Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Port Phillip (Melbourne) Community Bus, Bus Stop sign and the tertiary transit subnetwork

Port Phillip Community Bus Stop

In my writings about a transit network typology, I discuss there being three subnetworks of a center city transit network: primary; secondary; and tertiary.  Primary is focused on inter-city transit and a dense station footprint, while the tertiary network is intended to provide the means for people to get from home to the neighborhood commercial district, transit stations, supermarkets, etc.

The idea would be to have this level of service so that people wouldn't feel compelled to drive.

One version of this type of service is provided by Tempe, Arizona and their Orbit bus service.  (Scottsdale modeled a similar service after Tempe.)  See "DC transit network."

The types of destinations listed on this sign for the Port Phillip City community bus is a great illustration of the concept.  Port Phillip City is south of the City of Melbourne, on the Bay.

Anyway, this photo is from Daniel Bowen's Flickr stream.  Daniel is with the Public Transport Users Association in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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Bike commuting article from Washington Star, 1972

I am always on the lookout for old newspapers, mostly because of the advertisements, which back then tended to be a much better representation of local commerce than the ads typically presented in newspapers today, which if not car ads, are mostly for national firms.

That is more interesting to me than the big story headlines which were the reason for saving the newspaper in the first place.

The first edition of the Washington Star after they acquired the Washington Daily News was saved by someone because the day before George McGovern won a big campaign victory in the 1972 presidential primaries, but I picked up the paper because on the front page of the local news section, they featured an article about a female flight attendant who bicycled to Washington National Airport, back when there was no Mount Vernon Trail.

It gives another perspective to the recent piece by John Kelly in the Washington Post about circa early 1970s bicycle planning in DC ("A look back at the early days of DC's bicycling laws").

And about the long process of social change required to reinstitute bicycling as a serious mode of urban transportation.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Richmond Virginia area transit is deficient

Given that this weekend marks the opening of the Silver Line Metrorail expansion in Fairfax County, Virginia, it's appropo that today's Richmond Times-Dispatch has a long article, "Without dialogue, bus expansion stalls," about how the transit system in the metropolitan area mostly serves Richmond (population about 210,000), and that this is a long term problem because most of the jobs growth is in the suburbs.

Henrico County (population 315,000) participates in the Greater Richmond Transit Authority, but for the most part, Chesterfield County (population 315,000) does not.

In the vein of the post from Urbanophile, "Are States an Anachronism?," the State of Virginia has some complicated politics, which make it difficult for cities and counties to work together.

In Virginia, cities are legally separate from counties, and it's a "Dillon Rule" state besides, which means that localities can only do what the Legislature authorizes.

That cities and counties are separate means that there is limited means for tax revenue sharing at the county/sub-county level, creating a zero sum game situation, where jurisdictions are incentivized to poach businesses from each other.

Virginia organizes transportation planning through planning districts, and the two largest jurisdictions, Northern Virignia (about 2.8 million residents) and Hampton Roads (about 1.7 million residents) are not only larger than Greater Richmond, they have a preponderance of federal facilities, which has helped to bring fixed rail transit to each area, especially because federal installations are a large source of jobs and destination for employees, focusing transportation demand in a manner supportive of mass transit, assisted by the availability of the federal transit benefit (which is now up to $130/month and is a significant source of revenue for WMATA in the Washington area).

Although the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, a cross-jurisdictional infrastructure corporation, builds freeways and other projects, in terms of transit, Greater Richmond area has political differences comparable to those of Atlanta, where Fulton and DeKalb Counties have funded the MARTA transit system for more than 40 years, while Clayton County has not, although they will be voting (again) in November on whether or not to participate going forward ("MARTA expansion to go before Clayton voters," Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Richmond, the state capitol, has only bus transit, as well as Amtrak service.  While extremely long term rail transportation planning by Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transportation puts forward the concept of extending Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service to Richmond as the southernmost node in the system (see "Dual powered diesel-electric locomotive introduced into service at NJ Transit and implications for long range regional railroad planning in DC, Maryland, and Virginia"), the region is focused on automobility.

A rock serves as a bench at a bus stop in Henrico County, Virginia.  Richmond Times-Dispatch photo.  

Competitive disadvantage: Richmond has great assets but limited transit.  Despite incredible architectural and cultural assets and some of the state's most interesting neighborhoods and commercial districts, and a fast growing university in Virginia Commonwealth University, perhaps Richmond's ultimate success as a place to locate business and to attract and retain talent is hindered by its automobile-centric mobility paradigm, and in terms of intra-state competition for new businesses, it is a less attractive location compared to Northern Virginia especially but the Hampton Roads as well as in how the Tide light rail system is expected to expand from Norfolk to Virginia Beach, and Virginia Beach looks to attract a professional basketball team to raise its profile.

Without high quality transit, it's difficult for center cities to begin re-attracting residents.  And experts seem to believe that millennials are more interested in smartphones and less in automobiles, so high quality transit increasingly seen as a competitive differentiator between metropolitan areas ("Millennials prefer cities with good public transit," USA Today).

From the survey:
More than half (54%) of Millennials surveyed say they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around, and 66% say that access to high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria they would weight when deciding where to live.
Lessons from elsewhere.  Richmond could learn from Hampton Roads (good and bad lessons) but especially from other places such as Tucson, Arizona (Citizens for a Sensible Transportation Solution) and Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties in Florida ("What Pinellas can learn from Hillsborough's failed 2010 transit referendum," Tampa Bay Business Journal) in how citizen and business interests can push transit development and expansion forward in transformational ways, or not.  The lesson from Tampa Bay that we'll learn from this November's election is whether or not it makes a difference in voting results by making benefits clear and having not just a vision but a plan.

A full streetcar Saturday night in Tucson.  While ridership was augmented because service is free, high usage is likely in Tucson and other places with tight connections between activity centers.

In Tucson, results are demonstrated in Friday's launch of streetcar service, after an initial referendum failed in 2003 but a second passed in 2006 (Image from "Free ride: 40k hop on Sun Link in first days of streetcar," Tucson Sentinel).

Tucson is a rare instance of a fixed rail transit projectd being initiated by a group of motivated citizens.  Usually business interests are the most prominent backers of transit projects.

Bus stop on New Hampshire Avenue in Takoma Park, MarylandRichmond needs a similar kind of initiative to move its transit game forward.

One way to start might be with tactical-guerrilla urbanism actions focused on improving bus stops.

