Monday, August 4, 2014

News, Notes, and Newts

First, the city of Dallas seems to think they need more park space and replacing a ten year old parks masterplan for 500k seems like a good idea.

Here's a link to the 'old' masterplan.

A critical aspect seems to be the amount of park space per capita and the expenditures per resident.  It plays well politically to say, "we need more parks and to spend more for parks."  But the reality is that we have 1) too much park space that we can't afford (city has been selling off park space) 2) they are individually too large and 3) are poorly located (are primarily drive-to), disembodied from their surroundings, ie the parks aren't integral to their neighborhoods nor the city (for the most part).  Those that were, like Fair Park, have been fenced, surrounded by exceedingly larger roads, and ringed by parking.  "Park."  

If the masterplan is to be replaced, it ought to be done for far cheaper.  No study of that scale can get into all of the details worthy of 500k.  It ought to remain at an overarching strategic level, outlining goals and best practices, and how to leverage development/investment in order to finance maintenance, ie sustain what we have.  Then proceed with more detailed studies on an area by area basis.


That brings us to everybody's favorite topic.  Say it with me, "How. COG. Doesn't. Get. Urbanism!!!"

First, a quote by 'transportation czar' Michael Morris from a 2007 article by Robert Wilonsky to whet your appetite:
"Most states are in the maintenance business," he says, "but thanks to this innovative approach in Dallas-Fort Worth, we're in the capacity-building business."
Bon appetit.

So adding capacity is the goal.  The only goal.  There is no larger purpose of infrastructure, such as long-term economic viability, ability to maintain infrastructure, allocated goods, services, skills, markets in an cost and energy efficient manner, choice to the consumer, etc.  Nope.  Just building bigger roads for the sake of building.

Let's also recall that the head of NCTCOG recently said, "we can't afford to expand our road system."
Let's stay in the way back machine to examine the 2009 NCTCOG sustainability grant call for projects.  Remember the words, "sustainability grants."

First, notice the focus areas consist of two types of areas, highway adjacencies and depressed areas of southeast Fort Worth and South Dallas.  The former ought to speak for itself, the latter makes some sense...for now.  We'll get back to that.

Okey doke.  Sounds great.  Let's shrink some of those horrifically overscaled roads that have plowed through South Dallas, destroyed neighborhoods, and made it downright deadly to live there... We can recapture that unnecessary, wasted land in the ROW and use it to leverage new investment, better housing opportunities, and new jobs in downmarket areas...

Reducing roadway capacity is ineligible for something called a sustainability grant.  Furthermore, when a transportation planner uses "capacity," keep in mind they are ONLY talking about cars.  They don't count pedestrians or bikes.  They don't care about pedestrians or bikes or getting people onto what is far more efficient, or building in ways that encourage other, more sustainable and economically productive forms of travel.  No broader understanding or discussion about capacity of networks or capacity of multiple modality.  Just more cars.  "Sustainability."  In a cup.

Ok.  So what is eligible?

Item 1.

Given that their focus areas are 1) highways, so entirely car oriented and 2) poor areas, what kind of projects would the private sector bring to those poor areas?  The answer is none.  So the only way to bring "investment" into those downtrodden areas is to just spend on infrastructure that doesn't leverage any kind of real investment or improved anything.  If anything, expanded roads will just exacerbate the problem.  Hooray!

And then if you try to argue the opposite of this little swindle, you too can be called a racist!

That brings us to the final point, which was a discussion on twitter:

Had a convo w/NCTCOG staffer once, raised several green txport ideas. Told me would lead to gentrification; bad.

Strong proponent of keeping housing prices low and avoiding death spiral by ubiquitous tolling.

I think staffer had very static view of zoning. I didn't understand. Cars depreciate, houses appreciate.

Paying more tolls from cheaper housing seems to lead to lower household net worths at aggregate level.

Did you catch that? A policy of actively trying to depress value. In theory, the idea of affordable housing sounds grand, but in reality housing is pegged to incomes (at least until foreign cash money floods in, but only a select few cities deal with that kind of outside inflationary pressure). CityBeautiful21 is also right in pointing out

Furthermore, why would an MPO concern themselves with what is a local issue? Gentrification is far more complicated a subject than "eww, bad" /sprays mace at it. In fact, another term of gentrification is demand and investment. At its core, gentrification is defined by the 'gilded gentry' moving into an area, housing stock improving due to the investment and demands of the upper classes, which often pushes the poor to move out. That's the simplest of understandings, the reality is that when done right, the locals are actually positioned to benefit the most from gentrification.  With investment comes demand for goods and services, that's job opportunities and the opportunity to start businesses. Half the problem in depressed areas is there is no local market. Locals have to leave to participate in the local economy. In NCTCOG-land, which really ought to be the new name of DFW, that means driving and paying tolls, which the poor can afford the least.

Nothing stays the same. Things either get better or worse. Without investment, even the Mona Lisa falls apart. NCTCOG, whether they're aware of it or not, is actively further depressing places if this is really the kind of policy to which they adhere.

Cities require an entirely different logic than the one that "was trained" into transportation engineers 40 years ago. Some, the good ones, have evolved, learned. If our core cities are to survive and once again thrive, it's clear we need transportation planners and officials that understand that cities require a different mindset, that urban design isn't a sideshow for decorating the side of highways with some planting, but integral to the form, function, and resultant behavior of cities.