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.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Metrorail night hour extension vs. creating a metropolitan overnight transit network

I was surprised to see an article ("Bowser pushes for late-night Metro to boost D.C. economy," Washington Times) about how Mayor Bowser was "organizing a protest" at WMATA headquarters advocating for extending Metrorail subway operating hours later on Fridays and Saturdays.

-- #KeepMetroOpen
-- city press release

Before the system's "crash" it did operate later, but cut back on hours in order to provide more time for maintenance and repair ("Plans for Metrorail contraction in the face of London Night Tube expansion," 2016).

Transit as a commuter service versus a sustainable mobility platform that supports placemaking and quality of life: the city versus the suburbs.  I agree with the need for longer Metrorail hours, but given the current circumstances of the system in terms of "State of Good Repair," this is likely to be less realizable as DC and the suburbs (excepting Arlington) tend to have different philosophies about the system, which shapes their budget and planning priorities.

To the suburban jurisdictions for the most part, Metrorail is seen a service for commuters Monday through Friday, not a transit service that supports sustainable mobility, de-emphasis of the automobile, placemaking, and the night time economy.

The economic impact of the nightlife economy.  As part of DC's campaign to extend Metrorail hours, it released a report on the Night Time Economy ("Limited late-night Metro service is hurting D.C. economy, study says," Washington Post).

-- Economic Impact of DC's Nightlife Economy 2020, Mayor's Office of Nightlife and Culture

Transit as a supporting element for the nightlife economy.  The report acknowledged the city's transit mix -- Metrorail and buses -- as a supporting condition.

But it focused mostly on the Metrorail, which even in the best of conditions only runs later two nights a week.  It used to run during the week until about 1am, and later than that on Fridays and Saturdays only for about a decade.  it starts up rather late on weekend mornings.  Now on Sundays it closes pretty early.


No mention of streetcar.  And interestingly, although H Street NE is a major and growing nightlife district, it doesn't mention streetcar service as an element of the transit mix and clearly the city doesn't see expanding the streetcar network as a priority within the night time economy ("D.C. drops plan to extend streetcar line to Georgetown," Washington Post).

Unlike cities such as Philadelphia, Toronto, and Melboune, where streetcars are key building blocks of their transit networks.

How about starting off by creating an integrated night time transit network?  For some time I've been writing about late night transit, which is an issue beyond extending Metrorail hours for a couple hours on weekends.

-- "Night moves: the need for more night time (and weekend) transit service, especially when the subway is closed," 2013
-- "Night and weekend transit/subway service: Metrorail edition," 2016
-- "Overnight transit service: San Francisco," 2016

In DC, the main bus lines run 23 hours/day providing a good foundation for 24 hour transit service, but the suburbs don't have a similar system.

Plus, overnight transit service along the Metrorail line and to the airports is mostly non-existent.

Many cities have created a night transit network with a mix of rail and bus services.  Toronto, London, other European cities, and the San Francisco Bay (blog entry) are best practice examples.

And over the years, WMATA/DC have expanded night time service where it is warranted, in particular in the 16th Street corridor ("Along 16th Street, late-night workers are often left behind by overcrowded buses" and "Metro to expand night bus service along 16th Street NW," Washington Post).

MARC train service.  While not focused so much on "DC's" night time economy, the MARC Penn Line train runs reasonably late between Baltimore and DC, not overnight though--it used to run close til midnight until budget cuts as a result of the 2008 recession.  But Amtrak service does run between DC and Baltimore for most of the night.  In 2013, they extended Penn Line service on weekends, which is great.

They used to print separate weekday and weekend schedules, but now they are integrated into one Penn Line Schedule brochure.

VRE does not provide night or weekend service between DC and Northern Virginia.

The bus service in Columbus, Ohio has overnight bus service on some lines, which is indicated on bus stop signage.

Conclusion.  (1)  The night time economy should be treated as a design product:  Basically the idea is to treat night time transit service as a "design product" ("Night time as a daypart and a design product," 2017) with the context of the transit system ("Branding's NOT all you need for successful transit," 2018).

(2) Create an overnight transit network: At the very least, DC should be advocating for an integrated and complete overnight transit network, operating when the Metrorail system is closed for starters, but also integrating extended hour service by Metrorail, trains, and streetcar.

I think this is more important than programs to subsidize late night ride hailing trips ("Metro Is Subsidizing Lyft Rides. Here’s How The Program Works," WAMU/NPR), but that can be included.

(3) Branding: And it can start by branding the lines with 23 hour service as the Overnight Transit Network.

(4) Network nodes: Major transit stations, like Union Station, Silver Spring, etc., should be designated as nodes within a overnight transit system.  For example, how late night buses operate from the Euston train station in London (I know, I had to take one because my train from Liverpool was way late, arriving after the Underground and Overground shut down for the night.)

(5) Pricing: And to encourage transit use on weekends (and to discourage car trips, including ride hailing), some transit systems offer special pricing, such as low cost all day passes on weekends, or additional riders can ride free for monthly pass holders.  This is important, because with larger groups, it's cheaper to drive or use ride hailing than if each had to pay round trip transit fare.

(6) Marketing: If you want people to use transit it needs to be marketed (presuming there is a quality product worth marketing).  The overnight transit network needs to be supported with signage, schedules, advertising, and other promotion.






Some best practice examples

The SF MUNI system has had overnight service for decades.  Over the past few years, transit agencies across the SF Bay have aimed to create a broader system, called the All Nighter service.  They even market it as a network.


