Friday, June 29, 2012

Jeffrey Harharwood Offers his Gum and a Proposal

Or how to use a Seinfeld reference with no connection whatsoever to the actual post.  That is, beyond the name Harwood.

The latest downtown news is that a few streets are to undergo one-way to two-way conversions.  Also, the Deck Park is about to open.

It's important to note, that as part of the Klyde Warren deck park design, Harwood was closed through the park for cars, though the connection will exist as a pedestrian promenade/plaza.  When the design was first unveiled, I fretted, rightfully, that this would kill Harwood through downtown (not that there were a lot of ground floor businesses thriving as it is on Harwood, but still).

There were already too few connections between downtown and immediate surroundings that it's damn impossible to get anywhere.  As I've joked, it's easier to get to Plano from downtown than to uptown.  I make the trip every day.  And I worried that this was a dangerous compromise.  It makes the park better, but it could hurt much of downtown.

And a compromise between the two would be a street that can close for events, but is otherwise calmed with pavers as a plaza, much as it was designed.  During events retractable bollards could rise from the ground to close it off for pedestrians.  Otherwise, downtown could use the traffic flow from uptown.  Traffic count data on Harwood is only available for 1990 and 2009, where it dropped from 5,951 per day to 1,700 after the park's groundbreaking.

Today, you can walk down the middle of Harwood at just about any time of day without fear of coming into contact with a car.  Some traffic is better than no traffic.  As I mentioned in the piece earlier today about the deck park, a park's design is only ever as good as its physical, outward connections. How many people can get to it, ideally without driving?

Certain types of ground floor businesses that activate the street need more traffic than others, both foot and vehicular.  Neighborhood service goods (like a 7-11) need only 5,000 vehicles per day, but also need 5,000 people living within 1/4-mile.  Most of their business comes from foot traffic.

Restaurants and bars, look for a minimum of 7,500 vehicles per day and soft goods look for 15,000, as they're catchment area is larger, the population doesn't have to be immediately nearby as with neighborhood service goods, but it still helps to be close.  The downtown workforce population that covers that gaps between these really only supports the restaurant and bar commercial segment.

The traffic counts on Harwood are still too low for really much of anything to work.  The workforce population is headed underground or to Main Street.  So we have to generate traffic another way.

Even though we're well down the path of some two-way conversions, Harwood being one-way for half of its length through downtown is an obvious opportunity.  Making it two-way will increase the traffic counts while calming the traffic that a wide one-way typically is ineffective.  Calmer street, theoretically there will be more pedestrians as well.

While calming and making it go two-way might not double the vehicular traffic, but with the increased pedestrian traffic, we might double the traffic overall.  But that is still short of what we need for ground floor businesses to succeed.  How else can we increase traffic?  I know, bikes!

With the push for complete streets, bike lanes, and improved connections to the park, there is the opportunity for cycle tracks linking Old City Park, the Farmers Market, Main Street Garden, to the new deck park.  While we'll likely never move the 36,000 bikes per day that some cycle tracks in Copenhagen move, if we can do a tenth of that, we'll be sniffing the 5,000 trips per day we need as a baseline to revitalize the street.

Much of Harwood seems to be 44' curb-to-curb with four 11' lanes with some variation for pedestrian bulb-outs at DART and extra turn lanes here and there which bump it up to 54'.  If we were to convert it to two-way with bike lanes it could lay out as above within a 44' section, with the occasional increases going to on-street parking or increased sidewalk cafe space as determined by the buildings/context/opportunity therein.

Bike lane | Buffer | South Travel | North Travel | Buffer | Bike Lane is just one possible solution.

Another would be to put the bike lanes together as a two-way cycle track on one side, a bicycle super-highway so to speak, in order to differentiate it and emphasize its role as a prominent and improved north-south link between the three parks.

In section that would look something like this:

8' parallel parking | Travel lane | Travel lane | 2' buffer | 12' two-way cycle track

And if you're confused by the ominous floating thing in the graphic, that's just a recycled concept from a street section design for another hot sunny climate in Las Vegas, where we were really just recycling from the streets radiating out from Plaza del Sol in yet another hot, sunny climate: Madrid.

Demons in the Closet

When you write a few million words, a few of them will come back to haunt you, like a half million of them.  In this case, it was clumsy wording on my part regarding criticism of the Klyde Warren deck park, which has since been quoted (out of context), but linked to (for said context) at Pegasus News' announcement of the opening celebration for the park.  Of course, it's my fault for the original, hyperbolic, and lazy syntax.

The specific words in question are "great design, lousy location."  In the rest of the piece (and an earlier one, from 2010), I discuss the nature of the park (and parks in general) as a heavy-handed form of Keynesian economic development. Build park, raise land value (as parks do up to 25% immediately adjacent, an increase that is known to taper off up to about 1/4 mile away - or close to immediate walking distance), generate investment, new tax base, etc.  It's easy politically to build parks.  Which is why we end up with too many of them.  It's much more difficult to alter the physical network of the city, but the returns are exponentially greater.

However, a point that I emphasized on the AIA panel last week, that there wasn't much to leverage in terms of new investment in the area.  Sure, Museum Tower was built with the confidence of the park being in place when it was finished, but while it helped the construction and financing of the project, it hasn't actually moved the market to buy, with only a tiny fraction of units under contract as you read and I write this.  A new office building was built on the north side, but facing McKinney.  It has four-stories of liner residential units facing the park (at the bequest of the city, IIRC, which the building owner has effectively mothballed for the last three years - presumably until the park is done).  

Other than that, there is a small bank site that could and should be redeveloped, but the majority of the sites within that 1/4 mile radius are already spoken for.  Parks are only as good and only as valuable, not for the design within them, but the connections to them from their surrounding context.  Has this been improved?  No.  At least not yet.As I wrote in the 2010 piece:
The Woodall Rogers Deck Park is a great thing for this City and its design in absence of the complete removal of the/a freeway is the best (well, 2nd best possible) solution. But Bryant Park isn't great without Gramercy. Piazza Navona without Centro Storico. Want to be a World Class City? Yes, that is the competition.
This post isn't intended to poo-poo the park, but remind us that the work isn't yet finished.---LoMac has a highway, a park slapped on top, an incomprehensible and impossible to navigate set of anti-urban spaghetti of roads, and a lot of density with no urbanity.
In sum, I think the park will be great.  "Better than what it was," of course.  Does it address deeper issues facing the city and downtown as more than an expensive band-aid?  No.  Could the $60M have been used better to leverage more investment, increased tax base, and in turn, even more amenities?  Yes.

