Friday, May 31, 2013

Bottom Shelf Whiskey

Here's a video I found courtesy of @slyarak and @JMVC_ATX on twitter entitled Sleepwalking Austin.  What you'll see is far different than Austin's reputation.  As Andres Duany was recently quoted, "It takes more than 200 bars to make urbanism, Austin."

Sure, you can go out to Sixth Street on a Friday or Saturday night, but a typical Tuesday afternoon you could easily confuse it with my hometown and another state capital, Harrisburg, PA (minus the heat, plus the crippling bankruptcy).

Austin, the bottom shelf whiskey to Dallas's bottom shelf vodka.  Maybe mid-shelf, but that's not as catchy.

We both still have a long way to go.  But at least there's alcohol in it and that means we're having fun.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

TxDOT's Official CSS Policy

CSS stands for Context Sensitive Streets.  In simplest possible terms, it means that state funded road projects should take into consideration surrounding land use.  For example, highways aren't appropriate next to where people live.  You can read more about them at the Institution for Transportation Engineering's official site thusly:

More importantly however, is TxDOT's officially adopted policy that states:
For some specific urban projects, the development process may also arise from a need for sustainable street and transit network associated with the potential project in the context of desired land uses and urban design established in regional plans, comprehensive plans, neighborhood plans, other local plans, special district plans, relevant public-private partnerships or economic development plans.  While not indicated directly in the project development process flow chart, these plans may indicate that the Needs Identification step should be revisited.
See their approved and adopted online manual here:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Better to Listen to Mark Twain...

...than comment on articles.  I can't let this go.  There is a new article up on the Morning News' Transportation Blog interviewing Downtown Dallas, Inc., CEO John Crawford about the highway tear-out idea.  I met with Crawford and his team about two months ago.  And as the article states, I'll be speaking tonight to the Dallas AIA about how I'd rather them designing housing in the middle of the city than house by kit going up in Oklahoma as part of "Dallas's growth."

However, I could make it no further than the first comment, where somebody shrieked, "ehrmagerd, I can't drive on free roads and take advantage of free parking from my tax haven in wherever-a-stan Oklahoma.  Nobody will ever go to downtown ever again."  Dutifully reciting all the mistaken logic that has failed this city whilst proving reading comprehension is a learned skill.  Ya know, that part about repositioning 245 acres into 25,000 new residents that would no longer be driving on highways to get to downtown in the first place?

A mistake, I know, to ever venture into GenPop.  There be dragon breath there.  It's a personal pet peeve of mine that every place in the metroplex must be "drive-to" friendly.  It has "to be a destination."  Never thinking that that the drive-to nature of everything opens the place up to fragility, to cannibalization by the next, exactly the same wannabe regional destination, just newer.

Like I told D Magazine in an article several years back, that Fair Park, South Dallas, and Green Line ridership needed to first be a desirable residential area before it could ever hope to be a destination again.  The thing is, people like to be where other people are.  Where there are no people...  On the other hand, why do you think there is so much bitching about parking in State Thomas?  Or Lower Greenville?  Well, it sure is a bear to drive and park in central London!

I'm reminded of the Yelp or whatever site where an Angeleno posed an innocent enough sounding question, "why is it so hard to drive through San Francisco?" To San Franciscans.  The next 20 or so responses were filled with various snarky replies like, "because we love our city." "Because we don't want you driving through." "No thanks, we don't need your smog." It was pretty amazing to see the response from a people who also fretted once taking out a freeway.  And then two.  And now they're working on a third (third, if you count extending the Embarcadero tear-out another half mile).

Better to be thought a fool, or not thought of at all, then to comment on websites and remove all doubt.  That's Twain, right?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Klyde Warren Part 2: Into the Future

The other day I took a look at what value Klyde Warren Park added to existing real estate.  You can find that here.

