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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Transit stories

Nina Schmidt and Jarred Greff get married on a Coast Mountain transit bus in Vancouver, BC, August 6, 2013. They first met on the #3 bus on Main street. ARLEN REDEKOP / PROVINCE

1.  Couple meets on the bus, later they marry ("Match: A chance bus encounter left him speechless," Toronto Globe & Mail) with a special ceremony on the bus ("Couple take the ride of their life by saying ‘I do’ on Vancouver bus," Vancouver Province).

Of course, it took a few requests before the transit agency agreed to use of the bus for the wedding.

Political science junior Ryan Wadding, a Marine Corps veteran, was frustrated with the hassles of driving and parking at ASU so he started taking the light rail and busses with the U-Pass. With no need for a car, he sold it. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

2. Ryan Wadding, a student at Arizona State Universit, after experiencing the ease of using transit in Germany, decided to sell his car upon returning to the US ("ASU student liked public transit so much he sold his car," ASU Now). It happens the campus is near the Tempe Transportation Center, which is a stop on the ValleyLink light rail system, and a local and regional bus transit center. From the article:
“I was using my car to commute and parking in a structure. I paid $720 to park per academic year,” he said. “I also paid for gas, vehicle insurance, registration costs and regular maintenance.”

In Munich last summer, Wadding saw how simple and enjoyable public transit and walking can be. Public transportation is less stressful, more sustainable and gives you an opportunity to get some work done, he said.

He now uses a U-Pass, the light rail and the intercampus shuttle to get to campus.

“Many times (on public transit), I saw things I knew I would have missed in a car. I observed people I rode with and saw into the culture of wherever I was,” Wadding said.
The cost of an annual transit pass for students is $200 which includes all Valley Transit services including light rail and commuter buses.

Maybe New York City just needs to invest in public secure bike parking (re: dockless bike sharing)

Lower ManhattanCrain's New York Business reports ("12 bike-share companies bid to serve non–Citi Bike neighborhoods: City unveils list of dockless operators vying for pilot program") that many firms are bidding to offer dockless bike share--big known firms and small ones too (including one from this area).

I don't really understand the business model for dockless bike share. I mean I do. If you can get someone to pay $1/ride 4x/day that's $120/month from one user. If you can get four people per bike, that's $480/month. The bikes don't cost that much, etc.

Depending on the nature of where you conduct most of your trips, bike share can make a lot of sense in terms of offloading the cost of owning a bike in terms of maintenance, security, and storage. That's easily worth the $75 to $150/year it costs to use bike share in major cities.

But charging 5x or more than traditional bike share for the privilege of making money for the corporation owning the system, that I don't understand.

Suzanne coined the term "paying for the process."

Dockless in SeattleThe reason that governments are receptive is because unlike traditional bike share, companies, at least at this stage of the venture capital and business development process, are willing and eager to bear all the costs, so the cities don't have to spend any money on it.

They can feel good about it, so long as they don't ask the question whether or not it's a good deal for the user.  (Not having to pay for anything is why universities are interested.)

But the mistake is believing that the reason that people aren't biking for transportation is because of lack of access to bikes.

Sure, many people don't own bikes, but they could if they were motivated to do so. Access isn't the issue, it's willingness to bike for transportation on an almost daily basis.

In the US, with a land use and mobility planning paradigm firmly centered upon automobility most people look at bikes as toys and riding them as strictly recreational.

Even with dockless, my sense is that most of the users are "casual" users not regular cyclists, and many of the rides are recreational.

That's fine--recreational riding--but is it enough to build a successful business around it? Probably not.

You just don't see that many people biking to make sense of there being multiple competitive services for dockless bike share.

It reminds me more of the "gold rush" days at the start of the creation of railroads or interurbans--many competitive systems were announced, but most failed, and those systems that had at least some track either were abandoned or consolidated.

New Capital Bikeshare map kiosk shows bikesheds in 5 minute increments, and pictograms about the processNew Capital Bikeshare map kiosk shows bikesheds in 5 minute increments, and pictograms about the process

But if many of your trips are outside of the bikeshare mobility shed, it makes sense to have your own bike.

Hell, a couple weeks ago I bought a used bike for $100 and he included a helmet, lock, and basket.

Still, it's possible to buy a new bike for less than $400 (some credit unions even provide loans) and the cost to maintain a bike is probably about $150/year, more if you get a lot of flat tires.

I mention bike parking because no community in the US has a network of secure bike parking comparable to the Parkiteer network in Greater Melbourne.

Probably if NYC focused on creating high quality bike parking, using models from the Netherlands--of secure, indoor, often underground parking-- so that the costs to store and secure bikes are lower, more people might consider biking for transportation on a regular basis.

-- "New bike parking facility at Maastricht train station in the Netherlands reminds me of the need to create high profile bike hubs in the US"

Parkiteer bicycle parking network, Greater Melbourne
So far there are more than 100 Parkiteer bike cages operational, with more added eacy year.

Last week, Uber bought Jump, the e-bike dockless startup for $100 million. Given that the bikes alone cost $24 million (12,000 bikes @ $2,000) that's a decent return for the creators.

Note that the Transit Cooperative Research Program just released a report on Public Transit and Bike Sharing (registration required to download).

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Maryland HOT lane study versus "corridor management" and regional scaled transportation planning

The Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition sent out a press release about problems they see with Maryland's study for the addition of high occupancy toll lanes to I-270 and I-495. The first round of public meetings starts tonight:

Tuesday, April 17 at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School
12650 Brook Lane
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772

Wednesday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Clarksburg High School
22500 Wims Road
Clarksburg, MD 20871

Thursday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Bethesda Chevy Chase High School
4301 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

Tuesday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Eleanor Roosevelt High School
7601 Hanover Parkway
Greenbelt, MD 20770

They prefer a more balanced set of responses, including more investment in transit, while this particular transportation planning initiative is solely road focused.  The proposal is to add lanes exclusively for people willing to pay tolls, on the Capital Beltway (I-495) and on I-270.  These lanes would link up to comparable infrastructure in Virginia. 

