May 30, 2012

LA River Pop-Up Plaza

Here's a new and improved basic image of what the LA River Pop-Up Plaza would look like. The whole thing is made from wooden pallets, and can be assembled and disassembled for <$500. Note the person for a sense of scale.

Imagine this plaza with people, shade umbrellas, and moveable furniture--also made from pallets! All this is possible if you vote here:

Use either your email or facebook account to register with GOOD, unclick any unwanted subscriptions (everything is free though), and VOTE! Thanks!!

June 25, 2011

Gen Y

"Previous generations found freedom and flexibility through the car.  But Generation Ys find their freedom and flexibility by staying connected to their friends, family and workplaces through the various information devices - like their laptops, or iphones.

"They can stay connected on a bus or a train. They can bring the office with them. They can bring their study with them. They can bring their friends with them. They can't if they're driving."

-- Peter Newman, Curtin University, Perth, Australia, quoted in the West Australian

June 1, 2011

Bike Accident Tracker: Contra Costa Least Safe Place to Bike

Hola amigos, I know it's been a while since I rapped at ya, but I've been trying to figure out what my intentions and ambitions with this publication are, exactly.

In the meantime, a totally excellent example of public data sharing and professionally-managed crowd-sourced journalism: The Bay Citizen's Bike Accident Tracker. Maps, charts, data. Agent at fault, type of crash. Really great stuff.

Click to enlarge--and note the customized search/sort featers at left.

Aggregated results: Contra Costa County is the worst. Not for the total number of crashes, but for the percentages of bike commuters who are involved in accidents. From 2005 to 2009 there was an average of 288 accidents involving cars and bicycles in CC, or 11% of the roughly 2568 bike commuters.

San Francisco, though it posted far more accidents, also posted far more commuters--and only 4% of them were involved in crashes.

April 15, 2011

Emeryville, Food Trucks, and Redevelopment

Had my first trip to Emeryville in several years today to visit my friends' new food truck: Doc's of the Bay and found several observations worth noting. The most important of which is that Doc's makes excellent food, and just got a new paint job.

1) The boundary between Emeryville and Oakland is crystal clear. Adeline St is the proverbial line in the sand as one walks east/west along 40th St. On the eastern, Oakland side, the streetscape was mostly residential, with one respectable-looking housing project amid single dwelling homes in various stages of vibrancy and disrepair. It felt low-key--cracked sidewalks, green mossy bits around the edges, a bit of that gritty Oakland feel. As I waited to cross Adeline I thought, huh, look at that big new apartment building! And my, it looks like they are restoring that home over there! What's that banner say? "Paid for by the Emeryville Redevelopment District" ... bing.

Which one's which?

 I don't know a whole lot about Emeryville, but I know enough to know that it has a relatively small population base, and a very high tax base: Ikea has a store there, but more importantly Novartis and Pixar have large, multi-block campuses. Pixar's is expanding--looked like contruction was almost finished. Given what I know about Redevelopment Districts, my guess at the history of Emeryville is that some enterprising city officials found a way to declare the highway and railyard and warehouse-heavy town as blighted, established a Redevelopment Zone, passed some tax breaks for office developments, and are just feasting off of the additional tax revenue. For example: a free shuttle runs every 15 minutes M-F from Macarthur BART east along 40th and then north into Emeryville for a rather extensive loop. Walnut Creek has a similar service, but that one runs maybe 1/8th the distance with the same frequency, with corresponding savings in drivers and buses.

All this historical-politico speculation is just deductive guessing, maybe I should do some research, huh?

2) Pixar has a like two-story tall statue of its trademark hopping lamp logo.

Thanks, interwebs!
3) As the EmeryGoRound (AKA Free shuttle ... cute) turned left onto 40th from Watts, one of the brick buildings on the left hand side had a garage door open enough to reveal a room full of beautiful foreign cars. Lambos, Ferraris, MB, etc. Google maps tells me there's a MB dealer there, but for sure there were swoopier cars than that. It was eye-popping.

March 24, 2011

New SF Affordable Housing

SJ Mercury News: The Metropolitan Transportation Committee has committed $10 million to a $50 million revolving fund for affordable housing near transit stops. Morgan Stanley, Citi Community Capital, and several other financial and nonprofit groups to create the fund, called the Bay Area Transit Oriented Affordable Housing Fund.
Officials plan to make the first $4.8 million loan to buy a San Francisco parking lot where developers plan to construct a 14-story building with 150 apartments and a ground-floor grocery story at Eddy and Taylor streets.
It's great to see money being freed up for housing, post economic liquidity/loan contraction. Affordable housing is also chronically underfunded, as, you know, incentives skew more strongly toward non-affordable housing (read: luxury condos). Such is life, such is the market.


Street view:

Of course, the shortage of parking in SF is a bone of contention. But in the heart of downtown, I can think of better lot uses than car storage.

March 18, 2011

San Antonio Water Conservation

From the NYTimes: San Antonio is buying conservation easements from area land owners in order to preserve the long term viability of the Edwards Aquifer, the city's primary water source.