Toronto's system, called the Blue Night Network is a mix of streetcars and buses and the most extensive in North America ("TTC Set to Expand Blue Night Network in September," Urban Toronto).


When I got a walking tour of "Downtown London" with Ivan Bennett, for design product manager for the Transport for London bus network he made a great point about digital information delivery in bus shelters, how a map of the network could change based on time of day.

London produces a Night Tube map for Fridays and Saturdays, when certain lines run 24 hours.  They complement it with a map for taxi stands operating alongside the Night Tube.  Transport for London also produces night maps for all buslines with late night service.



A few years ago, the NYC Subway system published a special map for night time services.  But they run some subway lines 24 hours.  It's out of print now, but they maintain an online version.


Hamburg has two different night services maps, one for during the week,  when the rail services close around 1 am, the other for weekends, which is much more extensive and includes a mix of services including certain lines of the U bahn subway.

King County (Seattle) now has 18 bus routes that run overnight, which are focused on but not limited to Seattle.

-- Seattle best practice review of overnight bus services (not absolutely definitive)

Chicago Night Owl printed schedule.  The foundation of the overnight transit network in Chicago is 24 hour service on the Blue Line subway and Red Line rapid transit line, complemented by bus services.

DC's streetcar system had an Nite Owl service. Overnight transit service map, DC Capital Transit system, 1946


So did Philadelphia ("The Origin's of SEPTA's Nite Owl Service").  It's the foundation of the current service program, which includes 24 hour weekend service on the Market-Frankford Line.



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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Civic culture and organization as an element of community economic resilience

Aaron Renn (Urbanophile) has published a short paper via the American Enterprise Institute, "Culture and Dynamism in Cities."  He looks at the impact of civic culture as an element of how businesses/industrial sectors are organized within their communities, and how this impacts their ability to resilient and innovative in the face of change.

He compares Boston and San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia, and Allentown ("State level initiatives to support center city revitalization in smaller towns," 2014) and Youngstown (and a very small off mention of Los Angeles and San Francisco in terms of the film community's relative disconnection from the local civic ecosystem).

There are some interesting cites, some of which I hate to say I was unfamiliar with and/or hadn't read, in particular Sam Stafford's Why the Garden Club Couldn't Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt (review).  He concludes by outlining, the "cultural lessons" as three factors key to what I will call metropolitan economic resilience:
  • Open networks are superior to closed networks in times of rapid change or major dislocations
  • Successful cities feature invested leadership and institution building by elites
  • Successful cities value education and reward excellence.
as well as outlining elements that key to changing civic culture:
  • Truly understanding local culture
  • Incubation of local relationships and networks and rather than focusing on attracting specific industries.
One thing I thought was an omission was a failure to include a fourth example, of Boston, really Cambridge, vis a vis San Francisco and San Diego and the biotechnology industry.

He relied on Saxenian's Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Rte. 128 for the bulk of the comparison between Rte. 128 and the Silicon Valley, when Boston's computer industry was much more focused to large computing and descended in part from MIT's management of Draper Labs and its role in the defense community and industry.

But Boston's economy appears to be much more flexible today, and MIT (and Harvard) are much more oriented to the support of start up businesses than they were in the day of Route 128's ascendence.

Today, Cambridge--home to MIT and Harvard--is arguably the leading center for the biotech industry, functioning in a flexible and "porous" manner comparable to Silicon Valley's place in the information technology business sector ("Alexandria Real Estate’s empire grows in Kendall Square: The area’s life sciences boom puts the developer on top," Boston Globe).

How this came about is worthy of analysis, to further confirm his conclusions concerning cultural lessons and the capacity for change.

Growth Machine/Urban Regime Theories are relevant
. In some respects, these conclusions are the roots of the Growth Machine (sociology) and Urban Regime (political science) theories on how the local economic and political elites organize to manage their community ("A superb lesson in DC "growth machine" politics from Loose Lips (Washington City Paper)," 2006) to ensure continued economic success.

Which I wrote about more recently a couple years ago in response to a column by Thomas Friedman where he seemed to think he had discovered the secret to the marshaling of local elite resources focused on revitalization ("Smaller town revitalization planning: No, Thomas Friedman is not a sage," 2018).

Relevant blog entries

-- "The nature of DC's federally-related "business" is coordination, not doing, 2018

In this piece I make the indirect point that the federal government, in terms of supporting metropolitan economic development, is more like Rte. 128 than Silicon Valley.

 While the area has landed a goodly portion of the Amazon HQ2 development, and this will reshape the area's economy, at the same time a big part of Amazon's focus is providing cloud services to federal agencies, which is a less entrepreneurial activity. Relatedly, the federal government is reducing its presence in the DC area, and has reduced its office space by 15% over the past 5 years ("HONEY, WE SHRUNK THE FEDS: The federal real estate footprint is slimming. And it’s leaving some landlords in a lot of pain.," Washington Business Journal).
Federal leased space drops by 15% in the DC area, from 2014-2019

Ironically, while I stated in the above post that the DC area is less economically innovative because of the federal government, at the same time, the IT industry in particular has been seeded by the presence of the Department of Defense as a funder and customer, which accounts for differences within the region in terms of community economic success and relevance.

-- "Economic dynamism: Northern Virginia ascendant, while DC and Suburban Maryland lag," 2020

For example, IT based in Northern Virginia has a greater economic multiplier and velocity than the health-focused federal research based economy in Montgomery County.

These pieces discuss the place of higher education within a metropolitan economy, the ability to harness higher education institutions for economic development, and the failure to fully leverage this in DC in particular.

