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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Transport for London's "Healthy Streets" approach integrates place and aesthetics considerations alongside mobility

Dave Hill of the Guardian not only produces that newspaper's Bike Blog, he writes a column on the city (not unlike how Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star covers "City Hall" and city life there).

A January column ("The cave of wonders that is Travel in London report number nine") discusses the annual report on mobility published by Transport for London, the transportation agency for Greater London.

Travel in London is a massive volume covering all aspects of mobility. I have never seen a document quite like it published by another city (although Helsinki has a very interesting unit, the Department of Urban Facts, which publishes a wide variety of research on the city and region).

Chapter 5 of the document covers the city's "Healthy Streets" program, which looks to satisfy "place" characteristics of streets simultaneously with mobility goals focused on sustainable mobility.

The chapter references the report, Improving the health of Londoners: Transport action plan, which laid out the foundations of the initiative.  Their framework identifies 10 elements of a "healthy street":

  • Pedestrians from all walks of life
  • People choose to walk and cycle
  • Clean air
  • People feel safe
  • Not too noisy
  • Easy to cross
  • Shade and shelter
  • Places to stop
  • Things to see and do
  • People feel relaxed

The concept was developed by Lucy Saunders, a public health consultant working for the London Government and the transport agency.  She gave a presentation to the Camden Cyclists organization last October, which was written up on the organization's blog.  Her presentation has some awesome images illustrating the concepts.

The Healthy Streets model is an important advance that builds (I don't know if this work was referenced) on the pathbreaking studies by Donald Appleyard in the 1970s on the impact of traffic and what we might call the sociability of streets.

Appleyard found that the more traffic on a street, the fewer connections between and interactions with neighbors both on the same side of the street and across the street.

Ms. Saunders/TfL are developing a variety of measures and evaluating streets across London to determine how effectively the streets are at satisfying place and mobility characteristics, and chapter 5 of the report discusses their progress.

Street typology balancing mobility and place characteristics
The HEAT Measurement tool

There is no question that this approach complements and extends my "Signature Streets" concept, which in turn synthesizes and builds on the work of many others.  See "Town-city anagement: We are all asset managers now," for a more detailed discussion of that concept.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tricky issues: the zoning case of the mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan

The City of Sterling Heights, Michigan is in the news ("Sterling Heights mosque deal cheered as 'win for religious liberty'," Detroit Free Press) because it just settled a case where a mosque had been denied an application to create a church on a lot zoned residential.

I can't claim to know the ins and outs of their zoning classifications, but I do know that in many cities, like DC, a church usually is a standard "matter of right" exception within zoning in that churches are allowed to be built across residential zones with few limitations.

Debbie Rosi, center, leads a protest of the construction of a mosque on 15 Mile Road in Sterling Heights, Michigan. They said they were concerned about traffic congestion and lowered property values.  Photo: John M. Galloway, Detroit News.

So it's hard to say if community opposition is because it was a mosque--feeding narratives about anti-Islam sentiments, and which has come up in other zoning matters elsewhere across the country, even in Northern Virginia ("In battle over proposed Prince William, some see Islamophobia" and "A smokescreen for bigotry: Disguising anti-Muslim bias with land use objections," Washington Post)--or because it is a residentially-zoned lot, in a community where religious uses aren't "matter of right."

The only way to answer the question is whether or not the community would have opposed a similar application by a religious institution practicing a Judeo-Christian faith (cf. "Zoning and religion," 2010).  According to the DFP article, the area is home to a Chaldean Christian community, which has expressed some opposition.

Photo: Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press.

I will say that I do believe that there should be restrictions on churches in terms of eliminating "blanket" matter of right use within residential zones.

Instead of blanket approval, I think that church uses should be zoned in a manner where they are placed on arterials and collector streets, rather than neighborhood streets, so that traffic impacts can be mitigated.

On that basis, the Mosque is proposed for 15 Mile Road, a major arterial that should have few problems in terms of accommodating additional traffic.

Basically, the point is that this would be a matter of right use, but with conditions.

Another condition would be a requirement to practice transportation demand management planning, and to discourage "mothballing" of properties ("Losing my religion: Shiloh Baptist Church and Neighborhood Destabilization," 2005) and to discourage the conversion of other residential properties to parking.

Traffic congestion is one of the points raised by opponents to the mosque.

Yesterday, the Post had an article, "A new crop of DC churches has discovered the secret of appealing to millennials," about trends in urban church practice, although I would say that my 2012 piece, "Sunday morning: Churches, religion, community and change," is far superior.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A design idea for public outdoor swimming pools

Photo by Mike Lear.

In keeping with the theme of the aesthetic quality of civic architecture, I was skimming a Financial Times article on "interior design" ("The artists transforming the face of interior design") and the design of houses for the well off, when I saw a photo of work by Richard Woods, to wit a swimming pool done with bold tile forms.

Apparently Woods' medium is surfaces and he is known for these kinds of tile patterns ("How patterns and stencils can transform floors into works of art," FT).

Why not design and build a public pool similarly?

... Like the beach street and sidewalk design patterns of Ricardo Burle Marx.

If you explore the Richard Woods Studio website, you'll come across many other commissions that are public art oriented.

Labels: , ,

Hyattsville traffic signal box public art contest: Vote through March 24th

While traffic signal boxes can function equal well as a backdrop for:

Traffic safety messages ("Traffic safety messages on traffic signal boxes (Florida Department of Transportation)")

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Presentation of cultural history (Eugene, Oregon has a project called "History Here" and Calgary too, the Beltline Community Signal Box Wrap Program)

Historic preservation/history related traffic signal box wraps, Calgary

or bulletin boards, formally or informally, most often for protest

most frequently they are used for public art projects.