In that post, I wrote about how difficult it is to project how much value KWP adds to buildings that are not yet there, and further, to what degree KWP gets credit for delivering.  Too often projected economic development suggests that if a new building gets built, it is all due to whatever investment.   That is not, and should not, be the case.

Instead, there are macro- and micro-locational dynamics at work.  The underdeveloped land around KWP that is undeveloped doesn't go from a valuation of virtually nil (parking lot) to a $100 million tower simply because of a new park.  Rather, the land already has embedded value, but just not enough yet for it to work financially.

Most of the value comes from the macro-location, it's proximity to downtown/uptown.  This is more quantitative than the micro-locational, which is more about qualitative experience of the place.  The park improves the qualitative experience and thus gives a bump in value that I'm calling an amenity gradient based on proximity based on an amalgam of studies showing certain parks add a premium to real estate based on distance.

The macro-location is the coarse knob on the microscope (more about broader network design).  The micro- or qualitative aspect is the fine knob for, duh, fine tuning(more about spatial design and that overused and increasingly meaningless word, placemaking).

The coarse knob does the heavy lifting in that it is responsible for the bulk of the value.  However, it is the fine knob that is responsible for the, duh, fine-tuning.  It adds that 5, or 10, or 20% increment that takes a site from undevelopable (in that the land and construction costs are too high given the area's rental rates for whatever use) to potentially profitable.

So what is this post about?  Those potential future developments of underdeveloped land within the range of the parks 'reach' (those graduated green 'fingers' in the graphic above).

As you see above, I took the same map as before and highlighted all of the underdeveloped sites within reach of KWP's green gradient premium.  I've included Museum Tower because it's value is not yet showing up on DCAD's assessment, meaning I couldn't include it in the as built study.  Instead, it goes into the future built study.  This study.

From there, I needed to come up with a potential FAR and land value for all of these sites to put imaginary buildings onto these sites.  To do so, I took an average of several of the new buildings in the area that had decent assessments.  For example, I couldn't use Victory because its assessments are artificially low (due to tax abatements, I presume?).

The recent developments I used to find this average were:

  • One Arts Plaza
  • 1900 McKinney
  • 2000 McKinney
  • The Ritz Carlton
  • Rosewood Court
  • The Triannon (to get some lower-scaled, stick construction in the mix)
  • The Ashton
  • Arts Lofts (again, for more stick construction, ie wood frame, garage wrapped, product)
  • Alta Lofts

I found an average FAR of these buildings of 3.59 and an average assessed value per square foot of built space of $154.71.  From there, I used those numbers and applied them to the acreages of the underdeveloped sites to apply hypothetical new developments to them.

From there, I gave each a multiplier of 5%, 10%, 15% or 25% just like I did to existing development to find out their potential "new" value due to their proximity to Klyde Warren Park.  In other words, to find out how much KWP is worth based on how much it cost.  And from reading back through some DMN pieces on it, it looks like it cost about $110 million to build between public and private dollars (excludes maintenance, of course).  This number is a good bit higher than the $60 I had remembered.  Lesson as always kid, don't damage your brain and don't trust it if you do.

If you embiggen the spreadsheet, you can see that the "macro" potential value of the undeveloped sites is $831 million.  But with the premium added based on proximity to KWP, that number goes up to $903 million.  KWP has added another $72,672,916.93 in value to those sites and an additional $579,203.15 in hypothetical property tax revenue per year to the city based on these hypothetical new buildings.

Added together with the existing development, that means KWP is worth $226,879,000 (a little over 2x of its cost) to private real estate value (which invested approximately $50 million in donations) and $1,808,235 in yearly property tax revenue.  And if we're saying the public coughed up about $60 mill of the $110M construction cost, it will take about 33 years of that tax revenue to pay itself off (assuming full build-out).

I also decided to take a look at how much value was created based on proximity compared to how much this particular formula *should* have created in an ideal scenario.  That being, less tax exempt properties around the park, particularly immediately adjacent to it occupying much of the 25% area and better, more direct, and more efficient paths to get to the park.  The connections around it are not great, again, as compared to say Bryant Park with its tight grid or DuPont Circle in DC with its radials extend directly to/from the micro-locational amenity.