-- "Better leveraging higher education institutions in cities and counties: Greensboro; Spokane; Mesa; Phoenix; Montgomery County, Maryland; Washington, DC," 2016

-- "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector,"

-- "More Prince George's County: College Park's militant refusal to become a college town makes it impossible for the city(and maybe the County) to become a great place," 2015

Separately, yesterday's New York Times has a piece on colleges and universities investing in creating town centers within their communities ("Colleges Invest So 'What's the Town Like?'").

Fundamental revitalization and "not wasting the opportunity of a crisis."  Regardless of what Rahm Emanuel said while he was chief of staff during the Obama Administration ("In Crisis, Opportunity for Obama," Wall Street Journal), the reality is that crises are mostly paralyzing for local governments. 

It's difficult to get consensus during good times and it's almost impossible during bad times. 

That's why Allentown/Bethlehem's comparative success at revitalization is so remarkable.  Or Bilbao's ("Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning").

Coming back from failure is almost impossible.  That's why it's better to be constantly on alert and proactive.

In "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh," I list six elements of successful large scale revitalization initiatives, based in part on a series of articles I wrote about European cities such as Bilbao, Hamburg, Helsinki, Liverpool and Marseille.

Another big difference between continental Europe and the US is that there isn't the same anti-government fervor there that there is here.  In other words, people expect that their local government will take on and address such problems and they don't look to the private sector to lead the change.

While I haven't studied Oklahoma City in depth, it is another example of this kind of approach (The Next American City: The Big Promise of Our Midsize Metros by former mayor Mick Cornett).

The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program.  In writing about the various efforts, I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:
  • A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
  • the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program.  Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
  • strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
  • funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
  • integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);
  • flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).

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Basic planning building blocks for "community" revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 4 | Place evaluation tools

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This is an update of a piece from 2007, which I decided to incorporate into this series

-- "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 1 | The first six"
-- "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 2 |  A neighborhood identity and marketing toolkit (kit of parts)"
-- "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 3 | The overarching approach: destination development/branding and identity, layering and daypart planning"

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I mention from time to time my belief that neighborhoods should create their own plans, or at least, develop a systematic understanding of their places, in order to be proactive.

Here are some survey forms and tools that structure how I think about and approach assessing purposes.
Problem Property Audit, page 1 - University of Memphis

Problem Property Audit, page 2 - University of Memphis

Place assessment tools

1. The Problem property audit form pictured above was created by researchers at the University of Memphis to evaluate declining neighborhoods.  It's not online any more.  There are probably other ones out there.

2. NYC Business Improvement District Needs Survey

3.  The Project for Public Spaces Place Game, which they have used with individual businesses in a commercial district corridor in places like Littleton, New Hampshire.  It's a fundamental tool in the PPS manual, How to Turn a Place Around, which has been recently updated in a second edition.  I highly recommend the book, and sometime this year will write up a review.

Combining the NYC form + the Place Game approach business-by-business should be a basic requirement at the outset of creating commercial district revitalization programs.

4. Litter Survey Form from Keep Australia Beautiful (adding a couple things makes this an excellent overall public space evaluation tool -- gum and other markings on sidewalks, graffiti--on street signs and buildings, and signs posted in the public space).  I find this tool more detailed than similar items from US-based organizations.
721-727 H Street NE, Washington, DC
5. Open space survey tools such as the Community Gardening Survey Form from the Garden Mosaics program at Cornell University.

6.  Dan Burden's "How Can I Find and Help Build a Walkable Community" and "The 20 Ingredients of an Outstanding Destination" by Roger Brooks International

Assessing the quality of development proposals

7. Urban Design Evaluation Tool & Glossary of Terms from the Design Advocacy Center (Philadelphia)

8. Community Design Assessment: A Citizens' Planning Guide from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Sadly, NTHP, believing no one reads anymore, discontinued their publication program.  They had a deep catalog of worthwhile manuals and books on all topics of preservation.  It was a criminal decision.

Fortunately I took a photo of the survey form.
Community Design Assessment Data Sheet

Placemaking/Tourism Assessment

9.  While updating this piece, I came across a great resource called the Placemaking Assessment Tool produced by Michigan State University Land Policy Institute.  It distinguishes between four types of placemaking: standard; tactical; creative; and strategic, and provides two different assessment tools (one for the first three; one for the fourth), which are quite detailed and remind me of

10.  the out of print Tourism Destination Assessment Workbook from the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism.  Back when I first wrote this piece, I thought it was a great way to shape my thinking about destination development.  There are many other such examples that aren't out of print, including the various worksheets in Nova Scotia's updated Community Tourism Planning Guide.

Transportation Resources
(I didn't include this in the original list)

11.  There are many including Pedestrian Road Safety Audit Guidelines and Prompt Lists, Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System and Bicycle Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System, all produced with the support of the Federal Highway Safety Administration.

12. School Walk and Bike Routes: A Guide for Planning and Improving Walk and Bike to School Options for Students, Washington State DOT.  Making places great for walking and biking to school makes them great for everyone else.

13. Main Street: When a Highway Runs Through It, Oregon State DOT

14. Smart Transportation Guidebook: Planning and Designing Highways and Streets that Support Sustainable and Livable Communities, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

15.  This doesn't look at transit stations, just bus stops, Transit Waiting Environments (out of print).  Network Rail has produced a good manual for rail station planning that is applicable, Station Design Principles. And this SEPTA guide, Modern Trolley Station Design Guide. My written reviews as blog entries of the Silver Spring and Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Centers provides an excellent framework, if I say so myself.