MTOC makes the point that given the experience with tolls on newly tolled I-66, where sometimes tolls are greater than $41 ("A quick comment on I-66 Tolling"), the impact of this addition would be limited mostly to high income households.

The program is being driven by interest in the private sector ("Public gets chance to weigh in on Md. toll lane plans," WTOP; "Speedy selection process ends with Maryland official’s former firm being chosen for project," Washington Post).  Still they have been in state highway plans since 2005.

-- Maryland’s Statewide Express Toll Lanes Network Initiative

Last week I was riding up Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County in the late afternoon and the traffic was backed up for one mile or more northbound to the I-495 entry ramps.

It made me think that it would be worthwhile to connect the Maryland initiative with ideas I've suggested over the years to create a system of tolled "commuter road tunnels" under major thoroughfares within DC, to mitigate the traffic impact on the abutting neighborhoods, but also speeding up traffic and maintaining the relevance of DC's central business district as a regional center for commerce and employment.

Two pieces discuss "underground toll commuter routes"  ("Tunnelized road projects for DC and the Carmel Tunnel, Haifa, Israel example--tolls" and "London Mayor proposes roadway tunnels to divert surface motor vehicle traffic and congestion") on routes such as North Capitol Street-Blair Road, 16th Street, and New York Avenue, and these pieces cover the idea of  "corridor management" in the I-270 corridor, but in terms of continuing on to DC ("Transportation network interruptions as an opportunity: Part 2 and "Transportation network service interruptions part 3: corridor/commute shed management for Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland).

Given the traffic I witnessed on Georgia Avenue, that street and maybe Connecticut Avenue ought to be included in such a network. 

But while previously my suggesting about a Blair Road-North Capitol tunnel (ironically comparable to the originally suggested "North Central Expressway" in highway planning dating to the 1960s) would have ended the route at Georgia Avenue, obviously such a route should continue on into Maryland for some distance.  Same with Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street.

Ideally, were we to have a true regional transportation planning system, you could integrate this kind of road planning between DC and Maryland because this initiative might be the only way to bring such a complete network about, while also considering transit expansion both in terms of bi-directional railroad service between DC and Frederick Maryland (item #4 in this piece) and between Bethesda and the Tysons District of Fairfax County via I-495.

While not exactly comparable, Orange County and Riverside County in California have cooperated to extend the SR-91 Toll Road into Riverside County ("91 Express Lanes in Orange County paved way for new toll lanes opening Monday in Riverside," Orange County Register).

Besides the development of three different bus rapid transit programs in the metropolitan area, the comparable planning failure I'm thinking about would be DC's failure to take advantage of Virginia's Silver Line Metrorail expansion as a way to bootstrap its continuation into DC, as the old proposed "separated blue line."  I first wrote about that in 2006 ("Blinking on urban design means you limit your chance for success").

Graphic published in the Washington Post in 2001, outlining WMATA's plan for a separated blue line
Proposed changes for the WMATA system, 2001 (separated blue line)

Paul Meissner/Richard Layman concept for an expanded Metrorail system including a separated Silver Line in place of the original separated blue line proposal
Conceptual Future integrated rail transit service network for the Washington DC National Capitol Region. Design by Paul J. Meissner.  Concept by Richard Layman and Paul Meissner.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Musing about Union Market on the death of Paul Pascal

Florida Market Tour Guides
Photo by Mr. T in DC.The tour leaders for today's WalkingTown DC Florida Market tour, discussing the history and importance of the market. In the middle is noted local blogger and preservationist Richard Layman, and in the pink hat is Jane Levey of Cultural Tourism DC.

Because I didn't see the obituary until Saturday ("Paul Pascal, lawyer dubbed 'Mayor of the Market' for efforts to preserve Union Market dies at 80," Washington Post), I missed the funeral of Paul Pascal, a city lawyer-entrepreneur who is the primary person who "saved" Union Market from demolition.

Explore Florida Market: Business DirectoryDesigner: Christopher Taylor Edwards.  Sadly, most of the businesses listed in this directory are gone.  Those that have survived moved to Prince George's County, but many others just shut down completely.

I mean, I helped, and brought a lot of attention to the matter ("Is the Florida Market going down?") including the creation of directories with Christopher Taylor Edwards.

But the reality was that Paul understood how the city's politics and business community worked and was better positioned to make the difference.

Sadly, I don't have a photo of when he and his wife, Brenda, came to speak to one of the tours that Elise Bernard (Frozen Tropics), Ken Firestone, and I led of the market district with CulturalTourism DC's "Walking Town" program, where we had about 150 people at the outset of that particular tour.

After preventing the urban renewal plan from going forward, Paul worked with the various property interests in Union Market in forging its future.

He was a lawyer who specialized in representing small businesses, because he started his law practice in an office space lent to him by his father in law, who owned a chicken distribution business based in the Union Market district of DC.

Among his client groups were liquor licensees, and we were on opposing sides in such matters earlier in the decade, but we worked fine together on this.

He also did various public service gigs, including service as chair of the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District, and as an officer and board member of Ready, Willing & Able, a nonprofit worker readiness, development and employment program (this organization is often contracted by city BIDs for cleanliness services).

2018-04-16_11-25-47Last time we talked was last spring, over the creation of a BID type initiative there, and I talked to him about my ideas for a consolidated NoMA "public improvement district" ("Public improvement districts ought to be created as part of transit station development process: the east side of NoMA station as an example"). We talked about the "anti-gentrification" lawsuits waged against the market ("How Union Market Has Become The Front Line Of D.C.'s Activist-Developer War," Bisnow) and other stuff like the creation of a VRE train storage yard and how it could affect New York Avenue.

We both agreed that the lawsuit didn't have merit, because the new housing being built is 100% new addition, which did not come at the expense of pre-existing housing.

Because of the obituary, I went over yesterday to take some photos. I'd been there earlier in the week, but didn't really shoot anything.

2018-04-16_11-28-58The old Washington Cash and Carry building is the base of this apartment complex.

It reminded me of something I said more than 10 years ago to a Gallaudet student in response to a question. I made the point that with the urban renewal initiative on the table, even though that particular initiative failed, it put the district into  play.