I'm not a legal expert, but my understanding is that land easements are legal obligations written into the land's deed. They have the virtue of being much cheaper than buying the land outright, which San Antonio learned the hard way, when an earlier initiative to purchase tracts of farmland fizzled out. And they are permanent restrictions on what said land can be used for--in this case, on subdivisions and other developments that intensify water use, or pollute ground water.
The conservation program has won support from San Antonio’s business community, which sees water security as vital to development.
“It sounds very touchy-feely, but at the end of the day, if we don’t have water, then it’s like a plant — our community withers and goes away,” said Richard Perez, the president and chief executive of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
"It sounds very touchy feely"--indeed. The wisdom there is that conservation is not about altruism, which is how conservation has traditionally been painted. It's about the viability of our communities and the places where we live.

March 15, 2011

Transit Tensions: Development Enhancer, or Mobility Tool?

I hope my professors will let me submit light rail prospectus analysis in multimedia:

An excellent series of accompanying blog posts at Transport Michigan gets to the heart of the issue:

Over the past decade, developers and city officials across the U.S. have taken an interest in downtown streetcar systems as a development tool. The model was the Portland Streetcar, opened in 2001 as a 2.4-mile loop connecting downtown Portland to a former industrial area just to the north. Rechristened the "Pearl District," that area boomed with new luxury lofts drawing Portland's growing professional population. Ironically, just as housing developers extended streetcar lines out to posh new residential districts a century ago (Woodbridge in Detroit is one such "streetcar suburb"), streetcars now offer cities and developers a potentially lucrative tool for facilitating the return of well-heeled residents back into the inner city. Transit advocates have long sought transit-oriented development to increase ridership, but streetcar advocates flip the phrase, proudly calling streetcars "development-oriented transit," although some Portlanders complain the district has grown too "hoity-toity" for their taste.
On a more fundamental level, though, when we lack regional rapid transit, and tens of thousands of transit-dependent Detroiters have to rely on unreliable, infrequent buses to get around, is it really appropriate for us to put real estate development that primarily serves newly arrived professionals before meeting the transit needs of the entire region, and especially those of the less privileged? This author's status as a twenty-something white guy from an affluent, educated background makes him a strong candidate for being one of those professionals, and I'm all for more housing in Cass/Midtown (though I think it's vital for it to be mixed-income), but I still think regional transit has got to be first.  [bold mine]

Mobility is part of equity. Planning for streetcars with local stops designed to spur development and boost property values without a pre-existing regional transit network smacks of boutique transit. Transit can have positive externalities, but only when it helps people get from point A to point B.

The issues of privilege, gentrification, and which needs transit serves are certainly at issue here, but equity concerns are not the only ones. A streetcar with an overly local focus, in the absence of good regional services, runs counter to the forces that generate lively and diverse city blocks: letting people move freely about the city. Cities are great because they have a wealth of different activities housed cheek and jowl: opera, sports franchises, boutiques, professional services, offices, residences. Attempts to cluster these into zones usually leads to a breakdown of the very diversity that generated the foot traffic that generated the diversity, you dig?

Human Transit recently weighed in on the importance of mobility vs. local place-making. The two elements should balance each other in any self-respecting city: the former about passing through, the latter encouraging staying around.

The trick is the dialog: keeping that pendulum balanced between transit that encourages people to, say, take the streetcar for all their local errands, and transit encouraging mobility. These are not mutually exclusive functions, but recognizing the different motives behind transit projects helps avoid imbalances. Too far to the local, and isolation/stagnation can ensue. Too far to the mobile, and you have a land of no-places (see auto-dependent freeway suburbs with replicated chain stores surrounding parking lots off 6 lane median-less arterials for what maximum mobility looks like).
The late 20th Century car-centered model led to the massive conversion of land area from placehood functions to mobility functions.  Transit's great virtue is that it provides a lot of mobility using relatively little space, so that more area can be devoted to places, both public and private.  ...
There is a strong current in New Urbanism, not without detractors, that does seem interested in abolishing mobility.  Patrick Condon's idea for Vancouver, for example, would cancel a single proposed subway line and instead replace all of the city's electric trolleybuses with streetcars that go the same speed as the buses do.  He would cancel a mobility-improving project and instead spend money in way that that may do great urban things but doesn't increase mobility at all.  Once his network was complete, nobody could get anywhere any faster than they can now. 
This makes sense only in a context where going places (even under renewable elecric power) is an objective evil.  Streetcars, in this vision, supposedly cause greater urban density to be built at livable neighborhood scales, so that people meet more of their needs close to home.  People spend most of their time in their own "villages" and others nearby.  They simply do not travel far across the city, and had better not be in a hurry when they do.
It's understandable that "urban village" is a winning concept right now.  We do need to increase the self-reliance of each part of a city, so that travel demand for many of life's needs can met closer to home.  The pendulum swung far the other way in the late 20th century, toward surrendering placehood to movement.  I support and eagerly participate in efforts to help it swing back.
But I think we can see what it might look like to swing too far in the new direction.  We stay close to home, and thus evolve transport systems that are useful for going short distances and useless for going long ones.  And the obvious retort to this is:  In that case, why live in a city?  Why not just live in a country village, or in a small city?