I found that if the proximity gradient is applied "more perfectly" in the manner above, the *average of the premium of all sites should be 11.8%.  The value added to existing property due to KWP averaged out to 9.3% and 8.0% to potential new development.

In conclusion, KWP does add value, as shown, but not the bazillions some might suggest.  However, its potential value add is limited by the obvious factors: too many single-use, tax exempt entities clustered around it, and poor connections immediately surrounding it (mostly due to the presence of the highway and the disurban disaster spaghetti of LoMac.

Of course, all of this assumes the only goal is increased property value rather than other considerations like the need for some decent gathering space and free recreation for all ages.  Either way, it seems a pretty decent way to evaluate its spinoff effects, but we also shouldn't expect all parks and open space to have a similar dynamic, particularly if we can't maintain them (but it's loved and that is the first step to sustainability, by any definition of the word).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Klyde Warren Park and Value Added

Hi there.  This was fun.  I decided to play around a bit with a few studies related to land value premium/increase associated with proximity to new parks.  Of course, some of these studies added qualitative assessments based on great park/good park/bad park, which actually detracted value from nearby properties.

Recently, I did some qualitative analysis of the area around Klyde Warren Park in the past, suggesting that the road network around it was so poor that it couldn't possibly support the kind of street life (via ground floor businesses), of say Bryant Park and surrounding vicinity.  That wasn't a qualitative assessment of KWP, but rather its surroundings.  However, given that it is a deck park over a freeway, you can never quite escape that reality.  In the link above, you can see the disintegrative nature of the highway as soon as the park's boundaries are reached.  Bryant is much more radial in that it is directly connected to its surroundings in all directions.

So I wanted to do a bit of a mashup between these various studies.  One, the value added to nearby property based on proximity to the park, but not measured as the crow flies.  Instead, measured by walking distance associated with the actual streets around it.  Hopefully, that registers in some way.  However, since this is entirely quantitative, it doesn't make value judgment for example, "hey, KWP cut off Harwood which then dropped vehicular traffic 80% potentially hurting business, accessibility, and value."  Or, "OMG the streets of LoMac are so cartoonishly suburban and dangerous, people refuse to walk the .25 miles from the Crescent to AAC."

Using a variety of studies suggesting various values based on distance to a park, in this case I'm going with "great park" achieving maximum possible value premium, I came up with the following distances and premiums:

To create a measureable incremental hierarchy, I broke it down into tiers.  25% to the first 300', 15% for the next 300'.  10% from 600' to 1000' and then 5% for anything between 1000' and 1600' walking distance to the park.

I used that data to then create the following map, blacking out the parcels which are tax exempt.

After doing that, I created a spreadsheet of every property touching the 'green gradient,' assigning a 'value add' increment according to distance from the park.  For the most part, if the parcel was touching an part of the higher increment, I went with the higher.

Then I used the spreadsheet to calculate a few things: most importantly, Net Property Value Increase and Net New Property Taxes generated for the city.

I found there is currently $1.505 billion in assessed value within KWP's "reach."  This number, factoring in for the KWP "green gradient" increases to $1.659 billion, an increase of $154 million in private value due to the park, which, if memory serves, and the park cost about $60 million, works out to an ROI of 2.5:1 (which isn't a particularly great number).  Some economists I've worked with in the past, like to encourage a minimum of 4:1 return on public investment.

However, this doesn't factor new development from this point forward (ie Museum Tower is only assessed at a little over a million right now).

This is where it gets a bit tricky.  Many of the towers that generate the most taxable value in the area were here long before the park became a reality (ie had funding).  So the question is, if a new tower arises on a site in the area (say the drive thru Chase Bank site), how much of that new added value can the park be credited for?  All of it?  Maybe, but I suspect it will really only be responsible for the increment that makes that hypothetical development profitable.  Not all, but likely more like the 15%-25% increment.

