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, August 26, 2016

A good chance that the Bloomberg-Harvard initiative to train mayors to achieve great things won't be that successful

See "Harvard, Bloomberg unite for $32 million initiative for mayors" and the op-ed "Helping mayors do their job," Boston Globe.

From the first article:
“With more and more of the world living in cities, mayors are increasingly responsible for solving major challenges we face, from climate change to poverty to public health,” said Bloomberg in a statement on his website. “By giving mayors tools and resources — and by connecting them with peers facing many of the same challenges — this program will go a long way toward helping them run cities more effectively.”

The initiative will be a collaboration between Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education program, with input from Bloomberg’s consortium of philanthropic efforts.

According to a joint press release and interviews with officials, the new City Leadership Initiative seeks to serve up to 300 mayors and 400 mayoral aides in the next four years. The “curriculum” will consist of training and research programs, mentorship, and best-practice sharing among participants, though specifics are yet to be determined. ...

In that first cohort in 2017, officials hope to accept 40 to 60 American mayors and mayoral aides to descend on Cambridge, according to Harvard Kennedy School spokesman Daniel Harsha. The program will expand its applications to a global audience the following term.
My reaction

Without the support of legislators and citizens, too often Mayoral-led change efforts fail.  My first criticism of this is the same criticism I have of the "Mayor's Institute for City Design," which is an otherwise supra-laudable program developed by the National Endowment of the Arts to train mayors in the principles of urban design, public space, and quality architecture--lessons that they can take back to their own cities and apply in unique but visionary ways for community improvement.

While you absolutely need these kinds of initiatives to build the capacity for change and vision, if the elected officials in the legislative branch aren't part of the effort in terms of capacity building and visioning what a city could be, instead of their being more focused on the here and now and maintaining things the way they are and being incredibly resistant to any and all kinds of change, most change efforts by mayors are stymied.

The change process is way more complex than one mayor and one aide can typically accomplish.  See articles on social change and movements from Autumn 2009 issue of the Stanford Business School Alumni Magazine especially Hayagreeva Rao on MARKET REBELS and Sarah Soule on SOCIAL MOVEMENTS.

Most mayors, at least in my experience, aren't particularly visionary, and have the capacity for only one or two initiatives.

But that doesn't even take into account how current and unanticipated events force attention on other matters, e.g., such as a white police officer shooting and killing African-Americans in custody, which spawned the Black Lives Matter movements, natural disasters--think of what elected officials have to deal with in Louisiana and West Virginia because of recent floods, budgetary disasters and lack of funds, and rises in crime, etc.

Most legislators, at least in my experience, aren't particularly visionary either and definitely aren't oriented to thinking about the city of the future.

Not even a handful of US mayors rise to the level of a Joe Riley, the recently retired mayor of Charleston, South Carolina ("Is Joe Riley of Charleston the Most Loved Politician in America?," New York Times).

-- Mayor Joseph Riley, Charleston, SC, speech on the value of placemaking, civic initiatives and assets, and aesthetics
-- City Mayors Foundation
-- "World Mayor Prize," City Mayors Foundation

Instead of focusing on individuals, build capacity for change and vision within the local government system.  My second criticism is that while you can argue that mayors are the change agents, the platform for change in a city, the point ought to be focusing on building a process, system, and structure for innovation that is not dependent on the vicissitudes of elections, but something that is built into the local government system.

In this vein, Governing Magazine has been touting an approach called "Peak Performance," and they have published a book on the topic too, Peak Performance: How Denver's Peak Academy Is Saving Millions of Dollars, Boosting Morale and Just Maybe Changing the World, although the article on the subject, "Sweat the Small Stuff," didn't wow me, although even the Bloomberg Foundation is impressed ("How Denver has saved over $15 million by investing in staff").

Note that building systemic change and innovation structures within local government seems to be very difficult because like other efforts, they tend to be associated with particular initiatives by particular elected officials, and when those officials are replaced, new elected officials prefer to create their own new initiatives, rather than to support, develop, improve, and expand previous efforts.  Or they reorganize agencies, etc., as is happening in Philadelphia ("Philly's IT Reorganization Receives Barbs and Praise," Government Technology).

Long term successful change efforts.  This is the list of necessary components I came up with after researching revitalization efforts in BilbaoLiverpool, and six other European cities.  From "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh":

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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    Preservation advocacy may be more successful when companies are vulnerable to public pressure: Baltimore County vs. Fairfax County, Virginia vs. Robbinsdale, Minnesota

    In "Without remedies there's nothing you can do: historic preservation in Chicago and DC"
    and "Historic Preservation Tuesday: Saving buildings vs. the right to petition to redress grievances" I argue that when historic preservation efforts are successful mostly it is because communities have put into place processes for nominating and landmarking buildings.

    Campaigns without legal backup or the ability within local law to trigger "remedies" tend to fail.

    As the previous entries make clear, to protect buildings at the local level, local laws, regulations, and designations are required.  Most people don't understand that a property listed on "the National Register of Historic Places" only protects a building vis a vis "federal undertakings."  Only if a "local" project were funded by the federal government would it be subject to the National Historic Preservation Act.

    Because most communities haven't done full inventories of buildings worth saving, or if they have they haven't moved from the identification phase to formally protecting the buildings, for example see the 2004 series in the Chicago Tribune:

    -- "Squandered Heritage Part 1: Search and Destroy"
    -- "Squandered Heritage Part 2: Demolition Machine
    -- "Squandered Heritage Part 3: Alternatives

    or laws allow the Executive and/or the Legislative Branch final approval on landmark decisions or the authority to revoke landmark status, or if the local law doesn't provide the way to file a landmark nomination to stay a demolition, plenty of historic preservation efforts end in failure.  (The City of Chicago added a demolition delay provision to its building regulation regulations after the Tribune series was published.)

    Comparing four different contemporary historic preservation advocacy efforts--in suburban Minneapolis, Baltimore County, Maryland, and McLean/Fairfax County, Virginia--provides some insight into this, how to be successful in "saving buildings" is either a matter of law or a matter of being able to successfully pressure either a developer or tenant.

    Seven points of pressure:

    - Government in terms of existing laws and regulations concerning land use generally and historic preservation specifically, and whether or not appointed officials will support or deny their support of a preservation effort.

