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, March 25, 2020

Focusing on what really matters

Junk mail: President Trump re-election campaign fundraising mailer
Junk mail: President Trump re-election campaign fundraising mailer.

For a $45 contribution, you can get a hat.

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A great note from a parking vigilante in the Sugar House district of Salt Lake City

Parking vigilante note, Sugar House, Salt Lake City
Image from a NextDoor discussion thread.  These notes are being posted on people's car windshields.

My joke is that if social security is the third rail of national politics, then parking is the third rail of local politics ("DC as a suburban agenda dominated city," 2013).

Living in DC without a car for so many years disabused me of the belief that a property owner owns the street space in front of their house.  Of course, not having a car meant it didn't matter to me either.

In our outer city house in DC, we have the equivalent of about three parking spaces in front, and except when we used rental cars or car share vehicles, we didn't use the space.  (Which likely encouraged our one next door neighbor to buy lots of cars like VWs and park them outside, although they do have some on-site spaces.)

We have a garage but it was sized for cars c. 1929 and we never tried to use it for parking.  Probably one car could fit in if it were parked in the middle.

Still, I've had plenty of arguments about this, especially when it came to Car2Go, the one-way car sharing program.

Revel scooter parked in Manhattan
Revel scooter parked on a street in New York City.

Now, it's an issue with Revel sit down e-scooters too.  A NextDoor discussion in the Fort Totten neighborhood includes a back and forth on this and "the right to the parking space in front of my house".

Of course, there are the arguments in Professor Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking about the value of street parking space which is much higher than the $35/year permit fee per car in DC--some blocks, like mine, because supply is greater than demand, don't even have permit requirements.

In any case, like in Toronto, permit fees should be higher with each additional car.  They aren't in DC.  And permit fees should be higher based on the size of the vehicle, something suggested in my old H Street neighborhood's inaugural community planning initiative for the then new planning director Andrew Altman, back in 2001.

I participated in a supermarket focus group a couple weeks ago, and in response to the question "does anything about what we do bother you?" I said all the supermarket loyalty programs focused on gasoline discounts ignore their customers who use transit or bicycle.

One of the other attendees said "I never thought of that before."

Why would she?  She drives.  And driving is natural.

People don't recognize automobility as a privileging.  Then again, there is so much other intersectionality to worry about.

-- "Supporting car sharing vs. privileging car owners and the use of the public space," 2011
== "Car share users are getting abused by the cities that ostensibly support car sharing as a form of sustainable mobility," 2016

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If DC hadn't lost Alexandria and Arlington, it would be over 1 million population

It's been awhile since I've thought about this, but an email discussion reminded me.  When the District of Columbia was first created, it was a 100 square mile diamond shaped district, incorporating land from Maryland and Virginia.

Map showing the original District of Columbia as a 100 square mile diamond shaped district

The Maryland side was mostly underdeveloped, with the exception of the Town of Georgetown.  The Virginia side had the City of Alexandria and its growing port.

In 1847, the Virginia side was retroceded back to Virginia, because of rising anti-slavery sentiment and the existence of a large and successful trade in selling slaves in Alexandria.  Retrocession protected that business from potential changes in its legality.

That cut DC in size from about 100 square miles, to 61 square miles.

These days, DC is the fourth largest "county" in the area.

Jurisdiction Population
Fairfax County, Virginia 1,146,883
Montgomery County, Maryland 1,048,244
Prince George's County, Maryland 908,801
District of Columbia 711,517
Arlington County, Virginia 235,121
Alexandria City, Virginia 160,530 

But if it were combined with Arlington and Alexandira, the population would be 1,107,168, just a little behind Fairfax County.  And DC would be about 1/4 the size in square miles compared to either Fairfax or Montgomery Counties.

Nationally, DC would be vying with San Jose, as the tenth largest city in the US. (Although if Baltimore City and Baltimore County took my recommendation for merger, than DC/San Jose would be vying for 11th place.)