In other words, there is some murk in the numbers.  I can only go by what is on record on DCAD.  And by doing so, I found KWP is potentially adding $1,229,032.23 in yearly tax revenue for the city of Dallas (that is, if the assessments reflect the "green gradient").  Considering the park is looking for an additional $750,000 in yearly maintenance funding, perhaps we just found it without having to levy an additional PID fee.  The question is, can you pry it away from the Dallas general fund considering how over-burdened the city is with parks and infrastructure?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Natural Disasters, Resilience, and the Connx Between Social and Physical Integration

Klinenberg responded to my piece and confirmed my suspicions, that Auburn-Gresham, despite being a higher crime area (at least at present) coped with the heat wave much better than Englewood, which had 11 times the heat-related deaths during the '95 heatwave.  Again, it was easy to assume based on the eroded physical fabric, but this post explored the morphology and dynamics why one area's physical interconnectivity eroded, which then eroded its social bonds, critical in Klinenberg's analysis to an area's resilience.
I've written this intro several times of my recent few posts, but here it is again:

About two weeks ago, I attended the Resilient Cities forum organized by the Dallas Institute for the Humanities and held at Dallas City Hall's council chambers.  The second of two featured speakers was Eric Klinenburg, a sociology professor at NYU, and expert on city preparation and response to natural disasters. He was an interesting and engaging speaker, a rare combination amongst academics.

His talk focused on the two natural disasters his research/professional career led him to experience first hand, midwest heat wave of 1995 and the deaths in Chicago from it as well as Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey.

What was most interesting, at least to me and my area of study, was his conclusion about the core reason for deaths in Chicago, because it wasn't the heat that was solely responsible for the majority of the 750 deaths in the city.

While most of the deaths did come from largely poor and African American communities, Klinenberg's research found that the majority only occurred in certain neighborhoods fitting this demographic profile, but not others, some of which turned out to have some of the lowest incidence of heat-related deaths.  How can this be?  How can demographically similar neighborhoods be at both ends of the scale?

Instead, it was the cause of social isolation.  Klinenberg's point is that the real first responders are the friends and family around you and those social bonds help make individuals and, in turn, neighborhoods, more resilient.

So my question was then, what might be the connection between physical form and social isolation?  Does the design of our cities and their inherent networks lead to increased or decreased social and economic isolation?  And has Klinenberg found any connection yet?

So I first asked him via twitter whether he was familiar with Don Appleyard's work correlating social connections of San Francisco based on street vehicular traffic.  Now this has inherent limitations, not the least of which being place and time dependent of being in San Francisco in the late '70s.  However, what I take from Appleyard's work is: 1) there exists a disconnect between the way we design streets to maximize vehicular capacity and the purpose of cities, which is to facilitate social and economic exchange efficiently, and 2) there is a relationship between form and function of our streets, or physical connectivity, to social connectivity.  In the case of his work diagrammed below, the amount of through traffic actually decreased physical connectivity because residents could not as easily cross the street, the streets were less safe, and thus repulsive.


Klinenberg responded that he didn't know it well, but had seen the Atlantic Cities synopsis of it.  Because he had mentioned that demographically similar neighborhoods experienced drastically different results to the heat wave, I wanted to take a look at the physical form of those places.  So I asked him for a couple that fit this description and he provided two sets: North and South Lawndale (which is sort of West-ish Chicago) and Englewood and Auburn-Gresham, which is in South Chicago.   This post takes a look only at Englewood and Auburn-Gresham.  I haven't yet dug into the Lawndale sets.

I should at first note that I did not ask him for which areas of the two had more or less deaths and I don't want to know.  I want only to examine the physical and morphological aspects of these neighborhoods to see if that played a role in the social connections or lack thereof.