These chairs were installed by the City of Takoma Park, Maryland, as part of their New Hampshire Avenue improvement initiative.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Complaints about DC City Council processes for appointing commissioners to the Public Service Commission could be addressed by converting the PSC to an elected body

The question of DC Statehood is in the news again, given President Obama's recent statement of support ("Obama on D.C. statehood: 'I'm for it'," POLITICO), although for a variety of reasons achieving statehood is nowhere being likely to happen.

DC maybe deserves to be a state because all US citizens are supposed to be entitled to representation in Congress, but the "District of Columbia" was created as a non-state under the authority of Congress, out of the belief that a state government could not be trusted to provide police or militia-based protection to the federal government.  An unintended consequence is that residents of the city don't have representatives in Congress, Rep. Andy Harris to the contrary ("Activists take D.C. service requests to Md. congressman Andy Harris," Associated Press via WJLA-TV).

(Like other non-states, DC has a Delegate serving in the House of Representatives, active and usually able to vote in Committees, but lacking a full vote on the floor, and has no representation in the Senate.)

One point I make continually is that if DC wants to be a state, rather than merely assert that the city deserves to be a state, it should act accordingly, and set high standards for governance and the practice of democracy.

One way to do that would be to have more positions within government subject to the electoral process (although there can be just as many problems with that as benefits).   See the past blog entry, "Incremental piecemeal fixes to DC politics and governance mostly don't help."

Given the complaints by involved citizens about a rigged process for appointing Commissioners to the city's Public Service Commission (see the July 16th issue of themail, a e-letter on better government in DC), which regulates utilities, primarily PEPCO, the electric company, and Washington Gas, the natural gas distributer, why not convert the PSC to an elected body, and take the Council and Mayor out of the equation (at least somewhat)?

While the majority of representatives on PSC-type bodies across the country are appointed, 14 states elect commissioners, many with six-year, staggered term.  This listing is from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions website:

Conclusion. The next time I update this post, "Incremental piecemeal fixes to DC politics and governance mostly don't help," I'll add electing Commissioners to the Public Service Commission to the list of items.

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Rail transit launches: Northern Virginia's Silver Line; Tucson's streetcar

Tucson's Streetcar started service this morning, with free service through the weekend, and a multitiude of special events and promotions. See "Streetcar celebrates its official launch" from the Arizona Daily Star.

I like this editorial cartoon from the Daily Star by David Fitzgerald, which comments on the critics, the fact that the streetcar system is now operational, and that $600 million of new development in Downtown Tucson has been sparked by the new streetcar.

It's the kind of result that will happen, likely in DC, once a streetcar becomes operational on H Street NE.

2. The extension of the Washington area's Metrorail system further into Fairfax County opens tomorrow.  The Express free daily has a special section of articles today and last Sunday's Washington Post included a similar section.

I will write more extensively about these events next week. But these previous blog entries are meat for people interested in the topic.

-- "Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC," (2011)

-- "A clear signal of a failure in "metropolitan" transportation planning: a proposal to eliminate a subway station from Dulles Airport," (2012)

-- "Without the right planning "controls" you can't stop change: Loudoun County and rail service in Northern Virginia, (2012)

-- "The state of Arlington County Virginia's commercial real estate market: 2012 and the future," (2012) -- this piece discusses how the extension of Metrorail hurts the ability of Arlington County to retain federal agencies, as their rents will be undercut by newly accessible to Metrorail properties in Fairfax County

-- "Silver Line delays: maybe the real lesson is that contracting out construction to the private sector doesn't always work so well," (2014)

-- "The Silver Line WMATA story that WJLA-TV missed," (2014)

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Connecticut State Parks and Museums free this weekend: 100th anniversary

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Connecticut State Parks agency, now part of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Governor has promulgated a weekend of free entry, for Saturday July 26th and Sunday July 27th.  See "Malloy waives fees for Connecticut state parks, museums for this weekend" from the New Haven Register.

-- Free Connecticut State Parks Weekend webpage
-- Connecticut State Parks Centennial webpage

One of the items they have published in honor of the anniversary is a brochure on the history of the Connecticut State Park system.

These kinds of publications are important, because people need to understand the history of parks in order to be able to appreciate the kinds of visionary decisions that were made to create park systems and parks in the first place, and to be able to grapple with parks issues going forward.

And these kinds of events are important, in order to build support for parks and cultural assets and to reach new audiences.
parks centennial webpage, State of Connecticut, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Urg: bad studies don't push the discourse or policy forward | biking in low income communities (in DC) edition

themail, a local e-letter on good government, has sadly degenerated into an oldster policy promotion screed, including the regular denigration of sustainable transportation.

So it's not a surprise that the latest issue touts a City Lab/Atlantic Cities article, "How Low-Income Commuters View Cycling: Three policy lessons for cities trying to achieve more transport equity," that concludes that low income residents, in particular African-American residents in DC's Wards 7 and 8, aren't inclined to cycle for transportation.

The three lessons from the "study":
First, we advocate gradual policy changes in the short-term. Substantial infrastructure investments like protected lanes and cycle tracks are important, and may even increase cycling rates in the long run, but they probably do less for people who are currently uninterested in cycling and disproportionately pressed for time. A focus on making multimodal transit easier without substantially increasing time or cost—offering bike space inside subway cars, for instance, or creating secure bike parking at bus stops—might have more immediate success.

Second, excessively denigrating automobiles might hinder cycling adoption and even poverty reduction goals. Yes, there are many ecological and social costs to car-dependent transport. But poor people face enormous multimodal challenges that should be considered in conjunction with such concerns. The rationale that leads some poor people not to desire a car-free lifestyle is likely very different from the rationale of planners and advocates who do. Cars have long symbolized social success and represented greater socio-economic freedom; indeed, some research suggests cars provide economic opportunities for low-income families. Reducing reliance on cars remains important for transportation systems, but we must also seriously consider the expressed desires of the most vulnerable members.

Finally, transportation policy must support a socio-cultural shift towards bicycling.
In my opinion the article isn't particularly scintillating, although I am glad to see the reiteration of the need to focus on "socio-cultural shifts" or what we might call the mobility system components that support cycling.

When "expressed desires" are counter to the policy needs of a city as opposed to the suburbs or other land use context, they should not be supported.  This is the point I make all the time about "optimality vs. choice" ("Sustainable transportation is not about expanding choice, but about optimality, and how to design it into the land use and transportation system").