Notions Capital calls our attention to the current Traffic Box Art Wraps project in Hyattsville, coordinated by the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation.  Voting to select the final designs continues through March 24th.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

LOL Quote of the Day: fuel prices have little effect on gas consumption (Letter to the editor of the New York Times)

Yesterday's New York Times has a set of letters to the editor ("Conservatives' Plan for a Carbon Tax") on the carbon tax proposal offered by a number of Republican luminaries calling themselves the Climate Leadership Council ("Carbon Tax- Not Perfect, But Good Enough," Forbes Magazine).

One, by Scott Edwards, co-director of the Food and Water Justice Program at the advocacy group, Food and Water Watch, made me laugh good and hard:
It is promising to see conservatives finally suggesting ways to protect our planet from the effects of climate change. But their proposed solution of a carbon tax is built on a false premise: that economic pressure will attach itself to fossil fuels as readily as it does to some other consumer products.

For example, their presumption ignores the fact — as documented by the Energy Information Administration and experienced by anyone who must drive regularly regardless of cost — that fuel prices have little effect on gas consumption. This is partly why a carbon tax in British Columbia in 2008 has failed to reduce carbon emissions.

Carbon tax schemes are supported by Democrats, Republicans and even oil and gas giants like Exxon Mobil because they avoid stricter environmental regulation and allow for corporate business as usual. Only reining in the extraction of fossil fuels at their source — keeping fossil fuels in the ground — will limit greenhouse gas emissions and looming climate catastrophe.
It should be obvious why I laughed.

How amazing is it that under the Trump Administration, the Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, former Chairman of ExxonMobil?

Because the U.S. is a major producer of oil ("The Petro States of America," Businessweek; The petrostate of America," Economist), its land use and transportation planning paradigm promotes the consumption of gasoline.

To facilitate this, it means keeping the cost of gasoline relatively low.

In keeping with the promotion of oil consumption, for 70+ years, US land use and transportation policy has prioritized "sprawl," the form of land use that requires an automobile to get around.

After so many decades of developing the built environment in a manner that requires a car, of course in the short term--which over the course of 70 years can be a minimum of a decade--gas price increases of a "medium" amount won't change consumption that much, because it is very difficult to change the built environment in ways that support a reduction in gasoline use.

And in fact, on an inflation-adjusted basis, gas prices are still pretty cheap--the 30 cents/gallon I remember from just before "the gas crisis" would be $1.75 today.

Even if on the margins, price rises do lead to increased transit use ("Lower Gas Prices Test Transit Ridership Models," Wall Street Journal) and a shift from larger to smaller automobiles, with improved efficiency ("better gas mileage").

These days, as gas prices have declined, the US auto industry is selling a higher proportion of SUVs and larger automobiles ("Low gas prices boost SUV and pickup sales," CNN).

On the other hand, as discussed in David Owen's book Green Metropolis and the extensive writings by Jamie Kenworthy and Peter Newman (e.g., "Australian Peter Newman: To make a sustainable city, boost rail and reduce driving," Portland Oregonian), it is possible to create a different kind of land use and transportation planning paradigm.

In some US and Canadian legacy cities, a robust transit network and high density development means that many households aren't automobile-dependent and per capita energy consumption is significantly lower than the national average.

-- "Earth Day," 2015

The inflection point on the price of gasoline between North America--Canada is also a major energy producer--and Europe came with the "Gas Crisis" of 1973, when Saudi Arabia expropriated its oil industry and raised prices.

The US did respond to the change in oil pricing by promoting energy efficiency, in many elements of the economy, including cars, but it didn't change the land use planning paradigm, nor did the Federal Government institute high excise taxes on gasoline.

So while energy efficiency has improved for cars, appliances, trucks, manufacturing, etc., overall use has risen, partly because of the rise in population, but also because of the continued dominance of an automobile-dependent land use and transportation planning paradigm.

Cost of owning a car in Denmark and the Netherlands
The cost to own a car both to purchase and to operate on an annual basis is significantly higher in most European countries than it is in the US.  Slide from a presentation on car taxes in the Netherlands

By comparison, in DC a 6% sales tax is applied, as well as an additional purchase excise tax of 6-8% depending on car weight, and a small registration fee.  The sales and excise taxes on a  car costing $50,000 would be as little as $6,000--less than 1/3 the cost compared to the Netherlands and about 20% of the cost in Denmark. 

Europe is the opposite.

Out of a desire to increase their political and economic resiliency, by contrast most European countries responded to the quantum change in the price of oil by choosing to prioritize policies, practice, and investments that reduced dependence on oil.

That meant shifting to sustainable mobility when possible and to emphasize this change in policy, most of these countries significantly raised the price of gasoline, which by contrast to today's price in the U.S. of say $2.50/gallon, in Denmark, today, the price is $5.54.  And such pricing has been the norm for decades.

These countries also significantly raised the excise tax on a car purchase, equal to as much as 100% of the cost of the car, and made it much more expensive and difficult to qualify for a driver's license.

In Europe, there is no question that "fuel prices have had a big effect on gas consumption."

That's why diesel engines are popular there--because they get significantly better gas mileage, but at a severe cost to air quality.  It's why electric trucks are competitive with diesel engines, because the excise tax on fuel means that despite the higher cost of an electric motor, the overall cost is still cheaper.  It's why transit networks in many European cities are deep and wide.  It's why when people buy cars, they buy smaller ones rather than bigger ones.  It's why they try to live close to work, and in denser quarters.  Etc.

Is a carbon tax enough to change long term policy that prioritizes automobility?  In North America, the truth is that a $40 tax per ton of carbon is probably not enough to shift the land use and transportation planning paradigm towards the kind of built environment and transportation system that isn't reliant on gasoline and the automobile.

That's why Food and Water Watch can say that British Columbia's carbon tax isn't having much effect--they are one province out of many in Canada, and policies like these need to be coordinated at a very large scale, maybe even larger than the nation--at the scale of the continent.