Incidentally, $60M is almost exactly the number we figure is necessary for tearing out IH-345, which we found would add 25,000 new residents, $110 million/year in new tax revenue, new parks, and streetcars linking downtown with East Dallas, where the opportunity lies.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stockton, CA - Broke

If you haven't heard, Stockton, CA recently became the largest American city to declare bankruptcy putting a fire sale on virtually all city assets.  While this may belong to the state of California, I have an idea where to start:

Stockton boomed for the ten years of cocaine and steroid fueled housing euphoria, but alas it has come back to Earth, as things are wont to do when those evading the high prices (and taxes) of the bay area sought browner(?) pastures of affordability at the sprawling edge of an agricultural community well over an hour from where many worked.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their current fiscal status, the local property tax rate + county rate is pretty shockingly low.

Much of the blame has fallen upon the waterfront redevelopment scheme.  It's an appropriate target.  Waterfronts AND the two stadiums built on it were sucker bets.  Both can serve as cherries on top, but not the foundation of economic development.  The result: broke.

The city is remarkably in tact form wise, except for the leapfrog development of the most recent housing bubble.  That, and some underdevelopment and seemingly flagging industrial along freight rail lines and the waterfront.  I'll try to put together a map showing the new development from last ten years with underdevelopment.  Should be illuminating.

While selling off the Right-of-Way under state highway CA-4 doesn't do much to guarantee demand for the development that could theoretically replace it, selling the land off at a quarter on the dollar ensures a level of affordability + proximity to amenity (and a train station connected to San Jose) that the sprawling edge can't provide.  The edge has affordability (now), that is, if anybody is still living in them (or ever were).  It will make the place more livable while being affordable, which not too much of California can provide both.  It's a start.

I have some rough financials that I'll try to assemble tomorrow.  But after running them, I can't see how Stockton can possibly maintain their low tax rate in combination with low density and high infrastructural burden.  In other words, sell off the burden.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Smoking Gun: Level of Service and the Tension of the Illogical City

Traffic drives land value.  The amount of people moving past your property means the more amount of potential transactions.  Commercial properties are in the position to benefit most from this, therefore they pay the most, traffic = value.  Ideally, this traffic isn't moving past your property in a way that degrades the quality of place therefore "driving" people away.

The auto-dependent city yields two types of places:  the INVADED and the ABANDONED.  Typically, the congested streets outnumber the abandoned ones "100 to 1" as my friend Chuck Marohn estimated.  It's those abandoned places that lack the energy to sustain themselves or the infrastructure.  They die a slow death.

It's better to have traffic than no traffic.  No traffic equals no value.  No life.  And it's best if that traffic is primarily not in cars.

Here is the smoking gun, found in a lecture to potential Minnesota transportation engineers:

This is one of the primary formative genetic codes that results in the places around us: Level of Service.  As you can see, traffic engineers grade roads based on the density of the traffic by lane.  Low density, low traffic gets a passing grade.

It only measures cars.  Pedestrians are ignored.

If there is density (like in desirable places), the road gets an 'F' and must be improved.  And by improved, I mean widened.  Pedestrians and other forms of transportation are further marginalized.  Even worse, often private property is eaten into and buildings are knocked down to make room for ever-expanding rights-of-way.

But traffic still drives value.  It's just that big, wide roads, full of cars (especially when they're moving fast as in free-flow traffic (grade A!), are sociofugal.  It drives people away.  Therein lies the tension of the auto-dependent city.  You want to be close to traffic, but not too close.

Commercial properties need people to get out of their cars eventually so they use the parking as both interface and buffer, shielding the pedestrian zone from those busy roads.  The resultant form is even worse, but make no mistake, a direct phenotypical response to the genotype of Level of Service as God.  That tension, combined with inevitable poor quality of place, is what opens the door to cannibalization, rampant in commercial real estate, where place and location no longer matter.  Everything is placeless.  Virtually valueless.  The illogical city embodied.

Perhaps here is where it is important to point out that Champs Elysees moves TWICE the people per day (~600,000) that 635 moves (DFW's busiest road, our Champs Elysees, aren't you proud?), in half the right-of-way width.  It just does so by making room for all forms of transportation, it doesn't undercut its long-term value by sacrificing quality of place for speed of movement (as speed =/= efficiency, nor safety, nor comfort).  Oh, and the real estate values are much higher.

It's proper networks that drive value, create for healthy cities, and logical, healthy real estate markets.  Where value is created by traffic, not repulsed by it.  And increased value means increased opportunity and an empowered real estate market where many hands can build and shape the city, not just a few as the result of charity, goodwill or subsidy.  Then, we can grow (inward, with infill development) south, east, or west.  And all of the above.

Citywide Syntactic Map

The citywide syntax map is coming along.  It measures network integration, which researchers have found a correlation (and likely causation) between degree of network integration (red = highly interconnected) and things like density, pedestrian counts, land values and, inversely, crime.  Immediately below is London

As with all mathematical measures, there is a good bit of abstraction going on.  However, I like the software program, and moreso the intellectual path the UCL researchers are on because it is more of a measure of underlying patterns that form cities and explain the things we see on the ground in a predictive manner rather than most simple statistical measures.  In other words, it is focused on the underlying processes and coda of cities rather than more superficial measures (which can then be compared for possible relationships).

 Above is Dallas citywide framework, which will all be filled in, measured for global interconnectivity.  Or, a heatmap showing areas best connected up to 4 turns away.  You'll notice the glowing red sections are drastically diminished compared to London, which is predictable.  Perhaps more interesting is where the darker sections are in Dallas.  Downtown, theoretically, shouldn't be the densest area of the city (and it isn't - thus the indirect relationship between building height / density / interconnectivity - a sign of a system in distress).  I suspect this is related as it goes a long way to explaining why downtown nearly died completely until DART linked it up with the surrounding region, downtown at the hub.

I've written and talked about this.  At one point in time, Dallas had a naturally emergent conical shape to its skyline that is directly related to interconnectivity.  Interconnectivity = availability of interactions.  That availability = demand, which is then responded to by the market with supply, building space usually in the form of height (as the small block size of interconnected networks forces that space upwards).

The height is greatest where demand is highest.  Ever decreasing sizes of buildings hug up to the next and so on to the edge.  There is a natural order to it.  You'll notice in places like London, Paris, and DC they tend to have extremely high costs in the center due to height restrictions, which manifests itself in height pushed outside of the core.  

At this point in the picture above, developers began building ever taller high-rises to respond to the growing demand.  At the very same time, Dallas was building a series of highways in and around downtown, sapping this demand while supply was being added.  Hence, downtown Dallas had far more supply than demand.

Above is the syntactic map from 1945 as put together by a UTA student and sent to me.  You can see how well stitched downtown and east Dallas are, resulting in the glowing red areas that brought about high-rises on Main and Ross.

It is also worth noting that I plan on adding DART lines to this, but the effort will take some time as it isn't merely an exercise in drawing, but also linking and unlinking as the train largely exists on a separate plane from the road network (except when it itself acts as a barrier, which is a corrosive effect except at immediate station areas).  