As the classic rejoinder from our parents with regard to peer pressure says "if your friend tells you to jump off a bridge, should you do it?"  People's suboptimal transportation choices shouldn't be privileged by public policy.
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012

My response

There is nothing new in this article concerning "low income commuters and cycling."

Like any system of mobility, people have to be trained to use it. We take that training for granted as it relates to automobility.

But the reality is that it took a long time to create a complete automobility system--including a variety of types of roads, a system to supply gasoline, gasoline stations, repair garages, places to park at various stages of trips, restaurants and motels to support people on their trips, maps, etc.

We are no where near having as complete a system to support bicycling transportation.

Another way to think about this is in terms of innovation diffusion theory as outlined by Everett Rogers. At best, bicycling uptake is still considered to be in the "early adopter" phase as it relates to widespread use. Economic "laggards" typically are not at the forefront of the adoption of new technologies and social change.

Lower income residents typically need more assistance, not less, in order to adopt new behaviors and "technologies" especially when the use of such equipment involves spending money.  For the most part, such assistance isn't provided, so low uptake should not be a surprise.
Rogers' Adoption-Innovation Curvec
Using ad hoc methods, it is almost impossible to counter decades of promotion of automobile primacy as the dominant mode for getting aroundtravel in the US, for either work or non-work trips.

For a variety of reasons, low income residents and African-Americans more generally lag "back to the city" trends, which include cycling and sustainable transportation promotion (e.g., look at resident opposition to streetcars as expressed by Anacostia residents as another example).

In our region, this point is demonstrated by continued African-American outmigration from Washington DC to Prince Georges County primarily and Charles County secondarily.

In conversations with various people on this issue, trying to figure out why this is, I have come to the conclusion that many later generation "Washingtonians" see "the city" as "old and tired" and the suburbs as the culmination of the American Dream even though a variety of counter-trends and perceptions exist.

This is particularly pronounced in my area of Ward 4, historically the center of the city's black middle class, where younger residents see our neighborhood as where their relatives live/d and old and undesirable. Meanwhile, virtually every house turnover brings new white or Hispanic or mixed-race couples to the neighborhood, which is changing the demographics of the ward in significant ways.

Not having read the report, just the article, it isn't clear to me that either or both a substantive literature review or a best practice review was conducted.   These blog entries are a decent review of best practice in terms of barriers to cycling:

-- Ideas for making cycling irresistible in DC
-- Best practice suburban bicycle planning
-- Best (or at least better practices bike parking and bicycle facilities
-- What should a US national bike strategy plan look like?

A high quality research study would have addressed:

(1) identification of significant "barriers to cycling" including topography that make biking from "east of the river" to the core of the city particularly difficult and

(2) solutions that can successfully address identified barriers to cycling, based on a survey of best practice initiatives such as in Boston or Portland, Oregon (Community Cycling Center of Portland's low income commuter assistance program, etc.) which provide bicycles to low income commuters or residents, and provide the training and assistance necessary to adopt new behaviors.
barriers to biking
The Community Cycling Center of Portland did a study on "barriers to cycling" amongst low income populations.  Unfortunately, they didn't include "cultural barriers to cycling" in this graphic.

The UK is also a great source for studies on promoting cycling uptake in diverse communities.  Here are some particular best practice programs that come to mind:

- Understanding Barriers to Bicycling Project, Final Report, Community Cycling Center of Portland
- Create a Commuter program, Community Cycling Center of Portland
- Roll it Forward program, City of Boston
- Hubway discounted memberships program, City of Boston
- Recycle a Bicycle youth program, New York City
- Youth Bicycle Summit, sponsored by Recycle a Bicycle, New York City
- Neighborhood Bicycle Works, Philadelphia
- Major Taylor Bicycle Club, Seattle (Young people find cycling gets the wheels turning," Seattle Times))
- Phoenix Bikes, Arlington County, Virginia
- Bicycle User Groups Network, City of Toronto
- Community Cycling Fund for London, London Cycling Campaign
- Momentum Bike Clubs, Building Dreams Initiative, Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Clemson University, South Carolina
- biking expos (many examples, including a women's bike expo by City of Boston and a general biking expo by the Utah Transit Authority)

Another best practice would be to systematically train all of the elementary school students in schools east of the river in safe cycling.  And, there are many other best practices examples with regard to women, immigrant populations, and the disabled.

To my knowledge none of say the top 5-10 best practices that are "top of mind" for me have been implemented in a systematic fashion East of the River in DC (other than "Black Women Bike," a program created by Ward 7 resident Veronica Davis)..

But with regard to cycling specifically, while WABA has been doing trainings, and Veronica Davis created the "Black Women Bike" group, there isn't a bicycle shop east of the river in DC.

There aren't any nonprofit initiatives fostering cycling based there to my knowledge, such as bike co-ops, even though programs located elsewhere in the city do operate there.

The DPR recreation centers aren't utilized systemically as a way to foster bicycle usage.

And there are many many tough hills--e.g., try riding to the Anacostia Community Museum some time or up Stanton Road to Congress Heights, or up Martin Luther King Avenue to St. Elizabeths, not to mention limited ways to get across the Anacostia River--although the new 11th Street "local" bridge is a far better means of doing so compared to what existed previously. Etc.

Conclusion.  We understand already that there are barriers to cycling take up in the US.

Comparatively speaking, bicycling take up is low for all demographic segments, regardless of income, but even lower for most lower income segments (with some exceptions, like Hispanics, see "Spelling out bike safety, in Spanish" from the New York Times).

These barriers are not unique to low income populations, but lower income households likely need additional programmatic support to assist the adoption of bicycling as a regularized mode of transportation.

What we need are focused policy solutions to move change forward.

Because most people are
incapablenot particularly skilled at thinking in terms of systems or structural solutions (you can call it "platforms" or "product-service systems" if you want), most new "studies" are merely a form of "biking in place," instead of moving discourse and policy forward when it comes to these questions.

Because to me the solutions are obvious, I find this very frustrating.
Bicycle promotion poster, Toronto
Bicycle promotion poster targeting immigrants, Toronto.  (See "A Toronto program uses two wheels to connect newcomers to the city," Canadian Immigrant.)

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Show us the data! DC Government metrics (and comparing DC's presentation to the City of Los Angeles)

DC's Department of Transportation is not happy that an infrastructure investment campaign website for the White House says that 95% of DC's roads are in poor condition.

There's no question that the White House data is wrong, as a bicyclist I have a pretty good sense of road quality.  While there are many high quality roads in the city in terms of pavement quality, there are many roads in seriously poor condition--which can be hyper dangerous for bicyclists, compared to the ride capabilities of a typical motor vehicle.