Above you can see (click to embiggen) the location of Englewood and Auburn Gresham in relation to the rest of Chicago.  I've highlighted the area with a red square, because this is the area I've mapped in DepthMap, Space Syntax's software to mathematically measure spatial integration and physical connectivity. I'll get to that at the end because I only wanted to use that to verify my visual findings from google earth.  I thought it interesting to use Space Syntax given their work correlating the London Riots to areas of physical segregation, and in turn, socio-economic isolation, primarily due to the dis-urban design of post-war public housing.  Double that down for the Paris riots of 2005.

Since I came across this article ranking the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the country this weekend, I mapped the 3 of the 4 Chicago neighborhoods on the list that are within this southern study area.  You'll notice that the 4th and 16th most dangerous neighborhoods are in Auburn Gresham.  The 25th is across the highway from Englewood at the border of Washington Park and the sliver of Englewood disconnected by the highway.

So if that article is to be believed, Auburn Gresham is more dangerous than Englewood.

Here is a more zoomed in version of the two areas highlighted based on the boundaries found here.

Now let's get some of the other similarities out of the way aside from demographics.  Both are in Chicago's southside, both have a highway running down their east side and rail lines with larger rail yards (almost everywhere) running along their west side (though, Englewood has West Englewood to its immediate west before the rail yards).

It's worth noting that Chicago has one of the lowest highway lane miles per capita count of any city in the country.  In other words, the city is not very burdened by highways physically or economically.  On the other hand, it has many more at-grade and elevated train lines for the local street networks to either be severed or perform some form of engineering gymnastics to traverse.

The rail lines and rail yard locations are important because rail infrastructure can be just as destructive and pernicious to local networks and neighborhood fabric as highways.  And the rail yards can be more difficult to physically traverse with tunnels, bridges, overpasses, etc., though Chicago still does it quite often.  Nevertheless, even when tunnels or overpasses are used to connect road networks across rail lines and rail yards, there is still a negative "edge" created.

Along those lines, I find it most critical to identify neighborhood centers, which are for more identifiable and critical to neighborhood structure than boundaries which tend to be fuzzy (though we planners insist on focusing on boundaries, borders, and gateways in the same manner that we focus entirely too much on the visible ELEMENTS of cities as complex symptoms rather than the more critical components of systems: CONNECTIONS and PURPOSE).

There are macro-geographic issues at play, the entire "peninsula" of land here in relation to the rest of Chicago, socially and economically.  But to distinguish the difference between the two, we have to examine the micro.

Right off the bat, I pinpoint these two areas as the effective centers of gravity of the two neighborhoods, where the most important "high streets" intersect which instills the most demand and in turn the greatest supply of buildings and intensity of uses.

Also, worth noting is that Englewood appears to have better transit access, with green line coming directly into its neighborhood center of gravity.

So let's take a closer look at the centers:

Above is an axonometric bird's eye of W. 79th St. and S. Ashland Ave.  As you can see it is a pretty intact area, with some minor erosion along Ashland due to commercial vacancy and increased surface parking.  I say minor erosion with the full knowledge of what is to come, because for the most part, Auburn-Gresham (AG) still has fairly high quality urban form from both a road network and physical building standpoint, though the commercial corridors are seeing some in-migration of suburban form fast food drive-throughs, gas stations, and convenience stores.

Now for Englewood:

Oh my.  Clearly there have been some pretty drastic changes to this area over the years.  Whatever had been there before had been replaced by Kennedy-King Community College.

Above is the same area in plan view.  The most obvious things that jump out are the diversion from the orthogonal grid, so omnipresent in Chicago, lots of vacant land, and lots of parking.

Moving away from the core of the neighborhood we see pretty severe erosion of the residential blocks of Englewood, almost to the degree of Detroit.

Another section of Englewood above.

However, it is not enough to merely suggest the lack of buildings led to social isolation.  We have to understand the deeper dynamics that led to the erosion and decay of the buildings and neighborhood fabric.  And to do so, we have to go back in time.