And now, major developers are at work and the old "market district" will soon enough be no more.

Despite my efforts and hopes, the reality was that given the insertion of the NoMA Metrorail station into the area, and the proximity of almost 30 acres of redevelopable space a few blocks from a new transit station, the funky wholesale-oriented market was not going to last.  I called it in 2008, with an idealized retail district planning vision ("Retail planning and the Florida Market").  A Trader Joe's was suggested, and it opened within the last couple weeks.

2018-04-16_11-29-07The section of businesses on Morse Street Extended is all shut down.  They are building housing where Washington Cash and Carry was, even though they saved the façade.

The old Union Market sign is in need of restoration.  Fifth Street NE.

Over time, the rest of the market district will be demolished in favor of new and larger buildings as the new buildings under construction now get "absorbed by the market."

Given DC's relatively paltry amount of developable land, it's not likely that a traditional industrial market district comparable to Pittsburgh's Strip District, Detroit's Eastern Market, or Philadelphia's Italian Market could have stayed in business. But some of the businesses could have been relocated elsewhere in the city.

And Chicago is but one example of a food industry incubation program, which provides decent industrial jobs for people who don't have advanced educations ("Chicago incubators helping food entrepreneurs grow," Crain's Chicago Business). From the article:
Chicago, long a consumer-packaged-goods powerhouse, has become ground zero for services that help food entrepreneurs grow in a supportive, low-risk environment.

Several new ones are in soft-launch mode, including Pilotworks, a shared kitchen and culinary incubator that has taken over the River North space vacated by the now-defunct Le Cordon Bleu cooking school; the Hatchery, a food and beverage incubator that's building a $34 million facility in East Garfield Park; and Springboard, Kraft's in-house startup boot camp that will welcome its inaugural class in September. ...

The Hatchery, slated to formally open in December, already has 60 members who will use the space for a variety of work: as the commissary kitchen for their catering businesses; the production site for their cereals, juices and other packaged products; the R&D space for their new ideas; or the kitchen for their food trucks.

The incubator was born of a similarly varied set of problems that food businesses with less than $10 million in revenue frequently encounter. "The first was the lack of resources and the lack of production space for food," says Hatchery CEO Natalie Shmulik, an industry vet who has run a restaurant, worked for supermarket chains and served as a consultant to growing packaged-goods companies.

The Hatchery offers shared kitchens and private production space to provide flexibility as members expand. For companies that have grown beyond a couple hundred thousand dollars in revenue and need 30 or more hours a week in a kitchen, a private, 24-hour-accessible space is more economical and practical than paying by the hour in a shared space, Shmulik says. "When entrepreneurs outgrow their own kitchens, they have few options beyond investing a huge amount of their own money in a co-manufacturer or commercial kitchen. There's also a shortage of trained production workers, so we're working with the Rick Bayless Institute to train people who haven't had the most success in traditional educational systems."
The Hatchery is a good example of a broader based industrial support effort as an anchor of more intricate community economic development strategies.

To my way of thinking, incubators, especially in DC, are focused on short term assistance, when startups and growing businesses need different kinds of assistance as they grow, and they don't stop needing assistance once some artificial milestone date has passed.

The building that became the new Union Market
Gallaudet Parking Lot, DC Farmers Market, Union Market, DC

Union Market
The scene outside Union Market - Fifth Street, NE, A.D. Handy Co. lantern slide hand-dated 4/23/1940.

Union Market

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Community associations, centers and hubs: organizing at what scale

When you think about it, the discussion about space and facilities needs for artists and artistic disciplines in "Arts, Culture Districts, and Revitalization" is comparable to thinking about organizing community more generally, at various scales.  From that blog entry:
In their paper on creative infrastructure, Cultural Infrastructure: An Integral Component of Canadian Communities, the Creative City Network of Canada outlines six types of creative space, and four of the six: multi-use hubs; incubators; multi-sector convergence projects; and production habitats; are anchors, a set of either cross-disciplinary or discipline-specific facilities and programs that support the development of art, artists, partnerships, networking, connections, and cultural production.

Building the capacity of artists and organizations through these types of investment supports local economic and community building objectives, and improves the likelihood of success for all types of cultural initiatives. There are many examples of these types of facilities across North America (just not in DC) that serve as examples that you can consider for your own communities. 
1. Calgary.  Last month, our e-correspondent Nigel called my attention to a fascinating article about community associations in Calgary, Alberta ("Community association planning committees a hidden gem?," Calgary Herald). 

While I intend to do a follow up interview and a separate blog entry, the example is relevant here.  The city has a deep network of community/neighborhood associations--151 to be exact and of these 95 have "planning committees."

They are supported by a capacity building system through the pan-community organization Federation of Calgary Communities, which has two urban planners on staff to assist neighborhood groups, a wide ranging technical assistance and training program, and even an affiliation agreement with a community credit union that members of the associations can join. 

-- The 2017-2018 FCC Workshop Guide is 20 pages long.

Interestingly, most of the community associations have physical buildings as centers.  I think the associations tend to run the kinds of community recreational centers that in other places would be run by the city or county.

2. LGBTQ community in Austin, Texas. Mostly, we think of community associations as being geographically specific. I've written about urban church matters ("Churches, community, religion, change"), and how megachurches are an example of organizing a church on the metropolitan rather than the neighborhood scale.

There's an interesting article, "Does Austin Need an LGBTQ Center? A look at the city's lack of a queer community hub," in the Austin Chronicle suggesting the need for an LGBTQ "community hub," which is another example of organizing "community" at a wider scale. From the article:
The histories of queer communities across the country are diverse, but many major metropolitan areas house LGBTQ Centers that connect individuals to the greater community as well as resources they might be in need of – such as HIV support, case management, mental health services, and queer-friendly job listings. They also provide a safe gathering space and often feature local LGBTQ+ artists.

But despite plenty of attempts to create one, Austin still does not have a center. As it turns out, efforts have been made to fundraise for one on multiple occasions, and a few even got off the ground. In 1996, Cornerstone – the city’s last center – opened its doors. The space housed the queer-friendly Metropolitan Community Church of Austin and queer youth organization Out Youth. Originally, the plan was to provide space for other nonprofits as well as host parties and events for the queer community. That vision was never fully realized, as Cornerstone closed just a year later.