DDOT counters the White House with a statement based on data using an industry standard measurement system, the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), that says 75% of DC's roads are in fair, good, or excellent condition. See their blog entry, "Three-Quarters of District Roads Are in Fair to Excellent."

First, fair grades, generally considered to be from 26% to 50% aren't considered passing grades.

Second, DDOT isn't providing access to the underlying data, except for summary data, which at least through 2010, doesn't support the DDOT statement, except for the fact that DDOT includes "fair" grades now, when the grades for "good" and "excellent" for most of the city's roads (1016 miles out of 1030) didn't top 58% as of 2010.

I've been meaning to write about this general topic, because of my frustration with the DDOT Dashboard.

While two of the buttons do a great job on providing access to a great deal of information, the other four do not. (I first wrote about this in 2010, in "DC DDOT transportation access portal doesn't really say anything.")

One of the "other four" buttons concerns road pavement quality.  It lists a summary quality score of 64%, but the only data provided to support the claim is four years old, and doesn't back up the claim if you do a calculated weighted average of the reported data.

On the other hand, the City of Los Angeles has a very good metrics webpage, much better than DC's, and for road pavement quality data too.

You can even drill down within the Los Angeles data on a block by block basis, which is far more useful than the data presented by DDOT.

This comes up too, because for awhile there, I was thinking about running for Ward 4 position on DC City Council, figuring that Muriel Bowser will win the Mayoral election, and that I might have a shot in a special election, because the voting conditions are much different than normal, where I would have no chance.

Anyway, I decided not to do it (meeting with people reminded me how much I dislike the people who are into campaigns, plus other people, even those who hold or have held elective office told me it's very difficult to "move a Council to better decision making" and that I could have more effect doing other things), but I had been developing an ideal ward-focused Councilmember platform, and one of the elements would be developing and publicizing ward-specific metrics, including road pavement quality, sidewalk gaps, bike path pavement quality, litter survey data, etc.
Pavement condition measurement on a street in Los Angeles
Pavement condition measurement for a particular street in Los Angeles, from the City of Los Angeles Performance Metrics website.

(That ward-specific platform is only in outline form now.  I will expand it into a position paper of some sort.)

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Kids outside/How closely should children be supervised/free range kids/the narrative of "bad African-American mothers" etc.

There is a terrible story out of South Carolina, where a woman, Debra Harrell, was jailed for "child abandonment" and her child has been taken away because she let her unsupervised 9-year-old child play in a local park while she was at work ("Daughter spends summer days in park, mother gets busted for it," Los Angeles Times).

The splash park at Summerfield Park in North Augusta, SC, where Debra Harrell's daughter spent her days.  Photographer unknown.

There are many things going on in this story, but the biggest is poverty and how the resources necessary to support people working--especially child care when they have children--are too often absent, especially during the summer, when school is not in session.

The story is that the mother was shifted to day work from the night shift and she couldn't afford childcare.  The girl spent some time sitting at the McDonalds during the day when the mother was at work, at home unsupervised--but while they were out the house was burglarized and the girl didn't feel safe there by herself, or at the local park, where many other kids played and there is a summer meal program.

There are many issues:

1.  What is the age at which children "can be unsupervised"?  The problem is that over the past 40 years, the societal expectation is that children should always be supervised, not left alone for more than two seconds.

See "How much independence should children have?" from the Independent. where the author of Paranoid Parenting argues the hysteria around absolute supervision of children at all times has reached epic proportions.

The CNN piece on the story features quotes making the point that Ms. Harrell had a plan in place for her daughter while at the park, that she was close to home and close to the McDonalds where she was working.

2.  How do societal expectations about child supervision fit the reality that in an increasing number of households, both parents work, or in single family households, the parent works, and the fact that impoverished households have limited formal and informal resources to pay and receive childcare, and that limitations increase during the summer, when school is out of session?

In DC for example, pre-K education is provided by the school system starting at age 3, but isn't provided in the summer.  However, the Office of State Superintendent of Schools provides a summer food service program, to provide meals to children who might be without, unlike when school is in session.

3.  The demonization of the poor, especially African-Americans.  In the Los Angeles Times, Noah Eckstein writes in "Debra Harrell and the mythology of bad black mothers" that:
After decades of debate among politicians, sociologists, clergy and countless others, it is a widely held belief among many Americans that poverty is rooted not principally in a lack of opportunity and a history of structural disadvantage, but rather in a collection of social “pathologies” ranging from laziness to an undisciplined, even dissolute lifestyle. The poor, you’ve been told time and again, are moochers, sapping resources from the public wealth as they collect check after check from the unsuspecting hard-working rest-of-us.

The solution, politicians explained, was welfare reform, which, as the law’s title plainly stated, sought to encourage “personal responsibility.” ...

Like all mythology, that of the criminally bad black mother spread through storytelling — lurid tales told with bitter resentment. Haven’t you heard the one about the jaywalking mother whose son was hit by a drunk driver? Surely you know all about the homeless mother who left her two children in the car during a job interview. And now there’s the McDonald’s mother who abandoned her daughter at the playground.

But what do these stories leave out? Our welfare system is designed to put everyone to work regardless of circumstance. Unfortunately, the low-wage jobs attainable for most mothers lead to a parental quagmire. Between low paychecks and inflexible work schedules, how is one to arrange for adequate child care? With no apparent options, the answer is often that they simply cannot.
4.  The value of children being outside, playing, versus being inside, often using some form of computer, and missing out on real life experiences.

When I was a young child, while my mother "was home" for the most part after school, we were left "on our own" to do whatever.  Mostly we didn't go to parks, but to various open spaces, without our parents being present.  This was when I was between the ages of maybe 7 to 9 years old, the same age as the girl in South Carolina.  But that was more than 40 years ago and expectations were different.

To my way of thinking, Debra Harrell was busting her butt to work and pay her way, but society has let her down, and is compounding this failure to help by initiating the criminal justice complaint.

A crowdfunding donation program has been set up to help Ms. Harrell pay for a lawyer.

-- Support Debra Harrell, Help a Neighbor -

And the poor, who have limited extranormal resources to begin with, tend to be totally screwed when a problem happens, because it typically cascades.  For example, McDonalds has fired Debra Harrell ("McDonald's Fires Mom Who Was Arrested For Leaving Her Child," Business Insider).