Back to today, above is when I change the settings of the calculations to scale for local interconnectivity, or how connected a place is to things two turns away.  The details are less important than if you squint and you begin to see little yellowish blobs, these show theoretically, walkable areas in terms of how interconnected small areas are within themselves, useful for identifying neighborhoods and neighborhood-scaled centers (or at least where they should be - not taking into account for identifiable larger factors).

As the graphic immediately below illustrates, there are two gradient hierarchies at work: global and local.  Mapping these seperately allows the differentiation, essentially pulling the two overlapping maps apart to examine individually.

I suspect it will begin looking a lot like the walkscore heat map, except in inverse.  Walkable (green) areas will correlate with highly integrated areas of the 2-dimensional road network map (yellow/orange/red).

When cropping for areas fully mapped we get the following maps:

A couple interesting things begin to emerge, particularly when examining the table with the integration values street by street.  The highest, or most integrated street yet mapped, is Preston Road.  Therefore, it isn't difficult to understand why so many real estate companies locate in Preston Center.  Downtown migrated north.  And it did so because the road network moved it there.

Here are the following scores of some of the primary, most integrated streets:

Preston:  8.09782
Mockingbird (I suspect the residential nature preserved by Highland Park pushes much of this energy south towards Knox, McKinney, and Oak Lawn):  7.12074
Greenville:  7.07212
Davis:  6.91496
Carroll (most surprising):  6.57049
Live Oak: 5.92579
Main: 5.46883
Commerce:  5.48214
Elm: 5.22184

It's also very interesting and telling that Ross scores higher in East Dallas than it does in downtown.  Between Main scoring lower than the "suburban" neighborhood scaled streets above and Ross's, further underscoring the effect the downtown loop had on vitality and land values in downtown.  

Furthermore, the overall strength of East Dallas isn't surprising, given its large contiguous area of historic grid uninterrupted by freeways between 75 and White Rock Lake.  It should come as no surprise that by the 2010 census the densest census tract in the city had hopped the east-west divide that is 75.

This also tells us how much latent potential there is on streets like Live Oak, Carroll, and Davis in comparison to what is currently on the ground.  The gap between potential and existing is great.  The next step is solving all or as many of those barriers causing the rift as possible.

Lastly, when we convert the map to emphasize local integration, the thing that jumps out is the area at Marsalis & Kiest in South Dallas.  By the looks of it, it is the most locally integrated area of the entire city.  No, really strong commercially viable roads like the way Greenville, Preston, and Lovers jump out, but an area that holds together well.  It may be isolated from its surroundings, but on further aerial inspection, it isn't a huge surprise that much of the housing stock is in pretty good shape.  Not many of the lots are vacant.

However, again on closer inspection you see how awful those roads are (Kiest/Marsalis) and badly overscaled they are given their place within the network.  They should be neighborhood scaled "main and mains" not unlike Greenville.  Instead, because we seem to think South Dallas needs massive infrastructure as a form of economic development we get 6 lane divided (emphasis on the DIVIDE) roads that carry 8,000 cars per day, or about a 1/4th of capacity.

You want economic development.  Give some of that excess Right-of-way back.  Particularly at the commercial intersections like Marsalis & Illinois.  Roll the recaptured right-of-way into an incentive for investment.  Narrow and calm the intersections to improve pedestrian connections in a manner that is context sensitive and conducive to safe, vibrant, desirable places.  Improve pedestrian and bike accessibility to these n'hood centers as well as DART to the east on Lancaster.

The median household income of each of the census blocks in the area are in the 20,000s.  Connections are opportunity and empowerment without making people not in cars feel like second class citizens or worse, roadkill.  As we know, this is the heart of the most dangerous US congressional district in the country for pedestrians.  To be safe, we force the citizenry into cars that often take up 40-50% of their income.  Money far better saved, invested, or put into entrepreneurial endeavors like new, local, small businesses.

That's one way you can start immediately "growing South."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dallas: The Making of...Not the TV show. Nor the other one.

Or how to make a very, or the mostest of, Dallas problems and make it more of one.

WFAA picked up a story I first tweeted a few weeks back when some residents of One Arts Plaza made me aware of the 20-30 minutes of death ray their cheerios receive each morning directly from the eye of Museum Tower.  Therein, WFAA cites the attorney Tom Luce, hired to mediate the differences, saying he hopes to arrive at an agreement in secret.

And that's the problem.  I suspect given the $ at stake and the egos involved, that may very well be impossible.  Beyond that even, nor should it be possible because the ramifications of the arbitration are extensive.

Here is the thing, the "Dallas" problem I referred to, is the inability for two properties and their property owners/developers to coordinate in a way that coalesces two separate entities/buildings/properties into a greater whole.  Where the pieces of the puzzle fit together and create a living, breathing picture.  This stems from a long history and misguided interpretation of property rights.  In other words, "whateva, whateva, I do what I want."

The Museum Tower project never made sense to me financially, particularly within the framework of demand and placemaking.  It's the public realm and buildings that engage the public realm that provides the glue to bringing the various pieces of the puzzle together.  It's the role of urbanists in the 21st century to move the modus operandi for development from one of self-interest to enlightened self-interest. Developers and investors (particularly if the city has a stake) have an incentive towards not just a participatory process, but a participatory form of building.

Museum Tower, and BELO Gardens with its wall of spite, however exquisitely detailed the two of them might be miss this larger point.  That their investments are better off participating within their context rather than ignoring them, if not worse.  We've fetishized detailed design while ignoring the larger, and far more valuable, picture.

In Museum Tower's case, this actually means ruining both public and private realms surrounding it, which raises the long-term need for 1) public discourse and 2) potentially legal precedent related to zoning/building codes that addresses how far we're willing to let a building negatively effect its surroundings (in this case, in the name of design expression and subjective aesthetics).

Furthermore, this should open up a discussion of what is the appropriate way to build in hot, dry, sunny, windy climates.  I assure you, tall buildings that expose the majority of the facades to both sun and wind, as well as the streets below (if not amplify the sun and wind, which most do), is not the best way.

I suspect this gets at a broader discussion of architecture, particularly the "globalized" architecture of buildings that look like they could go anywhere.  Merely copying Vancouver's glassy, point towers is not appropriate, as those towers are meant, in part, to allow sun down to the street level, because they get so very little of it. And making shiny buildings because "Dallas likes glitzy," treats us with all the respect of a little kid attracted to shiny things.  Can we put them in our mouth too?

Beyond that, the design of the tower brings up architecture's role and understanding in relation to urbanism, value, and financially successful buildings for many of the reasons mentioned above.  In the name of self-expression, the architect Scott Johnson, undercut the value of the surroundings and therefore diminished the value of the building itself by doing so.

