertile soil, for the Keys to bloom so bright. Hooray for high quality musicianship.

Tell'em Angela

Councilperson Angela Hunt was interviewed by DMN transportation reporter Michael Lindenberger where she dropped this dime:

She was asked: If we don't expand highways, how are we going to reduce traffic in downtown?

"That to me is the most important question we can be asking ourselves," she said. "No one involved in transportation in a governmental sense, as far as I can tell, is asking the question or is interested in the answer to the question. But do we want to differentiate Dallas and help it grow into the future or not? We've expanded lots of lanes of road over past decade and yet our city did not grow in the last Census. I think that is significant. That is what we got for our highway money. We've allowed people to move further and further away.

And that is the real question. Why does every single person in transportation governance in DFW mistakenly think that they can build their way out of congestion through additional capacity? It's either incompetence or corruption of the highest order. Here is part of the reason, my piece on the four blind spots of transportation planning that inevitably leads them to supply-side solutions, as in additional supply, more roads, in the folly-fueled pursuit of free-flowing movement.

Know where I was most mobile in the last year? When I visited London and Barcelona. I could get anywhere and everywhere in those cities very cheaply and efficiently. Pedestrians and trains are always free-flowing, even when they're "congested." Because, like cholesterol, there is a good kind and a bad kind of "congestion." Pedestrian congestion nourishes real estate value and quality of place. It fosters authentic places by empowering the citizenry. It ensures long-term health, vitality, and resilience of a place long into an uncertain future of fluctuating gas prices and infrastructural upkeep. Ask Detroit how monotony of car-culture is working out.

While Lindenberger is right to pose the question, the answer really isn't that difficult. Building for regional transportation movement (to the point that it physically encumbers local movement and the value of proximity -- despite gas, operations, and maintenance costs to the private user that cripple the local economy) skews the real estate market towards car-based and regional development, ie sprawl. As cities are highly complex, adaptive systems, we have to understand that people (and in turn the real estate markets) adapt to changing transportation networks.

The real answer is replacing the highways downtown with developable real estate. Condemn them if you have to given the high degree of danger associated with them. The Right of Way (which is significant) can be converted into high quality, livable, walkable urbanism. As we've shown before, the inner city freeways are a drain on population and tax base. In the 245 acres around I-345 in downtown, the city generates only $3 million in tax revenue. When it could generate $100 million per year.

In other words, enough to build a modern streetcar line down Ross Avenue from West End to Lowest Greenville. The 20,000 new residents could walk, bike, and trolley to places of need. Because the value of proximity is restored. Or they could drive. The key factor is choice is restored and intelligence is built into the system via the users. They can choose the most appropriate and desirable form of transportation for their given needs for any given trip. Thus, less vehicle miles traveled and reduced demand. Meaning less cars on the street, less load on crippled, failing infrastructure, more free-flowing traffic (of all forms), and increased efficiency through propinquity.

The reason is that the highest and best use of land is for surface parking...or nothing at all. Vacant. The highways skew the housing and real estate market to favor shipping tax base outside of the city's boundaries while the city bears the infrastructural burden for a region of 6 million. Its rapid growth itself is indicative not of strength in the market, but fragility. It can go away just as fast.

If we're serious about revitalizing downtown, the answer isn't more highways. It's less. I was interviewed late last week by a writer in Baltimore covering the impending tearout of the JFX, I-83, which splits Baltimore in two, west and east, right down the middle. He was very interested in Fort Worth's relocation of I-30. I told him the effect of doing so was negligible and likely would remain so.

Sure, it enlarged downtown some, but it does little to change the movement patterns and demand levels built into the real estate market via transportation network. Capacity remained the same. The effort to move cars freely and easily is what makes it cheaper and easier to live outside the city (with your tax dollars) and commute into the city. It isn't a healthy interdependent relationship cities have with their suburbs (say, like Valencia Sp has), but rather a dependent one of host organism and parasite, sapping the host of its life. Slowly. And surely.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cheonggye Data

I was posting these nuggets to twitter, so I might as well bring them over here in full. Below is some data I've dug up on the Cheonggye Freeway in Seoul, SK that was removed and the buried stream was restored:

Removed 8.5 miles, which moved 1.5 million cars per day.
Cost: $33 million per mile to remove and restore stream.
Within ten years of the initial elevated highway construction, Seoul CBD lost 40,000 residents and 80,000 jobs.

