Archive for the ‘Urban Policy’ Category
In an otherwise quality post about the possible conservative angle in New Urbanism, Matt Lewis seems a befuddled as to how conservatives got their reputation as exurban cranks*:
Conservatism has somehow become associated in the popular imagination with sterile suburbia, obnoxiously large McMansions, and gas-guzzling SUVs, while liberalism evokes images of city living in close quarters, with public transportation or bicycle commutes from high-rise lofts to open-floor workspaces.
A few graphs later:
“Whenever I start mentioning any kind of New Urbanism items — for conservatives and Republicans who I talk to who don’t know me personally — I’m instantly branded a Communist,” said Decker.
Question asked, question answered.
Next WaPo asks just what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is up with Bananapants Obama, prompted by such exceptional behavior as the game of pool seen round the world:
Bears, beer and horse heads: What exactly is going on with the leader of the free world?
[snip] More than five years into his presidency, Obama is trying to free himself from the constraints of office, whether by strolling on the Mall or hopscotching the country as part of a campaign-style tour. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer says the president “just wants to get out” and influence “our overall political conversation” by connecting with ordinary Americans.
But to some, breaking free can also look like running away.
A few graphs later:
His journey this week has generated positive stories in the local media while allowing him to underscore a broader message that the U.S. economy is getting better.
Question asked, question answered.
* Lewis’ primary proof that cons actually like cities was that William Buckley rode a scooter. I think he was joking.
Martin Amis, who’s been talking about Brooklyn the way a guy like Martin Amis probably talks about a new twenty-year old girlfriend, is now bummed over the gulf between the actual and the ideal. Turns out Brooklyn is not a mecca of endlessly regenerating symbols for Martin Amis to expound upon, but a place where people live. He’s so frownypants that neighbors say he’s turned into a curmudgeon, which is totally not the other side of Amis’s blowhard persona, not at all.
Sarah Goodyear at the Atlantic Cities uses this to make a good point about cities in general:
The lazy clichés about Brooklyn, recycled ad infinitum, are symptomatic of a larger problem among boosters of cities around the country. Cities are not commodities to be consumed. If we think of them that way, we will always be disappointed. Far worse than that, we also risk shaping urban policy to promote a city’s “brand” rather than its genuine, organic well-being. You don’t get a great city by deciding on an identity and then reinforcing it through marketing campaigns and cute T-shirts – by “putting a bird on it,” so to speak.
Compare that graph to Amis’s statements about Brooklyn, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking which was by the famous writer.
We’re starting to see a paradigm shift with parking policy, but that change – which isn’t really about parking, it’s about the entire fabric of our urban landscape – will face a lot of pushback from forces averse to change.
More cities are considering rolling back their minimum parking requirements (MPRs), and this bodes well for the future of public transit, walkability, affordable housing, and less sprawl.
Cities and suburbs alike regulate a minimum amount of parking required of a business or development. There’s usually a complicated calculus based on the type of business or residence, part of the city, etc. And that sounds reasonable, right?
Not necessarily. First of all, it can be prohibitive for rezoned or historic properties to meet MPRs, thereby resulting in the property not being utilized. A proposal by the Austin City Council aims to target this problem by doubling the minimum size a building must be before it has to offer parking, in part so that more historic buildings can be used.
Moreover, many MPRs are predicated on an antiquated notion of car ownership that exceeds current conditions. The increased popularity of Washington, DC as a place for young urbanists less likely to own a car – coupled with car- and bike-sharing services – means that fewer residents own cars.
“If you were to say, certainly ten years ago, but even five years ago that we would have in this city and 50 percent of folks go to work without a car and that 40 percent of the households do not have a car, they would have had you committed,” said a George Washington urban planning professor.
Yet, many residential developments – even ones in cities clearly targeted to an “urban” demographic – are still subject to MPRs that demand one parking space per bedroom. Many MPRs for businesses are calculated based on as much as 85% of peak capacity, resulting in an excess of parking that sits empty most of the time.
The implications of MPRs on architecture are spelled out well in this Atlantic Cities article about a novel new approach in Boston. The designer must reduce amenities to residents (common space, balconies, courtyards) or public greenspace, and replace it with parking. Or, s/he can bury the spots underground – at a much steeper cost that’s passed on to residents (whether they drive or not). Or, s/he can provide more land for parking, not only increasing costs, but also perpetuating sprawl and marring the landscape with another parking lot that could be better used as a business, more housing, a park.
The added cost is not negligible, either. DC planners noted that “the regulations have a real cost. A designated parking space can add as much as $50,000 to the price of a residential unit.” That added cost is folded into renters’ housing costs, as well, whether they drive or not.