And to complicate matters, it's the city's police and fire pensions on the hook for this calamity and therefore, taxpayers.  Something tells me we need a few more people in decision-making roles that actually understand how cities, as systems work, not just how to best navigate the labyrinthine politics associated

Friday, June 22, 2012

AIA Assoc. Panel: Infrastructure and the City

Last night I participated on a panel (of but two, myself and professor Wanda Dye from UTA) for the AIA Associates Architecture on Tap series.  It was held at Mason Bar, which is a new place in the State-Thomas neighborhood in a renovated, quaint two-story historic structure.  Nice place.  Had quite the crowd upstairs and down, which was reserved for the panel.

I'd guess about fifty people showed up to attend the AIA event to listen to Wanda and I talk about infrastructure and the intertwined role it plays with buildings, architecture, and the city in general.  We were given ten questions in advance, of which we were probably asked four or five as the conversation grew fluid and became more conversational with the audience.  Interestingly, we often think of architects as thought leaders in the community, but the mood of the room seemed similar to my email inbox.  There was a tinge of helplessness but desire to be involved in the air.

And that's the direction much of the conversation went.  If anything, I hope I was able to convey a similar message to Wanda's in that any citizen, architects included, won't save the entire world.  But you can change what's within the four walls of your particular world and that which surrounds you, your family, and friends.  You won't design buildings that seem as if they're from the Matrix like Zaha Hadid, but you can be Neo.  Not to the whole world, but your lebensraum.  And that's where you start.  As Morpheus said, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

I don't know your path.  But to start, get involved.  Locally.  At your neighborhood level.  Start there.  Organize.  Everybody in your neighborhood is a fellow stakeholder in the quality of life of that particular place.  And its safety, as we learn of a new study that shows TX-30 is THE DEADLIEST US CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT IN THE COUNTRY FOR PEDESTRIANS (289 over a ten-year span).

In case you were unable to attend and happen to care what I had to say, here are the ten questions followed by the responses that I may not have given verbatim, but sketched out over lunch yesterday:

1.) What do you consider to be the single most important infrastructure project happening in Dallas right now?

It's what is not happening just as much if not moreso than what is happening.  We're adding more highway capacity as public agencies are buried under the weight of infrastructural burden and diminished tax base, spread out because of that very infrastructure.  The solutions, or at least the approach towards the problem, are supply-sided rather than demand-oriented, which is proven to be far more effective.  

We're adding highways while asking why DART isn't adding ridership.  We're adding parking while wondering why there is congestion on those highways.

To reduce congestion we build more and wider roads, which is only ever a temporary solution before those shiny, new roads fill up again.  It "induces" demand by diluting the real estate market.  More roads, people drive more and further.  It's really that simple.

Instead, we should be looking to toll more of the roads, to shift the real estate market towards density and proximity.  The growth is either going to happen or it isn't.  Form (sprawl or walkable/density) is irrelevant to the initial growth, which is a by product of larger economic forces.  However, it is only the walkable/density, the qualitative growth rather than quantitative that can sustain that growth, rather than say, Detroit, which grew then burst as it doubled down on its auto-erotic asphyxiation.

As we incrementally reduce demand, we should be then looking to incrementally reduce capacity and car-based infrastructure, taking out highways and implementing road diets.  That's what the cutting edge of world class cities are doing.

2.) Bridges seem to be a theme for the city this year. What barriers need to be crossed in Dallas?

1. shift from supply-side thinking to one more focused on demand, demographics, and the citizenry.  
2. Overcome bureaucratic and political inertia that favors the status quo (perhaps even out of a lack of empowerment imbued by a vocal voting bloc).
3. Lastly, regain the importance and priority of local interconnectivity.  Take the Hunt Hill Bridge for example.  I like bridges. I like celebrating bridges as barriers bested by humanity.  And fording rivers with physical connections is a barrier bested.  It should be celebrated.  But when it comes to West Dallas, it didn't need another "regional connection."  It is already bounded by freeways giving it access to the region and the region access to it.  Thinking that a highway connection from North Dallas to West Dallas turns it into a potential shopping/entertainment district for North Dallas to patronize (literally and figuratively) is the wrong way about it.  It first has to be a neighborhood.  And neighborhoods need strong, safe, efficient local connections to nearby surroundings.  That means improved connectivity (within West Dallas itself) as well as improved connections to its strong neighbors: Oak Lawn, downtown, and Oak Cliff.  Desirable, livable, highly interconnected, adaptable places last.  Entertainment districts come and go.

3.) As designers focused on the now and cutting edge, how do we refocus our efforts on city design that may be for 20 years in the future?

Understand that things evolved over millennia, like cities, w/ billions of people each making decisions every day, slowly, but surely shaping the world around them is far more intelligent than anything you or I, or Le Corbusier could ever dream.  We is always smarter than me.  That which comes from the mind of one is always going to be sterile, inauthentic, and less rich of a place.  Ayn Rand wrote fiction.

Respond to the needs of today without presuming to know what the challenges the future generations will face in 2050 or whenever.  We couldn't possibly know beyond the basics of life-giving resource availability. If there is no clean air or clean water, architecture is rather irrelevant beyond constructing mud huts. Therefore, let go of the idea of the future city without expensing it.  That means ensuring/instilling adaptability into buildings and places so that future generations who will know their issues better, and we can provide them the platform for living, adapting, and responding to their needs and wants.  So, buildings that can last the test of time and live beyond the use that currently resides within them.

Also, ensure walkability.  It is the only timeless form of transportation technology.  It is necessary for maximum adaptability of places.

4.) What impact can architects have directly on city infrastructure? What role should we play in the community discussions?

Don't look at problems on their surface as potential cosmetic solutions.  Put down your book of Zaha Hadid glamour shots and pick up books about living systems, because that is what a city is, a level of sophistocation, of complexity, on a higher order or plane than us as individuals.  Books like Thinking in Systems, Wisdom of Crowds, and Wealth of Networks.  

No offense, but IT types invariably get cities on a more profound level than most architects and self-professed urbanists.  They see the city for what it is, like the internet, an invisible web of interconnections between people, places, and ideas.  But the internet will never replace the city, b/c interpersonal contact is always more fulfilling.  Then, the physical infrastructure is the visible platform facilitating those connections between us.  However, when we see dirt paths worn into useless, leftover grass spaces or someone trying to cross a dangerous road, we've failed  ourselves.

Lastly, drop the conventional wisdom that Frank Gehry's singular genius saved Bilbao.  It did not.  Rather, the Guggenheim was a celebration of 15 years of hard work, putting a city full of out of work coal miners back to work and repositioning its economy.  Before they built the Guggenheim, a city built into a valley of disconnected archipelago's of neighborhoods, invested in their port, expanded their airport, and built a brand new metro system interconnecting all of those isolated islands of development.  By interconnecting, they created a greater market reach for individuals.  They invested in the arts to give out of work coal miners or their kids something to do.  It was the infrastructure that gave them an audience, a market, and opportunity.

5.) How do you see the city changing? What new technologies and forces are acting to change Dallas?