A couple decades ago I dated a woman who wanted to be a nurse, and I learned that at that time (I don't think they do it anymore), the Houston Medical Center ran a 24 hour day care center operation for employees, so that people working the night shift would have access to reliable child care.  Having such a system in place to support people in need, people who are working to better themselves, certainly makes sense to me.

That's where we need to be focusing out attention, not in imprisoning people like Debra Harrell or Shanesa Taylor ("Prosecutors get it right on Shanesha Taylor," Arizona Republic" ).

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Universities as elements of urban/downtown revitalization: the Portland State story and more

Streetcar at Portland State UniversityThe Portland Streetcar passes through the plaza in front of Portland State University's College of Urban and Public Affairs.  Image from Rethink College Park.

This article, "Nohad Toulan: The University in the City" from the PSU Institute of Metropolitan Studies magazine, Metroplex, is a particularly good read on the development of Portland State University's College of Urban and Public Affairs, the university's refocusing on an urban agenda, and the development of the college and the university as a connected and integral part of the city's center.

It's amazing to me that we don't have a stellar urban studies academic program at any of the universities based in DC.

2.  Arizona State University, which is based in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, has a growing center city campus.  See "ASU law school construction in downtown Phoenix continues" from the Arizona Republic.

3.  The University of Arizona has actively supported the development of a streetcar system in Tucson.  Brochure

4. Drexel University is increasingly involved in the revitalization of the area around its campus, which is in the vicinity of Amtrak's 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, with whom they are partnering.  See "Drexel's new president outlines plan to revitalize neighborhood" from the Philadelphia Inquirer.  They have expanded their efforts into nearby lower income neighborhoods, which were recently awarded a "Promise Neighborhood" designation by HUD ("Drexel Plays Key Role in Education Efforts," press release).

The President, John Fry, had previously done similar initiatives when he was at the University of Pennsylvania and Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.

5. Many universities have special transit pass arrangements with local transit systems. University of Utah is one such institution, where on sporting events days, flashing a ticket gets patrons a free ride on the local transit system.

6.  I mentioned that Catholic University has moved their college bookstore to the new retail district on Monroe Street NE, from within the campus.  This means that they will be sharing their bookstore with the community, which has been without a bookstore for many years.

7.  While there are a variety of complaints about funding, etc., I think that the City of Chicago's initiative to move the DePaul University basketball arena to a center city location is an interesting venture also, with the aim of increasing visibility and cross-promotion of Downtown to game attendees.

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DC Water and Sewer Authority: response and rectification of water main breaks

In the mid 1990s, I remember a water main break on the 100 block of K Street NE that took more than 8 months to get fixed, gushing huge amounts of water continuously for the entire period.  Of course, that was back when Marion Barry was mayor.

I do report water main breaks and leaks that I notice when I walk or cycle around the city.

DC Water (WASA) misting tent, Adams Morgan Day Street FestivalI have written about DC WASA, now branded as DC Water, a few times, as an example of forward and innovative operation:

- DC Water Authority good idea: free water bottle refills

- How do you "reform" a crumbling sewer line? Or raise sponsorship dollars to fund parks?

You can't wish away the need to upgrade aging utility infrastructure

Today, I had an experience that for a DC Government agency (although DC WASA is semi-independent) is unprecedented.

I reported a water leak this morning, using the online reporting form.

They just called me to confirm the receipt of the information (although I did get an automated email response with a tracking number after the original report) and to get more details about the location, before dispatching an inspector and repair team.

That's an actual response within four hours of reporting the problem, which I think is pretty remarkable.

On our neighborhood e-list we've discussed the difference between "response" and "resolving" in terms of elected and appointed government officials.  My Councilmember's office constantly responds to citizen complaints as expressed on the listserv, but in my personal experience they never resolve anything that matters to me.

I can think of two specific unresolved matters.  One dates to 2008 and the other to 2012.

I don't care so much about "expressed concern" as much as I care about results.

Since she's running for mayor, I think that these data points are relevant to decisions about who to vote for.


Could bringing premier regionally headquartered business enterprises to the Pennsylvania Avenue Corridor be key to its renewal and revitalization?

In response to the previous entry "Pennsylvania Avenue DC planning initiative" on the National Capital Planning Commission's launch of a planning initiative for Pennsylvania Avenue, what we might call a tune up of the Pennsylvania Avenue urban renewal initiative that "called it a day" in the mid-1990s, charlie offered a number of very good points, which are worth calling out into a separate entry.

The first public meeting for the study is tomorrow night.

Charlie writes:

... I think the bigger problem with Pennsylvania Avenue is all the commercial space is getting old at the same time, which means the biggest drivers of downtown office space (law firms) are bailing. And you mention, government workers don't spend enough.

In terms of your previous entry, it looks like:

1) resurrect the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation or create a new Business Improvement District

2) Sidewalks are plenty wide

3) It is pretty walkable, but needs more shade

4) Not sure what you can do about the vacancy rate. There are a lot of corporations in the area (AES, Marriott, Advisory Board, Microstrategy) that could use a prestige address but clearly there are reasons they don't want to be in DC. FBI site could be good for this too, but I think we're going to get a lot of buildings torn down in the future.

5) Parking sucks there are a result of garages closing early

6) Civic / cultural anchor --big problem as well, although you have Navy memorial, archives, Newseum, two theatres. Good suggestions on your part.

7) Traffic counts -- yes, on a bike i don't like being exposed in the middle. Also shade again. Could be a world class bike track but instead it is crap.

My response:

1.  A permanent commercial district revitalization planning and implementation organization is necessary.  WRT the first point, while PADC was a good ($, focus and a commitment to action) and bad (superblock buildings, brutalist, dull) initiative, the Federal Government and elected officials focused on "shutting it down when it was done"* not realizing that commercial district revitalization is a never ending story. So yes, a commercial district revitalization organization entity needs to be there and permanently focused on the success of the district.

2.   The corridor is overdue for refreshment.  Charlie makes a great point about the "natural aging of the 'new' building stock" and the need for it to be refreshed "at the same time" and how this contributes to the high vacancy rate, although I think the urban design on the corridor is a big issue too--the street experience is uncongenial, shade being only one issue, but a big one, as he points out.

Plaza, Waterfront Metro, Southwest DCNote that the buildings becoming obsolete because of age is a similar problem for Southwest DC (Southwest Ecodistrict Plan), Maine Avenue SW, and L'Enfant Plaza.