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Not that President Trump reads, but maybe he should look at the Utah Leads Together Plan response to the pandemic

Trump ("Trump says he wants the country 'opened up and just raring to go by Easter,' despite health experts' warnings," CNN), Texan Lt. Governor Patrick ("Texas' lieutenant governor suggests grandparents are willing to die for US economy," USA Today) and others don't seem to have much of a plan in terms of their response to the coronavirus.

There has been a lot of coverage about how governors and mayors are far ahead of the federal government in terms of response.  It appears that Utah needs to be on the list, as its just released plan for dealing with the coronavirus, Utah Leads Together, seems to be significantly ahead of President Trump and state officials like Dan Patrick.  From the document:
The Utah Leads Together plan is based on the premise that every Utahn plays a role in Utah’s health and economic recovery. We lead together. To be successful Utahns must take three major actions:

1. Rigorously follow public health guidelines and measure transmission rates
2. Stay engaged with the economy
3. Assist those in need
It's a framework organized in three phases:

1. Urgent
2. Stabilization
3. Recovery

Thinking about the pandemic in these terms makes response much more graspable.

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Monday, March 23, 2020

Eating in the time of epidemic

There are tons of stories about panic buying at the supermarket.

Denuded egg section at the Fresh Market Supermarket, 2300 East, Salt Lake CityMost of us have probably seen various sections completely empty--definitely toilet paper, sanitizer, and water.  In one of our local markets (the one we can easily walk to), the rice and beans, pasta, and tuna fish sections are also empty.  Although I haven't been in a couple days, so I don't know where things are in terms of restocking.

I've been impressed that companies haven't raised their prices on items given the increase in demand.

Around here (Salt Lake City), stores have been forced to close fresh food counters (meat, seafood, deli), and that's probably the case in most places, as a matter of public health.

It happens, in working on a strategic plan for a public market, I have been thinking a lot about food and food distribution issues.

Public markets were created as a permanent place for farmers to sell their food, centuries before there were supermarkets or a developed retail sector.

In particular, I've been mulling over what does "public" mean or look like in the context of a public food market in the 21st century?

The fact is, because people have myriad supermarket options, online options, delivery options and restaurants--until the coronavirus, slightly more than half the money people spend on food is "out of the home" in restaurants, you could argue that there's no reason for a public market in today's world.

But answering that question provides a great many opportunities for differentiation from traditional supermarkets in terms of public and community, even though there are a number of for profit supermarket companies which recognize the experiential and community aspects of food and integrate that into their business model and "presentation" and performance.

Some communities like Boston, Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids, Michigan have opened new public markets in the last few years despite supermarket competition, because they see public markets as the answer to the question of how to we revitalize downtowns and attract customers to places they haven't been patronizing.

And usually, they offer more than merely vendor stands--cooking demonstrations, classes, event venues, meeting spaces, etc.

-- Grand Rapids Downtown Market, Rudy Bruner Award write up
-- "Milwaukee Public Market struggled, then flourished," Isthmus
-- "Everything you need to know about Boston Public Market," Boston Globe

Meal cost by type of preparation

Meal source Cost per portion
Home cooked meal (supermarket purchased) $4
Grab and go meal (supermarket purchased) $8 - $10
Meal kit (online/delivery) $10 and up
Restaurant meal $15
Restaurant meal, delivered $16.50 - $21

Although Harmon's Supermarket, a small specialty chain in Utah, normally offers a nightly dinner special, which varies by location, offering a package of two or four meals for as little as $4/portion--talk about competing with restaurants.

There is a good article from CNN, "How grocery stores restock shelves in the age of coronavirus," about how the food system mostly has the capacity to keep us well fed--providing we have the money we need to buy food.

I do wonder if some of the panic buying and out-of-stocks is a result of people buying more food to cook at home, since they have to replace meals that they had purchased at restaurants, for either on-premise or off-premise consumption ("Restaurant Exodus Has Food Giants Rushing to Stock Supermarkets," Bloomberg Businessweek).  Although many restaurants are staying open, for takeout.