Demographics, first and foremost.  Primarily the effect of millennials coming of age and beginning to assert their will.  First thing to know about millennials is that they're vast in number.  With immigration could surpass baby boomers in number as largest generation in American history.  Meaning their impact on economies, via their demand, and the physical manifestation of economies, cities, will be huge.

Second, they're family-oriented.  Expect more multi-generational households.  Meaning the over-supply of housing for single occupant homes will only worsen with little long-term value without retrofitting and recombining.

Third, because millennials are communitarians, they're almost powerless without groupthink.  They're social and demand social places.  Cities for people and interactions.

Last, most grew up dependent upon mom or dad or the school bus to get them anywhere.  The bike was their liberation the way James Dean and drag racing was for baby boomers.  The rise and demand for bicycle-based infrastructure is somewhat nostalgically driven, but it isn't a fad.  It's not going away, because it is part of their collective consciousness, of who they are as people, and as a generation.  Which is why cities have to build for millennials now or risk losing them forever to places  better suited to their needs.

6.) What effects do you think the new development in downtown will have on our city in terms of enhancing the economy?

Little to none.  Again, the efforts are right in spirit but supply-sided.  The city believes (rightly) that we need more housing in and around downtown.  But b/c the market has not been sufficiently repositioned via infrastructure to favor proximity, an upside-down market exists where land costs are too high and demand is too low.  Combined with tax and some other policies that punish development and reuse, the result is land where highest and best use is surface parking for commuters.  

Without subsidy or charity, development won't happen.  So we look for ways to create partnerships and make development happen, but that doesn't sufficiently make the market healthier.  It is unsustainable, and more importantly not profitable to build that way.  Sure, a building might get built, but there is no guarantee of demand.  

Furthermore, with many of the projects happening, like Museum Tower and Headington's Main Street work, it skews the expectations of the market further towards higher land costs, segmenting the market and making more development besides these one-off projects here and there from happening out of the goodness of Tim Headington's heart.  We need to reposition the market so that all of us, and the development community, are pushing in the same direction, and building in and around downtown is profitable for city, citizenry, and investors without little more than the infrastructural platform as the public partnership.

With millennials moving into the work force and baby boomers retiring, we have a massive pent-up demand for this kind of development, yet the bottleneck is caused by this upside down, "sick," market.  Once we treat the underlying cancer rather than applying band-aids the local construction economy will take off.

7.) Because Dallas was developed in the post war era, it is not conducive to a pedestrian-oriented environment.  What challenges do we face in order to create a more vibrant and walkable city?

Inertia.  Where car movement and travel speeds is god.  We need to recall what cities are, their fundamental purpose and let that understanding guide us to reshape policies and then our infrastructure towards those basic ends.  And that purpose is why cities persist throughout civilization because they're more advantageous than not.  The facilitate social and economic exchange which is the foundation for improving quality of life.

Today our policies are broken, governed by no greater purpose than moving cars as fast as possible with little regard for the external effects produced by such irrationality.  Two examples:

First, thoroughfare plans are required by law.  But they prioritize $ to larger road classifications.  Therefore communities and cities have an incentive to get more federal money by putting more and more roads into higher classifications which have certain arbitrary, top down standards, to ever-widen roads.  This process then spreads out the tax base and the very ability to maintain and rebuild such roads.

Second, is traffic projections saying roads need to be this or that wide.  They always, always, say roads need more capacity.  The answer is ingrained into the formula.  It's pretty ingenious actually.  Engineers get paid to consult, then get paid to construct based on those projections.  But it has blind spots, either willfully or ignorantly.  First, it treats land use without regard to context.  We've found a 20% reduction in trips in walkable suburban environments and at least a 40% reduction in car trips in walkable urban locations.  Those reductions aren't factored.  Also, the rise of technology enabling us to reduce car trips via telecommuting, online shopping, etc.  Drops in road capacity have shown 25% reduction in car trips simply because people adapted, found other ways to meet their needs.

8.) Are there plans in the works for bike lanes to be included in more areas of the city?

Yes there are plans, but implementation is the challenge.  There seems to be a lack of leadership at a political level, which generally comes from a lack of constituent voice.  The more its raised the more empowered a politician might feel compelled to, ya know, actually lead.  There seems to be an unwillingness to find funding for bike infrastructure because of arbitrary, inane, and intellectually lazy response that bikes don't pay for themselves.  When in fact, they do.  There also seems to be an unwillingness to reduce road capacity even though the introduction of other forms of transpo availability ups total capacity and drops congestion.  It's a useful reminder that 635 is twice the width of Champs Elysees and carries half the people when you factor all the forms of movement happening on Champs Elysees.  And don't bother me with apples to oranges, because 635 functions as the center of the metroplex.  The city takes on the form of the infrastructure we build.

Due to these inactions there is a tension between demand and lack of supply.  And I think that is why you saw the Better Block invented not only in Dallas, but a left behind part of Dallas.  It's a peaceful form of revolt against a city that doesn't meet the needs of the residents, is fundamentally unsafe, and in many ways even inhumane.

9.) Many say that in this day in age, a city’s infrastructure needs to be sustainable in its nomenclature. What technologies are being utilized in Dallas to maintain a sustainable infrastructure as development continues to sprawl?

Sprawling development follows the bones of the infrastructure provided.  The shape of the city is inherently defined by the primary transportation technology of the day.  We're entering a phase shift, of economies and cities, where that primary interconnective technology is far smarter, more useful and more adaptable than what we're leaving, the car.  The new transpo tech is the internet/smart phone.  Web 2.0 is merging the formerly disparate and parallel geographies of the physical city and the digital city, the internet.  Now from a smart phone, I can plan an entire trip, determine if I want to train, bus, bike, walk, or drive.  I can check traffic and determine the best route.  I can see which friends are at which third places via four square.  I can interact with others on twitter from a coffee shop.  If the music at a bar sucks, I can send songs from my iphone to the touchtunes jukebox.

However, and most importantly, the smart city is the city that empowers the user, the citizen.  And that's what the web is doing.  We're connected locally and globally at the same time (though our physical infrastructure doesn't reflect or respond to this changing dynamic yet.  We're still focusing on building regional infrastructure, which is utterly useless and wasteful in the 21st century city.  The smartest technology a city can have is for a citizen to be able to choose the transportation mode and route that best suits the needs of that trip, day, and time to best suit their needs.  Because technology can't model irrationality.  It can only be programmed to model people saving time.  Not wanting to spend time in great places.  Because in a formula, that is irrational, and therefore externalized as incalculable.

10.)The DART rail was a big step in improving public transit in the DFW area. What areas do you see that still need to be improved upon?

Less regional planning.  The only things that really need to be planned on a regional level are the things that an entire region can only support one or two of.  Or to simplify it further, global connections and universal needs.  The global connections are the interstate highway system (different from intracity highways), airports, ports, rail, high-speed rail, etc.  Then the universal needs relate to natural resource management.