    In extraordinary cases, the local government may step in and acquire a property in order to preserve it ("Kenton County Buys Bavarian Brewery Building, Will Move Government To Historic Site," River City News).  In the Kenton County case, a developer who bought a vacant manufacturing site anticipating that it could be used as a casino wanted to demolish the buildings after the casino project was scuttled.  The City of Covington sued to prevent the demolition and later the County Government stepped in.

    Another issue is preservation of buildings owned by local governments, and whether or not they do a good job of it. Many do not and/or are overwhelmed by the cost of maintaining buildings. Some governments do an amazing job of preserving and maintaining such buildings.  This is even an issue with the federal government, e.g., "National Park Service turns 100, but facilities not being kept up," Columbus Dispatch).

    Prentice Women's Hospital, Chicago.

    Other prominent examples are the demolition of buildings determined to be obsolete, such as the Prentice-Women's Hospital in Chicago ("Is the demolition of Prentice Hospital another Penn Station Moment?," ArchDaily) or the County Government Building in Orange County, New York. There tends to be less interest in preserving buildings of more recent construction.

    - Elected Officials in terms of whether or not they will support or deny their support to a preservation effort, how they direct appointed officials to act, and their willingness to try to persuade property owners and developers to take a different tack. 

    This is particularly important when the Executive Branch is responsible for planning functions, and City/County Councils have the final decision-making authority.

    Unfortunately elected officials and therefore government often will cave when a developer states that a business venture--economic development--won't go forward if encumbered if historic buildings must be retained.

    - Real Estate Developer/Property Owner.   Without historic preservation protections in place before the onset of a project, it is very difficult to "save" a building.  However, it the developer wants to save the building they will.

    But most developers are focused on "land" and the opportunity to refashion it, and see existing buildings as obstacles.

     However, a minority of developers seek out and rehabilitate historic buildings, especially in cities, because of the ability to monetize value from historic identity and authenticity.  Getting these developers to buy historic properties rather than developers lacking concern for historic architecture is the best course of action.

    - Tenant. In rare instances major tenants may be susceptible to pressure in terms of supporting historic preservation efforts. Most retail chains have specific design and building formats (there is a great new book on this topic concerning Walmart, ) that are somewhat flexible, but generally they do not favor "old" or historic buildings except in one-off but multiple circumstances.

    Broadway Theater Rite Aid, Seattle.

    One example is CVS, which likes to locate stores in old theaters. Rite Aid has done the same in the Capitol Hill district of Seattle, as have both Walgreens and CVS in New Orleans.

    Generally in center cities chains will locate stores in historic buildings but they tend to be unwilling to do this when they have other choices, building new stores from the ground up, incorporating their standard designs, which they consider to be key elements of branding identity.

    - Residents.  Residents independent of preservation advocates may or may not support a preservation effort.  Either way, support or opposition can tip a campaign to success or failure.  However, typically people don't care that much, and plenty of people are negative either for "property rights" concerns or out of the general belief in the US that "new is better."

    - Money.  If a preservation advocacy initiative has the money to buy a building and preserve it, they usually can.  Because preservation groups usually don't have the money they need to preserve all the buildings worth preserving, most of these efforts are about persuading other parties or using "other people's money,"

    - Related to money is "property control."  If a preservation group owns the property, even if derelict, they're in a better position to shape the outcome.

    towsoneast_lochravenblvd_030610_bellocFlickr photo by Pat Gavin.

    Baltimore County -- Bel Loc Diner, Googie architecture style vs. standard suburban Starbucks

    I wrote about this a few months back, "Bel-Loc Diner in Baltimore County to be torn down for a Starbucks."

    In Baltimore County, the developer of a potential Starbucks site is not interested in rehabilitating the diner for a Starbucks, instead preferring to build the standard suburban Starbucks format, while saving a sign.  Starbucks is happy with this even though they are tenants in great Googie architecture elsewhere.

    The executive branch of the County Government is fine with that, because they see the new store as "economic development" for a corridor that is in need of revitalization, and don't see the value of historic preservation as an element of the corridor's identity. The Councilmember is on the fence, but ultimately the Executive Branch calls the shots.

    Preservation Maryland and Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County have campaigns to save the building, but seem unable to impact any of the five pressure points for success.  There isn't a concerted campaign by residents to save the building, although this isn't a surprise, because of how American built culture favors "the new."

    Unfortunately, a campaign to designate the building in advance of this particular proposal did not occur, but even if it did, the County would have been likely to approve a demolition.  However, had designation been in place, it would have created a much different "space" for discussions on how to proceed.  If Starbucks really wanted to be at that location, likely they would have acquiesced and saved the building.  But not being forced to save the building means they prefer the easy way forward.

    Baltimore County -- Presbyterian Mansion

    Photo: The Presbyterian Home of Maryland, based in Towson, is closing. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

    A different preservation matter is also ongoing ("Baltimore County backs out of deal to move workers to Towson Presbyterian Home," Baltimore Sun), at an earlier phase in the development of the site compared to the Bel-Loc Diner.  A 4 acre nursing home campus is being vacated.  It has been purchased by one of Baltimore's primary developers, who proposed saving the main building, rehabilitating it, and renting it out to the County Government for offices.

    Local residents opposed that particular use--not necessarily preservation of the building-arguing that it would generate extranormal amounts of traffic, and the County scuttled its proposal.

    However, that could mean that the developer demolishes the building and constructs new housing on the site, which may generate as much traffic, just at different times.

    This reminds me of other examples when opposition by residents to particular projects results, down the road, in worse outcomes (a Walmart instead of housing, etc.) because at the time opponents couldn't conceptualize scenarios and outcomes that were worse. From the article:
    Residents of the Southland Hills community are planning a rally Sunday to draw attention to their concerns about the building and generate support for landmark designation.

    "We're a neighborhood and we want to remain a neighborhood," said Kate Knott, another Southland Hills resident.

    Adler said Caves Valley [the developer] will oppose landmark status for the building. Now that offices are off the table, he said the company is evaluating whether the existing building can be incorporated in a residential project — or must be torn down to build new.