(We did it Saturday night.  You have to call and they'll bring out the food to you.  But most restaurants don't have enough phone lines.  Many don't have online ordering systems.)

But it will require changing how the food supply is directed--restaurants and university campuses aren't going to be buying food, and over time those purchases can be redirected.  Although in the meantime, it creates great hardship for food distribution firms focusing on that segment of the market ("Restaurant Suppliers Are Stuck With Tons of Unsold Food," Bloomberg Businessweek).

Cooking.  Of course, if you don't cook, the pandemic and the closure of restaurants creates a big problem.  For years I didn't cook, even though my first DC job was for a nutrition/health advocacy group.

I hadn't learned when I was young, and my partner at the time wasn't too helpful and helping when it came to dealing with my mistakes in the kitchen ... even though I read newspaper food sections every week.

Probably, my choice to work in hospitality for many years was because shifts came with a meal.

Eventually, I started to cook because I had a new partner who was more forgiving of kitchen mistakes and because I was so often disappointed when going out to eat and paying a bunch of money for meals after which I felt dissatisfied.

Watching tv cooking shows on PBS and early forms of the Cooking Channel (Food Network is mostly competition shows and such, which aren't very good for teaching) gave me the confidence to try stuff out.

And as Ann Patchett says when people tell her they can't cook, "can't you read?" ("Collecting Strays at the Thanksgiving Table," New York Times).

All those years of reading food sections and cookbooks paid off, once I felt confident in some basic techniques.

And I took up baking because I like sweets and most of the time, eating cakes and sweets from supermarkets is very disappointing--all sugar and no flavor--and DC doesn't have very many specialty bakeries any more where you can get items that taste good as a matter of course.

CNN has a story on people cooking during the pandemic ("What to buy at the grocery store during a pandemic") although I was surprised that they didn't mention watching cooking shows on cable--they did mention youtube food videos, although I tend to find such quite tedious myself.

But for example, watching Aida Mollencamp make mussels one day (years ago) made me realize it wasn't that hard.  (Although I still haven't taken on the challenge of a lobster bake, which appeared to be reasonably "easy" according to an episode of Chuck Hughes' Day Off...)

The PBS Create channel, which is broadcast over the air on HDTV and on many cable systems across the country runs cooking shows every day.

Meals that aren't that hard to prepare.  I guess my cooking tends to be of dishes where I make large portions.  I've learned to increase the number of vegetables often, because it's an easy way to add bulk, and the amount of spices--maybe because my taste buds are diminishing as I get older, but often recipes can be kind of bland when it comes to spices.

I've always had good luck with recipes from the New York Times.  They have a website just for Cooking which is part of the digital subscription to the paper.

Items we've cooked for years include:

-- "Herbed White Bean and Sausage Stew," NYT (I double the vegetables and saute them for much longer so the vegetables are truly soft.)
-- "Pasta With Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula," NYT.  This is a chilled dish awesome during the hot summer. (I like spiciness so I put in more garlic, and usually double the amount of arugula, basil and parmesan cheese, and you can use regular tomatoes cut small.  If you have a porch, it's better to grow basil and arugula in pots on the porch so it gets sun and shade and doesn't bolt.)
-- "Corn and Avocado Salad," Ina Garten, Food Network.   Even my Hispanic friends have asked for this recipe! (I saw a mention of this kind of dish in the Miami Herald but they didn't have a recipe, at least online, and I found this one. Citrus juice means that the avocado doesn't brown if you have leftovers. I like to do this with grilled corn.  I usually double--at least--the amount of lime zest.)
-- Pasta with sausage and ratatouille (I don't really have a recipe for this. I saute eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers, sometimes carrots or stuff that's been sitting around in the fridge, and garlic, add a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, preferably spicy turkey sausage, and Italian spices like basil and oregano and still use a jar of Barilla spaghetti sauce)
-- "Best Black Bean Soup Recipe," NYT.  (It says 1-2 hours. Every time I've cooked it takes 4-6 hours.  I double the vegetables and garlic, and sometimes I have separately sauteed and added bacon.)
-- "Chicken Stir Fry," Allrecipes  (I use this recipe for the marinade, not the vegetable directions.  I double the meat, and instead of going through all that work cutting up vegetables, I use three pounds of Safeway Select Asian Stir Fry Frozen Vegetables--every so often they go on sale, and when it's $1 or less per bag, I try to stock up.  So yes, that's 2 lbs. of chicken and 3 lbs. of vegetables.)
-- Asian style Salmon.  I don't have a recipe.  I mix olive oil, sesame oil, lots and lots of ginger and garlic and marinate it.  I buy salmon at Aldi or Sprouts ($8 or less per pound.)  Cook it at 400-425 for no more than 25 minutes.  At that level of heat the skin cooks well, so it can be eaten too.
-- Roast vegetables.  Of all kinds.  Toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper and cook at 400 degrees for an hour.  Vegetables you may not have liked such as Zucchini or Brussels Sprouts are awesome when roasted.
-- "Mexican Green Rice," Simply Recipes.  The only thing I liked when eating a meal at Taqueria el Barrio in Petworth was their green rice side dish.  This recipe is probably close.  I am still perfecting it.  But since I prefer the flavor of cilantro to parsley I just use cilantro.  Once I tried roasting the pepper and onions for added flavor but once all mixed together the cilantro over powered it.
-- "Macaroni and Cheese with Peas and Ham".  I still haven't found the best base recipe for the Mac and Cheese.  Cream cheese is good to use, along with a couple of other types.  I add at least one pound of ham diced small and two pounds of frozen peas.  Most recipes call for adding bread crumbs on top which I don't like, and baking it, which is unnecessary...
-- Quesadillas.  Not much to say.  We have found that adding "taco seasoning" makes a big difference.  And that bulk spice taco seasoning doesn't seem to be as piquant as the packaged version.  (We like the Kroger brand.)
-- Broccoli stems.  We compost and for years I've put the stems in compost.  But I accidentally missed one and cooked it.  It was fine tossed in salt, pepper and butter along with the stalks.  Just cut it up into small disks.  If some people in your household won't eat it, just cook it separately.
-- "Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya," Emeril Lagasse.  (We double it. because we buy 2 lb. bags of shrimp.  We prefer spicy sausage, no ham.  We use two 28 oz. cans of tomatoes and 2.5 cups of rice.  And increase the amount of vegetables.)
-- Couscous with marinated cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.  Follow a marinade recipe for the vegetables, cook the couscous and mix.  It's great on hot nights.
-- Gazpacho.  Obviously a summer dish.  Mostly I try to buy seconds tomatoes at a farmers market and make it with them.

-- "Gluten Free Lemon Cake," a friend of ours is gluten intolerant.  This recipe is awesome.  You'd never know it's gluten free (except for the cost of the ingredients.  In the DC area, MOM's Grocery bulk spice section includes xanthan gum" so you don't have to buy a whole package.  I also include Lemon Curd between each layer.  I learned you have to watch the lemon curd so the eggs don't scramble!  As always, double the amount of zest.
-- Smoothies are a great way to use vegetable scraps, especially cilantro stems.  Beets though make the drink pretty red.  Juice/liquid, vanilla yogurt, ice, and mix ins like bananas, apples, cilantro or spinach stems, peaches, etc.  Great with very ripe fruit.  Sometimes honey.
-- It's not hard to make your own pie crusts, pizza dough, or foccaccia... Etc.  (I haven't graduated to more difficult bread recipes. And for a long time I wasn't motivated because there was one Giant supermarket location that sold day old bread for $1 loaf.)
-- Avocado toast.  You don't have to go to restaurant to mash up some avocado, toast some bread and top it with an egg you've cooked yourself.  And this way, it's less than $1 per portion, instead of $6, although it might not be as fancy.
-- "Mark Bittman's Banana Bread," NYT/How to Cook Everything Cookbook.  (There's no excuse to toss an overripe banana.  Keep them in the fridge until you're ready to bake.  This recipe I always double it.  But we just use all purpose flour, no wheat flour.  I've made it so many times I know it by heart.)