Using older aerials I wanted to go back in time and see if I can determine when the shift in geometries occurred.  So let's hop into the way back machine to 1999, much closer to the actual time of the '95 heat wave:

Yikes!  It's even worse.  Here, let me highlight what somebody thought was a good idea at some point.

You can still see the historic neighborhood core in place, far different from what is there now as shown above.  However, a 120' bypass/boulevard was built to circumnavigate the town center at suburban geometries for high speed travel.  To make matters worse, there is a shopping mall like ring road within this mini-beltway to service all the surface parking lots.  This is almost the exact diagram of many "town centers" aka malls without roofs built today, only that it happened in reverse order.  Let this be a lesson to what will happen to the majority of these faux town centers over the next 20 years (see: malls).

This engineering geometry effectively disconnected the surrounding residential neighborhood from the very center of gravity that it orbited.  If you buy Bill Hillier's explanation of cities as effectively co-planar with commercial corridors and nodes at one level and the fabric of residential neighborhoods enveloping those points of social and economic exchange as their centers of opportunity and amenity, then you understand that this commercial node was (one of the) raison d'etres for the neighborhood around it.  This raison d'etre was strangulated by traffic engineers trying to move cars and thus disconnecting, fragmenting and isolating the constituent parts of the neighborhood.

To ensure that this wasn't too new to have its wheels already in motion in the 90's I looked at the surrounding areas:

And yep, by 1999 the erosion was already well under way, suggesting this work had been done a few years before.  Unfortunately, I don't have enough historic aerials/maps to track it to when the engineering of the street network was so badly damaged/redesigned.

To explain this in metaphor, think about a tree with the trunk being the neighborhood center of gravity and the branches and leaves being the surrounding neighborhood streets and houses.  What they did to this neighborhood was the equivalent of taking a pocket knife and cutting a ring around the trunk of the tree, through the bark, and into the cambium, the connective tissue that transmits nutrients to all parts of the tree.

When you cut the cambium all the way around, you have effectively killed the tree, though it displays no ill effects for some time.  Slowly but surely the leaves stop getting the nutrients they need from the roots, they dry, whither, and die and fall away.

As for Auburn Gresham, which we have shown to apparently be more dangerous and have lesser access to transit, its fabric is much more cohesive, intact, and durable over time (despite some creep of car-dependent uses).

As you see above and below, there are minimal differences between the 1999 and 2012 aerials.  I'm willing to bet there isn't much difference to the 1980 and 1960 aerials either.  Could physical resilience be indicative of spatial integration which therefore yields increased social and economic connectivity?

Because I brought up Appleyard's work, it is worth looking at the traffic counts.  None of the roads are particularly over-scaled with the exception of the odd Bypass/Boulevard around Englewood's neighborhood center (transit stop: Halsted Green), which has since been mildly rectified, narrowing it from 120' to ~45', removing some of the flying right turns, though it still hasn't been particularly well-stitched back to the surrounding neighborhoods.

The traffic counts suggest that Englewood has much lower numbers of vehicles using the "main and main" streets crossing at the respective neighborhood centers, with 8,000 per day moving east-west and 12,000 per day N-S.  On the other hand, at AG's core, more than 25,000 cars are moving through each day

The disparity between the two sets of traffic data are worth noting because the physical fabric seemingly suggests that this diverges from Appleyard's conclusions, that higher trafficked streets tend to have more social connections.  However, traffic is also an indicator of a certain amount of activity, of vibrancy provided the vehicles, their speed, and the size/scale of the street don't overwhelm the ability to cross the street and the street network to function for its intended purpose, of safe social and economic exchange.  

In other words, there are apples and oranges at work with regards to traffic counts given the context of where the counts are taken, the design of the streets, etc.  In this case, Englewood appears to be a decaying area, so of course there are lower traffic counts.  Traffic (of all forms) relates to desirability, provided it is suitably tamed from overwhelming the feel and function of the place.