Housing value increased 30%
Number of vehicles in the area per day dropped 43%
Summer temperatures: 8 degrees cooler
Air quality: 21% less tiny particulate matter called PM10
NO2 dropped 20%
BETX pollutants dropped 25% overall and 65% in certain areas
125,000 visitors come to the park each weekend day. 53,000 during weekdays
113,000 new jobs have been created along the corridor
long term economic benefits estimated between $8.5 and 25 billion

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Freeway Lane Miles Per Capita

Hot off the presses. I did some playing around with the latest data I could find, via the Federal Highway Administration's excel spreadsheet on the subject matter. They have good data on highway miles, but only estimated lane miles unfortunately. Still that is the critical one. Several two-lane highways would be better than few 10- or 20-lane monsters, spreading the traffic around rather than funneling it.

Here is the top 11 since we didn't make the top 10 :(

(Numbers = mile per 1,000 people):

1. Kansas City - 1.262
2. St Louis - 1.070
3. Houston - .822
4. Cleveland - .816
5. Columbus - .779
6. San Antonio - .759
7. Jacksonville - .745
8. Providence - .742
9. Pittsburgh - .731
10. Baltimore - .724
11. DFW - .719

It's like a who's who of decaying or soon to decay cities. Unfortunately, they don't have DFW broken up like they do many of the larger metro areas that cross state boundaries. Here are the ten with the least freeway lane miles per capita:

1. Chicago
2. Tampa/St.Pete - wouldn't want too many octogenarians out on the road anyway.
3. Miami - surprising. No worries, MIA will rectify this as soon as they expand I-95 to 40 lanes (this was really once an idea).
4. NYC/Newark
5. Portland
6. Sacramento
7. Phoenix
8. LA
9. Philly
10. DC

And then there's crossing northern boundaries, we'd find Vancouver: 0. Of course, the metro area has freeways. But not the city proper.

So Much Win. So Much Loss.

Welcome to the wild west of city building.

The win is all in the long form column by D editor Tim Rogers about the solar radiation, reflection, and heat gain spilling off the shimmering glass Museum Tower (who knew glass towers would be a bad idea in a hot sunny climate?!) and into the Nasher Sculpture center. I want to quote so much of it, but go and read it yourself. It's the must read of the week.

A few of the key points:
  • 16 of the 100+ units have been sold. Though I'm sure the sales people will somehow work this into being 85% under contract. Every building ever is 85% full according to leasing, real estate people. A mathematical anomaly.
  • On a cloudy, 78-degree day in March the solar gain via reflective glass from the tower on the Museum raised ambient temperatures in the lawn to 103 degrees. Yikes. Can't wait until another month long 110-degree August rolls around.
  • The Museum Tower report either wittingly or unwittingly (neither is flattering) plugged the wrong type of glass into their model.
  • Tim suggested architects Scott Johnson and Renzo Piano settle the dispute via walk-off. (Ok, I'm suggesting that).
  • The Dallas police and fire pension has only spent $100,000 on the project yet is on the hook if it goes belly up. Somebody piece together those dots for me. This is a weird deal in every aspect.
  • Oh, and there is still a cloverleaf highway exit ramp circumnavigating the property. Cul-de-sac in the sky. And you wonder why there are only 16 buyers.
About two years ago I wrote about what a crazy investment Museum Tower was for the Police and Fire Pension Fund. If I were a cop or fire fighter, I'd be thinking about protest and overthrow of the board (which apparently includes 4 city council members(!)).

I hate being right about these things, kind of like when I predicted that the Hunt Hill Bridge would be a safety hazard/speed trap before it even opened due to the road being designed for highway speeds yet signed for 35 mph (! x 2 = !!). Hey, maybe DPD can recoup their losses by ticketing everybody on the Hunt Hill Bridge.