I sometimes experiment with new processed food items by buying dinged cans at a discount at the supermarket.  Mostly the items aren't that great, but that's the way I learned about Malher refried beans (and also Ducal), which you can find at Hispanic markets.  Once you try those brands, you'll never want to eat Rosarita, Old El Paso, or similar brands ever again.  I refer to then as "dog food."

Other points.  Yes, it's nice to have a blender and stand mixer and a slow cooker.  (Our stand mixer and slow cooker are packed away.)  AND SHARP KNIVES.  For years I used a bread knife for dicing.  How much time I wasted...

(I make a great pie crust.  Even though I still haven't mastered rolling out the dough...)


Eviction during pandemic: National Multihousing Council recommends suspending evictions

The Washington Post has an article, "Facing eviction as millions shelter in place," about eviction actions during the pandemic.  Although many communities are mandating a stop to evictions.

(WRT commercial properties in DC, according to the Washington City Paper, in the DC area "Some Landlords Say They'll Help Tenants With Rent. Others Aren't Saying Much.")

There have been cases of severe tone deafness on the part of some landlords ("LANDLORD SAYS RESTAURANT INDUSTRY TENANTS BETTER ASK PARENTS AND RELATIVES TO PAY THEIR RENT OR RISK 'AGGRESSIVE' ACTION," Newsweek).  The opprobrium in response led him to backtrack and resign from his operating responsibilities at his firm.

And an acknowledgement, although not by the Trump Administration, that recently announced HUD initiatives don't pertain to renters ("HUD, Fannie, Freddie suspend foreclosures, evictions during outbreak," Politico).

That being said the National Multifamily Housing Council has recommended to its members to suspend eviction actions that may result from income loss as a result of the pandemic ("Apartment Industry Committed to Supporting Residents Impacted by COVID-19") and they have come out for financial support to renters ("NMHC Calls on Lawmakers to Provide Direct Financial Assistance to Renters").

Yes, you can say it's because of optics or self-interest, but it's important nonetheless.

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Rush Medical Center (Chicago) clues us into a gap in state and regional health care planning: planning for disaster and epidemic response

Chicago's Rush Medical Center has the ability to surge capacity by 130 percent, but without people taking aggressive preventative measures, including staying home, it can still be overwhelmed. 

So, instead of advertising on the side of their building, they're using it to tell people to "wash your hands" in an effort to limit cases of a new coronavirus. Photo: Rush Medical Center.

A couple years ago, I wrote a three-part series about how DC could leverage the construction of a new United Medical Center in Southeast Washington--located in the East of the River section of the city, which experiences a great rate of poor health outcomes--as a way to create not just a superlative hospital with a transformational public health focus, it could also be used as a way to drive a biotechnology research and medical education initiative as an economic development measure, utilizing the St. Elizabeths campus, which the city has been working to redevelop for almost 20 years.

-- "Ordinary versus Extraordinary Planning around the rebuilding of the United Medical Center in Southeast Washington DC | Part One: Rearticulating the system of health and wellness care East of the River
-- "Part Two: Creating a graduate health and biotechnology research initiative on the St. Elizabeths campus"
-- "Part three: the potential for donations around an expanded program"

-- "Update on DC's plans to build a new United Medical Center"
-- "Community Health Improvement Planning"
-- "A glaring illustration of the need for comprehensive health and wellness planning in DC: Providence Hospital"

A recent Newsweek article on Rush Medical Center, "THIS CHICAGO HOSPITAL WAS BUILT AFTER 9/11 WITH AN EPIDEMIC LIKE CORONAVIRUS IN MIND," which built a new medical campus after 9/11, made me realize that I missed a big potential element, enhanced emergency, disaster response, and pandemic response capabilities.