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to first examine the two areas in question visually before mapping the street and block network in DepthMap, which if you're unfamiliar is a mathematical model measuring degree of interconnectivity of networks, locally and globally.  As I often write, for areas to succeed, for them to be integrated while providing suitable opportunity for residents, they need both local and global connectivity.  However, the infrastructure of global connectivity often disrupts local networks.  What results is many of those top 25 high crime neighborhoods, because they are physically isolated from the rest of the city around them.

Above is the spatial integration model for the two neighborhoods with adjacent West Englewood and Back of the Yards also in there to provide context and comparison.  It is worth noting that like all data samples the more the better.  This would need all of Chicago to paint the full picture, likely suggesting that this entire "peninsula" is more fragmented and physically isolated than most other areas of the city (with the exception of extreme suburbs and exurbs).  However, it is still useful to compare the apples to apples, the two neighborhoods in question against one another.

The map above is local spatial integration.  Red are the most connected or "spatially integrated" to their surroundings; green and blue are poorly interconnected.  The global integration map is pretty similar.  The only difference is that the east-west roads drop a color code from red to orange, indicating the elongated, peninsular N-S shape favoring N-S aligned corridors linking larger and more areas.

Above, I highlighted to areas worth note.  The larger red outline consists of Englewood's core and everything from it east towards the many heavy infrastructure rail and highway lines to the east.  This is the most disconnected area of this part of the city, much of it has to do with the redesign of the streets in and around the Halsted Green area.  Though some seeds of decay were sewn from larger dynamics of the city and its infrastructure, the particular physical decay and related social isolation in comparison to surrounding areas was primarily due to the destruction of the historic urban fabric and the disconnecting of the neighborhood to its center of gravity.

On the other hand, there is a small area just northeast of the AG core where the fabric noticeably breaks down.  So let's take a closer look at that area:

You'll notice a blue line across the top, that's a rail line that is crossed by every second or third north-south street.  The connections are still there, but diminished compared to other parts of the network.  That's part 1, but not why this area jumps out as green/blue.  What I want to point out is what looks to be public housing Loomis and 76th.  The problem isn't that it is public housing, but rather the design of it, that it clips the grid and breaks up the street network similar to the public housing mentioned in discussion of the London Riots.  Now this is much smaller and disconnected to a lesser degree than the more (in-)famous Cabrini Green and similar 'towers in the park' style public housing developments around the country.

If anything, I think this line of study relating physical networks to social networks is critical to understanding cities and their potential resilience, and that the strength of the physical networks are the most critical component for both sudden, short-term disruptions by way of natural phenomena and disasters as well as long-term, incremental social and economic decay apparent only over decades of change.

To come later this week:  I will take a similar look at the North and South Lawndale areas to determine whether physical form played a role in the social isolation deemed guilty of far too many preventable deaths during the 1995 Chicago Heat Wave.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Resilience, is it what?

I've mentioned this a few times already, that I was able to attend a Resilience forum held at City Hall and put on by the Dallas Institute.  The speakers were great.  The panels not so much.  Because the speakers weren't local and not experts on Dallas (or just being polite), the discussion never veered from abstract to pointed as it relates to Dallas.

Thomas Homer Dixon's discussion of complexity was turned into the simple and tired false dichotomy of trees vs development.  Developers are simply playing the game to win.  They build where the rules of the game say the opportunity is.  And for the most part, that's sprawl.

Eric Klinenberg's expertise is on city responses to natural disasters and the understanding of why certain parts of cities fare better or worse than others during and after.  However, natural disasters are fairly random and at the same time inevitable.  But also rare.

While we should be prepared to deal with natural disasters, we're better off designing a city that can rebound rather than setting up various bureaucracies or top down regulations to control things that may or may not be tangentially related to natural disasters.  Design it directly into the DNA.  Don't control it.