Last summer, I also tried pitching the column idea to D Magazine about why reflective glass towers were in fact a terrible idea for Dallas, wrecking the public realm. Except, we couldn't find the right/specific angle without good data. Tim's column has that data via the on-going fight between the Tower and the actual Museum, as quoted above.

This fight is so going to court. And I expect it will go to very high levels of court since there are undefined issues of property rights going at hand, combined with deep, entrenched pockets on both sides. In a way, this is sort of like the mostest Dallas thing ever. Like Belo building a park in front of a condo building then throwing up a 12-foot wall between them. We get the urbanism all wrong and everybody throws middle fingers up on all sides. Maybe we can just build another wall around all of the above? That seems to solve all of these problems, right? Right?

Perhaps someday, just maybe, we'll stop acting like little children and realize that urbanism is about actual value rather than some superficial novelty item to wrap bad financial investments up in.

Integration begets accommodation. Drive demand, get supply. This is the number 1 rule of city building. And it is inalienable, despite our best efforts.

Trinity Toll Road

There's a Facebook group up and running. If you're so inclined, it will be the place to find news about the Trinity Toll Road project. I'm with councilman Scott Griggs who rightly said a new highway doesn't alleviate demand for traffic, but adds to it. Instead, we need to be reducing car-based transportation demand. Meanwhile, TxDOT shows their ignorance via supply-side thinking:

The Horseshoe bridges will help some, but the capacity is still a problem, said TxDOT district engineer Bill Hale.

Unfortunately, "capacity" is not a sexy sales slogan. Neither is "we need lanes."

Perhaps we should sympathize with TxDOT transportation planners/engineers. They're like drug warriors, fighting a crusade that cannot be won. At least, not the way they're fighting it. Another tragedy/folly of our time. What's the definition of insanity again?

Besides simply being wrong, there is the bigger issue about funding. And that is where details become a little more hazy and hard to come by. The way I understand it, NTTA identified a funding gap, in that the projected tolls won't pay for the road (nor, of course, the long-term upkeep and maintenance). Which says to me, either they're not pricing the road in order to do so (which should give us 1) a clue to the real cost of roads and 2) there isn't the demand for the road in the first place).

And that the city has to decide how to cover the funding gap, likely through additional bond packages and/or various other concoctions of public-private partnerships. Though, I am utterly clueless where any private investors would think they're going to get a return if NTTA doesn't think they'll get their part. It certainly won't be in property valuations.

If we really wanted to "right-price" roads so that they can pay for themselves, while appropriately leavening the demand side of the equation, we'd toll the existing highways before adding more capacity. By ratcheting down the dial of demand on automobile use and public infrastructure we reposition real estate markets to favor proximity, and thereby density. By favoring density and proximity (and restoring the logic to the fundamental impulse of cities), we create a real engine for qualitative development of property, ie investment. This is where the real gains are if you have any stake in Dallas property.

From a conservative/libertarian perspective, you should be against the reckless public spending.

From a liberal perspective, you should be against more road capacity and the environmental implications.

From a local Dallasite perspective and want the city to fulfill its potential as a "world class" city, you should favor reducing road capacity and empowering increased local interconnectivity and the resultant densification.

From a property/investor/stakeholder perspective with a stake in Dallas real estate, you should oppose it for all of the above reasons, primarily the shift in the demand of real estate market to relocalize, recentered on Dallas driving up property values and therefore densification, instead of neverending sprawl.

From a taxpayer standpoint, you should be appalled at the city taking on more infrastructure burden while exasperating the diminishing tax base that favors the dependent suburbs instead of the host city.

As a HUMAN, you ought to support legitimate choice in transportation mode and route, rather than coercion into cars and onto freeways. As I've said before, and Gil Penalosa echoed in his ppt to City Hall, equitable transportation is a human rights issue. Crazy coincidence, since it costs $7,500 per year to own and operate a car, the majority of which leaves the local economy, it's also an economic development issue.

There are, of course other aspects and implications to the issue. The first is what it does to the Trinity River Park Plan. As I've mentioned a million times, the quality and success of a park is only as good as the connections to it. When those connections become barriers (as regional infrastructure invariably does), it undermines the investment in the park in the first place. When the Trinity River Park was pitched to the city (perhaps under the guise of highway spending), it was compared to Central Park. Central Park is also not divided from the city by a highway.