The Wharf district rebuilding project is just getting underway, and a couple years ago, Waterfront Mall, 4th Street (pictured at left), and most of the old crappy buildings there were reconstructed and the area has become much more vital and alive, especially because of the restoration of 4th Street SW as a through street.

It's a good example of what needs to happen along Pennsylvania Avenue.

3.  The Pennsylvania Avenue commercial vacancy rate is a big problem.  I agree with Charlie and I meant to emphasize that the FBI vacation is going to worsen this considerably, because it potentially has the ability to add significantly more commercial space to a corridor that has "too much now."

Microstrategy headquarters in Tysons Corner, Virginia.  Photo by Terry Berman.

4.  Charlie makes a brilliant point, could area premier companies be recruited to new space on the corridor, to headquarter on "America's Main Street" and function as anchors for new economic activity? 

WRT the suggestion that one way to absorb the space would be to recruit from the area's premier companies (AES, Marriott, Advisory Board, Microstrategy, etc.)  and convince a couple of them to relocate to the city as part of Pennsylvania Avenue's renewal, I think you're right about the difficulty in pulling this off given current conditions.

But by making the street and the area totally great, in part by expanding the "planning district" to include the National Mall as I suggested in the other entry, and by making recruitment of business headquarters as anchors and a key element of the program, it would be possible to pull this off, including the point I made about moving the FTC (pictured at right) to one of the buildings to be constructed and giving their current building to the National Gallery of Art.

Note that in the 1990s when people argued that NationsBank should move their headquarters from Charlotte to DC when they bought various banks here, there was no compelling business reason for them to do so.

The point is that for talent and business development reasons, there is the devveloping trend of large businesses moving back to central city locations.

Revitalizing Pennsylvania Avenue in part through business headquarters recruitment is a kind of extension of the arguments I made in "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector."

-- Washington Post list of the Largest 200 public and private companies in the DC region

There are many examples of this around the country.  Amazon in the SoDO district in Seattle is one. The movement of various Internet related companies such as Twitter from Silicon Valley to San Francisco ("Twitter Revitalizes a Seedy San Francisco Neighborhood," New York Times), especially in the South of Market District.

Arlington offers us an example with the National Science Foundation and the George Mason University Arlington campus bracketing a goodly section of Wilson Boulevard and attracting complementary organizations.  Chicago too ("Companies Say Goodbye to the 'Burbs," Wall Street Journal).

Detroit is a great example, because comparatively speaking, Pennsylvania Avenue is the Detroit of DC's Central Business District in terms of comparative weakness

Detroit had been losing out to Chicago and the suburbs for local business headquarters for decades, abetted by business consolidation (e.g., I was weirded out a couple weeks ago to see a big Comerica building in Southern California, knowing the bank grew out of the merger of Detroit Bank and Trust and Manufacturers National Bank of Detroit, although the headquarters has since shifted to Texas).

This rendering shows what a new Campus Martius/Cadillac Square area in downtown Detroit could look like, according to plans outlined by Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Quicken Loans, today. Photo: Quicken Loans

But in 2002, Peter Karmanos moved his suburban-based Compuware Corporation to an in-city location.

(He followed Mike Illitch, who bought the Red Wings in the 1980s, Detroit Tigers in the 1990s, and began investing and rehabilitating property in Downtown. Illitch's wife separately has invested in Detroit casinos.)

This led to other business leaders making similar decisions, such as Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, who moved his firm to Detroit in 2010 ("“Dan Gilbert outlines vision for livelier downtown Detroit including Papa Joe’s, sidewalk cafes," Detroit Free Press) and while the rest of the city is not doing well, Downtown Detroit is pretty successful.

In keeping with the general theme of these pieces on Pennsylvania Avenue, Project for Public Spaces argues investment in place was the key to success in Detroit ("Detroit Leads the Way on Place-Centered Revitalization").

5.  Leveraging Downtown transit service.  One of the problems of federal agencies moving out of the core is that the value of transit proximity in Downtown DC is dissipated, which will hurt WMATA.  By recruiting some large scale businesses, the value of transit infrastructure in the core can be leveraged.

The thing about Pennsylvania Avenue is that it has not absolutely the best transit, but it's just a couple blocks from Metro Center, making it pretty well connected even if it is only served by Archives Station directly.

6.  Pulling off recruitment of high profile business headquarters to the corridor is not likely to be done by a consortium of government agencies.  I think NCPC does some pretty good planning. For example, the Southwest Ecodistrict Plan has some really good concepts.  But, reviving Pennsylvania Avenue in part by "sharing it" with businesses is not something that they are likely to push.

7.  A big problem is that the great opportunity presented by the FBI move will take upwards of 15 years to realize.  But at the same time, other developments in the area, such as the Newseum (left) moving to the corridor in 2008 and the Verizon Center on 7th Street NW as well as the significant expansion of condominiums and apartments in the area need to be better leveraged to improve the corridor more generally.

8.  Plus maybe the biggest issue of all, the Republican Congress and its unwillingness to fund federal agency construction projects in DC proper.  (They don't want to fund government stuff at all, but will fund stuff around the country.)  Improving the federal buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue will be difficult in that context.  See "Planned Homeland Security headquarters>, long delayed" from the Post.

* In discussions recently where I've put forward the idea of a bi-county authority in Montgomery and Prince George's County as a "transportation renewal district" in association with the development of the Purple Line light rail system, one of the things that's been discussed is that in the trade "urban renewal districts" are usually created with a 20-year term, but that it takes more than 20 years (at least 30) to fully realize changes and that's if most everything goes right, and that the district needs to be managed in perpetuity.

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Eminent domain and receivership to "cure" habitual nuisances

One of the people that Suzanne works with doesn't live that far from us--about one mile away, but south, much closer to Kennedy Street--which is one of the problem streets in our greater neighborhood, so the quality of life for her family is much different, because they have nuisance properties on the block (one vacant, in another the resident is engaged in prostitution, but she goes over to the vacant house, etc.), nuisance neighbors, and terrible luck--the most recent being a stolen car ran into their sidewall (they live at the end of a block of rowhouses, abutting an alley) doing significant damage to the masonry.

The stories remind me of how f*ing hard it used to be to live north of H Street NE back in the day--the burglaries, muggings, assaults (the car we rented for our honeymoon was stolen), etc. that I experienced, the crime in general, the murders and drug sales in the area, etc.  I stuck it out but my ex-wife didn't and frankly, it takes way too much energy to have to deal with it.  I don't have the energy to live in such conditions now.