Carrie Bills, one of Cornerstone’s founding members, recalls their fundraising efforts starting off strong, but says it just “petered out from lack of support.” She concludes, “It was difficult to get people together, to keep it up. And eventually it just, sadly, had to go.”
It's easier to organize specific communities when geography and space make simpler the defining the community. 

DC's gay community had been centered around Dupont Circle, and Whitman-Walker Clinic and Center was a key anchor ("As others leave, Whitman-Walker moves to new luxury offices on 14th Street" and "How one nonprofit is using D.C.'s luxury rental market to serve its low income clients," Washington Post), along with the Lambda Rising, the LGBTQ-focused bookstore ("Book Store To End Chapter Of Gay Life," WAMU/NPR) and bars and restaurants.

As the gay lifestyle became less controversial, at least in forward thinking cities (e.g., "The Geography of Tolerance," CityLab) having "defensible space" and defined communities became less important.  But as the community dispersed, community-supporting institutions withered. The establishments that relied upon gay-relevant commerce have closed ("Sale of Phase 1 ends 45-year run of lesbian bar," Washington Blade), while Whitman-Walker survives because they own property and because as an institution their client base is not neighborhood-specific.

Maybe that's why it's difficult for Austin to develop a community hub for its LGBTQ community, because it is dispersed.  The article discusses that, in terms of "gayborhoods," which Austin doesn't have.  From the article:
... Gayborhoods formed across the U.S. during times of great crises for the LGBTQ community – when queer people were denied access to well-paying jobs, safety, and healthcare. Many community centers arose within these neighborhoods, particularly during the Eighties AIDS crisis. Austin’s exponential growth, however, didn’t begin until the mid 2000s, long after these crises had softened (or at the very least evolved into more subtle issues of neglect and homophobia). ...

The lack of a queer neighborhood not only means there has never really been a centralized push for a center, but also that any center that might be established now will likely be difficult to access for some members of Austin’s LGBTQ community. 
According to the article, there are two efforts to create a hub.  One is more about creating a traditional physical facility, while the other is focused on stitching together a network of services, by better coordinating existing organizations.

3. Dream of Detroit Muslim Community. Another example, which I haven't gotten around to writing about, is the development in Detroit of an Islamic community centered around its house of worship ("Can This Muslim Community Create a Model for Rebuilding Detroit?," The Nation). From the article:
Waverly Street, for all its blight, had one singular draw for a young, activist-minded Muslim couple: A few lots east of their new house was the Muslim Center, a mosque that had long served Detroit’s black Muslim community. By the time Crain and Gómez got there, it was the tenacious, healthy heart of a dying neighborhood. What had started in 1985 as a prayer room in an old bank building was by then an expanse of offices and classrooms surrounding a cavernous gym used for craft fairs and as a soup kitchen. The HUDA Free Clinic had moved across the street after outgrowing its first office, and clinic employees had planted rows of vegetables, fruits, and herbs—the HUDA Urban Garden—in an empty lot, providing clients with homeopathic remedies or, more often, free groceries. A new prayer room accommodated hundreds of worshippers, while the original masjid had become the Halal Jazz Cafe, the brainchild of Imam Abdullah El-Amin, a beloved leader at the center and one of its founders.

But while the Muslim Center had grown, the neighborhood around it deteriorated, and few of the people who prayed there lived nearby. ... To some people, though, this neglect offered an opportunity. Perhaps Waverly Street wasn’t blighted, but simply unimagined: a blank slate for an ideal neighborhood, one filled with Muslim families and Muslim-friendly businesses—albeit open to anyone—and with the Muslim Center as its spiritual and social core. The liquor stores and drug houses—two curses, they thought, of a struggling Detroit—would be absent, and the community so close-knit that crime would naturally fade away.

To mold this vision into reality, two groups—the Detroit-based Neighborly Needs and the suburban Indus Community Action Network, or iCAN—formed a nonprofit in 2012 called Dream of Detroit (tagline: “A Detroit Revival Engaging American Muslims”). They set their sights on 20 lots and started collecting donations, recruiting volunteers, and organizing fund-raisers within the metro area’s Muslim community. Crain took on a voluntary role as project manager (his day job is with MoveOn.org, and Dream is why he and Gómez settled their young family here. It is also why even the people who wondered how long they’d be able to hack it have begun thinking about moving there themselves.
Space and neighborhoods in the "New Detroit" are now much more easily remade because there is so much vacant land. 

There are still various religious communities which see advantages in living in close proximity.

Communities that see value in being able to reproduce this space have few roadblocks against proceeding, because there are few alternative uses clamoring for the space.

Conclusion. The basic question is about is "how to maintain a community?" at whatever scale. The difficulties of maintaining community organizations of all types aren't so aren't specific to LGBTQ communities, churches, or community and neighborhood groups.

Achieving and maintaining critical mass is difficult even in the best of circumstances. And so is maintaining interest.

That's what really struck me in the article about community associations in Calgary, in how the writer made the point that the most active associations tend to be in those neighborhoods grappling with big issues, especially development, and the neighborhoods where not much going on aren't particularly active.

There is the separate challenge of how to maintain communities that aren't geographically bounded.  Megachurches offer one such example which is worthy of study. 

As an example, the Whitman-Walker Clinic is more of a service organization (a clinic, pharmacy, etc.) rather than a community hub.  Maybe in those places where more "hub type" programs are needed, they can be built around such an organization as an anchor.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

When residents of a neighborhood fight a day care center (Toronto)

When I ran for City Council in Ann Arbor in 1987, I was called to speak at a neighborhood meeting organized to fight the approval of a day care center.  I couldn't bring myself to be against it, and it cost me votes although I would have lost anyway (I ran in a Republican ward, back when the election for local offices was in the Spring, disconnected from the state and national election cycle, which got students out to vote).

I sure didn't understand transportation demand management then, but the fact of the matter was that the proposed location was at the very outside edge of the neighborhood, proximate to a major street and so the traffic of dropping off and picking up children wouldn't have impacted them.