If you want to shift energy and land use development policy and practice, raise the price of gasoline, in steps, to levels comparable to those in Europe.  Or do both.  But as long as gasoline prices stay low, it is too difficult to shift behavior and practice in a structural fashion.

Instead, change comes very slowly at the household, community (many cities and counties have sustainability plans), and state/province scale, not being coordinated in a comprehensive fashion at the scale of a state, nation, or continent.

-- "Quote of the day: "it isn't the place of the government to push people out of their cars and into alternative transportation"," 2015

Labels: , , , , , ,

VISIONDC (Vision DC) Arts and Urban Innovation Summit, Monday April 24th

From email:

CulturalDC, the arts advocacy and development group, is launching VISIONDC, a summit-conference on Arts and Urban Innovation.  The program is posted at the conferenece website, and early bird pricing is in effect for tickets through March 24th.  It will be held at the Arena Stage/The Mead Center for American Theater in Southwest DC.

VISIONDC is designed to inspire fresh ideas about artspace and community development in Washington. Artists, technological visionaries, cultural partners, business and civic leaders will assemble for a full day of energetic conversation and creativity.  Highlights include:
  • Some of DC's hottest artists: Sheldon Scott, Street Light Circus, Linda Hesh
  • Community powerhouses: Jamie Bennett, ArtPlace America; Andy Shallal, Busboys & Poets; Phillipa Hughes, Pink Line Project
  • National Innovators in Development: Isabel Castilla, The High Line NYC; Vicki Davis, Urban Atlantic; Scott Kratz, 11th St Bridge Park
  • ART TANK, a real-time funding commitment to public art installations by philanthropists and developers

I have written extensively on the topic of arts and culture-based revitalization for years, spurred in part by gaps in DC's "cultural offer," the failure to develop a local arts and culture ecosystem as opposed to being reliant on the federal government as the primary provider of arts and culture facilities and programming, and the weakness in local cultural planning (although DC is currently engaged in the creation of a Arts and Culture Master Plan.

Some of these writings include:

-- "Art, culture districts, and revitalization," 2009 (this was the basis of a presentation I made at the national conference of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas)
-- "BTMFBA [Buy the %^& Building Already: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016
-- "When BTMFBA isn't enough: keeping civic assets public through cy pres review," 2016
-- "The song remains the same: DC's continued failures in cultural planning as evidenced by failures with Bohemian Caverns, Howard Theatre, Union Arts, Takoma Theatre...," 2016  (this extends the arguments discussed in "Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king", 2007, and earlier pieces)
-- "Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?," 2016
-- "Transit stations as an element of civic architecture," 2016 (about the aesthetic elements of infrastructure)
-- "Musings on community building and revitalization," 2007
-- "Arts-based revitalization, community building, network strengthening, commodification, and Artomatic," 2009
-- "Arts vs. arts-plus for commercial district revitalization," 2008

And going beyond thinking about arts districts and instead to "creative quarters," is discussed in the above-cited piece, "The song remains the same..."

The range and astuteness of those writings is why the European Union National Institutes of Culture Washington Chapter hired me in 2013 to write about culture-based revitalization in 8 European cities as part of a project they were doing in Baltimore. (Even though at that point, I had never been to Europe.)

I learned even more as a result, was introduced to an array of exemplary programs and certain academic writings of which I had been unaware (e.g., the basic argument in "Art, culture districts, and revitalization" are based on the work of John Montgomery). Those lessons and resulting recommendations are summarized in this piece:

-- "Richard Layman reflects on EU in Baltimore," 2014.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Documentary on "transformation of public housing": "70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green," premiering tonight on the WORLD Channel

World Channel is a programming service produced by WGBH, the Public Broadcasting Station in Boston, and is available in many television markets across the country, broadcast on subsidiary HDTV channels (with digital television broadcasting, each station has a main channel, and secondary channels).

Unfortunately, the World Channel isn't available in the DC-MD-Northern VA area, but it is available in many markets, and online.

(WRT the value of access to such programming, see "Culture planning at the metropolitan scale should include funding for "local" documentary film making" and the section on community media in this post, "Voting vs. civic participation | elections vs. governance.")

America ReFramed is the channel's premier documentary series and tonight, at 8 pm, is the premiere of "70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green,"by Ronit Bezalei.  From the press release:
Filmed over two decades [the program] is a remarkable 20-year look at the Cabrini Green redevelopment process, starting int he mid-'90's as the demolitions begin. Concerns quickly arise over the implementation of the Plan for Transformation and the lack of input afforded to existing residents. The community fights back; they file lawsuits, march and rally. Yet many families wonder if the new housing will accommodate the old residents, or if they will be forced to find affordable housing elsewhere.
Later today I will post a review. But I didn't want that delay to forego advanced notice about tonight's broadcast and the need to plan your day.

The documentary is important because it illustrates the many (unintended?) consequences of the "public housing transformation" program dating to the mid 1990s and the Clinton Administration's HOPEVI program, which gave money to housing authorities to rebuild projects.

Not only did these redevelopments make the housing projects smaller, it incorporated market rate housing into the developments, but at the expense of the number of units made available to lower income households.

Plus, while a majority of residents were made the promise that they could return many did not.  And in the interim, the destruction of these developments and the dispersal of the residents had negative impacts on the people and sometimes, severe consequences for the broader community.

In terms of people, they lost their neighborhoods and their social networks and "social and community capital," or what Logan and Molotch in Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of Place, called "the use values of place."  People of limited means are far more reliant on use value than people with money, who can buy what they need.

While not citing Urban Fortunes, in the widely acclaimed Root Shock, Doctor Mindy Thompson Fullilove makes the same kinds of arguments on the highly negative impact on individuals, their social networks, and communities as a result of urban renewal.

Types of Use Values*

Daily Round: The place of residence is a focal point for the wider routine in which one's concrete daily needs are satisfied.