There is also the issue (which everyone is focusing on, we, without fail, also always seem to focus on the least relevant issue at hand) is alignment. The new Federal Highway Admin report added a fifth option to the other four route alignments, that of no new highway at all. And that should be the real debate, whether to build it at all or not. Alignment is irrelevant. Why? Because the Dallas side of the Trinity is already a lost cause. Despite all of the Trinity Trust and CityDesign Studio's efforts, the Dallas side of the Trinity will never be worth anything. The Design District has potential, but its value derives from proximity to Oak Lawn, Parkland, and the Trinity Strand.

At least we've abandoned the idea, of running each direction down each side of the Trinity. West Dallas and Oak Lawn can be spared, perhaps even with a promenade along the Trinity and direct interface with the park.

This fight can be our Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses moment. The issue isn't specific, because as I said, the Dallas side of the Trinity is lost. The real issue is the culture and (maybe) corruption that believes government spending on evermore road capacity does anything positive beyond gut the tax base of the city of Dallas while adding increased burden upon the city of Dallas in favor of a parasitic form of regionalism.

We have to halt and reverse the inertia and entropy inherent in building infrastructure that scatters and instead build networks of choice, that empower people and infuse intelligence into the system. That bring people together rather than divide. This is the time where we have to remember (or learn for the first time) what cities are for, improving quality of life and opportunity for all, via social and economic exchange. And thereafter, once we define purpose we have a guiding light for building the interconnections towards that purpose.

What is the purpose of our city? Well, it seems it is nothing more than moving cars. With little other higher regard. We should be moving towards increased independence and interdependence of the many municipalities of the DFW metroplex. Not increased dependence. By doing so, we are effectively choking the host organism, slowly but surely sapping the life-giving property of desirability from it, and eventually killing it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Trouble with & Potentially Potential (sic) of Airports

When I was a kid I used to love planes, airports, and travelling. Once I finished school and went to work, flying once a week or so for work, the joy quickly vanished into a soul-crushing malaise, sitting in generic airport lounges, waiting in lines through security, putting up with crying babies, and the general insufferability of all people seemingly at their worst, during travel, amplified by the stress compounded by airlines under the weight of their own stress and bureaucracy dealing with failed and failing business models.

And its true that many airlines are struggling with a litiny of factors from labor costs to operations and maintenance costs. Except they won't go anywhere. Save for complete collapse of the global economy, we'll need, want, and demand some form of air travel. Having experienced the comfort and convenience of high speed rail, I suspect airlines will eventually focus solely on longer distance travel and a rebirth of trains will cover the regional linkages, simply because trains are more efficient getting you from place to place without the time delays getting to and from the actual hubs (airport vs rail station).

Rail loses this competitiveness once you start getting over 500 miles or so, given current speeds. I actually did the math once (and I'll have to look it up again) and it shows that Dallas to St. Louis is about the cutoff point where you're better off flying than taking a hypothetical high speed train. Nonetheless, Dallas to Austin or Houston, city center to city center in an hour is pretty tempting. And far more comfortable than a plane. Because trains can be as long as they need to be without losing much efficiency.

I can't sleep on flights anymore. I don't know what happened to this former super power. My flight back from London, despite a bit sick (though not really hungover), turned into an opportunity to catch up on some reading. In this case, Greg Lindsay's Aerotropolis, perhaps inspired by Heathrow itself to scroll through my Kindle for Lindsay's book. Despite my trepidation towards John Kasarda's ideas that all cities will be aerotropoli, I found Lindsay's writing excellently measured, perhaps even approaching the subject matter as carefully as I did reading it.

The idea of the aerotropolis is real. Airports are hubs. Value is created by hubs, be there mere intersections, rail stations, or airports. The challenge, like all global/regional hubs is the infrastructure is as much disruptive as it is connective, particularly to local networks.