(These days I do argue that while embedding schools and such in neighborhoods is a good thing, at the same time they need to be placed in ways that facilitate traffic movement and that these kinds of facilities need to have transportation demand management plans to minimize negative traffic impacts.)

Columnist Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star writes about the Cabbagetown neighborhood's successful opposition to the approval of a day care, which didn't go through a relatively objective approval process, but through the City Council ("Consider the character of a neighbourhood that rejects a daycare")..

From the article:
I am trying to imagine the absolute misery of a life that would lead someone to say — publicly — about the sound of children playing in a backyard, that “the idea of tolerating this type of noise is frankly ludicrous, and completely incongruent with this, or any other, residential corner in this city.”

How scarred and dark the psyche of an adult human being would have to be for her to stand up in a room full of other people and suggest that strollers on a front porch present an unbearable “heritage concern” or a threat to the “character” of a neighbourhood. ...

Good neighbourhoods need day nurseries, and they need schools and healthcare facilities, and other amenities. For that matter, a strong city needs homeless shelters and needle exchanges and half-way houses. Many of those are things you might prefer to locate a few blocks away, rather than directly next door to your house. But all of them are things that need to go next to someone’s house. “I was here first and prefer not to have anything change on my street” is not an argument worthy enough to justify impoverishing your community and your city.

Given the range of possible new uses for a building—a Wal-Mart, a tire factory, an abattoir — most of us would find a new daycare welcome, even enriching. A sign of our neighbourhood’s health. ...

Indeed, it seems to me that if somehow the presence of children threatens the character of your neighbourhood, then the character of your neighbourhood sucks. And if you find yourself arguing for the preservation of that character over serving the needs of a living urban community of your neighbours, consider that you might benefit from spending some time reflecting on your own character instead.

You get what you plan for
(Also see "Keeping Cities from Becoming “Child-Free Zones”: With kids on the decline in urban areas, cities can make themselves more attractive to young families by building more playgrounds," Governing Magazine.)

While I don't have children, I live in an area with children, and close to a bunch of schools, and we have watched the two girls next door grow up, and we interact with them and other kids as a result.

For a long time, the idea was that the city wasn't a place for kids, that you need a big yard which is only available in the suburbs (our neighbors as it happens do have big yards), city schools aren't very good (an issue to be sure but an overgeneralization at the same time), public safety as an issue, that commercial districts were only for adults, etc.

But it's not that simple. Or that hard. Making places amenable for families and children merely means taking the time to consider those needs, and accommodating them, like playgrounds. How hard is to have a pocket park playground in a commercial district, especially the larger ones? It's not hard at all.

And kids repurpose stuff anyway. I've seen kids play on bike racks, while I use them for parking. Play on rocks put into the streetscape, etc.

Children watching a street performer on Ellsworth Ave. in Silver Spring, Maryland
Children watching a street performer on Ellsworth Ave. in Silver Spring, Maryland

A public scrabble board set up on one of the piers at the Wharf District, Southwest DC
A public scrabble board set up on one of the piers at the Wharf District, Southwest DC

The charter school a couple blocks away put the playground in the front yard and it is open to the community
The charter school a couple blocks away put the playground in the front yard and it is open to the community.

A hopscotch box painted on a driveway, Maple Street, Takoma Park. Maryland
A hopscotch box painted on a driveway, Maple Street, Takoma Park. Maryland

Kids playing on a kinetic sculpture in Takoma Park, Maryland
Kids playing on a kinetic sculpture in Takoma Park, Maryland

Temporary parking lot beach at Rockville Town Center
Temporary parking lot beach at Rockville Town Center

Splash Fountain, Downtown Silver Spring
Splash fountain, Silver Spring, Maryland

Pearl Street Mall - Rock Play Area
Pearl Street Mall - Rock Play Area

Swing set in the Essen pedestrianized Downtown, note the use of long lasting stainless steel
Swing set in the pedestrianized Downtown of Essen, Germany, note the use of long lasting stainless steel

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Two interesting transit resources

Revised in response to follow up of a comment by mattxmal

1. Transit stop and station design. In discussing with Nigel, my NZ e-correspondent of dedicated transitways, I mentioned the underground streetcar ways in Philadelphia, as well as the "Center City Connection" created to link the previously disconnected center city railroad stations: 30th Street Station; Reading Terminal; and Suburban Station.

And in coming up with some links, I came across SEPTA's report, Modern Trolley Station Design Guide, which is relevant to transit stop and station planning beyond streetcars.

2. Free transit.  Because some cities in Germany will be testing free transit as a air quality measure ("German cities to trial free public transport to cut pollution," Guardian) there has been a resurgence of interest in the free transit concept.  (Separately some communities offer free transit to sub-groups such as youth or seniors, or discounted passes for seniors, low income households, or college students.)

-- Fare Free Public Transport website

For years I've relied ("Is making surface transit free the best transit investment DC can make?") on a series on free transit, No Fares!, published in The Tyee, the alternative weekly in Greater Vancouver. SF considered it, but didn't pursue it because they didn't have the funds to pay for the increased personnel, buses, and storage facilities. Sadly, they never released the study.

An article ("Why can’t public transit be free?") a few years ago in CityLab denigrates the idea because of vandalism and neerdowells, but they rely on very old research and this isn't much of a problem with fareless square transit in Calgary, Pittsburgh, and Salt Lake City.

Tourist towns.  Besides various shuttle programs here and there across the country, since then I've learned that a number of resort communities in North America have free transit systems for their communities as a transportation demand management measure. But these places are small and not analogous to a larger city or county. I have referenced a Volpe Transportation Center study on that, which includes a mention of the sub-city free transit in the historic district of Savannah:

-- Visitor Transportation Study: Report on Urban Visitor Transportation Services

College towns. Mattxmal calls our attention to the fact that some college towns have free transit too, usually in combination with the local university.  For example, Central Washington University used to do this in Ellensburg, and transit is free in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, although the system is run by the city with some financial support from the University of North Carolina.