My own approach to evaluating residential and commercial districts

The other "tool" I use is based on work done for HUD in the 1970s, and used by most jurisdictions around the country. In a way it's pretty basic, you assess neighborhoods based on whether the neighborhoods are:

1. Healthy
2. Transitioning
3. Emerging
4. Distressed.

I think the researchers contracted by HUD came up with 5 categories. Philadelphia uses 6. DC 4--although they don't necessarily use the same terms to classify neighborhoods. Charles Buki uses 3 categories.  Basically the difference in the number of rungs on the ladder depends on whether you break the basic four into "high"--transitioning to the next rung, and "low" differentiations within each rung category.

I think this works at the scale of the neighborhood and district, for example you can compare a large neighborhood in a big city to the Downtown of a smaller city, etc.

But, you need to do three other things alongside this, which most places (including DC) don't do:

1. Evaluate separately and simultaneously the commercial district and the residential parts of the neighborhood -- your ability to move the commercial district up the ladder is dependent on the density and economic capacity of the residents.

Typically commercial districts lag residential areas.  So when investment is put into the commercial district in these situations, the improvement can be seemingly quick.

And past community development strategies--building better housing for poor people--didn't improve the commercial district, because for the most part the micro-economy of the area remained unchanged (see the Community Economic Development Handbook by Temali).

2. You can also use the general criteria to evaluate places block-by-block as well, to help develop more focused strategies for specific needs.

3. Overall, cities should develop differential policies for places based on this criteria, both at the district and block scales.

Point (3) is crucial and the cause of most failures in government policies and programs. By creating one size fits all programs, and not really understanding the nuances and details of a place, and the levers at your disposal, failure is much more likely.

E.g., emerging and distressed commercial districts aren't likely ready for street furniture, and need more assistance in developing organizational capacity, compared to healthy districts, or those in later stages of transition. Similarly, it's much harder to move distressed commercial districts up the ladder when the residential neighborhood is also distressed.
Imagine Your Business Name Here, Martin Luther King Ave. SE, Washington, DC
And speaking of credit, Rachel MacCleery, the then Ward 6 Transportation Planner (now at ULI), and I figured this out together, that commercial districts and residential areas need to be separately and simultaneously evaluated, in order to figure out the likelihood of success.

We were trying to figure out why the investment in streetscape improvement "worked so quickly" on Barracks Row -- 8th Street SE. Most people don't really understand that the success there isn't merely a function of the investment, but in the overall condition and economic capacity of the greater neighborhood (within which the investment was made).
People out on a Sunday on 8th Street SE, Barracks Row
Because much of the property in our commercial districts has absentee ownership, improvement in commercial districts tends to lag improving residential areas, unlike the impact of residential improvement on other building owners (see Building Neighborhood Confidence and Understanding Neighborhood Change both by Rolf Goetze, for more insight into this process).

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Treating an entire city as a heritage area/conservation district, rather than a neighborhood by neighborhood approach

On the HistoricWashington e-list, a notice was sent out about a May program--National Historic Preservation Month as it happens--sponsored by the Committee of 100 on the Federal City on neighborhood conservation districts:
May 5, 2020 - 6:00-8:15 PM
945 G St., NW (next to the MLK Library and across from Metro Center)

Vision Town Hall
From Congress Heights to Cathedral Heights: Retaining Neighborhood Character in a Time of Rapid Development


Washington, DC is a city of neighborhoods. And while the District of Columbia may be the Nation’s Capital and a world-class city, it is foremost our home where 705,000 of us live, raise our families, and make lasting memories. Each District neighborhood has a unique sense of place with its own sights, sounds, landscapes, housing types, and street life -- Congress Hts., Cathedral Hts., Anacostia, Deanwood, Petworth, Mount Pleasant, Shaw, Capitol Hill, Georgetown and Brookland – communities we love enough to invest our time and talents in making them even better.

Growth and development are inevitable and can be beneficial if done thoughtfully; if not, they can be troubling and destructive. How can we champion those qualities that define DC’s neighborhoods in the face of inevitable growth and change? How do we strike an effective balance that benefits everyone?

Will Cook, nationally-recognized lawyer, scholar, and co-author of Neighborhood Conservation Districts, will share community conservation tools from other cities, two DC neighborhood leaders will respond, and you will have the opportunity to ask questions and engage your neighbors and city leaders.
Historic preservation regulation: the basics.  Typically in historic preservation there is regulation at three scales: (1) individual buildings and sites; (2) historic districts, for all types of uses, but including residential neighborhoods; and (3) "conservation districts" which provide some protections, but usually fewer protections when compared to historic districts.

In the trade, CDs are seen as a "lesser evil" by residents who might not want the level of scrutiny on changes to their property that a full-blown historic district tends to require and by advocates and professionals as "better than nothing/don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" where getting people to agree to a historic district is likely to be out of the question, but getting people to agree to lesser protections is possible.

-- "Protecting Older Neighborhoods Through Conservation District Programs." journal article, Preservation Law Reporter, 2002-2003
-- "Protecting Older Neighborhoods Through Conservation District Programs," short article, Forum Journal, 2004

(Note that a lot of people have a hard time grasping the concept of a neighborhood historic district, because to them, only "big deal" buildings like the US Capitol or Independence Hall in Philadelphia are "historic.")

NCDs aren't a new concept to DC.  Neighborhood conservation districts have been discussed off and on in DC since the early 2000s.