And that's part of the problem.  Natural disasters are immediate.  And rare.  Far more towns and cities have vanished by quasi-internal issues via slow, incremental decay and dying off, whether economic or through resource depletion or whatever. Where the economy didn't diversify suitably from their original homogeneous  established raison d'etre.

Resource/economy are important in complex systems because those are at the root of the system, they are the original purpose.  Afterwards, that purpose must diversify.  Original purpose tends to be highly ephemeral.  How many port cities still have huge ports and stocks of workers working the docks?  How many strip mining towns still exist?

Point being, the PURPOSE of the city as a system has to diversify as does the economy.  It's more about quality of life and consistent ability and opportunity to participate in the city as a platform for social and economic exchange.

I would argue Dallas is pretty diversified in its economy.  Though the counter-argument can be made that far too much is tied up into the development and finance sectors associated and built specifically on the idea of "growth."  It is dependent upon growth.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.

First, the city can't grow forever.  So there has to be some repurposing of these industries (this cap could be approaching in the various and interconnected forms of food, water, and oil supply).  However, this industry, in place as it is, needs to do what it does.  Except it can't go on doing what it does as it does it.  We can't grow further outward.  The branches on the tree can only get so long before the water can no longer reach the leaves, which then whither and die as the branch eventually falls off as it becomes dry and brittle.

Instead, this growth industry has to be redirected inward towards a more sustainable development pattern.  One where the tax base can support itself and its infrastructural apparati.

So what is important is examining the levels of diversity at the other levels of complexity, PURPOSE has been diversified, but what about INTERCONNECTIONS and ELEMENTS?  Considering most people in the metroplex live in unwalkable environments (I estimate about 98.5%).  This matters not for the walkability, but the social connections made possible by form and proximity.  This is where it ties back to Klinenberg's thesis, that the very basics of resilience come from invisible human bonds.  As Donald Appleyard's work shows, it is the form of the city and the transportation networks that dictate degree of social contact.

From a more anecdotal sense, just fly in or out of DFW.  As your taking off or landing, look down.  Get to know the incredible and overwhelming sameness of it all.  The lack of neighborhoods replaced by the presence of generic sameness of houses made of sticks and spit jammed onto cul-de-sacs of social isolation. Drive the highways and arterials.  Pretend you don't know where you are and ask, "where am I?"  You probably could be anywhere.

In that sense, our ELEMENTS are not diverse enough at all.  Fortunately, ELEMENTS are the least important.  Unfortunately, too many focus strictly on ELEMENTS, the things of the city we touch and see, like shimmering new towers, and elegant bridges, and other knick-knacks, disconnected and alien to the underlying ecologies of place.  As if you put a fully garlanded christmas tree in the middle of a community garden.

But what about INTERCONNECTIONS, the physical infrastructure that allows for the invisible social and economic bonds to exist?  That of the top 20 metropolitan areas in the country, only Detroit has a higher percentage of driving commuters.  There is no positive way to spin that.  It's a homogeny of transportation.  If you lack choice, you lack adaptability, a key component to resilience.  Also, it's never good to keep statistical company with Detroit.  Before you object, consider that cities must be thought of in the fourth dimension of time.  The seeds of the future are already sewn.  But they can also be altered.

Point being, Dallas has the basics of long-term resilience, PURPOSE.  However, we have to diversify Interconnections and Elements (which will diversify inevitably in conjunction with Interconnections).  It is Improved Interconnections, so that we're not all so far apart, taking up so much land, so much water, and polluting the air that will allow us improved social connections.  That will preserve more land so that agricultural and food production can happen closer to the people.  So that we can preserve more water and have more natural areas protected that can better filter rain water and runoff before it enters the ground water.  So that we can drive less and pollute the air.

Improved air, water, food, less oil dependence, and improved platform for social connections.  Only then will Dallas actually be resilient, or at least, moreso.  That the Resilient Cities forum never took the step to this level, it took a steep downward drop in importance once the invited speakers ceded way for locals to totally not get it.