    The company has the property, which is zoned for up to 5.5 homes per acre, under contract. Presbyterian Home officials have said the contract is subject to a 60-day study period, which runs through mid-October.
    McLean, Virginia -- a house dating to the 1700s

    Washington's NBC station reported (Historic McLean Home Set for Demolition") on plans by a developer to demolish a house dating to the 1700s, said to have significant connections to historical events associated with the War of 1812 and the Civil, to build three new houses in its place.
    House slated to be demolished in McLean, Virginia
    Fairfax County's comprehensive plan calls for inventorying potential historic resources, but mostly this goal remains unattained.  While the County has a process for landmarking individual buildings, the State of Virginia does not authorize local jurisdiction to enact interim protections for "old" potentially designatable buildings threatened by demolition.  By contrast other states, cities, and counties, including DC, have such a process.

    Whether or not local officials in Fairfax County are prepared to stick their necks out and try to save the building--this could be done by attempts at "suasion" with the developer--there is no way to file a landmark nomination to save the building once a demolition permit has been issued, and it has.

    Likely the only alternative to demolition would be for the government or private entities to step in and buy the property.  This happens on occasion, but not very often.  It's facilitated when there are "revolving funds" and other mechanisms in place on a standing basis.

    Terrace Theatre, Robbinsdale, Minnesota

    Robbinsdale, a suburb of Minneapolis, doesn't prioritize preservation in its city plan and doesn't consider older architecture to be historic unless it is "high architecture" or associated with particularly significant events.

    Therefore a cinema building dating to the 1950s doesn't seem out of the ordinary or worth protecting, although the city plan does see the opportunity for adaptively reusing the building.

    While the cinema hasn't been operating for many years, "obsolete" in part because of how the cinema industry has shifted to very buildings with 10 to 25 screens, there has been an ongoing campaign to "save" the building, focused more on persuasion, because the city doesn't have a historic preservation protection ordinance.

    -- The Historic Terrace Theatre – Since 1951
    -- Save the Terrace – Robbinsdale Historical Society

    The developer of the site, a former shopping center, isn't particularly interested in preserving the building, although one could argue doing so would fit in with how new shopping centers are adding entertainment and "third place" kinds of options to round out their offerings to keep customers on-site longer ("A fresh take on 'Retailtainment' and future of fun," Chain Store Age). From the article:
    Retail has been the foundation of shopping centers throughout their existence, but new entertainment concepts are making inroads in traditional retail venues.

    Even in mixed-use venues, it is generally accepted that a critical mass of traditional retail is the highlight, and that other uses are complementary pieces, designed to drive traffic and support the retail component. While the industry has been slowly evolving away from that traditional model for some time now (dining and entertainment uses in particular have emerged as more significant pieces of the commercial puzzle) that trend has exploded in recent years. A wide range of dynamic and engaging new entertainment uses have sprung up, and have functioned as increasingly prominent features on the development landscape.

    Today, entertainment is no longer a side dish: it’s the main course. And it’s a meal that landlords and commercial development decision-makers are increasingly interested in ordering.
    While the advocacy campaign ("More than 2,000 sign petition to preserve Robbinsdale's historic Terrace Theater:The Robbinsdale building could be pricey to reopen," Minneapolis Star-Tribune) hasn't been successful with either the developer ("Robbinsdale's dilemma: Save Terrace Theatre or open new grocery") or the city ("Robbinsdale to consider Terrace demo with or without Hy-Vee"), their campaign targeting the anchor tenant has been.

    In a surprising turn, the main tenant for the proposed development, Hy-Vee, a Des Moines-based supermarket company that has been expanding in the Minneapolis market, has backed off the project because of public pressure around saving the theater ("Hy-Vee halts Robbinsdale grocery store plans due to local resistance," Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal).

    Normally, that would be enough to get the developer to modify their plans, because typically construction finance loans aren't released without a certain number of committed tenants, in particular the anchor, and a Hy-Vee, one of the nation's more successful independent supermarket chains, is almost impossible to replace.

    Despite Hy-Vee pulling out, at least for now, in a hearing earlier this week the city approved the demolition ("Robbinsdale council approves Terrace Theatre teardown; lawsuit filed to halt demolition") and seemingly, the developer plans to move forward.

    In the Bel-Loc Diner situation in Baltimore County, there's no question that if Starbucks preferred to use the diner building, but rehabilitated and enhanced, that's what would happen.

    The Robbinsdale situation is a little different, because Hy-Vee wouldn't be a tenant in the Terrace Theatre building, instead it would be preserved and operated as a separate initiative, for which the developer has no tenant, and neither the advocacy group nor the city have money for such a project.

    This is an odd instance where a preservation advocacy campaign gets a solid win -- the key tenant backs out of a project because of how the action might harm relationships with current and future customers -- but for some reason, the developer doesn't care.

    General lessons

    I think the general lesson is once a building is under threat, it's usually too late to save it in the face of other plans.

    1.  Don't wait to nominate a building.

    2.  Make sure you have/create strong local laws and a process for protecting threatened buildings.

    3.  Inventory historic resources in your community in advance of them being threatened.

    4.  Legalize a process for providing interim protections for buildings under threat, which might require the creation of laws at the state level too.

    5.  Develop relationships with developers interested or willing to take on projects involving historic buildings.

    6.  Try to line up money that can be used to buy buildings and fund rehabilitation.

    7.  Help find uses/tenants for historic buildings. Obviously, a profitable use for a building keeps it occupied.

    Unfortunately in the case of the Terrace Theatre, a "cinema drafthouse" type use is already present at the New Hope Cinema Grill located in an adjacent town, less than four miles away.

    For communities other than Robbinsdale, the New Hope Cinema Grill is actually a great model for how to bring back a historic theater building--even though this particular operation isn't legacy and in a historic theater but in an old shopping center.

    It started out as a way to occupy part of a mostly vacant shopping center. It shows movies, runs a comedy club operation, and holds special events.  They expanded the operation in other vacant spaces next door, adding a bar and grill done in a movies theme, which also scheduledslive music,ed in buildings adjacent to the theater ("Outtakes Bar & Grill opening in New Hope," Sun-Post) ,

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    Thursday, August 25, 2016

    Today is the 100th anniversary of the US National Park Service

    Parks that charge entrance fees are free from today through Sunday, August 28th.

    -- "The history of America's national parks," Boston Globe discusses seven books on various aspects of the history of US national parks.  A good reading list.