However, reading about the Heathrow controversy, its need to expand, and the general loathing by locals and frequent flyers alike towards the airport, I was struck by a singular moment. The dropoff. Heathrow Terminal 3 drop-off is surprisingly welcoming, a plaza lika space formed by the arms of the terminal.

This is the new T3 departures, 18.8.2008

Except that was really the only nice part. Sure, the interiors have been redone to turn the airport into a shopping mall with for-pay wifi stations and the like, but I was most impressed with the drop-off. The real problem is everything surrounding the airport:

And that's when it hit me. The real problem with airports isn't the flight paths. Though, if you've ever golfed at Bear Creek golf course near DFW, you can smell the jet fuel in the morning. Not so pleasant. And a big portion of land value is about emotion, decreasing dissatisfaction and increasing satisfaction be that through social or economic exchange. I suspect airlines will eventually work out the issue of jet fuel, perhaps even sound, because it is in their financial interest long-term to move away from fossil fuels. I don't even mind the sound of jets taking off and landing. It reminds me of being in a city where things are happening. People are coming and going.

And that's when I realized the bigger issue facing the idea of "aerotropolis," or the city built around, by, and service of the airport. As I've written a number of times, regional/global infrastructure has to be tangential to the local fabric and functions of the city, less those connections become disruptive. It isn't the flight paths that prevent the idea of the aerotropolis, and I don't even really like that term, it's really just about land value responding to interconnected networks, ie city, but the ground connections to/from the airport that are far more disruptive:
Outside of DFW has become this basically:

So the real question becomes, how can we maximize the value of an airport to a city via minimizing the disruption it has upon that city and decreasing "dissatisfaction" through the inconvenience of getting to/from the airport to our actual destinations within the city?

So in this sense, any airport has three primary barriers preventing a maximization of its convenience and value to the city:

1. Flight Paths - as we've discussed, this is already minimal.

2. Land Mass / Security:

As you can see in any map of the DFW area, DFW airport is more identifiable from satellite than either downtown FW or Dallas. Larger in area too. The massive land mass limits the amount of value that can cluster near the airport.

Furthermore, the rigid boundary creates a vast perimeter "border vaccuum," in Jane Jacobs' words. What she intuited by this is that the value is at the center of places and centers are impossible at edges of places. Think of downtown Dallas. The value is on Main Street, not along the perimeter of the highway loop:

3. Disruptive nature of the regional connectivity, mostly car access and infrastructure.

The question becomes, can we limit the effect on city fabric of an airports inevitable appetite for land, decrease the regional infrastructural disconnectivity, while maximizing the convenience of the airport?

Reagan National in DC is one I'm most familiar with that comes close. The airport is built out into the Potomac on new and otherwise worthless land. In other words, nice and flat space, out on what would otherwise be a barrier itself, the river.
The Arlington, VA/Pentagon City area isn't the world's most urban place, but it is steadily improving, be it in isolated bubbles of pseudo-urbanism fragmented by overly wide/fast roads. What other examples are there like this? LaGuardia too, is set out on the water, but isn't connected by rail and is disconnected by highway. Aerotropolis discusses the project in South Korea, New Songdo, where the airport is built off the coast on an island and the "aerotropolis" is a new city from scratch connected via ferry.

It makes sense, being that it is between Seoul and the airport. However, it isn't immediately adjacent. The question remains, can an airport immediately interface with a city, much the way Reagan does in terms of proximity, but better? Can we apply the welcoming plaza of Heathrow T3, except without the rest of Heathrow's spaghetti and parking garages around it?

Something like this:
The regional road/rail connection could even be decked to further minimize the disruption and connection. As for our local airports, Love Field is pretty well landlocked, but small and convenient enough that the city is pretty close to the terminals. Except, it is still a mile away. Hardly adjacent. Also, the new DART line has a stop, but it too is nearly a mile away. We can't really infill between without removing runways.

Would there be value to infilling the oodles of land within DFW proper? Quite possibly. Even with the assortment of new rail lines scheduled to deliver people to the airport, none of which will be more convenient than driving (though less costly given parking costs). DFW suffers by being far away. As airports inherently serve regions, its regional infrastructure is quite bad upon its surroundings. Can we then build closer? Can there be express trains to the airport?