 I haven't been a proponent because they are more "historic district lite," e.g., typically don't include restrictions on demolition and may be somewhat cavalier about particular architectural elements and require just as much community, social and organizational capital to create as a historic district, and it seems like one of the justifications for NCDs, that they can lead to a historic district, is unlikely to be realized, because you need two campaigns marshaling community, social and organizational capital, not just one.

Not to mention that you need a massive campaign just to get NCDs legalized as part of the city's building regulation legal and regulatory framework, something that HPO wasn't able to do c. 2007 when the then director advocated the creation of NCDs.

The city's built environment should be managed as a whole, as a heritage area.  In comments I've made in the past on previous iterations of the city 5 year historic preservation plan, I've suggested that the city's built environment should be managed using the principles of cultural landscape management, that the whole city should be considered "a heritage area" and managed (regulated) in that manner.

My most recent summation of this concept is item #14 in "What would be a "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for DC's cultural ecosystem":

The city should acknowledge the built environment as a key element of the city's identity, in particular historic architecture and urban design.   This is Item #3 in "40th anniversary of the local historic preservation law in DC as an opportunity for assessment," 2019:
Treat the entire city as a "heritage area" from the standpoint of the design management of the built environment, using the concept of the cultural landscape, so that all buildings would have some basic design review and demolition protections, regardless of whether or not they are listed either individually or as part of an existing historic district.

Otherwise, so many buildings and neighborhoods are unprotected now, and likelihood of protection is slim, e.g., our 1929 bungalow is quite intact, but there is no chance our neighborhood would ever become a historic district, or that a typical building of its type (e.g., bungalow, Craftsman style rowhouse, Italianate frame or rowhouse, Queen Anne rowhouse, etc.) would be able to be designated individually as opposed to being a contributing structure in a neighborhood historic district, except in exceptional circumstances.
In the US, there are two types of heritage areas, either state or federally designated.

I am not arguing that we need to create a formal heritage area in DC.  Rather we can use that framework, that is thinking about the city in its entirety as a cultural landscape, for managing the city's built environment.

Locally, Maryland has a system of state heritage areas, although they have limited additional protections concerning designation and protection and are more focused on tourism development.

Historic architecture, urban design, and historicity are fundamental elements of the city's "competitive advantage" and "unique selling proposition."  Treating the city as a heritage area is justifiable because the quality of the built environment, marked by historic architecture and urban design and the city's historicity (which I define as the nexus of people/history and the built environment) are key elements of the city's "competitive advantage".

But I recommend taking the heritage area concept a step beyond, and utilizing it as a way to provide for overall regulation, review, and management of the aesthetic qualities of buildings, whether or not a particular area is designated as a historic district.

From the standpoint of Conservation Districts, make the entire city a Conservation District.  While I've termed it a heritage area/cultural landscape, from an NCD standpoint, I am recommending that the entire city be considered a "conservation district" rather than going through a process of designating subdistricts of the city as NCDs.

Some cities do a type of this, differently from DC. DC's HPRB, CFA, and Old Georgetown Board have purview in certain areas. But Baltimore's architectural review process goes beyond historic districts, depending on the type of building. In the core of the city, Lancaster PA operates similarly.

Look to heritage conservation efforts outside of the US for guidance.  My thinking about this has been fueled mostly by writings about heritage management in Europe, and UNESCO related publications.  Although I was first introduced to the overarching concept of the "cultural landscape" in presentations here, at national and local conferences.

And come to think of it, my thinking about civic assets as networks had to have been influenced by Kathy Smith's Capital Assets, which looked at various DC neighborhoods in terms of heritage assets and their readiness for as places for tourism "off the National Mall."

But also Stephen Semes and The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism and Historic Preservation, which argues for consideration of context and the organizing principle of the ensemble and "architecture of its place" rather than the single building and architecture of its time.

-- "An argument for the aesthetic quality of the ensemble: special design guidelines are required for DC's avenues," 2015

Other influences include:
Although these books don't necessarily make the same policy recommendation that I do.

What elements do I think matter most?

Coordination and basic review.  And even in this approach, I don't necessarily recommend the maximum picayunish approach to review, but something along the lines of the "Business Revitalization Overlay District" in Cleveland, where to ensure the coordination of projects and investments, basic design review is conducted.

A focus on protecting the aesthetic qualities of the architectural ensemble.  Probably, the most important point is made by Stephen Semes (The Bias Against Tradition," Wall Street Journal) in his book where he argues in favor of classical design as a way to protect and strengthen the architectural character of existing places, when by contrast new design is frequently discordant and diminishes the strength of the built environment as an ensemble. From the article:
"Maintaining a broad stylistic consistency in traditional settings is not a matter of 'nostalgia,'" he says. "It's a matter of common sense, of reinforcing the sense of place that made a building or neighborhood special to begin with. But many academically trained preservationists want to impose their inevitably subjective notions of what the architecture 'of our time' is."
Like materials, architectural style, etc. are key elements that must be considered.  This isn't an exhaustive list, but what comes to mind right now.  Note that one of my complaints about the DC Historic Preservation Plan, a document updated every five years, is that it doesn't include bad examples, only good ones.

Demolition protection.  Only with a super good reason should demolition of pre-1930 residential buildings be allowed.  Receivership and other procedures should be implemented to maintain properties in the face of owner intransigence and demolition by neglect ("Pennsylvania passes receivership law with regard to vacant/nuisance properties," 2010).