Instead, our infrastructure at a city level needs to focus on Local + Global (as listed above) without letting the global infrastructure negatively impact the local.  Regional infrastructure, ie intracity highways are superfluous to the modern city.  We don't and shouldn't be driving from Plano to Mansfield on a daily basis.  Instead, if we live or work in Mesquite, we should have most of our day in that place and our needs sufficed there.  Then maybe once a month we can venture from Dallas to Fort Worth or vice versa.  And once a year to the airport and, in turn, Honolulu.  However, if our job is based on global travel, we should be able to get to the airport as conveniently as anybody else can get to their job...and be able to live in a walkable environment when doing so.

Local + Global.  Drop the Regional.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Make It Wrong

The following photos were taken by Garland city councilman Doug Athas on a tour of New Orleans.  They show the two responses to disaster and a crisis of housing shortage after many became uninhabitable post-Katrina.  Some show the Katrina Cottages from the New Urbanists, the others are from Brad Pitt's Make It Right.  One appears to be maturing, getting better and better over time.  The other already looks aged and desolate.  I'll let you decide which is better:

Alternative Transpo as Incentives

Noah Jeppson, aka dfwcre8tive, posted this pic to twitter with the comment, "would be nice if all residents got a vespa as part of rent." 

If you look closely in the pic, you'll notice the building logo on the sign, the pavement, and the vespa match.  We'd have to ask Noah if this is to be shared amongst residents of the building, used by the leasing agents, or simply a marketing photo-op to publicize the building and lifestyle.

Either way, Noah's thought is one I suggested several years ago, pre-economic crash, to developers in lieu of providing parking.  Building parking can be expensive, particularly in walkable, desirable neighborhoods, often costing upwards of 15-20% of construction costs.  These are costs that get passed on into the price for the consumer.  We were looking at creative ways to save on costs, while tapping into the desired lifestyle of the emerging Millennial housing market (see the presentation I put together back in 2006).  Other ideas included things that have since proliferated such as communal bike sharing, transit passes, etc.  Other ways of providing similar mobility without usurping valuable real estate and leasable square footage for vehicular storage.

While parking minimums originally about not clogging the public realm with cars on streets originally designed for pedestrians, street cars, and carriages.  Today, they are a substitute for mobility.  People have to get around, to their jobs, to the store, etc. and for the most part (in the Sun Belt) the only way is by car.  Therefore, "the market wants a certain amount of parking."  Ironically, the ever-diminishing demand is always ahead of the top down codes (because codes by nature tend to be overly prescriptive and unresponsive to change).

But if that mobility is substituted by other means, the parking isn't as necessary.  Some, but certainly not all.  And it should be excluded from the price of the rental/condo unit as part of a choice by the consumer.  This embeds customization, intelligence, and adaptibility into the market and therefore increased market responsiveness via the feedback.

I recall the 3030 Bryan Lofts were offering a deal where if you bought a condo you'd get an electric scooter.  Based on their website, it seems the building is still only about half full.  I don't know if they're still offering a that or a similar deal.

The commonality behind the offer got me thinking, "where are the optimal places for such deals?"  It isn't in sprawl, ie totally auto-dependent places.  While vespas can operate on roads like cars, their optimal range is closer to that of bicycles.  You don't want to be getting on highways with them.  I suspect you'll find far more scooters/vespas in uptown than insert-outer-ring-exurb-here, for example.  

Also, the deal doesn't make sense in highly walkable areas.  These places are at such a premium that the market doesn't need to offer incentives.  Demand is so high that the mobility is effectively externalized to public transit and an assortment of private opportunities (cabs, car services, bike sharing programs, jitneys, pedicabs, etc.).

However, it does make a lot of sense where both the Bryan Lofts and 300 North Ervay are, in semi-walkable locations. Areas in transition, trying to be less car-dependent, in areas that were once not so, but are fighting an uphill battle against the tides of transportation policy and parking codes.  Yes, you can walk to most of your daily needs in downtown, but not quite everything.  As the walkscore heat map shows, the green, walkable areas tend to exist as isolated archipelagos segmented by flowing seas of cars.  Each walkable neighborhood an island.  They don't blend and amplify each other like in highly interconnected, fully walkable cities.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Two-Ways About It

The plan to two-way several streets in downtown Dallas has been kicking around for a while, so today's news that several are already in process and likely to be fully functional by year's end should come as no surprise.  I'm quite certain I've advocated for the two-way conversion effort in the past on a broader conceptual level, there are simply too many overly wide one-way streets in downtown Dallas that encourage high speed traffic and discourage pedestrian activity.

The typical response is that "NYC, Phl, and other places have one-way streets.  The problem with that response is that it is taking a similarly, overly broad stance towards the one-way vs two-way debate that isn't based on context.  The majority of the one-way streets in NYC are filled with traffic, bikes, pedestrians, cars, and buses.  NYC has one-ways out of density (that Dallas doesn't have), Philly out of history (narrow streets that Dallas rarely has).

Let's take a closer look at the streets in question.

Akard, Field, Federal, and Patterson.  Field is really the only one of much significance, although Akard is quite important as it is the extension of the Tollway into downtown.  Federal and Patterson are little more than alleys.  The decision to extend the two-way north of Elm is a curious one.  Where does all the traffic from the tollway go?  Certainly not onto Pacific nor the DART tracks.

I fully understand this is likely, and appropriately part of a larger strategy to convert more one-way roads to two-way to improve the legibility, navigability, and flexibility of the Dallas grid network.  The incremental strategy is typically predicated on "quick wins," which, in theory, would generate broader support and lead to larger scale interventions.

But what if those "quick wins" don't win?  Are we biting off too little, so little in fact, that there is little gained?  Or worse, what if those streets are so small, that making them two-way actually reduces their efficacy and integration value?  As long as pedestrian and bike traffic can flow two-way on narrow one-way vehicular streets, particularly small residential-scaled streets, the one-way nature isn't too big of a problem (as long as blocks are small enough to not steer people too far out of their way -- which actually is a big problem in certain parts of downtown).

(Akard, which is a hyper-significant road in terms of the broader network, scales down to a very narrow, pedestrian-scaled street once it meets the "main and main" intersection.  In order to go two-way, more parking was carved into the sidewalk, thus reducing overall pedestrian space.  Though, that reduced pedestrian space is rather vile, due to Chophouse burger and Fish Market spewing grease all over it.)

Furthermore, these small, back-alleyish streets are significant for loading, two-hour and less type temporary parking, loading, and pick-up spaces.  They are important interfaces between public movement and private use within the building.  If making tiny one-way roads (like Federal) into two-way with no parking (temporary or otherwise), is the street actually improved without that interface?  Where does the parking, loading, etc. happen that is an intricate part of the web of public realm activity?  It populates the street and does a good job of calming the traffic.