It turns out there is a Transit Cooperative Research Project report on the subject:

-- Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems (registration required for access)

Railway Technology has a piece on the subject, "Free transport: does opening up the railways make sense?," and it cites a journal article on Talinn, Estonia, the biggest example in the world of a city that offers free transit, which even extends to commuter rail ("The prospects of fare-free public transport: evidence from Tallinn," Transportation, 44:5, September 2017).

From the article:
Cats’s analysis indicated clear benefits. A year in, public transport usage increased by 14%. During the first quarter of 2013, traffic congestion in the city centre was down 15% compared with the end of 2012, while car use throughout had been reduced by 9%.
But the RT article makes the point that Talinn could afford to pay for the cost of free transit because of the taxation system there, which includes local income taxes, which isn't the case for most other cities.  It also cites another journal article which argues the benefits aren't particular high versus the cost.

The criticism is somewhat comparable to a criticism of free transit districts in North America, that the benefits go mostly to people who can afford to pay for transit.  Although I think that misses a key point, that congestion management and maintaining the economic relevance of the central business district are important public policy goals.

I never have looked to see if there are good studies on the impact of free transit zones in North America. After the Global Financial Crisis, Portland and Seattle ended theirs, but Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh still have free transit zones in their Downtowns, as does Calgary, Alberta.

The RT article discusses the possibility of extending the free transit experiment to railroad service, and lists some examples of tests, including the Utah Transit Authority's test of "Fridays Free" on their commuter rail. Like SF, they argue that it's not affordable as a regular practice because of the need for more equipment and personnel, and limited funds to pay for such expansion.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

One reason infrastructure can cost more than it should: dis-coordination

In Washington, DC, Pepco's Capital Grid program is a billion dollar investment in "hardening the electricity transmission grid," adding lines underground, and upgrading and building new electricity submissions ("Pepco rolls out $720 million infrastructure plan to keep up with D.C.'s growth," Washington Post).

My neighborhood is affected. 

They have been "rewiring" transmission connections to switch parts of the neighborhood from one substation to another, because the other station will go off line for reconstruction. 

Apparently heretofore, these kinds of connections have been "hardwired" to a particular substation and so change isn't possible merely by pushing a button and changing connections within the sub-grid from one station to another.

What it's meant is that they've had to dig up a part of a neighborhood street, Peabody, and create new connections.  Now that they've done that, when they are ready to shut down the other station, they'll be able to make changes more easily (but I don't think it will still be a matter of pushing a button; they will still have to string line, but it will be able to be done within the new trenching that they have created).

Here's the thing: DC Department of Transportation repaved that street just a few months ago, in the last fiscal year.

They knew that Pepco would be doing the underground work.


But the timing and approval of Pepco's plans to tear up Peabody Street weren't congruent with DDOT's plan to repave it.  And DDOT's money for this type of street paving comes out of the annual budget and has to be spent the year that it is appropriated.

Repaving the 300 block of Peabody Street NWSo now the street that was repaved about six months ago is being repaved.

Why couldn't DDOT have suspended their plans for Peabody Street, and let Pepco pay for the whole thing. 

Couldn't DDOT have switched the use of the money allocated for the Peabody Street reconstruction to another equally worthy project.

Or could DDOT and Pepco have done this jointly and split the cost, saving money for both citizens and electricity customers who in this case are the same people?

Instead, both citizens and electricity customers will have to pay more money because of the dis-coordination.

One way to deal with this is to have contingency plans for the possibility of reprogramming within each fiscal year, if such utility projects are underway.

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Sports teams shenanigans in Columbus Ohio and Miami

Last November there was an article in the Washington Post about the likelihood of the professional soccer team leaving Columbus, Ohio for the greener economic fields of Austin, Texas.  (Also see "The Crew want to move to Austin – but does Austin want the Crew," Guardian.)

Oddly, the article isn't accessible, nor findable within the website, but I seem to recall it making the point that Columbus has developed into a good soccer town, especially concerning matches between countries, for the World Cup, etc. and that the "organizational and community capital" (my words, not the column) would be stranded without the pro team.

According to the Austin Chronicle ("Columbus Crew News: Delay of Game? Legalese in Ohio could slow soccer team’s move to Austin"), this may be delayed because the State of Ohio does have a law requiring teams that received local or state government financing/benefits have to come up with a relocation agreement or wait six months. From the article:
The City of Columbus filed a motion Monday seeking to slow efforts by Precourt Sports Ventures to relocate the Columbus Crew SC to Austin. City Attorney Zach Klein's motion was filed as part of Ohio A.G. Mike DeWine's suit against PSV, which cites a state law requiring pro sports team owners who benefit from tax dollars to either reach an agreement with the host city or wait six months before relocating. Klein's motion argued that PSV could potentially wait out the six-month period, effectively preventing the people of Columbus from having a "reasonable opportunity" to buy the team. Should the motion be accepted, the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas could reset the start of the six-month window, throwing a wrench into Anthony Precourt's effort to have his team playing soccer in Austin by next March.
Not requiring an agreement but imposing a waiting period makes for an easy out.  The law isn't strong enough because it is still easy to leave, but is a start and more states should enact such legislation, but with much stronger provisions including "kill fees" for leaving if they've received tax dollars and benefits.

-- "The Columbus Crew's Austin Relocation Effort Has Its Own Oafish Astroturfing Campaign," Deadspin

2.  I've written about the ongoing saga of the Miami Marlins trying to stiff Miami-Dade County out of a "success payment" of five percent of the proceeds from the sale of the team ("Protecting local government interests: Jurisdictions at risk from slimy sports teams owners and the Miami Marlins as an example").

The new owners are a party to the suit and now they are trying to claim they are a foreign corporation ("To avoid Miami courtroom, Marlins claim citizenship in the British Virgin Islands," Miami Herald; "Miami Marlins try to duck lawsuit by claiming international citizenship," Sports Illustrated) and therefore the lawsuit should be moved to federal courts, and evading the jurisdiction of local courts which thus far haven't been particularly favorable to the claims of the defendants. From the Herald:
Lawyers representing the Marlins told a federal judge that at least one corporation that owns part of Marlins Teamco — the company Jeter and majority owner Bruce Sherman formed last year to buy the franchise — is based in the Caribbean. As a result, team lawyers argued, the dispute with Miami-Dade should be governed by jurisdictional rules that apply to international disputes.