There is also the necessary point that all of the surrounding land uses around airports are fairly undesirable. This is at the heart of my early trepidation towards overvaluing land near airports. It is mostly cheap motels, used car lots, and the like. The areas immediately around airports are about as desirable as around many of the train stations in Europe, ie not the nicest parts of town. Is that because of its nature as a hub? Is it because of the logistical network of global economic exchange? Is it because of that border vaccuum effect? I suspect it is all of the above.
In other words, the efforts to build aerotropoli are pure experiments in speculation. However, it is also equally certain that they could be built far better than they are if they follow the simple rules:

1. Minimize disruption to the physical surroundings


2. Maximize convenience getting to and from Gates to micro-destinations within the cities themselves.

The best places are always governed by the simplest and most elegant of rules.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Krys Boyd is interviewing Rafe Sagarin, a marine ecologist who wrote a book called Learning from the Octopus. His work is about applying lessons from complex adaptive systems in nature to today's issues that we face as humans. As you may know I'm a big fan of biomimicry and the similar subject of systemics. If you can find the podcast of the interview it's worth your time. Regarding cities, perhaps his most succinct message is that broadly applying best practices from other places in a top down manner is usually not accurately appropriated to the particular localized problem. We can learn from what has worked elsewhere, but the solution has to be acutely local and ground up from the efforts of as many empowered stakeholders as possible.

Monday, April 16, 2012

New State Motto

Or maybe a Dallas only one. I don't know. I've only been here ten years. Perhaps you longer term-ers can tell me differently.

I've heard it said that in Texas (or just Dallas), you (or me or they) don't ask for permission, but rather for forgiveness later. Like all good statements of this sort there is a measure of truth in the joke that is equal parts flattering in the unique charm of it as well as pejorative in its righteous condemnation. I like the phrase for all of these aspects.

In this regard, I received a gentle spanking in the comments (for my own good of course) of another post. The commenter offered constructive criticism that I should be more diplomatic and less incendiary to get my point across. He (she?) is right of course. Sometimes (often?), I come across as caustic. Sometimes also, this is measured, calculated for effect. Other times, it is simply blowing off steam in an overt, public fashion.

In a way, this is also calculated, because why not? While I may be a professional urban planner-y type, I'm also a citizen of Dallas. And like you, I also want Dallas to be "world class," whatever that might be. Perhaps, I'm equal measure detached and dispassionate as well as passionate, emotional, and caustic, with little in between. The professional and the citizen in one. The two having not yet aligned or coalesced fully.

These two sides of this blog's personality did come together over the weekend in a sarcastic tweet about the Houston Street Ciclovia event. More specifically, I scoffed at the idea of a permanent closure of Houston Street Viaduct to cars, saying something to the effect of "pedestrian malls without density, when did that ever go wrong?" I was referring to the attempt in the 1960's to pedestrianize downtowns entirely while other policies sapped downtowns of their vitality.

While the inertia seems to be slowly and inevitably reversing course back to the city, incrementalism is critical. Copenhagen did it one little street segment at a time and it has taken fifty years of concerted effort. We also don't have the density Copenhagen does. Perhaps I am asking for forgiveness later for catty sardonicism, but it's measured. Sometimes the humor is lost in text form, I suppose. Or maybe it's just not funny. I can only make myself laugh predictably.

My worry about fully closing Houston Viaduct to vehicular traffic is/was two-fold:
  • When there are barriers to local interconnections (such as the Trinity River swath), we should be limiting the amount of connections breaching the chasm (particularly if we already have them. Houston and Jefferson aren't redundant. While they both head into downtown, they go to two separate parts of North Oak Cliff, as Jefferson heads south to, uh, Jefferson. Instead of closing one to vehicular traffic entirely, I'd suggest discliplining the car on both (where traffic is dangerously fast and notoriously empty outside of rush hour). Instead of either/or, what about both/and? Make them both two-way. Use it as an opportunity to clean up the spaghetti of ramps and flyovers between the two. Increase route choice, while decreasing public R.O.W. thus opening up more land for redevelopment.
  • We're seduced by the puppet show of these pop-up events. While I appreciate the effort and direction (thinking about pedestrianism), nothing permanent will likely ever come of having them in isolated, functionally dead places such as Houston Street viaduct. While it would be awesome, the span is too long and the densities too low for our bridges to go full-blown Ponte Vecchio. We could do that, but it would fail. It would require heavy subsidy and the buildings would mostly remain empty. It works in Florence because it represents the success of both sides of the river spilling across it as demand begot the supply of buildings upon a bridge.
File:Italy and Greece 105.jpg

Ponte Vecchio, in Florence adds land uses to the bridge much like it is any corridor.