From the article:
The attacks on September 11, 2001, highlighted the need for emergency preparedness, and Casey said anticipating a range of disasters that could strain health care systems is the "new reality." Constructed with the foundational mindset that a disaster will cause an influx in patients, Rush has the ability to rapidly expand its bed capacity, intake capabilities and negative pressure units.

"Our tower opened in 2012, so certainly that was top of mind a decade after 9/11–that we need to be prepared for this and we need to build to be prepared for this," Casey explained. ...

To get ahead of a likely influx in cases and prevent infection among staff members, Rush converted two units to negative pressure, a method used to prevent cross-contamination. Each unit has 20 beds, but hospital staff can double that number, bringing it up to 40 beds. Multiple floors within the hospital have this conversion capability and so far, they've flipped two.

"Twenty minutes. It's impressive," Casey said when asked how long the conversion takes. "We tested this over a number of years in different exercises, including the outbreak of an infectious disease."
Also see:

-- "Rush Medical Center raises tent in ambulance bay to test coronavirus patientsChicago Sun-Times
-- "This is what Rush was built for," Rush University press release
-- "Nation's First Center for Advanced Emergency Response Opens on January 6," Rush University press release, 2012

In the DC area, a new Washington Adventist Hospital just opened in the White Oak section of Montgomery County and a new hospital is under construction in the Largo district of Prince George's County, replacing the Prince George's Hospital, as a way to shift control of the hospital system to the University of Maryland Medical System.  And the problem-wracked UMC is to be rebuilt.

I doubt that any of these "construction projects" have responded to the potential for disaster in the way that Rush Medical Center has.

Recently, Washington Adventist took over Howard University Hospital ("Adventist to manage Howard University Hospital," Washington Post) and going forward there is a good chance that HUH will be rebuilt.  And in terms of disaster response, it is much more centrally located that the above-mentioned hospitals.

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Street Justice by Gordon Chaffin on WMATA transit service cutbacks

His piece far exceeds anything I could hope to write on the topic.  Street Justice is a weekly subscription e-letter.

Definitely he/Street Justice is a worthy addition to the community news-communication-commentary space in DC.

Ad on a Metrobus promoting driving for the Via microtransit serviceWMATA has cut headways on transit significantly.  Trains ran twice an hour in each direction starting on the weekend.  (Interestingly, that hasn't happened here in Salt Lake.)

However, ridership is down 70% or more in lieu of all the business closures and shelter in place mandates by local authorities.  And that creates big budget problems.

Not to mention the issue of bus drivers and other personnel getting and potentially spreading the coronavirus--buses as vectors for the disease.

At the same time, people without cars need to get around too.  I don't know what the solution is.

Other than biking ("Why not encourage cycling during the coronavirus lockdown?," Guardian).

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Today is World Water Day

-- "Poor water infrastructure is greater risk than coronavirus, says UN," Guardian
-- World Water Day
-- "The United Nations World Water Development Report, World Water Assessment Programme, UNESCO

I came across the Ontario Clean Water Agency which is a provincial authority that provides various types of technical assistance to local governments.

US states need to develop equivalent kinds of support agencies, in part by repositioning and redefining existing agencies.

Some government agencies in the waste sector are repositioning along these lines such as SLC Green in Salt Lake City, the Lancaster County (PA) Solid Waste Authority, Recology in San Francisco, and Seattle Public Utilities, which has water and electricity functions.

I haven't come across examples at the state scale in the water sector. DC Water is an example at the local scale (

My short agenda:

1. Funding for local infrastructure needs for water distribution and sewage and stormwater capture systems. EPA mandates have imposed significant costs on local systems, which is why over the past 10+ years, water rates have risen so much ("Waster as a utility," 2016).

We need many billions. The amount made available from federal grant programs is minimal. Rural communities ("King George paying a price for years of neglect of water and sewer systems," Fredericksburg Free Lance Star) and shrinking cities are particularly vulnerable.