    -- "Park Service celebrates 100 years, seeks minorities' support," Associated Press
    -- "Are we loving our National Parks to death?," New York Times
    -- "Utah Spending Million Promoting Mighty 5 National Parks," press release, 2014 and "The mighty wait at The Mighty Five (Utah's national parks)," Salt Lake Deseret News, 2016
    -- "The history of the National Mall, from the White House to the National Museum of African American History and Culture," Washington Post
    -- Urban Agenda report, National Park Service
    -- Dog Management Planning, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
    -- "At 100, National Park Service seeks younger, more diverse crowd," Minneapolis Sta-Tribune
    -- "National Park Service turns 100, but facilities not being kept up," Columbus Dispatch
    -- "D.C. Is Full Of Tiny, Obscure Parks. Can The NPS Keep Up With Them?," WAMU/NPR


    City of Boston master planning process (Imagine Boston 2030) suggests reading list

    "Through Imagine Boston 2030, we are engaging residents on the future of our city in ways that have never been done before," said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "This reading list is another tool we're using to drive engagement and ask people to think about to Boston's first city-wide planning undertaking in 50 years. I encourage all residents to visit their local library branch to pick up at least one of the books on the list and join the conversation about the Boston's future."
    They are also running a voting process to select three more books.

    Adult Reading List

    "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond
    "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs
    “Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development” by Mel King
    “The Given Day” by Dennis Lehane
    "Common Ground" by J. Anthony Lukas
    "All Souls" by Michael Patrick MacDonald
    “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro
    “Karma and Other Stories” by Rishi Reddi
    "The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong” by Judith Rodin
    “Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in a Boston Barrio” by Mario Luis Small
    "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time" by Jeff Speck
    "The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future" by Joseph E. Stiglitz

    Youth (Ages 3+) Reading List

    “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing” by M. T. Anderson
    “The City of Ember” by Jeanne DuPrau
    "Pennies for Elephants" by Lita Judge
    “What’s the Big Idea? Four Centuries of Innovation in Boston” by Stephen Krensky
    "Make Way for Ducklings" by Robery McCloskey
    "Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagine" by Steve McDonald
    “Beneath the Streets of Boston” by Joe McKendry
    "On the Loose in Boston (Find the Animals)" by Sage Stossel

    ===My suggestions======

    Drawing from The House Book.

    I used to say that if you're going to read just one book, read Cities Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz because it is an excellent primer with lots of examples, based on the ideas of Jane Jacobs but more accessible because of the examples. 

    But the book is close to 20 years old now, and needs more recent examples probably to be graspable by the average person.  It's still a great book, as is her earlier book, The Living City.

    Belmont's Cities in Full is a great explanation of the value of center cities and centralization vs. deconcentration. It needs an update too in the face of current practice. The first chapter puts numbers to many of the concepts expressed by Jane Jacobs in Death and Life of Great American Cities.

    Changing Places by Carter Willkie and Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is out of print but an excellent overview of the centrality of historic preservation to successful urban revitalization. Preserving Historic New England: Preservation, Progressivism, and the Remaking of Memory is specifically about the history of the historic preservation movement in New England Antiquities.

    David Engwicht's Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns: Better Living Through Less Traffic lays out the founding principles of what is now called "transportation demand management," and discusses in great detail the advantages of sustainable mobility for cities in facilitating "exchange" of all kinds.

    William H. Whyte's City: Rediscovering the Center lays out urban design principles that form the basis of urban success.

    James Howard Kuntsler's Home from Nowhere and Geography of Nowhere are rocking reads about cities and the value of authenticity.

    Obviously Power Broker is a classic explanation of how real estate development and power and politics, but it's over 1,000 pages. Urban Fortunes: Towards a Political Economy of Place is probably too technical. There has to be shorter more relevant books specifically about Boston's real estate development ecosystem.  People might appreciate Anthony Flint's Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City because it compares and contrasts the two very different approaches, top-down/mega-projects vs. ground up incrementalism that they each espoused.

    For Boston specifically, it'd be helpful to understand how metropolitan area development was enabled and shaped by transit, and this has historical antecedents, so Sam Bass Warner's Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 is in order.  A City So Grand covers the city's history from 1850-1900 during one of the periods of hyper growth.

    Other books on Boston urban history include Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston and Inventing the Charles River--which is a man-made river, constructed out of flats. Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System addresses the creation of Boston's original park system.

    Policing and K-12 education are other key topics.  I think Fixing Broken Windows by Kelling is worth a read.  Problem-oriented policing as a concept is much different from "zero tolerance policing" although the two practices are conflated.  There's a newer book on the general topic by the former chief of the Seattle depatment but I haven't read it, To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's Police.

    I can't say I know what would be the definitive book to recommend on K-12 education practice. A couple that come to mind are Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago and The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education.  But quality local schools are fundamental building blocks for neighborhoods, and key to retention of families with choices.  Typically, master planning processes don't adequately acknowledge this nor do they organize their planning frameworks for the sub-community scale to bring this about.

    Maybe the book Streets of Hope is too dated, about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, a ground up community development initiative.  I haven't read A People's History of the New Boston which covers community organizing movements of the 1960s and 1970s, but that would be a worthwhile alternative.

    For kids, I'd recommend The House Book by Keith DuQuette.  It's many drawings also explain some elements of urban development, and the difference between urban and suburban development.

    Reading Groups going forward.  I used to say back in the day with the "everybody read the same book" campaigns in various cities that it would be good to focus on urbanism, to get people roughly at the same point on contemporary city issues.

    It'd be interesting to create on-going reading groups for each of these sub-areas such as transportation, schools, parks, etc., because there are many many more books that are relevant and important to know about and understand and apply to current conditions.

    Architecture, economic development and the organization of work (e.g., the "sharing economy" and product service systems), retail practice etc. are some of the areas that I didn't address that are relevant to urban planning and urban futures.

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    Wednesday, August 24, 2016

    Will D.C.’s Housing Ever Be Affordable Again?

    Is the title of an article in The Atlantic Magazine.  My short answer is no.

    Here's why.

    1. DC is a small place, about 61 square miles. But about 1/3 of the land is owned by the federal government or other institutions and therefore can not be built on for housing. (Unless the institution goes out of business, which does happen, but not that often.  One example is St. Paul's College in Brookland.  Earlier a section was sold off to EYA, which built no lot rowhouses on the land.)

     Most of the city that can be developed, especially single family housing districts, has already been developed. It is very difficult to make over single family districts into multiunit, denser housing.  Plus, the new housing would cost more than the old housing because it would be new.

    Montreal (tri) plexMontreal's plex housing type fits 5-6 units in the same space as two rowhouses in DC.