Overall design
-- tear downs and McMansions
-- tear downs and ground up rebuilds
-- rowhouse popups (I'm not against, but design guidance is key)
-- architectural style: inappropriate design in terms of the ensemble
-- other types of supersizing of houses
-- scale (mass and height), especially of additions

Crazy modern architecture discordant popup/infill house/rowhouse on the 1600 block of K Street NE, Trinidad neighborhood, DC
Definition of the word abomination.

Pop up Italianate rowhouse in Upper Northwest DC, 1319 Delafield Place NW
A two story Italianate converted into three stories.

Floor added and modern design rowhouse on 5th Street NW in the Petworth neighborhood
Infill at the end of a group of rowhouses.

Really unsympathetic third floor addition, Bloomingdale neighborhood

Small infill modern apartment building next to c. 1920s porch front style rowhouses, New Hampshire Avenue near Georgia Avenue Petworth Metrorail Station

Third floor addition in an undesignated neighborhood, 800 block of 8th St. NE

Specific elements
-- brick vs. siding
-- maintenance of wood frame
-- turrets and roof projections
-- porches (especially tearing them off)
-- doors (and garage doors)
-- windows
-- fences and stone walls (too many stone walls are replaced with concrete block)

"Tear up" of a colonial revival house, 6400 block of 9th Street NW, addition

Typical concrete retaining wall constructed by DDOT on the 900 block of 2nd Street NE
A poured concrete retaining wall rather than the historically appropriate stone.  Sadly this was done by the DC Department of Transportation.  When I questioned them about it, their response was "it's not a historic district."

Architecturally suspect third floor addition on a historic rowhouse resulted in the demolition of a special roof projection


Missing porch, wrecked facade, 1000 block of 5th Street NE
On the left, the porch is removed and the frame facade was replaced with brick.  On the right, the frame facade was "parged," or surfaced with a type of mortar, rather than repairing the wood.

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society has a nice set of district-specific publications on architecture and architectural elements.

The now defunct Community Design Center of Pittsburgh had a similar set of publications on key architectural elements, five 2-page documents on "Your Home," "Your Roof," "Your Windows," "Your Walls," and "Your Porch" because "Anything you do to the outside of your home affects not only the value and character of your own house, but also the entire neighborhood." (Somewhere in my morass of stuff I have printed copies. When I find them, some day, I'll make scans.)

An essential element: creating a preservation repairs support fund.  Of course, creating requirements for better maintenance of a house would be controversial and more costly, although in a city like DC, the extra cost of maintenance to historic standards comes back in higher property values.
A pardged in turret bay at the northeast corner of 12th and H Streets NE
Rather than repair this distinctive turret, because of the cost, it was parged instead, severely diminishing its architectural and aesthetic charm.

At the very least, a program should be put in place to provide low cost/no cost loans and grants to assist people of limited financial means.  This includes both residential and commercial property owners, depending on the circumstance.  DC has such a program now, but it isn't fully funded, and rather than apply everywhere, based on need, it targets specific neighborhoods in a haphazard manner.

(E.g., I was talking to my brother about getting a window reconstructed in our house.  It cost about $450 to do as it was small.  He said, "I'd just go to Home Depot, and spend $150."

The window had been neglected long before we bought the house and we were committed as preservationists to repair rather than replace the window, but sadly some of the windows in the house already had been replaced by the previous owner with vinyl windows and yes, they are slowly breaking down.  We haven't buckled down and replaced them with historically accurate windows, which will cost more than $1,000 each--and that's only for four windows.

But paying $450 to fix the window once in 90 years is a comparatively low cost.  And our relatively inexpensive handyman can fix broken sash cords.)

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Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 3 | The overarching approach: destination development/branding and identity, layering and daypart planning

This is a follow on entry to "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 1 | The first six."

The seventh point is a toolkit of neighborhood identification and marketing tools, along with a basic funding allocation to bring it about and maintain the program.

-- "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 2 |  A neighborhood identity and marketing toolkit (kit of parts)"

While writing the second piece, I realized the need for this one, to explain the back story of how to plan overall when it comes to a commercial district.

--  "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 3 | The overarching approach, layering and daypart planning"


What I like about Main Street work is the planning and business recruitment and development aspects.

But most Main Street programs end up being about promotion and events to attract potential customers.  I like marketing a lot, but I am not into event planning and implementation, even though I can and have done it successfully (farmers markets, festivals, etc.).

Main Street program managers end up being events managers foremost, along with being the primary fundraiser, because after all, they are being paid, while most of the other participants are volunteers.

Most Main Street managers end up not being great at planning, and as I say, "practitioners generally aren't very good at generating meta-theory."

The overall approach I've come to apply to Main Street commercial district revitalization planning, besides the two previous entries in this series, have to do with:

(1) destination development/branding and identify: planning around developing the destination as a whole, focusing on the district's existing identity and creating, shaping, and strengthening this "brand," in part through the application of tourism development principles;

(2) creating a network of civic assets: networking, integrating and expanding the assets you have to work with, including programming (events); and

(3) daypart planning: planning the retail and entertainment mix by "daypart" that is by time of day and day of the week, with the aim of maximizing patronage during all of the dayparts that your program has determined are priorities, and shaping business development, retail and attraction recruitment, and the development of programs and events.

Elements (1) and (3) are explored in the commercial district revitalization framework plan I did for Cambridge, Maryland and Brunswick, Georgia.  The second element was addressed, but more "in between the lines" and not so overtly, the way I discuss this now in terms of creating a network of civic assets.