It also reminds me of the critical mass of "revitalizers" being necessary to turn around problem areas.  See "Revitalization in stages."

Receivership statutes.  In talking over the latest b.s. that Suzanne's colleague is dealing with, I mentioned receivership as a needed option in DC--because it takes years and years and years to force changes with recalcitrant property owners and how I used to testify a lot recommending that the city enact receivership statutes to facilitate this ("Receivership for housing," ""Why I hate DC" or the appropriate tactical strategy to apply to nuisance properties/ disinvestment is investment, not demolition," and "Pennsylvania passes receivership law with regard to vacant/nuisance properties") comparable to the State of Ohio.

Instead, DC's property abatement laws and regulations are incredibly complicated and put too much responsibility on the city government to act, when typically government agencies aren't supple enough and have a limited number of tools to work with when it comes to individual properties.

As a kind of example, see the article in the Post ("Old home's restoration helps to restore pride in Anacostia") about how the L'Enfant Trust is rehabilitating a property in Anacostia that has been vacant for many years.  That's the kind of action I anticipate if we had the right receivership statutes and procedures in place.

The shotgun-style house at 1229 E St. SE is seen in the Capitol Hill Historic District. (Ileana Najarro/The Washington Post)

Eminent domain.  But earlier this evening we we had been talking about the shotgun house debacle in Capitol Hill ("Pre-Civil War shotgun house in the hands of D.C. preservation board," Washington Post) which has been going on for more than one decade ten years (this City Paper article is from 2002, "Dwelling in the Past: Larry Quillian wants to raze his shotgun shack") ... and I said, the city should have taken the property by eminent domain years ago.

Sure the city would have had to pay for the property, but if they would have exercised that sort of power even just a few times against particularly egregious property owners, word would get around, and negligent property owners would start cleaning up their act, knowing that a property seizure was in the realm of possibility.

(Not unlike how the DC Department of Housing and Community Development seized the Park Southern Apartments, because of financial improprieties mostly, but also poor management.  Although that was by receivership, not eminent domain. See "D.C. housing complex’s decline raises questions about management, politics" from the Washington Post.)

Note that at the National Trust for Historic Preservation national meeting in Portland, Oregon in 2005, eminent domain was suggested as an option, in one of the sessions I attended.   With regard to checks and balances on eminent domain, see "Making eminent domain fair to alL" from the Boston Globe (2005).

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Pennsylvania Avenue DC planning initiative

Bicyclists in the cycletrack on Pennsyvlania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, with the US Capitol in the foreground
The Washington Business Journal reports in "Pennsylvania Avenue is in a slump, but there's a plan to breathe new life into it" that the National Capital Planning Commission is initiating a planning study to improve Pennsylvania Avenue NW, as a reassessment and updating of that street's improvement program.

(A few years ago at an NCPC hearing, I spoke extemporaneously in response to the statement about Pennsylvania Avenue being "America's Main Street," stating that the urban design and placemaking experience there is horrible and that it should be addressed to make real the perception, presuming of course that a "Main Street" is supposed to be a quality experience, not a bad one.)

The first meeting will be TuesWednesday July 23rd, from 6pm to 8pm at the NCPC offices, 401 9th Street NW, Suite 500N

Pennsylvania Avenue NW was "urban renewed" via the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, an urban renewal initiative by the federal government launched by President Kennedy, in response to the evident decline of the experience of the street.

Mostly, the urban renewal program resulted in the construction of large buildings on superblocks and parks and open spaces (e.g. Pershing Park or Freedom Plaza) that don't work very well, while eradicating most of the retail--with all of the buildings on the south side of Pennsylvania being federal buildings, with zero retail, with the exception of the Old Post Office.

"Commerce is the engine of urbanism."
-- Alex Wall, in his book about Victor Gruen, entitled From Urban Shop to New City

As a result, except for the north side of Pennsylvania at 7th Street which is mostly commercial and has ground floor retail, including a Starbucks, the street is forlorn.
pennsylvania avenue, Washington DC

Before the urban renewal program, the building stock was variegated, some federal buildings, mostly on the south side of the street, while the north side of the street was comprised of a wide variety of small commercial buildings with retail on the ground floor.
Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, postcard

1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, north side
Bassin's Restaurant building, Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC

Freedom Plaza, today (Wikipedia photo)
Freedom Plaza, Washington,_DC

The site of Freedom Plaza in 1958 (DDOT photo)
Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, April 1958 (today's site of Freedom Plaza)

Automobiles and trolleys near Pennsylvania and 14th St. in Washington, D.C., circa 1933.
Automobiles and trolleys near Pennsylvania and 14th St. in Washington, D.C., circa 1933. Washington Post photo.

When I first read Death and Life of Great American Cities, I was "surprised" that Jane Jacobs was not a fan of the "City Beautiful" movement, which brought "order" to American civic centers, through the construction of large buildings, mostly employing Beaux Arts architecture--Washington's Union Station being a leading example--parks improvements, and public art, especially statues.

But over time I figured out her criticisms made sense, that City Beautiful wasn't intended to engage people and support action and energy on the street, it was designed to be awe-inspiring and at the same time, distant.

It's a struggle balancing majesty and activity.

Pennsylvania Avenue's urban renewal paradigm of large buildings and unfriendly public spaces is a derivative of the large block and building planning approach common to the City Beautiful movement (and Baron Haussmann in Paris before that).
Champs Elysees, Paris, France
Champs Elysees, Paris, France.  Image: City Pictures.

According to the WBJ article, rents and sales prices/s.f. for commercial spaces on the corridor are significantly lower compared to more central locations in the core of Downtown, the vacancy rate is almost 12%, 40% of the space is used by law firms and many are leaving (that sector is going through serious consolidation at the moment) which will double the vacancy rate.

Typically, office districts are barren of activity at night and Pennsylvania Avenue is no exception.  As businesses consolidate, many central business districts have converted office buildings to housing and hotels, adding a new dimension to those districts, by extending activity throughout the day and into the evening, when before districts were active only during the day.

F Street NW in the 1940s, when there was a lot more daily activity on Downtown streets, which at that time had few competitors elsewhere in the region.
F Street NW, Washington, DC, 1940s
In the post 9-11 world, mixing uses between federal and non-federal within the same building footprint is likely impossible because of security concerns. So to enliven the corridor, more non-federal uses need to be added.