    2.  During the period when the bulk of DC's housing stock was constructed, the buildings constructed were relatively small, compared to other cities.  (Think of NYC tenements vs. single family rowhouses in DC.)

    This continues to restrict how many people can be accommodated in rowhouses and rowhouse neighborhoods.

    3. Height and therefore density controls significantly reduce the ability to add substantive amounts of new housing.

    Besides most of the city has already been developed, so practically speaking, new housing can only be added to commercial districts, transit stations, and institutional properties.  Given the height limit, 16 stories is about the maximum allowable height of a building in DC.

    But that's in the central business district, Downtown and adjacent areas.  Outside of the core, the zoning-based height limit is much less and six stories is a more typical height, four is common, although in some districts--Petworth, Columbia Heights, Waterfront--some buildings are closer to ten stories.

    Cheap infill rowhouse, 500 block of M Street NE
    Most of DC's rowhouses are small, topping out at two or three stories.  Note the cheap infill rowhouse in this image, from the 400 block of M Street NE.

    4. Demand has increased for a relatively fixed stock of housing. Therefore, prices go up. DC is now a strong real estate market.

     And as the prices further escalate in the in-demand areas, people seek out nearby housing in less-in-demand communities (in what Live Baltimore calls the "one-over neighborhood" phenomenon), reconnecting these neighborhoods to the in-demand portion of the city's housing market.

    5. Plus the demand for new housing is still greater than the supply, even with the multiunit apartment and condominium buildings that have already been added to the market, so housing prices stay high except over multi decade timelines.

    6. This is because by definition new construction is priced at the top of the market.

    7. Inclusionary Zoning, or requiring that new housing being constructed set aside some units to be rented or sold to lower income households, has no impact on the existing building stock and it doesn't create a portfolio of "old" affordable housing.

    8. Plus as pointed out in the article, the city hasn't focused on acquisition of existing housing to maintain affordability. In other words, there is no program to maintain affordability, other than the program which allows residents of multiunit buildings to join together to purchase the property in certain situations, which is a decent program. By contrast, cities like New York have pursued multiple actions and developed multiple programs that aim to preserve and expand the stock of affordable housing.

    9. Neighborhood resident activism with regard to zoning and building approvals reduces the actual built density of new construction within the current zoning limits (see 1). This means that many multiunit buildings are constructed at a height and density less than allowable zoning. Note that by "allowing" built housing to be less than maximum legal density, it also costs the city property tax revenue as well as reduced income tax and sales tax revenues as an opportunity cost because of fewer residents.

    The five story Allegro building in Columbia Heights is about two blocks from the Metro Station and one block from an eight story apartment building constructed in the early part of the 20th Century.

    10. The city's zoning code doesn't provide an automatic density bonus for housing constructed within one or two blocks of Metrorail stations.

    E.g., I can point to new buildings in my neighborhood, within two blocks of Metro that are easily 2-3 stories shorter "than they could be" given the existence of nearby transit infrastructure.

    The three and one-half story Willow and Maple Apartments in Takoma DC are about two blocks from the Metrorail station.  Across the street is a taller four story building and across the border in Takoma is a one-off ten story office building.

    Very Long Term Solutions

    First, we must recognize that adding housing to an already strong market, because it is newly constructed, will only stabilize housing prices relatively in the short term, except that it may reduce demand on the single family housing market a bit, by providing a greater number of housing tenure options and more housing generally.  However, in the long term, on a 30 to 50 year time frame, prices will stabilize as these properties are paid off, and as the housing inventory expands signficantly.

    2.  Legalize higher height and density.  (Mostly, I argue this because of DC's need to remain competitive vis a vis suburban jurisdictions and to increase the tax base to the point where increased revenues could finance intra-city heavy rail transit service.  See "DC Height Study Public Meetings This Week and the long term implications for transit expansion in DC.")
    3. Baring that, add a density bonus in commercial districts and transit station catchment areas.  Currently, the limit in many areas is about 6-7 stories.  In many districts outside of the core, new multiunit buildings max out at about 4 stories.

    4.  Make it city policy to not lop off a floor or two of new projects so that residents feel like they are part of the process out of a recognition that such practice reduces the amount of housing available and increases cost--that if they are concerned about housing access and housing prices, then they need to follow through with congruent practice designed to increase housing access and stabilize housing prices.

    5.  Encourage the creation of accessory dwelling units in a systematic manner and make building regulations on the practice more nuanced -- in other words, allow more units on a larger properties, encourage units in transit station catchment areas,  rather than just one unit per lot, regardless of the size or location.  See "Granny flats' – a solution to housing crunch – come under fire," Christian Science Monitor.  From the article:
    A resident of Portland, Ore., Mr. Peterson owns a company called Accessory Dwelling Strategies, which seeks to educate the public about the benefits of building a granny flat, or accessory dwelling unit.

    He gives talks about designing and constructing ADUs and consults with realtors about the best ways to market secondary homes. He also runs a citywide ADU tour of Portland in an effort to prove that secondary homes can enhance neighborhoods rather than spoil them while allowing owners to make a profit.

    “It’s a way for middle-income homeowners to create a passive income stream and flexibility for themselves,” Peterson says. “It’s a compelling form of development opportunity that is entirely market-driven … [but] not done by huge, large scale, well-heeled developers. It’s kind of a grass-roots form of housing movement.”

    And it's growing, he says. In 2015, Portland saw three times the number of applications for ADU permits than in 2009, when it first waived system development fees and reduced the cost of permits by up to $15,000, OregonLive reports. Portland now approves slightly more than 100 ADUs annually, more than almost any other city in the US, Peterson says.
    6.  Build denser public housing projects.  Complement the developments with great social and community programs to encourage mixed income and community stability.  But the policy over the last 20 years has been to reduce the size of the developments, thereby reducing the amount of housing available.

    Bonus policy, semi-related

    I was shocked to see an article in the Washington Business Journal, "D.C. doesn't want deeper levels of affordability in JBG's Eckington project" about how the city's Department of Housing and Community Development opposed a proposal by a developer to add more affordable housing to a project, but only if the housing was managed by the developer.

    The Condo Shop is a condominium sales and marketing firm based in Philadelphia.

    The city needs to develop the equivalent of a market-oriented affordable housing property sales and management agency that can be "nonprofit" but managed and marketed like how the private sector does it, with companies that specialize in selling condos, such as McWilliams-Ballard or Urban Pace.