MPRs have a ripple effect on everyone. They mean that development sprawls out farther, and the environment is covered by unsightly and impervious cover that absorbs heat and adds to polluted runoff.
It’s worth noting that the absence of MPRs doesn’t mean that developers won’t build parking; it just removes the regulation that requires them to. For many residences and businesses – especially in more car-dependent cities – the market will demand the provision of parking.
Unfortunately, developers who propose less parking often face pushback from neighbors who fear that their residential streets will be overrun by cars (this is especially curious in neighborhoods that have garages and driveways). A new mixed-use project in Tenleytown, a leafy enclave in far northwest DC, has faced opposition from neighbors – despite the fact that DC is an increasingly urban, non-car-dependent city and the likely residents of the new complex will own far fewer cars than they would have even a few years ago.
While I think that Tenleytown residents’ NIMBYism is unwarranted and anachronistic, that response is pretty standard across the country. The Boston developer cited above has proposed a creative solution. He’s trying to assuage Allston neighbors’ concerns and get zoning approval to build a parking-free complex – provide that residents sign away their rights to own a car. It’s an interesting idea, and if it works, it could circumvent NIMBY opposition and clear the path to more dense, smart development nationwide.
Back in 2006, I finished a job in the Chicago area. Before returning home to Texas, I planned a solo trip to check out Milwaukee, a mere hour and a half away. A few years prior, I had read an article that pegged Milwaukee as the #1 most underrated city in America, but I had never visited (generally because, on roadtrips, I would stay with friends in Chicago and Madison or Minneapolis).
My colleagues – all from Chicagoland – seemed bemused but intrigued by my excursion. One, who grew up in Chicago, had never even been to Milwaukee. Within a few hours, we had wrangled a posse of Chicagoans to make the arduous trek up I-94, and we all had a blast consuming brats and spectacular coffee, checking out some fun tourist traps, and hitting the colorful bars on Brady Street. The night ended with the entire bar singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” with us (don’t ask).
This is not to suggest that Milwaukee is better than Chicago. (I despise hierarchical comparisons of cities being “better” than others. They’re just different.) But the Chicagoans’ dismissal of plucky little Milwaukee as a place not worth visiting is a phenomenon that exists elsewhere.
Last month, residents of Baltimore were perturbed by a condescending Travel piece published in the Washington Post that culminated in a superfluous, snarky “I wouldn’t want to live there, but what a place to explore.”
I’ve only lived in D.C. for a little over a year, but I suspect a lot of Washingtonians share that attitude towards Bawlmer – maybe not outright condescension, but at least dismissal or oblivion. I’ve visited Baltimore a few times in the last month (though I’ve been there previously), and I’ve found it to be a vibrant, fun place full of more characters and self-expression than I usually find on the street in DC (even in hip neighborhoods like Columbia Heights). So, whether that dismissal is bad for Baltimore (or Milwaukee), a lot of people in DC (or Chicago) are missing out.
A similar phenomenon can occur with a medium-sized city subsumed by a larger metro area. Oakland has been “discovered” within the last decade or so, but I recall its reputation among residents of San Francisco and the Bay Area prior to that was of violence and poverty – despite the fact that it always was a big city that, in addition to gangs and slums, also had wealthy homes in the hills, a downtown business district, stadiums, and a cultural diversity and range of income levels that most cities have.
While Oakland has “Brooklynized,” a more current example is Long Beach. I grew up in Los Angeles County (in a beach suburb not too far from Long Beach), but Long Beach always seemed to suffer from the same negative connotations Oakland used to have. I’ve always found it to be a more affordable, lively part of L.A. that has a laid-back vibe and incredible ethnic diversity, as well as some cool shopping districts, bars, and coffeeshops. But, even last year, when I was asking Angelenos about good neighborhoods for a friend of mine to live in, Long Beach still suffered from a “hood” sort of reputation.
Maybe this isn’t a bad thing. The very dismissal from the big city allows the forlorn city to flourish. I just stayed with a friend in Baltimore; she’s a District native who recently moved from the DC suburbs to a beautiful house in Hampden, Baltimore that she bought for a price that would be unattainable in Washington.