Informal Support Networks: Place of residence is the potential support of an information network of people who provide life-sustaining products and services.

Security and Trust: A neighborhood also provides a sense of physical and psychic security that comes with a familiar and dependable environment.

Identity: A neighborhood provides its residents with an important source of identity, both for themselves and for others. Neighborhoods offer a resident not only spatial demarcations but social demarcations as well.

Agglomeration Benefits: A shared interest in overlapping use values (identity, security, and so on) in a single area is a useful way to define neighborhood.

Ethnicity: Not infrequently, these benefits are encapsulated in a shared enthnicity... When this occurs, ethnicity serves as a summary characterization of all the overlapping benefits of neighborhood life.

(* From chapter four of Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of Place.)

Community effects.  But in an effect not widely studied, there were sometimes significantly negative community effects. For example, the rise in crime from the late 1990s and the economic problems of the hospital system in Prince George's County, Maryland can in part be attributed to systematic "transformation" of public housing in DC's East of the River neighborhoods, which forced many of these residents out of the city--many relocated to Prince George's County.

The now sadly defunct Suburban Gazette newspapers published a brilliant piece in 2003 about this, called "Shouldering the Burden."

Similarly, the violent crime epidemic in Chicago--which is an outlier generally because for most major cities over the last decade crime has dropped--probably is in part attributable to the massive dislocation of residents and communities that has resulted from the changes to the city's public housing communities, leading to battles over turf much more violent than the kinds of disputes discussed by Elijah Anderson in Streetwise and Code of the Street.

See the 2005 blog entry, "In a rising real estate tide, some communities get swamped."

Labels: , , , , , ,

Winners of Capitol Hill BID Banner Contest

Reprinted with permission from the Capitol Hill Corner blog by Larry Janezich.

The Adams Avenue Main Street/business improvement district in San Diego has done this for many, many years.  Back around 2002-2003, I suggested that the H Street Main Street program consider this, but I left the Board in 2004.

This is a separate project by the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District.

Winners of Capitol Hill BID Banner Contest

“Chilly Day at Eastern Market” – by Linda Norton
“Chilly Day at Eastern Market” – by Linda Norton
“Effervescence Hill” – by Rindy O’Brien and Elizabeth Eby
“Effervescence Hill” – by Rindy O’Brien and Elizabeth Eby
"Hill Icons” – by Tara Hamilton
“Hill Icons” – by Tara Hamilton
"Capitol Hill in Living Color” – by Kay Fuller
“Capitol Hill in Living Color” – by Kay Fuller
The  Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) held an unveiling ceremony February 2nd at the Eastern Market Metro Plaza.  Four winners (seated) from left to right, Linda Norton, Tara Hamilton, Elizabeth Eby, and Kay Fuller.  At left, BID President Patty Brosmer.
The Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) held an unveiling ceremony February 2nd at the Eastern Market Metro Plaza. Four winners (seated) from left to right, Linda Norton, Tara Hamilton, Elizabeth Eby, and Kay Fuller. At left, BID President Patty Brosmer.   Photo:  Jeff Fletcher
Winners of the Capitol Hill BID Banner Contest
by Larry Janezich
In October of 2016, the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) and the Capitol Hill Art League (CHAL) collaborated on a competition to give artists a unique opportunity to celebrate our community through art.
The theme for the contest was “It’s all here on the Hill!” The winning designs, submitted by Capitol Hill Art League artists.
The winning designs are:
“Capitol Hill in Living Color” – by Kay Fuller
“Hill Icons” – by Tara Hamilton
“Chilly Day at Eastern Market” – by Linda Norton
“Effervescence Hill” – by Rindy O’Brien and Elizabeth Eby
The new banners were unveiled on Thursday, February 2nd in a ceremony at the Eastern Market Metro Plaza.

A silent auction for the original art work will be held at the BID’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, February 28, 8:00am – 10:00am, at Hill Center.  The proceeds will be split between the artists and the BID’s “Ready, Willing & Working” program.

Labels: ,

Custom decorative concrete developed by Aggregate Industries brings hockey imagery to life in sidewalk and square pavements at the Boston Bruins practice facility (Warrior Ice Arena)

1. Aggregate Industries is a multi-site concrete manufacturer. One of their plants is on Fort Totten Drive NE in Washington, DC, on the west of the CSX Metropolitan Branch railroad/eastern leg of the Metrorail Red Line.

2. I believe in utilizing opportunities for urban design treatments, public art, and aesthetics presented by "transportation infrastructure," in this case concrete for sidewalks and plazas, to promote placemaking and atractive public spaces. See "Ricardo Burle Marx streetscape treatments."

3.  WRT the project discussed below, the practice facility for the Boston Bruins hockey team, the Warrior Ice Arena ("Bruins unveil dazzling Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton," Boston Globe), is part of a mixed use development called Boston Landing in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston.

Boston Landing will include a new MBTA commuter rail station, office and residential buildings, and retail.  The Ice Arena complex includes other athletic facilities including a gym, indoor track, and an outdoor park. The Boston Celtics basketball team will also be building their practice facility in the development ("Celtics break ground on new practice facility," BG).

The athletic shoe manufacturer New Balance (also a sponsor of the Hubway Bicycle Sharing system) has their headquarters at Boston Landing ("New Balance opens new world headquarters at Boston Landing," BG).  The development agreement includes NB's title sponsorship of the arena, and partial funding for the rail station.  They've also opened a flagship/concept store featuring their products.

From a press release from Aggregate Industries and LafargeHolcim:

When the Warrior Ice Arena was built, the architect wanted to bring the imagery of hockey from the interior to the exterior of the complex. With a landmark 68-foot-high hockey stick, the new 75,000-square-foot practice complex of the Boston Bruins hockey team includes an ice rink with seating for 660 fans, a lobby featuring displays of Bruins accomplishments, a modern locker suite and team lounge and expansive training and weight rooms. Aggregate Industries US (AIUS), a subsidiary of LafargeHolcim Ltd., designed and developed the product that allowed the vision to come to life.