    Rather than separate marketing efforts for each separate development, combine it all into one program.  Focus on maximizing production and rental/sales of affordable housing units rather than bureaucracy.

    Such an agency needs to be run with a private sector verve, which for the most part is not possible by typical government employees.  The way that Arlington County runs its transportation programs is an example of such a repositioning, based on social marketing practices ("Social Marketing the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore) way").

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    You want more affordable housing, how do you pay for it?: National Development Council Brings Nationally Acclaimed Rental Housing Development Finance Course to D.C.

    If I've learned one thing from being so involved in urban revitalization, especially in emerging neighborhoods, it's that financing is the essential enabler.

    For all of the talk about affordability, housing production, and the importance of building housing for demographics other than those of the highest income, the fact of the matter is that this type of housing is incredibly difficult to finance, because it is higher risk and less profitable, and construction financiers prefer to fund projects with the least amount of risk and the most profit.

    -- Affordable Housing Institute

    Most of us in the broad field of neighborhood and urban revitalization aren't particularly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of finance. 

    Typically, an affordable-social housing development is funded as a result of lining up multiple finance sources, from community development funds, tax credits of various types, funding for pre-development costs, etc.

    As you can see by running a simulation through the housing finance calculator, The Cost of Affordable Housing: Does it Pencil Out, produced by the Urban Institute and the National Housing Conference, funding, constructing, and operating an affordable housing development is very difficult to do without running an annual deficit.

    Some of the ways that the deficit can be reduced/erased is through free land, pre-development financial assistance, density bonuses, and renting to different tranches of the affordable housing demographics that can pay higher rents than people making 30% of Average Median Income for a metropolitan area.

    That's why the course that the National Development Council offers on the topic seems so interesting and important. Because the program is being offered at the suggestion of the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, they are offering a 20% discount on the registration fee.

    From the press release:
    The National Development Council (NDC) is pleased to announce it will be bringing its nationally recognized and APA AICP accredited HD420-Rental Housing Development Finance course to Washington, D.C. September 19-23, 2016.

    The HD420 course provides nonprofit and government professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to increase their development finance capacity to successfully facilitate housing development in the states, regions and communities they serve. Participants will take a detailed look at the analysis, financing and development of affordable rental housing and learn the underwriting criteria used by lenders and the rates of return demanded by private equity investors in order to determine their investment in a rental housing project. The HD420 course also explores the methods practitioners can utilize to attract the maximum amount of private capital to rental housing projects as well as the techniques to fill financing gaps with public resources.

    NDC’s HD420-Rental Housing Development Finance course is approved through the American Planning Association’s Certification Maintenance Program (36.00 credits). The training will be held at the Double Tree by Hilton located at 1515 Rhode Island Avenue, NW Washington, D.C.

    About the discount:

    *Save 10% with promo code dchd420 and an extra 10% when you register by September 10, 2016. This is a limited time offer valid only on new registrations received between August 23, 12016 and September 15, 2016. Discount is non-transferable after this date. Promo code must be entered at the time of registration. This offer cannot be used on any previous registrations or courses sponsored by a third party.

    Sunday, August 21, 2016

    Twenty candidates compete for seats on BART, AC Transit boards

    Michael Petrelis is a candidate for the BART Board for one of the districts within San Francisco.

    The San Francisco Bay Area may be one of the only areas in the US where board members for the transit agency are popularly elected.  Boards for both the Bay Area Rapid Transit heavy rail system and the AC Transit system for Alameda County are elected.  See "Twenty candidates compete for seats on BART, AC Transit boards," East Bay Times.

    By contrast most other areas have boards appointed by other government bodies.

    Last year, BART Board Member Zachary Mallett pushed forward an initiative to put board member photos and contact information up in transit stations, as a way for riders to know who they could contact to express their concerns, although some people criticized this as an election promotion mechanism ("BART director wants to display board's photos in cars, stations," SF Chronicle).

    Over the years I have suggested that the DC area WMATA transit agency have popularly elected members, and that more cities, including DC< should have Transportation Commissions--although typically such members are appointed.  (In the DC area, Arlington County and the City of Rockville have transportation commissions.  The City of Tempe in Arizona does also.)

    Commenter charlie pointed out that the advantage of appointed members in the DC area is that they are connected to the jurisdictions that provide funding.  But if sales or property tax revenues were added to the funding mix for WMATA, then that could change the calculus somewhat.

    In Greater Portland, Oregon, there the Council of Governments and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (the transportation planning organization designated by the US DOT for the metropolitan area) were merged into a common body and eventually the positions were shifted to being popularly elected. In Ontario, there are both regional and local governments in some areas, not unlike how in the US there can be county elected governments simultaneous with locally elected governments.

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    Saturday, August 20, 2016

    Wyoming displays traffic death totals on highway safety signs

    I'm intrigued by the idea of sensor networks and other counters and displays of relevant information in the public space, be it bike counters like in Arlington County (and many cities in Europe) or potentially the display of information on water and air quality ("Park bench air monitoring station at Smithsonian National Zoo and city sensor networks").

    Another way to do this is in online dashboards, although I sometimes question failures in the quality of the information provided ("Does the focus on big data mean we miss the opportunity for better use of "little data": Part 1--Road Condition Data as an example of failures in presenting data (Information Design)").

    Yet another example is information presented within office buildings on various environmental metrics ("A Measured Approach to Going Green: IBM “Green Sigma (TM)”: Consulting Offering to Help Clients Reduce Energy and Water Usage," IBM).

    According to the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle ("Wyoming electronic signs highlight highway deaths"), the Wyoming Department of Transportation is using the freeway sign active information displays to present information on traffic fatalities.

    Photo: Wyoming DOT.

    From the article:
    You might have already seen this staggering statistic on electronic message boards across the state: 25 fatal crashes have happened on Wyoming highways since July 15.

    As of Thursday, there had been 73 fatalities so far this year.

    “The message in all of this is that a third of our fatalities this year have occurred in the last 30 days,” said Gregg Fredrick, the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s chief engineer.

    “It’s a sobering message, and it’s not a message that we want to see out there. We don’t want to see any fatalities on our highways.
    It turns out that many other states do this too.  Nevada does it, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, and likely others.  Texas, being so big and populated, has over 2,000 traffic-related fatalities each year ("TxDOT Signs To Regularly Display Traffic Death Numbers").