The first Better Block didn't ask for permission. Eventually, it had to, but the point was made and it was made appropriately in the right places. Ever since, we've been trying to raise zombies from the dead. We're putting these events in places where they can't sustain themselves, like the Ciclovia on Houston or the City Hall Living Plaza. They might be fun at first, but they're not in the middle of the action. Since there is little investment opportunity, the places don't and can't fully flower. Instead, they'll become boring. It seems as if we're attempting to avoid conflict by creating temporary appeasements to the growing bike and pedestrian lobby like fenced off free speech zones.

Cars go here, pedestrians/bikes go over there. Sorry Charlie, but that is modernist planning at its segregated, doomed-to-fail worst. Democracy and cities are messy, complex places full of conflict. And that is what makes them so great. Over the long-term. Just not the short when we're in the midst of those battles. But it's the conflicts that shape and mold the systems for the better.

The events get set up in places of little conflict. There will be no push-back from local business owners worried about any potential change. That makes it easy to pull off these puppet shows. And that's part of the problem. Avoiding conflict also avoids real progress. I understand we want quick wins as part of policy intended to build momentum, but at what point do quick wins become inconsequential? I think we've found that point.

Dallas, it isn't you. It's me. I love you personally and hate you professionally. That's what makes you fun. That's what brought me here when I could've gone anywhere else. The steam vent bursts occasionally when I forget that I chose that frustration. But at least you care. As do I. And that's why sometimes the process hurts.

Moneyball for Cities

Alert: nerdy, wonky stuff herein. But, I can't resist. I find this stuff fascinating. Below are a series of maps creating using Space Syntax. Space syntax is a theory of urban design and planning sprouting via the convergence of mathematics, systemics, and cities. In many ways, it is urban planning coming full circle from Jane Jacobs, who essentially spawned complexity thinking as she introduced concepts of self-organization in relation to cities.

What space syntax does (and the variety of programs that operate it) is measure the complexity of the network. As the theory goes there is a direct relationship between the objective mathematical measure of complexity, the integration of networks (red is high, blue is low) with a variety of implications on the city including: resilience over time, pedestrian activity, land value, crime or lack thereof. In many ways it is an objective measure of predictability. Critical in both planning and real estate development. Vary the network and you will inevitably vary the system within and all that implies including land value, density, land use arrangement, and so on.

What is most interesting about this stuff however is that while it is entirely objective and quantitative, there is an implied qualitative component to it as well. As I often say, integration begets accommodation. Integration is the connection. Accommodation is what makes the place nicer. As Gil Penalosa presented to Dallas City Council, "it doesn't matter if it is nice (yet). All that matters is the integration of networks." By saying this, Penalosa implicitly understands that the connection is what drives value and the accommodation, or qualitative improvement of the place, is henceforth inevitable. An outgrowth of the underlying system.

Integrate networks and you get investment. Disintegrate networks and you get disinvestment. In terms of moneyball and mapping, this allows us to point out areas that may have too much investment and too much density based on the value of their spatial integration. These would be places where you either 1) wouldn't want to put your money into, or 2) can identify for network improvement to bring the spatial integration value UP to the value of the investment. Think of: Victory and LoMac, here. Lots of density (in terms of height and floor area), very little urbanism (as in spatial integration).

On the flip side, we can see areas of high integration and low value/density. When there are disconnects like these we can see opportunity areas. But first, we have to ask ourselves, what is wrong with those areas. And that is where more in depth local analysis is required. We'll get to a few examples of that below:

Space Syntax model of all of London.