“I think it’s also important to note that being the smaller, dismissed city is part of Baltimore’s psyche. … People here are proud of where they live, and no small part of that pride is based in constantly having to defend the city’s merits. People here have strong feelings about the city, and a loyalty towards it, that I think is at least in part a reaction to those dismissive attitudes. So I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing,” my friend said. “If those dismissive attitudes didn’t exist, and more people were moving from DC to Baltimore, the character of the city would change greatly. … We get a lot of creative weirdos and nerds and entrepreneurs and people who want to make a difference in a local community, and that population makes the city what it is. Plus the dismissive attitude [from DC] keeps down traffic and costs and makes it possible to get into pretty much any event without lots of advance planning — it keeps things more casual and spontaneous and affordable. It would be a very different city if folks in DC and NYC didn’t dismiss it. I don’t think the dismissive attitude is really such a negative thing for Baltimore — as much as I love to speak up on behalf of my city in the face of dismissiveness, it’s really just filling me with more pride, not detracting from my experience of living here. It’s the people in DC who dismiss it who are losing out.”
So maybe all is well. The ostensibly underrated places remain bastions of the weirdos and cheap rent and artists and all the things that foster a funky subculture, which they’d lose if discovered. This is not to say that bigger, expensive cities like New York can’t also be incubators of innovation and culture – they surely are. But like a neighborhood that hasn’t fully gentrified, the symbiosis between a bigger, more “important” city and its forlorn little brother an hour up the road or nestled in its metro area is perfect.
Still, if you’re a fan of great cities, hop on the train next weekend. There might be a great place you’re overlooking.
Buses provide significantly more range, at a much more efficient cost, than rail. However, a seemingly trivial impediment to their adoption — particularly by those who aren’t dependent on public transit — is the indecipherability of bus maps (L.A. example in PDF)
Even here in DC, which only has five Metro subway lines (effectively three, as two lines significantly overlap within the city), people bemoan how difficult it is to get to popular, up-and-coming areas like H Street Northeast/Atlas District — despite the fact that a bus (the ever-entertaining X2) goes directly from downtown to the burgeoning bar district.
I didn’t ride the bus for years in Austin because I didn’t know where the routes went (smart phones and Google Maps transit directions have somewhat ameliorated this problem). I’m not the only one, and it’s not only Austin. If you’re new to a city, not knowing where your stop is can become a significant source of consternation and a major obstacle to adoption.
A few simple, affordable changes to how bus routes are presented on maps could go a long way towards making buses more accessible and understandable to the public.First, as much as I love to obsess about the minutiae of accurate maps, the detail of the real world is not helpful for cognitive digestion.
Stylized, graphically-simplified public transit maps — like London’s Tube and DC’s Metro — make up what they lose in geographic accurancy with a more easily-memorized picture.More significantly, bus maps have suffered from a picture that treats all routes equally. This would be akin to a road map that depicted an unpaved alley the same way as an interstate highway.
There’s a movement afoot to remaster the way bus routes are misrepresented. A Cincinnati activist, Nathan Wessel, has done a fine job in reformatting the city’s bus maps to portray routes in a user-friendly way by frequency [closer map view], going so far as to explain frequent routes (“Hop on!”), secondary routes (“Be prepared to wait a little longer”) and tertiary routes (“Maybe look at a schedule”).
Traditionally, all routes — regardless of intervals — have been drawn up identically. So, this change would be a big step forward if implemented by transit authorities. Seattle‘s King County Metro RapidRide is the first I know to do so.
Finally, spiders. Anyone who has ever walked up to a random bus stop — or even tried to decipher a stop online — has faced befuddlement when trying to discern where buses from that (or nearby) stops go.
Although DC’s Metro has attempted to highlight routes emanating from a particular stop, the result is still cluttered.
“Spider Maps” present a better solution — such as Greater Greater Washington’s H Street mockup [closer map view (PDF)]. By reducing the “noise” from other routes — and overlaying neighborhood names without the distraction of other map details — the spider map can convey some clarity for potential riders.
Are convoluted maps the reason that people fear the bus? No. But the accessibility of rail has a lot to do with its simplicity and understandability and, ultimately, the popularity of (expensive) rail over (affordable) buses. At a time when municipal revenues are down and budget cuts are in vogue, cleaning up map presentation is an efficient way to improve service and increase ridership.
*I’ve been asking for these NYC subway map socks for Christmas from my family — composed of Brooklyn natives and transplants alike — for years. To no avail. I want them this year!
This is what The Vetting and Agenda 21-ism and all the rest read like when they get a haircut and put on a tie:
President Obama is not a fan of America’s suburbs. Indeed, he intends to abolish them. With suburban voters set to be the swing constituency of the 2012 election, the administration’s plans for this segment of the electorate deserve scrutiny. Obama is a longtime supporter of “regionalism,” the idea that the suburbs should be folded into the cities, merging schools, housing, transportation, and above all taxation. To this end, the president has already put programs in place designed to push the country toward a sweeping social transformation in a possible second term. The goal: income equalization via a massive redistribution of suburban tax money to the cities.