The legal argument drew a sharp brush back from county lawyers, who mocked the "Jeter Marlins" for invoking treaty law in a lawsuit involving a Miami baseball team and the municipal government that owns Marlins Park.

"This is the most local of disputes, involving a locally-negotiated contract made between local parties under local law and requiring local performance," county lawyers wrote in arguing to keeping the lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

If successful, the Marlins' request would strip the case from a Miami-Dade judge who has already sided with Miami and Miami-Dade in a preliminary ruling rejecting the arbitration that Loria lawyers requested from the outset. If the Marlins are deemed a foreign-owned corporation, a federal judge could take over and then consider whether to trigger an arbitration clause in the contract the two governments signed with Loria in 2009 to steer public dollars to a stadium complex that opened three years later.

So both the previous owners and the new owners seem to be "slimy" as it relates to their actions as "partners" as part of the "public private partnership" involving the team, Major League Baseball, the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County as it relates to the city and county hosting the team and paying towards the construction of a stadium.

For all the talk of "public-private partnerships," this is an example of the reality that unless the counterparty acts like a "partner" they aren't, and we shouldn't allow the fiction to go on of calling such arrangements "partnerships".

Like with the State of Ohio legislation, it is important that contracts between the government and team "partners" need to include provisions on corporate domicile, where to sue if need be, etc.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

National Libraries Week and a libraries update

Republished with a Tuesday dateline because of mistake in dating the entry (written and published yesterday, but accidentally backdated to Friday

April 8th to the 14th is designated as National Libraries Week, spearheaded by the American Libraries Association, which is a good a reason as any to discuss library matters.

Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth
Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth. This dates to 2010.

1.  Civic assets as a network: libraries as a key node.  While I have discussed the idea of civic assets as a network for many years, it's hardly a discussion exclusive to me and as I frequently mention, I rely on the visual expression of the idea from a presentation by parks planner David Barth.

Basically, I argue that as the community's primary locally controlled cultural asset, they could do so much more, as I suggested recently in "Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets." Thus far, Montreal with their combined library-cultural centers, and the elements of the Salt Lake City Central Library are the closest that come to this idea.

But I came across an initiative and a report that extend these ideas along the lines I have imagined:

-- Civic Commons Reimagining Our Cities’ Public Assets, Reimagining the Civic Commons
-- Civic Infrastructure: A Model for Civic Asset Reinvestment, William Penn Foundation

But I haven't read these reports as of yet.

I can't say I knew about UNESCO's "Public Library Manifesto," which dates to 1994 and earlier.

West End LibraryDC's West End Library opened in December 2017.

2.  I've been meaning to write about DC Public Library's latest neighborhood library re-dos, especially because of the reopening of the West End Library. 

While Architecture DC magazine rated the latter highly ("New DC Library Continues Tradition of Design Excellence"), I am pretty disappointed, even though it is bright, airy, and highly used because of its great location.

DC's new branch libraries are nice buildings, and for the most part, the DCPL has expanded programming at every library.  But I am still more disappointed in terms of the "what could have been."

outside, West End Library, DC,How cool would it have been for this to be a "patio" for the library, with roll up "garage door" openings.

DC has not embraced the concept of a "civic commons" or ensuring that the greatest possible civic return is received from such investments overall and from each one individually.

WRT the West End Library, it is amazing that there is a central courtyard space controlled by the building, providing almost no access to library patrons.  The large meeting room next to the courtyard does not have access to it.  Nor is it set up to allow for secure after hours access. 

The periodicals collection is paltry (more on that below).  The kids section has a play area and some toys, but no slop sink.  Other spaces such as the ledge next to the windows, cry out to be sat on but weren't designed to be sat on. 

The café has outdoor seating, but the library does not.  But it is a step forward that the library is connected to a café, something missed with every other redo of neighborhood libraries (e.g., Daniel, Woodridge, etc.).

Idaho Statesman photo.

3.  I've mentioned the Boise Library in the past, because I was struck when going through the city a few years ago by how they use an exclamation point in their signage. 

The Idaho Statesman has an article on how that came about ("Man behind Boise library's exclamation point tells story").

The City will be building a new Central Library, which will also include an auditorium, an art gallery, and offices for the city's Department of Arts and History. 

It will be designed by Moshe Safdie, who did the Vancouver and Salt Lake City Libraries.  I haven't been to the Vancouver Library, but the SLC Library which is based on it, is one of my favorites ("The Salt Lake City Central Library is absolutely incredible" and "Civic assets and mixed use: Central Library edition").

A big difference in how DC does neighborhood libraries and how SLC does it, is that the expanded program in the Central Library has in turn influenced how they design and operate existing and new neighborhood libraries.

It goes to show that expecting an architect to make a great library is mistaken, because innovation in program is much more important than the architecture.  I figured that out with the DC program, because one of the architects, David Adjaye, also designed the Idea Stores in London.  But the Idea Stores are amazingly innovative, and the DC libraries are not.  It turns out the innovation came from the people running the libraries, not the architect ("IIdea Stores a revised library concept," MPPL; "Idea Store: Library of the Future?," Axiell).

Image from Boston Magazine.

4. WGBH--TV and radio studio in the Boston Central Library.  When I was doing research for my comments on the DC Cultural Plan (ugh, not very good), I found out that Boston's public broadcasting group has opened a studio on the ground floor of the library there ("WGBH studio and cafe to open at Boston Public Library," Boston Globe).

The SLC Library has studios for one of the city's public radio stations on site, and since seeing that I think more libraries should do something similar. 

For example, DC's Office of should reposition more like NYC's television operations, with studios at the library, and in a city like DC, we should aim for the creation of a tv network operating something like the Book TV programming of CSPAN.

5.  Dayton's libraries.  NextCity reports that Dayton has been doing expansive library creation for a few years now ("Dayton is making the library a must visit destination").  It's a shame that they haven't received the recognition for this that is deserved, because in the US context, it is exceptional.  From the article:
But the most progressive thing about Dayton — the thing that puts its coastal, blue-state brethren to shame — is its public library system, one of the most dynamic in the country.