The general problems are that:
  • the street is too wide
  • most of the first floor spaces are office space and pedestrian-unfriendly
  • there is limited housing
  • the street is even emptier at night.
Housing is an important addition to "commercial districts" because to support retail and restaurants on the ground floor you need customers.  Residents support more retail and a broader range compared to office workers.

Typically office workers support a narrow range of retail (2 s.f. per person), mostly convenience, and a similarly narrow range of quick service restaurant and take out food--think Au Bon Pain or Subway (5 s.f. per person is the average).

Plus, federal workers tend to eat out less than the typical office worker--a recent study of workers in the Southwest district found that almost 65%  of federal workers bring their lunch to work most days.
FBI Building, Wikipedia photo
FBI Building, Wikipedia photo

Recent developments on the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor

1.  The Newseum opened in 2008 at 6th and Pennsyvlania Avenue NW, and that has increased activity on the street somewhat, especially because each day they post newspaper front pages from around the US and certain other countries.  But the museum, which charges, still has difficulty competing against the free museums on the National Mall.
Newspaper pages displayed in front of the Newseum.  Flickr photo by Josh.

2.  Bike lanes were installed in the middle of the street, in 2010.  In my opinion they don't work very well and if they had been installed on each side of the street in the right lane, it would have helped to reduce the perceived width of the street.  ("D.C. opens Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes," Washington Post)

3.  The Old Post Office building is being converted into a hotel by Donald Trump.  It had been a retail-office building but the retail failed--because of the other conditions present on the corridor and described above ("A Trump Makeover for Washington's Old Post Office," New York Times).  For the hotel to be successful, there will need to be more activity centers along the street.

4.  The FBI is going to be leaving the corridor and its space will be redeveloped, presumably in a mixed use fashion, and federal agency office space is unlikely to be a part of the program ("The FBI puzzle: The agency wants to move, but the numbers for a one-to-one swap don’t necessarily add up," Washington Business Journal).  However, we won't see the end result for about 10 years.  It will take 3-5 years to build a new campus for the FBI and for them to move, and another 3-5 years to redevelop the site.

Note that when the FBI gave tours (they stopped in 1999, even before 9/11, "Citing Threats, FBI Suspends Public Tours," New York Times), the tour made the FBI Building one of the top tourist destinations in the region.  On the other hand, tourists weren't frequenting the district more generally, and the retail they supported was very limited, a McDonalds and a souvenir shop.  The lesson here that developing a multi-faceted destination is difficult, that there is a fine line between visitation and economic development and touristification.

5.  Some Congressmen have pushed the idea to give the Federal Trade Commission building to the National Gallery of Art, by relocating the FTC to another space. ("House lawmaker claims federal agencies blocked efforts to relocate FTC," Washington Business Journal).

To achieve street activation goals, this idea of expanding the NGA needs to be explored further.  It would be expensive, but maybe Congress would sign off on the FTC remaining in the corridor, perhaps as part of a renewed FBI site, but in an upper story location in a mixed use building.

Other ideas for activating Pennsylvania Avenue

1.  In order to maximize activation, I would argue that Pennsylvania Avenue should be planned in coordination with the National Mall.  So my post on visitor management and the National Mall is relevant, "Parking under the National Mall should be part of an integrated approach to visitor services and management."

2.  Years ago I suggested that in the summer, museum hours for the Smithsonian Institution facilities and the National Gallery of Art should be extended and promoted.  They have been extended since I first wrote that ("Second Wednesdays on the National Mall?" and "Archives Redux") but not as late as I'd like.

And throughout the year, at least on one day per month, e.g., "Second Wednesdays," the Smithsonian Museums and the NGA should stay open till 9 or 10 pm.

3.  And in parallel, there should be an effort to work with the nearby cinemas (Landmark, Regal on 7th Street) during the week (not weekends) to have "dusk" matinee pricing to extend people's stay in the vicinity of Downtown.

4.  The Embassy of Canada should consider opening a cultural facility featuring the films and programming of the National Film Board of Canada ("Experimental film downtown").  A good model for comparison would be the Goethe Institut on 7th Street NW in the Gallery Place area.  The Institut is the cultural organization for Germany and they provide a wide variety of cultural programming.including films, lectures, workshops, and language training.

5.  The Smithsonian IMAX theater should be programmed to support later film showings, even midnite movies.

6.  And the National Archives should be better marketed and programmed as well.

7.  The newspaper front page program of the Newseum could be extended to the streetscape in front of the Embassy of Canada, featuring an expanded showing of newspapers from each of Canada's provinces, instead of the showing of one newspaper only (e.g., Montreal newspaper pages in French and English, Ottawa City, Quebec City, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver--has two daily newspapers, Toronto--has four daily newspapers, Halifax, London and Windsor, Ontario, Saskatoon, Victoria, etc.

GSA Resource

-- This publication, Achieving Great Federal Public Spaces, was produced by the Project for Public Spaces in association with the General Services Administration, the property management arm of the federal government.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Classic Towns suburban revitalization initiative, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

DVRPC is the "Metropolitan Planning Organization" for the Philadelphia Metropolitan area and it includes parts of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Classic Towns is a branded initiative focused on revitalization of suburban "classic" town centers, such as Media.

It's interesting that an MPO is using a branding and identity system (see "Best practice bicycle planning for suburban settings using the action planning method" and the discussion about what I call the "action planning" approach) to coordinate and market their efforts.

Last year, they published Revitalizing Suburban Downtown Retail Districts: Strategies and Best Practices, a study of successful suburban town commercial districts, where they analyzed those characteristics shared across the districts that were common to their success.  The recommendations are based on the study of 10 towns

  • The existence of a retail management entity
  • Wide sidewalks
  • High walkability
  • A low vacancy rate
  • Parking options
  • A civic or cultural anchor and
  • High traffic counts

DVRPC does a lot of great work and has a good publishing program.  They produced the Smart Transportation Guidebook, which I tout all the time (but it needs an update).

With regard to "commercial district revitalization," it doesn't matter so much whether you're dealing with a suburb or a city, because the unit of study is the commercial district.  While some factors differ between cities and suburbs, especially around transit and the mode by which people come to the district, the various reports and studies on revitalization are relevant regardless.

Urban neighborhood commercial districts are not like "Downtowns/the Central Business District" but more like smaller towns and have a lot to learn from suburban and small town revitalization efforts.

Sadly, in my experience urban "commercial district revitalization organizations" often have a chip on their shoulder with regard to what they might be able to learn from smaller places.

Note that there is a "Suburban Revitalization" section of resource links in the right sidebar.

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