To achieve the aesthetic and LEED-certification goals of the project, AIUS created custom-designed mixes of its Artevia® brand of decorative concretes that contained unique colors, aggregates and textures, as well as treatments to reduce the urban heat island effect.

The Warrior Ice Arena hardscape was awarded the Scofield Decorative Concrete Award during the 2017 World of Concrete show in Las Vegas, Nevada for its creative and sustainable sidewalks and courtyards.

“We’re proud to have played a part of this project which, for Boston, is closely tied to our passion for sports,” said René Marais, Ready Mix sales manager for the Northeast Region of Aggregate Industries US. “The hockey imagery concepts for the arena’s main entrance were very detailed and creative. For example, the curvature lines by the hockey stick reflect the lines a player makes when he cuts hard on the ice, and the additional exposed white stones illustrate ice shavings kicked over by the skating blade.”

To achieve the design goals for the hardscape, AIUS developed Artevia® Color and Artevia® Exposed samples with white and gray cement. The specialized concrete mix incorporated an integral coloring admixture from L. M. Scofield Company to create vibrant solar-reflective colors that conform to LEED 2009 requirements for reducing the urban heat island effect.

This cool pavement technology helps keep concrete temperatures lower and provides a high solar reflective index value that qualifies the Warrior Ice Arena for a credit under the sustainable sites section of LEED.

AIUS also collaborated with Massachusetts-based Triad Associates, Inc. to produce mockup panels to ensure alignment with the design the customer intended. Due to uniform aesthetics and consistency, the finished decorative hardscape included Artevia® Color and Artevia® Exposed aggregate concretes, which combined design flexibility and strong visual appeal with low maintenance and durability. The Artevia® Color concrete, with onyx black and custom gray alternating strips, was placed at street level, while the Artevia® Exposed concrete, with colored stones and glass, was used for the elevated 2,000-square-foot courtyard.

“The vibrant color and textured effects of our Artevia® concrete enabled the architects to create visually stimulating and architecturally exceptional hardscape that is built to last,” commented Marais.

“All this landscaping creativity helps make the Warrior Ice Arena a unique, desirable and a pleasant place to visit and watch Boston Bruins hockey.”

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, February 20, 2017

Today entrance to all US National Parks is free

Each year, the US National Park Service has free entrance days.  One of those days already past is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday (January 18th).

Another of those days is the President's Day National Holiday (February 20th).

Other free entrance days later in the year are:

  • April 15-16 & 22-23, 2017 — Weekends of National Park Week
  • August 25, 2017 — National Park Service Birthday
  • September 30, 2017 — National Public Lands Day
  • November 11-12, 2017 — Veterans Day Weekend
Of course, a number of National Park Service facilities are always free.

Issues concerning National Parks

The Find Your Park promotion and marketing campaign was launched by the National Park Service to celebrate its 100th anniversary in honor of its formal founding in 1916.

The Utah Office of Tourism, believing that the National Park Service wasn't adequately marketing the national parks in the state has done their own marketing program, called The Mighty Five, resulting in a significant rise is attendance, maybe even to a detriment ("The mighty wait at The Mighty Five (Utah's national parks)," Salt Lake Deseret News; "In the Footsteps of Many: Collaboration is Key to Preserving the National Park Experience," EDR blog, University of Utah).

The National Park Service has a severe maintenance backlog ("National Park Service delayed $11 billion in maintenance," Washington Post).

In DC, underfunding of NPS facilities is complicated by the tendentious relationship between Congress and "Washington."  The average Congressperson would rather fund facilities in their home districts or states, rather than in the National Capital.

WRT management of the National Mall see:

Separately, many Members of Congress have antipathy towards federal ownership of land in their states ("2 House GOP rules change will make it easier to sell off federal land," "Congress’s latest target for reversal: An Obama attempt to modernize how we manage public lands," Washington Post; "Dozens oppose resolution to release wilderness study areas," Bozeman Daily Chronicle).

Although there are legitimate issues with local vs. federal interests in managing public lands and parks:

Past blog entries:
-- "Park service land and planning woes: local vs. federal," 2011
-- "A gap in planning across agencies: Prioritizing park access for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users compared to motor vehicle access," 2015
-- "Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes," 2013

The Outdoor Industry Association is moving their national conference from Salt Lake City to protest the campaign by Utah legislators at the state and federal levels to shift nationally-owned public lands to the state ("Largest outdoor gear show abandons Salt Lake City after 20 years," Washington Post).

Labels: ,

Tampa Bay Times investigative report on transit in the Tampa-St. Petersburg Metropolitan Area

In the US, outside of the major cities, transit is seen as a social service, provided to people of limited means, people who can't afford to own a car.

On the other hand, in major cities, especially "older" center cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, transit is not only a social service, it is a transportation demand satisfier and enabler of economic growth, success, and density. (Subway systems in Atlanta, the San Francisco Bay [BART], and Washington date to the 1970s, and were developed out of a different set of conditions, more focused on dealing with sprawl, whereas the original transit systems were designed to enable mobility and ease congestion in very densely populated places.)

(It is density that enables efficient exchange, and facilitating exchange is why cities exist, and the cities with more exchange do better than those with less exchange, e.g., Detroit vs. Boston.)

Tampa-St. Petersburg is a Top 20 Metro in terms of population, but it significantly lags its peer metros in terms of transit provision and efficiency.

Over the past few years there have been a number of funding referenda, held separately, in Hillsborough (Tampa) and Pinellas (St. Petersburg, Clearwater) Counties, to fund transit expansion, but none have been successful.