In an era of widespread internet access, cheap digital books and federal disinvestment, cities across America are attempting to reinvent their aging library systems. Dayton is at the forefront of this movement. The Dayton Metro Library is leading the city’s cultural transformation, putting $1 million dollars into local art, and using the largest bond issue in state history to radically change the form and function of its library spaces. It is customizing branches for the specific communities they serve, implementing new architecture that can adapt to future technologies, and designing programming that integrates the library into the daily routines of city life. ...

David Schnee, a principal at Group 4, says they modeled concepts for the Dayton Metro Library system on Dokk1, a Danish library that calls itself a “citizens’ house” and functions as a “center for knowledge and culture.” DOKK1 includes a playground, a café, a “creative room” for young children, the city archives, a nursing room (though nursing is permitted throughout the facility), a game room for board games, citizen support services, and media in multiple languages — in addition to library standbys like a quarter of a million books.

Dayton’s system is now “one of the first American interpretations of the concept of having the library be an active community center,” says Schnee.
Libraries as the primary community-neighborhood cultural asset and community center is the concept that I keep proposing. But it is the rare community that pulls this off.

Dayton, along with Montreal and Salt Lake, appears to be the exception.

6.  Dokk1. An article on Dokk1, "Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark, is the best new public library of 2016," Slate.

I especially like how the outside "stairs" for the building have been designed to also serve as outdoor amphitheatre seating.

Space for Change, in Danish and English, describes the library in more detail.

I haven't written about DC's Woodridge Library, which abuts a large park, but it is a shame that the library wasn't designed to integrate into the park at all, nor was the street space outside the library entrance reconfigured to be more of a square.

Those are just a couple of the big misses from that redo, which was done by an internationally renowned architecture firm. (The Francis Gregory Library in Southeast DC does a much better job in connecting to an adjacent park.)   Needless to say, my take on the Woodridge branch is different from others ("D.C.'s Newest Library Packs a Lot of Visual Drama Into a Small, Simple Building," Washington City Paper).

7. Toronto-ish.  Two interesting articles from the National Post ("The important questions: Why do Millennials love libraries so much" and "'The delivery room for the birth of ideas': How libraries can save us and become more than just vestiges of the past").  From the second article:
Libraries remain popular and well-used but they are going through a fragile period. Providing access to knowledge and also serving as community centres in many places doesn’t necessarily impress people who write government budgets. To many, a library must seem a vestige of the past, easily replaceable. There’s a widely held belief that kids now get all the information they need from the Internet.
The article discusses a recent book, BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, by John Palfrey

Plus, like how the National Park Service has a series of "parks passports," Toronto's Library system does something similar ("Explore the city’s libraries with your own Toronto Library Passport Book").

Separately, the Bookworm Café, a for profit space, has a library and members can check out books ("Toronto's newest cafe is also a library: Bookworm Cafe lets you borrow and bring back books," ,I>Now Toronto). From the article:
Now, I know what you're thinking: "Lots of coffee shops have a bookshelf, NOW." But Bookworm boasts a collection of 500 books, from novels to poetry and non-fiction; if you become a member (which you can do just by talking to the staff), you can sign out their books and even take 'em home with you. (If you're looking to clear out some books of your own, meanwhile, Bookworm is accepting donations!) 
Membership also gets you special discounts on food and drinks, which includes coffee from Halo, teas from Pluck, cold brew on tap, and food and drinks from Tequila Bookworm's menu.
Note that Petworth Citizen in DC has a similar operation, The Reading Room, but I never asked if you could check out books.

8.  Garbage collectors in Istanbul set aside books they found that were thrown into the garbage and have opened a library space ("https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/15/europe/garbage-collectors-open-library-with-abandoned-books/index.html">Garbage collectors open library with abandoned books," CNN).

9.  Periodicals.  While the Internet has destroyed some elements of print publishing, especially for newspapers, at the same time magazines and journals are still quite successful, even if mass circulation magazines are on a decline too, although not quite so precipitous as newspapers.

In looking at some of DC's new libraries, and writing about the Cultural Plan, and some of my previous discussions about libraries in terms of specialty collections, such as how Dallas has the "Urban Information Center" on urban and civic issues, how many library systems have special health collections (it would have been a no brainer to do that at the new West End Library since it is so close to GWU hospital, etc.), I started thinking more about the periodical collection at each library.

The Woodridge Library, in a lower income area of the city, has I think fewer than 30 magazines.  The Tenleytown Library, in a higher income area, has between 50 and 60, and the new West End Library is between the two.

Why isn't there a decent set of arts periodicals, including Art Newspaper and critical magazines like New Art Examiner?  Shouldn't all the libraries get Chronicle of Philanthropy and Education Week?  What about New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Review of Books, etc.

An urban/cities collection should include trade periodicals and journals, from Governing Magazine and Government Technology to Public Works, Planning Magazine, American City and County Magazine, etc., as well as specialty newsletters such as on zoning and construction.

10. Collecting and making available local music.  In another entry, I mentioned how the digital tv and radio studio at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati is used for a program that features bands coming to town to play in local venues.  The Seattle Public Library has a program, called Playback, to collect and offer to library patrons access to locally produced music ("Seattle musicians- submit your music to Seattle Public Library's collection," My Wallingford).

Note that DCPL does have a "punk music archive," but I don't know if it includes actual music.  Also  a couple years ago, the American University Museum had an exhibit on DC's foray into New Wave in the 1980s, "Twisted Teenage Plot."

11.  Another co-location concept: the city central library and the local university main library.  San Jose has a single facility serving as the central library and the library for San Jose State University, although each is a distinct library, there are differences in hours, but city residents have access to the more specialized collection of the university library.  (Case Study, Penn; "Economies of scale in the library world: the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Library in San Jose, California," SJSU).

When the Province of Quebec built the National Provincial Library in Montreal, the city merged its central library into that facility, and refocused its attention on the neighborhood library system.

This concept ought to be explored by more communities.

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