Branding and Identity: We are all destination managers now

One of my earliest blog entries, from 2005, "Town City Branding or 'We are all destination managers now'," makes the point that when we make places great for "us" residents, they are also attractive to visitors, and this is important, because to be successful, most businesses need to draw on more customers than normally live in our district.

Tourism Development Handbook by Godfrey and ClarkeWhile it's sadly out of print (they do have a copy at the American University library), that blog entry referenced the Tourism Development Handbook: A Practical Approach to Planning and Marketing which except for an out-of-date chapter on online marketing, is a superb overview of "destination development" which basically is what commercial district revitalization planning is.

Of course, there are plenty of other more current resources, including many online.

There are many excellent books on city branding.  Place Branding by Bill Baker is a reworking of his previous book Destination Branding for Small Cities

The point here is to apply the concepts to sub-districts, ideally within the context of a city-wide framework.  

The Main Street program produced Marketing an Image for Main Street: How to Develop a Compelling Message and Identity for Downtown, which is excellent but out of print.  Shockingly it has been scanned and is online.

Start by defining your branding and identity.  Before you plan and implement various elements of the toolkit, you need to be clear about what you're trying to accomplish in terms of branding.

For years, I always bristled at the term "branding" preferring to use the word "identity" believing it was more authentic, that "branding" meant you're trying to be corporate, and trying to put one over on people.

-- "City branding versus identity | Branding versus Urban Strategy," 2019
-- "Georgetown: A subtle but important difference between branding and identity-positioning," 2010

But the reality is that branding is an agnostic process that can be used by nonprofits too, for:

- understanding consumer needs
- developing and positioning a strong brand foundation
- creating the right imagery for the product
- delivering on the brand promise.

I am impressed that the City of Takoma Park and the Takoma Langley Crossroads CDA put their logos on this mural at Holton LaneA logo is an element of a brand and branding, but it's not the brand.

Too many people think that branding is a logo or a slogan, and that they know how to do it.  That's usually a big problem.

But to be fair, there are many constituencies, they don't have a consensus of what branding and identity means and why it's important.

Because it's so complex, this is something where a city needs to be provide external expert assistance.

Photo incorporating the RVA logo by Matthias Miller.

From the logo standpoint, one of the best examples I can think of is the region-wide RVA program for Richmond, Virginia.

They have built a framework so it is applicable to many sub-elements of the city's offer.  And in the end, it's a jumping off point for developing and realizing the city's brand promise, which is comprised of all the great things it has to offer.

A long time ago, I read the book Strategic Marketing for Not-For-Profit Organizations by the U of Michigan Social Work professor Armand Lauffer. One of the concepts that has stuck with me over the years is that organizations have three publics:

1. The input public that provides the organization with resources;
2. The throughput public that does the work of the organization; and
3. The output public to whom the organization's activities are directed.

A big part of the RVA branding program is focused on the "throughput public" or the people already living in Greater Richmond.  It's about building community pride as much as it is aiming to attract visitors, recruit new businesses, new residents, etc.

-- RVA Creates
-- "For the RVA brand, 'No' turned to 'Go!'<" Richmond Times-Dispatch
-- "HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR NONPROFIT BRAND: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER LEE," Urban Views RVA
-- "Q&A: Insights from Veteran Place Branding Guru Bill Baker," Branding in Asia
-- Wish You Were Here: The Branding of Stockholm and Destinations

Compare the RVA effort to "Prince William Should've Tapped Local Talent for Logo" from the Potomac Local about a new nowhere branding image for Prince William County, Virginia and efforts in Manassas City to better develop and coordinate their identity, image, and branding across all city agencies ("Manassas City manager proposes logo redesign" from the Richmond Times-Dispatch).

Of course, the "I Love NY" campaign was an early example of such a program, which was quite successful.

-- "Does 'I Love New York' Help Create a Brand for New York City," Observer
-- "How the ‘I Heart NY’ Logo Transcended Marketing and Endures 4 Decades After Its Debut," Adweek
-- I Love New York brand guide

Not unlike how a goodly part of the RVA program is focused on building community pride, I Love NY was similarly focused at its outset and then later became focused on visitor attraction.


Books such as The Living City and Cities: Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz, and Changing Places by Richard Moe are particularly good resources on the value of place and historic preservation as a sustainable urban revitalization strategy as is Economics of Uniqueness:  Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development, published by the World Bank and freely downloadable.

(Another good book, a textbook, is Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations and books on social marketing.)

Civic Assets/Layering
-- "The layering effect: how the building blocks of an integrated public realm set the stage for community building and Silver Spring, Maryland as an example" 2012
-- "Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets," 2019

Layering is a good concept to have in your urban revitalization arsenal of tools and tactics, along with an understanding of the value of anchors which are assets that attract people and generate activity, such as a parklet or library or plaza, or a coffee shop or community center of some type (in the DC area, Bloombars in Columbia Heights, Electrik Maid in Takoma DC, or the Corner Store in Capitol Hill do this at various levels of success).

Corner ice cream or gelato shops are killer anchors when it's temperate!
Lagomarcino's, Moline, IL

And the best way to think about this is in terms of the David Barth concept of the integrated public realm framework (slide below).

Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth

If we think of layering at two scales, first as a site or more micro- concept, then the integrated public realm framework is layering "writ large" at the larger scale of a neighborhood, commercial district, or town center.

The basic idea is to have the right kinds of assets, assets that can be flexibly used, satisfy multiple kinds of uses, that can be "manipulated" in a variety of ways by a variety of types of groups, and that are integrated as a kind of network.