By contrast, metropolitan areas such as Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Seattle have been developing extensive light rail systems.

tampa-teco-streetcarsAnd while Tampa has a heritage streetcar operation of limited utility as it is tourist focused rather than mobility focused, cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Washington have been adding streetcars to their mobility mix, while more recently Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Tucson have launched streetcar systems, which may be a precursor to a greater commitment to rail transit.

The Tampa Bay Times (which in the past couple years has also done amazing investigations of the provenance of food sold at farmers markets as well as the economic cost to local jurisdictions from dealing with crime at area Walmart stores) has just published an investigation of the state of transit in the Tampa Bay area, including comparing Tampa Bay to the nation's 20 largest metropolitan areas.

-- "A long way to go: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why"

The Howard Franklin Bridge connects Tampa and St. Petersburg across Tampa Bay.  TBT photo by Skip O'Rourke.

From the article:
  • Tampa Bay spends far less on transit each year than any other major metro area. It is the only top-20 metro region to spend less than $213 million annually. Its $141 million operating budget is on par with Bridgeport, Conn., and Buffalo, N.Y., each of which have 1.5 million fewer people.  
  • County leaders in Hillsborough and Pinellas have drawn up more than a dozen plans to close the gap — then scrapped almost every one.
  • While action in Tampa Bay stalled, other similar-sized cities began treating their limited public transportation infrastructure as a crisis. Their systems improved while Tampa Bay’s stagnated.
Interestingly, the article focuses on the failure of transit there in terms of social services:
In other American cities, public transportation helps connect the working poor to jobs, schools, shopping and health care. That social safety net barely exists here — forcing many to plan huge swaths of their lives around the bus schedule.
rather than transit as a mobility enabler with multiple positive impacts, including easing congestion, enabling business attraction, and shaping residential choice decisions.

Comparisons from the article:
Job statistics are only one indicator of how little the system does.

Almost every other top-20 metro area has at least 600 busses. Tampa Bay has the fewest, about 360.

San Diego and Minneapolis/St. Paul are roughly the same size as Tampa Bay, but each had at least three times the ridership in 2015.

Spending per capita is half of San Antonio’s, a third of Denver’s and a quarter of Pittsburgh’s. At $57 per person, it’s comparable to Sheboygan, Wisc., and Macon, Ga.

This isn’t just because Tampa Bay is the only system without a rail line. Denver, Pittsburgh and Baltimore spend twice as much on bus alone as Tampa Bay, despite being similar sizes. Austin and Milwaukee each have a million fewer people and spend $10 million to $20 million more a year on bus service.
The problem with trying to pass transit initiatives in areas that are dominated by automobility is that they have limited experience with transit, and certainly can't ever see the possibility of transit as a preferred choice over automobility or as an economic development tool.  That's despite the fact that most people in the Tampa Bay area must have a passing familiarity with the Ybor City streetcar.

From the article:
Transit critics say leaders are smart not to spend more because Tampa Bay is too big and too spread out for transit to ever be successful.

“We don’t have the density,” said Karen Jaroch, HART’s vice chair. “It just doesn’t make sense to make those sorts of investments here.”

But a University of Utah study found that 11 other metro areas, including Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Phoenix and Louisville, Ky., all rank worse than Tampa Bay when combining density, land use and sprawl — and all have transit networks that rank above Tampa Bay’s.
By contrast, as the recent PBS American Experience documentary "The Race Underground" showed in its presentation about Boston's being the first American city to build a subway, transit service, and underground service in particular areas where the business case can be made, can be the best way to get around, especially in the densest areas.

Rightly, the Times story attributes lagging transit in Tampa-St. Petersburg to the choices made by the region's leaders and stakeholders. From the article:
Not long ago, many car-loving major cities faced the problems Tampa Bay does today. But starting in the ’90s, other regions began making different choices.

Denver’s leaders first asked voters to approve a sales tax for transportation in 1997. They voted it down — but local leaders put it back on the ballot seven years later and it passed. When a 12-mile light rail line finally opened in 2013, downtown development boomed. The city now has the 14th highest transit ridership in the country. ...

Phoenix and Tampa Bay faced many of the same challenges in the mid ’90s. Both Arizona and Florida are small-government states with limited transit funding. Both struggle with car cultures and swaths of sprawl, though Phoenix’s is much worse, ranking 14 spots behind Tampa Bay in density among the top 50 metro areas.

In 1995, Phoenix’s bus system ranked 24th in ridership nationwide. Tampa Bay was 28th. Over the next decade, both regions developed and voted on plans to substantially expand bus routes and to build light rail. Then Phoenix’s passed, and Tampa Bay’s didn’t.

Phoenix’s first 20-mile light rail line opened in 2008. Within eight years, the system expanded six miles and plans were made to open two more spurs and launch a modern streetcar. Ridership reached 54,000 weekday riders by April 2016 — a number it wasn’t projected to hit until 2020 or after.

By 2014, Phoenix’s bus ridership rose to 18th in the nation. Tampa Bay’s hardly moved, bumping up two spots to 26.
The end of the article quotes people questioning the value of transit, and of course the majority of comments are anti-transit as well.

-- "Quote of the day: rail transit is antiquated, like delivering a bucket of ice to Congressional offices," 2015 (about Phoenix)
-- "Richmond Virginia area transit is deficient," 2014
-- "What to do transit-wise in Baltimore since the Red Line light rail program has been cancelled," 2015
-- "Maybe the Purple Line light rail project in Suburban Maryland is a lot bigger deal than is recognized," 2016

Note that my experience with DC, despite the current failures of the transit system, communicate very strongly the value of transit. Without subway service in the city, in all likelihood the City of Washington would be more like Baltimore vis-a-vis the suburbs ("Transit planning in Baltimore").