In other words, the pathogen to be treated and extricated isn't simply one-way streets as one-ways.  But rather, it's fast moving vehicles on overly wide streets that are hostile to pedestrians.  It just so happens that these tend to be one-ways downtown because wide one-ways encourage such vehicular behavior. They focus more on through movement rather than cross movement within a more complex interconnected network, acting as a barrier.  Therefore, our quick wins are looking at the wrong streets.

Instead, we should be moving forward with the strategy already proposed for Elm Street in Deep Ellum.  Make both Elm and Commerce two-way.  At five lanes wide and with the vehicular traffic counts of much smaller Main Street, they certainly can accommodate it.  They're the perfect example of these overly wide raceways that hinder pedestrian activity from spilling beyond the Main Street core.  By hindering pedestrian activity, you reduce vitality, and therefore investment.

Harwood would be another possibility for a great quick win.  It has effectively been sacrificed in the name of the Klyde Warren Park, severed from uptown, you can literally walk down it backwards, against traffic at any time of day.  The traffic counts have plummeted.  Traffic = value.  High speed traffic is better than no traffic whatsoever.  We've accelerated the inevitable process of invaded places to abandoned places and the commercial businesses along Harwood have suffered.

It is however a significant connection between Main Street Garden and Klyde Warren Park.  Since it will never regain its vehicular connection to uptown, we can improve its local connectivity factor.  Make it a two-way street with cycle tracks from the Farmer's Market passed MSG and old city hall, up to and thru the Arts District to Klyde Warren Park.

Vancouver cycle tracks, the future of Harwood?

I don't know how these streets nor the uses/investment will respond.  Nobody does until we try.  If it takes these "little wins" to get there, high fives all around.  However, I worry that they won't yield the results we're looking for, ie incremental steps towards something larger.  Though it seems to be part and parcel of the larger epidemic plaguing the city's efforts towards reurbanization, the politically expedient regardless of price masquerading as incrementalism (or economic development).  Usually all we end up with is "big buck, little bang."  Proper urbanism yields the opposite, a more profitable equation.  Lest cities never would've persisted throughout civilization.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Providence, 195 Tear-Out to Torn-Out

Providence, RI has town out a segment of intra-city freeway.  Yonah Freemark of the Transport Politic writes about it here for Next American City (subscription):
Like many American downtowns, Providence’s historic center was hacked apart to make way for an elevated interstate highway in the mid-20th century. I-195 fundamentally repositioned the inner city away from the pedestrian and toward the automobile. In the late 1980s, Rhode Island began to rethink that decision. Leaders chose to remove and relocate a portion of the Interstate cutting through Providence, embarking on a costly reverse engineering of the decision made a generation earlier. It reflected a trend that’s been seen in highway-split cities around the country, fromPortland, Milwaukee and San Francisco to New Orleans, which is now considering a plan to tear down a section of its downtown expressway.
Add Baltimore and OKC to that list somewhere between "considering" and "planning."

However, the most interesting thing about the Providence tear-out comes from looking at the traffic numbers on 195 before the tear-out.  Of the years recorded, the traffic steadily increased each time until peaking in 2003, the last year on record (that I have available, anyway), at 158,000 vehicles per day on this .9 mile segment of elevated freeway.

That number is significant, because that is right about where 345 is in downtown Dallas, 160,000 give or take.  It's also important because everyone's first question is where does the traffic go?  A question, I answer  here and here, by not only answering, but suggesting that overall mobility is actually increased by removing freeway capacity.

The reason for tearing out superfluous intra-city highways is simple, it's profitable to do so for city, citizen, and investor alike.  The genesis arose with a simple understanding of a complex issue, downtown revitalization, which very few of the downtown efforts actually address:  that land prices are too high and demand is too low.  The equation is upside down and therefore, various forms of subsidy are required to make any deal work.  It's simply too expensive for the city to keep up on every single parcel.

To return the development market to stable, healthy normalcy, we have to reverse the equation, increase demand (by removing a freeway) and drop the cost of land (by flooding the market with public right-of-way).  Yes, it's another form of subsidy, semantics, but one in concert within the logical order cities were built and sustained over time, the public side provides the infrastructure (integration), the market responds with built space (accommodation).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I'm no tree hugger, but...

There is far more value to planting trees than bricking up existing sidewalks.  And I'll show you.

Right now, the city has been systematically and incrementally tearing up segments of sidewalks throughout downtown and replacing the concrete with a dark, burgundy-ish brick.  It's a nice brick aesthetically though I wonder what the albedo rating is (I'll get some surface temps taken soon).  However, it does nothing to change the actual physical function of the street and therefore, there is little return on investment.  As we know from the study of systems, cosmetic changes have the smallest impact compared to degree of intervention.

However, when cosmetic changes are in concert with or responsive to underlying changes, then there is some defensible merit.  Integration begets Accommodation begets Decoration.  Demand drives supply.  This is the way cities and economic development work.  As opposed to decoration which has the least bang for the buck, integration of networks has the most.  Little interventions can create profound and transformative changes.  Such is the way of emergence. 

On the flipside, disintegrate networks the result is disinvestment.  It is either a vicious or virtuous circle of self-reinforcing feedback loops generating ever more or less complex system (city).  But at the core, it is integration of networks that creates for the most profound change.

When it comes to the question of how to improve our downtown streets and the (hypothetical) two solutions are either brick the sidewalks or add street trees to our rather shadeless, barren streetscapes, there are two primary factors to consider:  1) cost of implementation, and 2) return on investment (prettier is also a return on investment, but the only way to properly evaluate it is if it leads to increased pedestrian activity, meaning more foot traffic, more shops, more spending, therefore more real estate value, so yes, it all does come back to $ over the long-term).

The bricking of the sidewalks is a pet peave of mine because it is all cost and no functional change to the system.  No increased integration, therefore no more accommodation (usable, leasable, valued space), ie no return on investment.  It is merely cosmetic.

South side of Elm under construction (Before, so to speak):

And the north side of Elm, the finished "AFTER."  Notice, no trees in either. 
On the other hand, street trees do have a value on the other levels of the circle, however minimal, there exists an increment of improvement in terms of INTEGRATION, ACCOMMODATION, and DECORATION.

First, the DECORATIVE aspect is obvious.  Trees are nice.  Sometimes even, happy.

Second, is the ACCOMMODATIVE aspect.  Trees provide shade.  In hot climates, a decent amount of shade can mean 5, 10, or even 20 degrees difference in microclimatic temperatures.  Most traditional/historic cities in hot climates don't have many street trees in their public streets because the buildings were built so close together to prevent heat gain from reaching the street.  Roofs provided the majority of the surface area and in general were designed to reflect heat away, protecting the public realm below.  