PPS calls this type of integration--assets + programming--the Power of 10.
Creating Great Places/Destinations

The layering approach includes a focus on (1) anchor spaces; (2) that are designed to be able to be flexibly used; (3) with anchor events; (4) good management; and (5) integration of the spaces into a network.

Having spaces isn 't enough.  They need to be managed, which is a key lesson from successful and unsuccessful pedestrian malls ("More about making 17th Street between P and R a pedestrian space on weekends").

Daypart planning
-- "Night time as a daypart and a design product," 2017
-- "Daypart and age-group planning in mixed use (commercial) districts," 2009

Daypart planning comes from hospitality, restaurants specifically--breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour, late night, etc., with special attention paid to weekends, such as for brunch, late night entertainment, etc.

In the proposals for the 11th Street Bridge Park, one of the design teams came up with an expanded framework that takes a broader perspective and I think it's a great model for programming for organizations of all types, from commercial districts to public markets.
Programming planning framework for parks, public squares, commercial districts, Balmori & Associates

It's set up hierarchically:

-- Season
-- Month (July 4th, Christmas, New Year's, etc.)
[-- National Events (Public Lands Day, Earth Day, etc.) -- not included but should be]
-- DC/city events (e.g., Cherry Blossom Festival in April)
-- Geographic interest area (neighborhood street festival, etc.)

and then what it calls
-- Private Events
-- Special Events
-- Extended Events (like a farmers market)
-- Festivals

But it's a concept just for programming.  But this kind of calendar planning can also shape the planning of a destination's retail and entertainment mix, setting the priorities for recruitment of retail and entertainment businesses, the development of civic assets, etc.

Daypart planning needs to be organized along demographic lines, according to consumer segment and household type.  For example, even if your district is more oriented to adults, it should still make provisions to accommodate families, with parklet playgrounds and splash fountains, even if the rest of the program isn't focused on family households..

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The cost of austerity: measurable decline in life expectancy in the UK

Given the state of human and social services in both the UK and the US, it should be no surprise that among peer "first world" nations, both the US and the UK have the worst life expectancies when it comes to low income households.

The Guardian reports ("Austerity blamed for life expectancy stalling for first time in century") that an analysis of the impact of cuts to social and health programs in UK over the past ten years has found a measurable reduction in life expectancy, although it reflects mortality increases amongst the poor, who have borne the brunt of cuts to social care, health care, housing, and social services.

Reconfiguration of the welfare benefit program has been a disaster too ("The misery, despair and pain of universal credit," Guardian), leading to a number of deaths as people get cut off services.

And this is more "a feature not a bug" in the way the services have been set up to fail. The government argues instead that deaths from flu and other circumstances led to the decline.

Basically the decline in life expectancy tracks with the increase in poverty.

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Detailed service improvement plan for SEPTA Market-Frankford Line is a model for other transit systems

In writing ("Train service in Greater Manchester needs to be reorganized?") about service failures of the railroad commuter service program south of London, I referenced a report-analysis commissioned from experienced railroader Chris Gibb.  It made very detailed and incisive recommendations about the problems and potential solutions.

(Separately, I remember reading detailed improvement recommendations by the labor union working on NYC Subway and by contrast, politically oriented but content-less recommendations by the union working on the WMATA Metrorail system.)

Granted busline improvement programs in places like Seattle ("How Seattle Got More People to Ride the Bus," City Lab) and Salt Lake City ("New and Improved: Expanded Service Hits Salt Lake City ," press release), mostly focused on upping frequency, have had positive results seen in significant ridership increases, even as transit ridership tends to be dropping somewhat on a national basis ().  In both cities, improvements have been funded by city-specific funding initiatives separate from the multi-jurisdictional serving agencies ("UTA unveils improved bus shelters and signs funded by Salt," Salt Lake Tribune).

The PATH system too, has a substantive system improvement program underway that is quite quantifiable ("Port Authority announces plan to increase PATH capacity," ABC7 NYC).

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a story, "The Market-Frankford Line is SEPTA's workhorse. A 'dramatic change' to service starts soon," on SEPTA's various measures for the Market-Frankfort elevated line, which is the system's busiest single line, with over 180,000 daily riders.

Given the rise in new residential development in the area immediately served by the line, ridership has significantly increased, and the agency has had to respond to deal with crowding and other problems.

In terms of baseline service, the line operates with peak frequencies of four minutes across the peak travel periods, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m, and less frequent service outside of those periods.

Service improvements include:

  • Elimination of skip/stop service, where during peak service, A trains skipped certain stations and B trains skipped other stations; leading to long waits on the part of some riders. The elimination of skip-stops will improve service from a train every eight minutes to a train every four minutes during peak hours.
  • From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., frequencies will improve from a train every 10 minutes to a train every six minutes.
  • From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., frequencies will improve from a train every 10 minutes to a train every eight minutes.
According to the PI:
The skip-stop service’s end impacts eight stations, mostly concentrated on the east end of the line, at the Berks, York-Dauphin, Huntingdon, Somerset, Tioga, and Church stations, as well as Millbourne and 63rd Street on the west end.
They are also reconfiguring train seating to add more space for standing--they are 20% of the way through, and hope to install real-time information on train arrivals, but no money has been allocated for such an improvement.

(I know one of my complaints with DC's Metrorail is the surcharge for rush hour during the periods when service is much less frequent.)

That being said, SEPTA has other issues, including problems with structural integrity of the train cars which has created service problems and some advocates argue that the system needs to be "more transparent and open" about what's going on ("Market-Frankford Line issues underscore need for more transparency from SEPTA," PI).

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