People wouldn't have chosen to live in the city, the city wouldn't be adding population, and outside of the federal government agencies based here, likely commercial activity would have long since relocated to the suburbs.
food guide for AOM in NoMa. Red dot is AOM
The NoMA transit station is the red dot.  It was expected to facilitate improvement west (to the left), but is equally facilitating improvement on the east side (to the right), north of Florida Avenue (Union Market District) as well as south of Florida Avenue (H Street neighborhood).  

Witnessing the impact of the infill station, now called NoMA-Gallaudet University, on the attractiveness of the H Street neighborhood and as a significant accelerator of neighborhood revitalization--while it was expected to support the NoMA district west of the Union Station railyard, it was little anticipated that it would make living north of H Street an attractive choice, driving improvement forward--turned me towards transportation planning and away from neighborhood and commercial district revitalization planning, because I realized that when the right investments are made, transportation infrastructure has the best and fastest return on investment for "neighborhood revitalization."

Basically, most all of the neighborhoods served by high quality transit--Metrorail stations--and "short distances" (no more than 5-6 miles from the core) have experienced significant revitalization and improvement, while the areas lacking those characteristics still languish.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What people don't get about the DC housing market: supply is much less than demand, so prices keep rising (a/k/a basic economics)

The Washington City Paper's daily e-letter calls our attention to the Mark Lee column in the Washington Blade, "Is D.C. destined to be the domain of the well-to-do?"

The answer is "Yes."

Apparently, last fall I wrote a similar "blog entry in response to an article in The Atlantic, titled "Will D.C.’s Housing Ever Be Affordable Again?" My answer was no, but with a more detailed analysis than the one below.  The fact that so many people write similar articles is an indicator of the need to move from lament to solutions.

Also see "Canada's Housing Crisis: Twenty-Two Solutions" from The Practical Utopian blog.
1.  For historical reasons, when legacy cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington were built out during the primary period of growth, pre-1920 especially, in comparison, DC had much less population therefore much smaller buildings were constructed.  This has major consequences more than a century later.

A tenement building in Manhattan can house multiple families, while the same amount of space for two tenements in Manhattan would cover three small two-story rowhouses in DC.

2.  For a long time that wasn't a big deal, because demand was commensurate with the inventory--even less than the available inventory.

3.  But finally around 2000-2005, the trends favoring urban living finally hit critical mass, and urban living became appealing to many more segments of the housing market.

Now having three story apartment buildings from the 1920s instead of six-story tenements, small rowhouses instead of big rowhouses split up into apartments, building most rowhouses without English basement apartments, medium sized apartment buildings (four to six stories) instead of larger, elimination of alley dwellings and restrictions on constructing carriage houses on the back of properties, etc., means that the available inventory of rental and owner-occupied housing is significantly smaller than the demand.

These DC rowhouses are larger than the typical two-story rowhouse constructed before 1914 because they were built with basement apartments. (Google photo).

That's why prices keep rising.

4.  Because of DC's limited housing stock, even small marginal increases in demand, led and lead to significant price appreciation.

5.  And each new addition to supply isn't enough to meet the latent demand, so housing prices continue to rise regardless (plus the fact that new housing, constructed at current prices, is always priced at the top of the market).

6.  Because of DC's limited housing stock, people wanting to live in the city were driven to consider neighborhoods (H Street, Trinidad, Petworth, Shaw) that they weren't originally willing to consider, because they were priced out of more popular neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown, extending price appreciation and demand outward.
East Ohio Street, Pittsburgh
This grouping of mixed commercial and residentially-used buildings on East Ohio Street in Pittsburgh are far larger than the buildings typically constructed in DC's commercial corridors outside of Downtown, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle.  It's rare for there to be a 3- or 4-story building in a DC neighborhood commercial district constructed before 1940.

This leads to housing appreciation in neighborhoods that may have remained "affordable," had there been more housing options available in those neighborhoods more highly preferenced.

I wrote a few years ago in "Exogenous market forces impact DC's housing market," about how because more neighborhoods in DC have been integrated into the residential housing market "at the metropolitan scale," people shouldn't be considering solely within DC criteria and characteristics shaping neighborhood and housing attractiveness and pricing.

That's still the case.

I haven't seriously delved into the list of housing priorities created by a group of business and housing advocacy interests, touted in posts in Greater Greater Washington ("Diverse groups agree: DC needs more housing and more affordable housing now" and "Meet the housing demand: A priority for DC housing").

My initial reaction is that of course housing prices are going to continue to escalate and people of lesser means are going to be pushed out of the city, because regardless of good intentions, most residents seem to oppose the kinds of development measures that would take the edge off (but not eliminate) the ongoing upward repricing of DC's housing stock in most neighborhoods west of the Anacostia River, and increasingly in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

In short, in capitalism, people with more money bid up and acquire scarce resources ("Low income, high income, the market and the right to the city").

In DC, high quality housing and neighborhoods ("The eight components of housing value") are scarce resources. So people with less money are not equipped to compete for attractive housing, even with extranormal assistance.

But there are ways to take the edge off. This is what I wrote (edited and somewhat expanded) on the first GGW post:

I have been calling for a real housing plan for at least 10 years. My biggest lesson from the past 16 years of change in the city is that not being armed with good plans and vision at the outset of change/growth opportunities puts you seriously behind the market, and without the ability to shape change the way you want it.

We had no idea on what kind of change and the velocity of change that was unleashed by Anthony Williams becoming mayor, coincident with a reaching of critical mass interest in urban living.

Not having robust proactive plans in place such as a good Comprehensive Land Use Plan, a good housing plan, a plan for WMATA, etc. put and continues to keep us really really behind. As a result, it's almost impossible to change the trajectory as it relates to housing affordability.

WRT the group and the support it has by developers, it should be no surprise that the Growth Machine favors affordable housing. It's still growth. (And I don't have a problem with it.)

One, many companies don't want to get involved, but are happy others are. Some build affordable housing as a regular part of the portfolio, e.g., Related Companies, and make a lot of money doing so. Other companies focus on it, e.g., WC Smith, and do a great job.