If you squint your eyes enough, in abstract the city begins to look like this (above). There are two levels of hierarchy at work. What we might call the macro- and micro-hierarchies. Macros compete with macros. In this case, London vs. Dallas. The micro are competing amongst themselves within the system, ordering themselves from top to bottom. The top of the food chain being the most interconnected and therefore the most value.

Above is downtown Plano and vicinity. I also included the plan for the Richardson TOD plan if it were to be built out in full as planned just for funzies. As you'll notice, this is a bit less ordered than the London map. There are two primary and disparate reasons for this. One, London is a much older city that has had a thousand years to self-organize. Meanwhile, Plano is only a few decades old. Secondly, and similarly important, this is looking at a micro-scale whereas the map of London viewed the macro containing hundreds of these interdependent micro-systems. The order is easier to see at the macro-scale.

What is interesting about this Plano map is the "hottest" or most spatially integrated area is downtown Plano. Some of the least? Collin Creek Mall and Collin County Community College, which is arranged much like a conventional shopping mall.

The Plano map also includes DART in the network model, however it doesn't fully weigh its value unless you map the entire system (because it only connects regionally). The model above only sees the linkage from the Bush Tollway stop to downtown Plano to Parker station. And even then, the DART red line is one of the "hottest" or largest drivers of value within this map just behind 15th and K.

Downtown Richardson. I haven't progressed as far as with Plano, but the degree of disorder is even more prevalent. I suspect this is related to the current shape of the respective downtowns, Plano vs Richardson.

Here is downtown Dallas. Predictably, the Main Street core area glows the brightest. Two things also to notice: how surprising disconnected uptown is and how interconnected East Dallas is. There are a couple of explanations for this. One reason is the map I worked from. It is wider east-west than it is tall, N-S. This will invariably give more weight in the direction that the model thinks the city grew. Since it doesnt see the rest of Oak Lawn and North Dallas, this current model makes uptown look less interconnected than it really is.

However, there is some truth to that. Uptown, aside from the CityPlace/West Village area and to a lesser extent State-Thomas isn't that well integrated into its surroundings. It puts undo pressure on McKinney with little other choice of route. I interpret this to mean that the density and investment uptown has experienced is more due to its place within the macro-system than its particular spatial integration. Meaning, its current value is due to its proximity to downtown and its location between downtown and North Dallas (the favored quarter in Leinberger's terminology).

But, Near East Dallas shares a similar proximity to downtown. And it is better interconnected. While there has been some haphazard investment and land use intensification the Live Oak and Ross corridors remain tremendously underdeveloped given their potential. Unlike many parts of the city, this area seems to be the least encumbered by disconnecting elements (rivers, lakes, highways, railroads). In fact, it is one large contiguous area begging for investment between downtown and White Rock Lake.

Areas like these that the model sees as high value, but you know in fact to not live up to that potential are places ripe for investment. Except that investment typically has to be a concerted effort between the public and private sides. The private side is risk averse. It doesn't want to pioneer into an area if it won't be supported by the necessary public investment. The disconnection is usually from the public side. Something is wrong with the network. In the case of East Dallas, this is an infrastructural problem. A public realm that is not conducive to pedestrian activity, lack of quality choices for multi-modal transportation, as well as fragmented parcelization.

The above is the beginnings of a map of the entire city. As you can see there are no hot spots. Part of this is due to the incomplete nature of the map. It isn't seeing the full gradient from high to low. But this also pinpoints the issue plaguing downtown Dallas. Instead of red areas (high value, high density), the demand via spatial integration value is smeared across the city as no place is truly, highly interconnected and integrated, making density desirable, valuable, and predictably successful.

And above is downtown Fort Worth, which I thought I'd begin to put together for FortWorthology's interest. This still has quite a bit of work to do as well. Not just adding more of the grid in surrounding areas, but also de-linking the highways. Without doing so, it sees overpasses as interconnected when the roads are actually flying over each other. And by doing so, by making the "flow" of traffic less stop and start, we devalue the individual intersection, convergence points, and diminish the overall network of intersections. And therein lies the value of the city. Meeting points. Not bypasses.