    While only a small proportion of the population makes behavior changes based on information and logic ("The healthy choice:n ow behavioral factors create influential health campaigns," Deloitte), it's still powerful.

    Note that a few weeks ago I was traveling from Virginia across the 14th Street Bridge and there was a similar message about the WMATA SafeTrack program advising people to consider other transportation options, but I wasn't in a position to be able to get a photo.

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    Friday, August 19, 2016

    DC's (lack of full) commitment to bicycle "superhighways": and the counter example of Four Mile Run Trail in Arlington County

    In order to increase significantly the take up of bicycling for transportation, appropriate infrastructure needs to be provided. Just as for the traditional road network and its classification of freeways, highways, principal and secondary arterials, collector streets, and neighborhood streets serving a variety of types of trips, what's appropriate bicycle infrastructure depends on the nature of the trip, such as if it is intra-neighborhood, within a district or city, or a further distance, across jurisdictional boundaries, etc.

    I wrote about this a couple months ago, in "Wanted: a metropolitan scale bikeways/trails program run by the Metropolitan Planning Organization," which was in part a response to the area Paved Trails Plan draft by the National Park Service.  There was a brief follow up based on the trail signage framework developed in Greater Knoxville ("Greater Knoxville Greenway signage framework").

    My complaint is that there isn't a metropolitan-scale plan for the Washington metropolitan area, laying out and implementing an integrated system of bikeways that is cross-jurisdictional.

    This is the case despite planning within jurisdictions such as in DC, Prince George's County, and Montgomery County, the latter two are updating the bicycle and trails plans.

    At the metropolitan scale, there are many gaps in planning and practice when it comes to the build out of the equivalent of cycle superhighways comparable to the Dutch ("The – almost finished – F59 from ʼs-Hertogenbosch to Oss," Bicycle Dutch), Danish ("In Denmark, Pedaling to Work on a Superhighway," New York Times, German ("Moving Beyond the Autobahn: Germany’s New Bike Highways," Yale360), or London ("The new East - West Cycle Superhighway in London, Hackney Cyclist).

    Cycle superhighways are are long distance trails many miles in length, with high quality treatments, including for the most part, separation from motor vehicle traffic and highly distinctive treatments at junction points between the road network and the trail network.

    Image from "Cycle Super Highways to generate more cyclists in Greater Copenhagen Area," Cycling Embassy of Denmark.

    From the Yale360 article:
    Cycling highways are fundamentally different from usual cycling lanes. Highways are around 4 to 5 meters wide — twice the width of many bike paths — so faster cyclists can overtake slower ones in both directions. High-quality asphalt is often used to enable bicyclists to travel faster. These highways are designed with few or no intersections with major roads, and as few traffic lights as possible — all intended to enable cyclists to travel effortlessly within or among cities and suburbs. Like autobahns, the biking highways are designed to allow travelers to cover large distances without leaving the network.
    DC's primary cycle superhighways are the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, the Capital Crescent Trail, and the Metropolitan Branch Branch Trail, and the Suitland Parkway Trail, among others. These trails do have long stretches of lanes separated from motor vehicle traffic.

    Still, there are many gaps and it is taking more than 30 years to realize the Metropolitan Branch Trail, from when it was first suggested in an op-ed in the Washington Post in 1989 ("Geared to Everyone's Interests-A Brookland Bike Trail").

    The primary cycle superhighway in Metropolitan DC is the Mount Vernon Trail in Northern Virginia, which is mostly on property controlled by the National Park Service.  This trail is accessible from highway crossings and includes connections to National Airport, both of which are still relatively extraordinary examples of high quality connections within a bikeway network.

    The Mount Vernon Trail is complemented by other trails in Northern Virginia, including Four Mile Run, Custis Trail, both in Arlington County, and the multi-county Washington and Old Dominion Trail.

    In their latest advocacy e-letter, Washington Area Bicyclist Association recounts how the DC Department of Transportation will not be including an underpass for the MBT at Monroe Street NE in conjunction with the reconstruction of that bridge, even though this had been promised for many years.

    Note that I wrote about different failure wrt this project in June, about how the reconstruction could be leveraged to reknit the street fabric between the east and west sides of the Brookland neighborhood by constructing liner buildings on Monroe Street.  See "Transportation infrastructure and civic architecture #4:The Monroe Street Bridge as an opportunity to reknit the built environment/street fabric."
    Monroe Street Bridge reconstruction, Brookland neighborhood, Washington, DC
    In 2012, I suggested an alternative routing for the MBT in this area on 9th Street NE, because the 8th Street routing mixes cyclists with industrial and school traffic. See "Alternative routing for the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Brookland." (Note that photos in the entry with an unviewable notice are viewable if you click through.)

    I think DDOT's move forward with a bridge reconstruction not including either a gliner buildings or an underpass for the Metropolitan Branch Trail are good examples of how DDOT isn't fully committed to how transportation infrastructure projects can make long term positive contributions to community and economic development and a more integrated multi-modal transportation system that is focused on optimal mobility in the urban context.

    However, there's no doubt the city is committed to cycling.

    DC is doing a lot of good, commendable actions, such as expanding bike share, creating cycle tracks, creating contra-flow lanes for bicyclists so that they can ride legally in both directions on one way streets ("G Place NE contraflow lane - Now with markings!," WaschCycle), developing a "neighborhood bikeway network" and improving cyclist safety at problematic intersections by creating new marking patterns on the street ("These new bike lanes help traffic flow, called "pocket lanes," help traffic flow and keep cyclists safe," Greater Greater Washington).

    But at the same time, the agency seems to be unwilling to develop projects in particularly transformational ways, such as making the MBT work well as a "cycle superhighway" by building an underpass at Monroe Street, or developing the bridge so that it can accommodate liner buildings.

    I contrast this to Arlington County, Virginia -- granted they developed a set of "cycle superhighways" over many years.

    Earlier in the week, I had a meeting in Alexandria, at a location near the conjunction of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax Counties, just off King Street. It was about 14 miles from home and I cycled despite the heat.

    About half the trip was in DC, all on streets, and the rest in Virginia.

    Once I got to the 14th Street Bridge I was able to ride almost the entire remaining distance without coming into contact with motor vehicle traffic, via the Mount Vernon Trail and the Four Mile Run Trail, having had to cross only a handful of streets. Four Mile Run is particularly exemplary, with a number of underpasses, the kind that DDOT is not willing to build at the Monroe Street Bridge.  It even provides an underpass crossing of I-395, the Interstate Highway!