But the biggest problem is that residents (supported too often by elected and appointed officials) want to do everything in their power to restrict housing supply, which is counter to the stated objectives of keeping the city affordable. The reality of economics and markets is that they are not confoundable:

- Any report on housing policy needs to explain how economics works and that serious restrictions on supply increase prices

- that additions to inventory shape pricing only over very long periods of time--multiple decades, 30 to 50 year periods

- that new additions to inventory are always priced at the top of the market

- that neighborhoods with a greater variety of housing types and options tend to be more affordable and more resilient

- that subsidies, including density bonuses, can lower cost of new additions but only so much

- that every floor you knock off on a project to placate stated resident opposition to density has long term consequences and opportunity costs in terms of inventory, housing access, pricing and business income, personal income, sales, and property tax revenue streams for the city

- not enough do people discuss the benefits of growth, one is that adding density supports amenities development and provision which makes neighborhoods more attractive and convenient to live in, e.g., H St., Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Capitol Riverfront/Barracks Row are the best examples in the city, maybe on a different scale, Takoma, where the addition of small amounts of multiunit housing at the core have led to a significant strengthening of the retail offer, mostly restaurants sure, but also the addition of a hardware store, etc.

- plus more residents supports the provision of more robust and frequent transit

- which means that there should be density bonuses awarded to buildings in areas proximate to high capacity transit, especially Metrorail station catchment areas (one-quarter to one-half mile radius especially)

- land tenure issues in mixed use communities, specifically adding owner occupied housing to mixed use districts, specifically condominiums, may have unintended long term consequences in terms of quality of design and willingness of future owners to pay special assessments for upgrades -- get it right the first time or problems can result.

- condominiums can be a problematic ownership structure for smaller properties, or in lower income areas, as the properties age, and if there are problems on the part of owners paying assessments, and the increasing cost of maintenance leading to assessment increases, making it difficult to stabilize the properties.

- need for programs to assist funding improvements to small multiunit properties ("Tower renewal: The Watergate and Southwest DC, and Toronto" and "Deeper thinking/programming on weak residential housing markets is required: DC example, Anacostia")

- that a housing priority plan needs to consider different types of housing segments such as SROs, types of housing (co-housing, cooperatives), and mixed age multiunit housing as households age, etc. ("More on mixing multiple housing types within multi-unit buildings")

- that innovative programs to support housing inventory expansion through English basements and accessory dwelling units need to be created (Edmonton and other cities have grant programs to facilitate the construction of accessory dwelling units)

- the need to "encourage" developers building to the maximum density where allowable, rather than at lower densities that are matter of right, because they don't want to go through the community approval process, which takes more time

- encouraging properties to build add housing to commercial properties where feasible (think of the wasted space above the Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Upper Georgetown or the Walmart on Georgia Avenue NW)


Below is the list of what DC's housing priorities should be according to the statement.  My reaction is still more, "yeah, yeah, whatever."

For example, in order to "meet the housing demand" and "equitably distribute housing" and "utilize areas near transit" you need to take practical steps as identified above.  Now, it's all nice language with little practical import.

● Meet the housing demand.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should forecast, plan for, and encourage the creation and preservation of a supply of housing (market-rate and subsidized affordable) to meet the demand at all income levels. The supply of housing should be sufficient to slow rising costs of rental and for-sale housing.

● Equitably distribute housing. T​hrough the Comprehensive Plan, the District should fight against segregation, foster equitable access to opportunity, and comply with Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) priorities. The District should require that every part of the city participate in adding housing to meet the need for all income levels, with an emphasis on transit and commercial corridors.

● Best utilize areas near transit.​ When redevelopment occurs on blocks surrounding Metrorail stations and priority transit corridors, the District should, through the Comprehensive Plan, permit and encourage mixed-use developments of medium to high density. To the extent feasible, redevelopments involving increased zoning should include affordable housing in excess of what is required by inclusionary zoning

● Include families.​ The District should be a city that houses people of all income levels and of all household sizes, including families. Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should promote the creation and preservation of 3+ bedroom units along with other housing types.

● Prioritize affordable housing as a community benefit.​ When rezoning or granting significant zoning relief, the District should affirm through the Comprehensive Plan that affordable housing (in addition to any underlying requirement) is the highest priority benefit and that other community benefits should be long-lasting.

● Preserve existing affordable housing.​ When redevelopment occurs on properties with housing made affordable through subsidy, covenant, or rent control, the District, Zoning Commission, and neighborhoods should work with landowners to create redevelopment plans that preserve such units or replace any lost ones with similar units either on-site or nearby. These entities should provide the necessary density and/or potential funding to ensure it is financially feasible to reinvest in the property with no net loss of affordable units.

● Protect tenants.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should ensure that when affordable housing is undergoing redevelopment, tenants have a relocation plan, are allowed to continue their tenancy with minimal disruption, and will have the right to return to their units or an equivalent replacement. Whenever feasible, redevelopment should observe build-first principles.

● Support neighborhood commercial corridors.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should encourage the success of neighborhood commercial corridors and locally owned businesses, especially in disadvantaged communities. This includes increased housing density that supports businesses and providing equitable opportunities for locally owned businesses in mixed-use and commercial developments.

● Clarify zoning authority​. Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should affirm that the Zoning Commission has the purview to allow increased density for Planned Unit Developments that supersedes the levels in the Comprehensive Plan’s maps in exchange for community benefits.

● Improve data collection and transparency. T​ he District should provide the highest quality public data. It should standardize housing-related data collection across agencies, and release all data and forecast analyses to the public, to facilitate transparency and regular reporting on the status and progress of housing-related programs. Data should include a comprehensive housing database and demand-based forecasts alongside existing supply-based (pipeline) forecasts.

Labels: , , , ,