The community organizers who trained him in the mid-1980s blamed the plight of cities on taxpayer “flight” to suburbia. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Obama’s mentors at the Gamaliel Foundation (a community-organizing network Obama helped found) formally dedicated their efforts to the budding fight against suburban “sprawl.” From his positions on the boards of a couple of left-leaning Chicago foundations, Obama channeled substantial financial support to these efforts. On entering politics, he served as a dedicated ally of his mentors’ anti-suburban activism.
Obama’s plans to undercut the political and economic independence of America’s suburbs reach back decades…Kruglik and his close allies, David Rusk and Myron Orfield, intellectual leaders of the “anti-sprawl” movement, have been quietly working with the Obama administration for years on an ambitious program of social reform…The Obama administration, stocked with “regionalist” appointees, has been advancing this ambitious plan quietly for the past four years. [all emphasis mine]
Notice scare quotes around “sprawl,” as if it’s some term liberals invented, like “artisanal” or “African American.” But more to the point, it’s not enough for Kurtz to disagree with Obama’s policies; every single thing’s gotta be plot with these guys. Obama’s “regionalism” goes back decades! (Breitbart is no doubt hard at work searching YouTube for a clip of Obama hugging an urban planner in 1989.) Everybody is “quietly” working—the word is used twice—as if these wonks were toiling at night with the lights off in a room in Washington, D.C., behind a storefront reading “Nothing To See Here, Inc.”
Thank God Kurtz is tracking their every step, or they might get away with…mixed use development? I’m not entirely sure what Kurtz’s problem is, except that he thinks environmentalism is a cover for socialism, which I guess works sort of like hiding a thin endorsement of upper-class self-segregation behind a loose bag of insinuation. But the National Review and cohorts can only get away with using Obama-fear as a bright light for so long; at this point I’m having trouble understanding how Obama found time to conceive and nurture every conspiracy that he’s now supposedly realizing as president.
Apropos of nothing, that’s Kurtz up above. That’s not a photo I dug up to make him look ridiculous, that’s the one he voluntarily supplied the National Review. That’s the EXACT FACE customers at my old restaurant used to make when they asked for ketchup for their steak.
Once you’re explaining a joke, it’s no longer funny. Once you’re quantifying coolness, it’s not cool.
That arbiter of what’s hip, Forbes Magazine, is out with a list of the 20 coolest cities in America.
As I’ve discussed recently (here and here), online surveys purporting to tell me “Where I should move to” or what the next hot cities are have an inherent inability to capture the intangibles what what makes a place great.
I’ll reveal the findings below so you can pack your bags on the train to Bitchin’ville (unless Fortune Magazine drops its own dopeness bomb first). But first, the methodology.
Forbes used seven equally-weighted metrics. Multiple criteria were based on sports and recreation (number of sports teams, green space, outdoor recreational activities … like golf. Tré cool, Forbes). I like that they used number of non-chain restaurants, as TGI Friday’s hasn’t been a proxy for coolness in 40 years. Also factored in were cultural diversity, unemployment, and net migration. Notably absent — any mention of walkability (curious, since quantifiable Walk Scores are readily available for every neighborhood) or access to public transit.
No list of this sort is perfect, but it’s missing a human element. God help me for invoking the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series in support of my argument, but the original intent recognized that computers might not realize that 9-1 Oklahoma is actually way better than 10-0 Central Michigan. Thus, they balanced the computer rankings with the human element (coaches’ and media polls).
The human element is the missing link here. A panel of “experts” — everyone from urbanists and realtors to cultural mavens and sociologists — could have rendered their own coolest city picks, or weighted the rankings based on the data.
So, what’s the #1 coolest city in America? Brace yourself.
Houston. Just the other day, I noted that Houston gets a bad rap, and is underrated. In my years living in Texas, I came to admire Houston’s cultural diversity, arts, food, and fun, walkable neighborhoods inside the 610 Loop. Its affordability is an asset, as is its progressivism (I get more raised eyebrows — especially outside of Texas — by mentioning Houston’s second-term lesbian mayor, than I do from anything else I say about the place). All that said, it’s hard to believe that Houston would even get on the “Family Feud” board in a survey of average Americans asked to name the coolest cities.
And #2? Washington, DC. [Comments redacted since I live here now.]
There are a few good choices on this list — though whoever put Betheda, Maryland on there should be fired — but it demonstrates the limitations of trying to decipher what’s cool based exclusively on numbers. Math, in this case, isn’t cool.