In many cases, Dallas has vast, wide, expansive public rights-of-way (see Elm street above).  This is not because of having lots of land.  It's economically inefficient to be so profligate with a resource.  Instead, we have wide roads not for geographic nor economic reasons but arbitrary ones: traffic formulae so disconnected from the true purpose of cities or how they function and the predicate of the equation is invariably and predictably, anti-city.

Last, in terms of INTEGRATION, street trees provide a rhythm and buffer along streets, particularly wider, faster streets such as the arterials carving up downtown.  The visual friction calms traffic, however slight, there is an effect.  Slower traffic makes streets more comfortable and less dangerous for pedestrians.  Shockingly, more pedestrians emerge.  

Slower thru traffic means improved cross traffic and therefore a better, more integrative overall network even if that means a slowing of the segment from point A to B.  It's points C, D, E, F, etc. that also matter.  Furthermore, since slowed traffic means more pedestrians, it often means more overall traffic when factoring the various other forms of transportation (buses, bikes, pedestrians).  For example, according to 2009 traffic data: Elm moves 13,000 cars per day (despite being five lanes wide).  Neighboring Main Street move 9,000 per day despite being one lane each way.  I'd also gander x2 for pedestrians.  Likely greater overall traffic equaling greater value.

The irony therein, is that traffic engineers consider trees to be collision hazards.  If a car hits them, that does damage to the car and potentially to the driver and passengers.  They treat drivers as stupid.  Drivers on the other hand, in the interest of self-preservation, perceive the danger of the various obstacles populating a street (other cars, trees, pedestrians, etc) and slow down.  Even though there are more points of conflict on such streets, the severity of the accidents decreases dramatically.  

On-street parking (another form of friction and pedestrian buffer) increases accidents 7% over streets w/o on-street parking.  More wrecks.  However, the severity, based on fatalities, drops 300%.  Which is more important, your fender or your life?  Fast moving cars or an economically and environmentally sustainable city that is a great place to live and do business?  And we yield all hegemony to these people.
You'll notice I wrote more for each section (Int, Acc, Dec).  That was only partially intentional, but also an inevitable outgrowth indicative of the complexity and potential to each.  There is simply more to write about more powerful (yet less apparent) interventions.
Now for the Math:

Let's say 1 block = 300' in length

And the city wants to "improve" 20 300' segments of downtown.

Installing that brick, including demolition and everything, likely costs about $15 per square foot and each band of brick is about 5' wide.

That's 300' x 5' x 20 block segments x $15/ft = $450,000.

Since there is no systemic improvement there will be minimal, if any, return on that investment.  
As for placing street trees instead of the brick in order to gain some degree of integration, accommodation, and decoration rather than mere decoration, the math goes:

Same 300' long block segments

Same 20 segments

Let's say we want to use larger, more mature 5" caliper trees for immediate impact and shade as opposed to the cheaper more commonly used 3 or 4" street trees.

That means spending about $1000 per tree which includes installation, irrigation, and material costs.

We can fit about 9 trees per segment.

That's 9 trees x 20 segments x $1000/tree = $180,000.

or 180 trees, 20 more comfortable, more pedestrian friendly streets for about 1/3rd of the price.  And while it is fairly incalculable (one study in Portland shows $8,000 premium for individual houses on streets with street trees), I'm quite certain, it generates far more real estate value over the 20 blocks than the $180K.  If we use that studies finding that each tree is worth $12,828 in increased real estate value, the 180 planted trees would represent an increase in downtown real estate values of $2.3 million on $180K initial investment, a return that pays for the bricks.  

All of the above would be better than none of the above, but we're looking at an either/or scenario and leveraging one to get the other.  
Proper urbanism is about generating bang for the buck.  If it wasn't profitable, cities wouldn't persist nor exist for all of civilization.  If it's merely buck and little to no bang, Ur Doing it Wrongz.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Car-Free Counties: A Study in Dependent Variables

So I was tweeting yesterday about various TX counties and the percentage of households that are without vehicle, at least according to the 2010 census.  So I've decided to formalize and analyze this data more seriously than a few simple tweets.

First, below you will see a chart of the 6 TX counties measured: Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas (Dallas), Harris (Houston), Travis (Austin), Tarrant (Fort Worth), and Collin (North Dallas, as it is commonly but inaccurately called).  The blue dots represent the Car-Free households per million.  Red shows median income by household.  And Green is Density per square mile multiplied by 10 to get it to register on the graph:

The interesting thing about the TX counties (and I found this to be roughly true for much of the country, at least the car-dependent portions of the country (Sun Belt, Rust Belt, Bible Belt, etc)), is that the strongest relationship between carlessness is not with density, but with income.  It's inverse.  The wealthier the country, the lower the amount of households without cars.  Pretty logical right?  More money means more ability to buy and operate cars.

The r-values of each line substantiates this interpretation with the most noise or statistically insignificant r-value (low) with density.

However, that relationship falls away when comparing with the rest of the country as seen below (and you'll likely want to click to embiggen):

Same chart but with the 67 largest (or larger) counties in the country, mapping the same data.  Red is income, blue is carless, green is density.

You'll notice the noisy data shifts from density to income.  Density and car-lessness is incredibly correlated with r-values very close to 1 (and I apologize, but a persnickety excel file prevented me from including r-values on the graphic).  Income on the other hand goes to negative.  As you can see, income is all over the map in relation to the other two factors.

What this illustrates is that in car-dependent places, going car-less is generally not a choice, but one dictated by income.  Furthermore, because the % going car-free in those places is so low and rare, that means many are even unable to go car-free except for extreme circumstances.  Meaning many have to pay for and maintain a car and those that don't/can't likely face very difficult commutes due to environmental coercion via infrastructure.  In other words, it certainly isn't the most convenient solution, but rather one imposed.

On the other hand, density generally is more of a choice in many cases.  There is minor inverse relationship between income and density, but it is mostly theoretical in that one would expect with more money you can afford bigger space or less money, less space and therefore more cramped or dense living conditions.  However, there are plenty of wealthy people paying for the amenity of living in San Fran or NYC as the income data shows.  This is where theory or conventional wisdom and data differ.

If you notice around the 54th city (x-axis), there is a spike where car-lessness (blue) seems to transition from linear to exponential.  This is Allegheny County (Pittsburgh).  The ones above it are the usual suspects or more walkable places you'd suspect (5 are NYC area including Hudson Co., NJ, San Fran, Suffolk (Boston), DC, Philadelphia).  They're also the cities I b1tch about losing friends to who leave Dallas for more walkable locales.  With what we know about Millennials, these things may very well also be correlated.

Since there is money choosing to live in those dense counties, you can argue that therefore there is greater choice involved in living in both denser places and going car-free.  And I would argue that equates to a far healthier system, city, and market.  And I would also argue that jump represents the difference between the logical, rational, self-ordered city (of past and future), where traffic, proximity, amenity, and quality of place are not mutually exclusive, and the illogical, irrational city of the car-dependent present.