    It could have somewhat better signage, although the signage is quite good, and it lacks map signs, air pumps, repair stands, etc.  (There is one map sign on the Mount Vernon Trail when it intersects.)

    While it doesn't have those particular amenities, it does have some covered benches, trash cans, public art, a bike share station and exercise stations adjacent to the trail in Shirlington, and a community bulletin board in the Claremont neighborhood.

    A metropolitan bikeways plan would call out exemplary infrastructure and set high expectations for adopting the same kind of infrastructure across area jurisdictions with the aim of creating an integrated wide scale bikeways network.

    On underpasses
    Arlington County -- +1
    DC -- -1 (although the Metropolitan Branch Trail has an overpass at Rhode Island Avenue and Florida Avenue and an underpass at New York Avenue).

    Public art on the fence outside the wastewater treatment plant

    Trail rules sign

    Community bulletin board, Claremont Historic District

    Bike share station map, S. Arlington Mill Drive, Shirlington

    Street underpass on the Four Mile Run Trail

    Underpass at I-395, Flickriver photo

     The Four Mile Run Trail is also an electric power transmission corridor

    Transportation brochure rack, Shirlington Library

    Area transportation options map, Shirlington Library

    On S. Walter Reed Drive near King Street/Alexandria City border

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    Museum of Design Atlanta Announces FREE Membership Program for Kids: equity and access in museum and cultural planning

    Years ago, reading a Wallace Foundation report on building audiences for the arts (Engaging the Entire Community), I was struck by one of the examples, how the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a free membership program for low income audiences, even providing free bus transportation to programs.

    Chanel Baldwin, exploring the Brooklyn Museum after learning that admission fees were suggested. Karsten Moran, New York Times.

    In 2013 there was an article in the New York Times ("Escaping the Heat in Art's Fortress: A teenager escapes the summer heat in a museum lobby, then learns she doesn’t have to pay a fee to see the art") about how visitors to some of NYC's major museums (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, etc.) have the choice to pay what they want, but often young adults don't know this.

    More recently, PS1 in New York City provides free entry to NYC residents through this October, compliments of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation ("MoMA PS1 Announces Free Admission to All New York City Residents," press release).

    Image courtesy of MODA.

    The Museum of Design Atlanta has just announced a program in this vein, offering free membership to children and youth up to 17 years of age and one adult.  From a press release:
    Kids who join Design Club will be joining a network of over 1,500 young designers, most of whom are in the metro-Atlanta area, but some of whom live as far away as Chicago and Rome, Italy! 
    MODA’s Design Club offers each member and one accompanying adult unlimited free admission to the museum’s exhibitions, newsletters with unique design challenges, and invitations to Design Club activities that empower youth to use design and design thinking to face real world challenges they encounter in everyday life. To make it official, Design Club members also receive personalized membership cards to use at the front desk. 
    “We believe that kids can change the world,” said MODA executive director Laura Flusche. “They see the world through fresh eyes, they love wacky ideas, and they are brave enough to think that anything is possible.” Design Club gives children access to exhibitions and programs with the aim of helping them fall in love with the problem-solving power of design.

    In order to support this revolutionary program, MODA raised funds through the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs Power2Give Program in early 2016, asking individual and corporate donors to make gifts that were matched by the City of Atlanta.
    The New York City initiatives are free form.  Students can enter the museum for free, and there are programs, but it's more free form.  The Walker Art Center initiative focused on families in a concerted way.  But the MODA initiative takes this one step further, by positioning and developing the Design Club as a "network" that builds upon the participation of individuals towards a more group focused involvement and identity.

    Artists For Humanity as an another example of working with youth in the arts and design fields.  I happened to mention AFH yesterday related to their creation of a Roxbury-centric design for a Hubway bike, in honor of the expansion of the Hubway bike sharing system to Roxbury.

    Image from "Artists For Humanity Installed a 3D Mural Along the Mass. Pike," BostonInno.

    AFH is an youth training initiative where working artists work with students to create commissioned arts and design projects ("Mayor Walsh announces expansion of Artists for Humanity," Daily Free Press, Boston University; "Artists for Humanity turns young people's creative impulses into gainful employment," Kresge Foundation).

    In part, it's providing access to career options within the creative industries to people who might not otherwise consider the opportunity.

    From the KF article:
    In one room, young photographers learn from pros about telling compelling stories with pictures. Down the hall whip-smart ideas become hip T-shirt designs in the silk screen studio. A bit farther along, in the 3-D workroom, scraps and detritus are being recycled. The items are as small as jewelry beads and as large as a sculpture installation – a curved aluminum-sheet section of the latter is being festooned with recycled soda bottle caps – for Logan Airport. On the next floor, there’s a forest of easels, more than 80 of them, with painters creating self-portraits, streetscapes, landscapes, abstracts at each station.

    Most important, these workrooms and others at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood crackle with creative energy barely contained. “All they need is opportunity and challenge,” says Susan Rodgerson, the executive/artistic director, sharing one of her aphorisms.

    Artists for Humanities began 20 years ago as a one-off mural project in a troubled Boston middle school. That initial notion was simple enough: work with young people on commissioned art and see that they get paid. It’s morphed into roughly more than a hundred teens filling a 23,500-square-foot facility. Each year, 300 or more public high school students work in areas from Web design to murals, motion graphics to painting.
    Also see the past blog entry, "An illustration of government and design thinking," about the relevance of the design method and process to social change, civic engagement, and provision of public services.

    Cultural master planning.  Many communities, such as Baltimore, support free museum access (even if admission fees are still required for special exhibitions). Equity and access should be a distinct element in the framework for developing community cultural master plans. Typically this is not the case.

    In Washington, DC, the city has many free museums run by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art, yet many residents, especially low income residents and youth, have never visited. This is further accentuated by the decline in funding for school trips, which are often great ways to introduce children and youth--I still remember going to the Detroit Institute of Arts on a class trip for my French class to see the exhibition on French Impressionists, when I was in 8th grade.

    Initiatives like MODA’s Design Club are important examples for communities looking for better ways to reach traditionally under-served audiences, especially youth and low income families.  (It appears as if the Walker Art Center no longer offers the "Explore Membership" program for low income households.  See "Case Study," Philanthropology, for a discussion of the various engagement initiatives.)

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