Republican governments have cut back on EPA authority, delegating it to the states, with the presumption that state water authorities will reduce oversight and regulations.

With the lead pipe problem, more water authorities are stepping up with replacement programs (Recognizing efforts to replace lead service lines, Environmental Defense Fund).

More recently, PFOA contamination has become an issue although it's not a new issue ("The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare," New York Times Magazine).

2. Requirements on agriculture concerning water runoff, which tends to be full of fertilizers and pesticides that overwhelm water systems ("A Movement Grows to Help Farmers Reduce Pollution and Turn a Profit," Yale

3. Reversal of the Trump Administration's severe back sliding on the Clean Water Act ("Trump Administration Rolling Back Federal Water Protections," NPR).

A big issue is the campaign against protections of intermittent water sources, such as so called "dry creeks" which don't have water 24/7/365 ("Trump Removes Pollution Controls on Streams and Wetlands," NYT).

4. Restrictions on the ability of bottled water companies to bottle water. Water should be considered a public good and resource, not something that can be privately owned, at least as it relates to bottling water ("Opinion | Bottled Water Is Sucking Florida Dry," New York Times).

A customer purchases water at a Watermill Express water dispensary location in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego. Photograph: John Francis Peters/The Guardian

5. Limitations on the sale and distribution of bottled water ("Californians are turning to vending machines for safer water. Are they being swindled?," Guardian).

6. Development of grey water systems in new construction to capture and reuse waste water on site to the extent possible.

-- Greywater Codes and Policy, Greywater Action

Flooding and the impact of climate change on coastal waterfront properties is another issue.

I do agree that more places need to do what Tulsa did, and stop developing in flood plains ("Some innovative disaster planning initiatives in Tulsa, Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Davenport Iowa," 2015), which surprisingly, is being pushed by the Trump Administration, although in a very heavy handed way ("Trump Administration Presses Cities to Evict Homeowners from Flood Zones," NYT).

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

"The receipts" on Fox News: coronavirus as hoax versus a real concern

Washington Post video editor JM Rieger created a video with before and after video from various Fox News on-air personalities calling covid-19 a Democratic Party anti-Trump hoax versus a crisis.

-- "Sean Hannity denied calling coronavirus a hoax nine days after he called coronavirus a hoax"

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Friday, March 20, 2020

My "net assessment" of the US response to covid19

In the Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius ("Where would the U.S. stand in a post-pandemic assessment?") discusses the "Net Assessment" process created by the Department of Defense to assess the comparative likelihood of the US and the USSR to survive nuclear war.

He opines about a net assessment comparing the response of China and the US to the coronavirus.

Here's my not particularly detailed response:

China has an authoritarian government that withheld information, endangering their citizens. But they did respond, eventually.  And their scientists communicated about the situation and the virus in scientific circles early, giving a leg up to creating tests and more quickly understanding the nature of the disease.

Photo: Rex Features.

Neoliberalism: the emphasis on the market at the expense of government.  Since the era of Thatcher and Reagan, neoliberalism has resulted in the denigration and defunding of government in the US ("Neoliberalism's 'trade not aid' approach to development ignored past lessons: Neoliberal development policy was radical and abstract, but its uncompromising approach proved dangerous in the real world" and ">Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems," Guardian). From the first article:
At the heart of the new right project was a particular constellation of ideas and policies known as neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is often used today as shorthand for any idea that is pro-market and anti-government intervention, but it is actually more specific than this. Above all, it is the harnessing of such policies to support the interests of big business, transnational corporations and finance. It seeks not so much a free market, therefore, as a market free for powerful interests.
From the second article:
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
Extreme Republican ideology.  With the rise in extreme Republican ideology--dating to Newt Gingrich's Speakership if not before ("How Newt Gingrich Destroyed American Politics," The Atlantic), and the most recent Presidential election, the US has a viciously incompetent federal government that failed to maintain public health monitoring and surveillance systems, and through continued incompetence spreads misinformation through the President, even though somewhat crippled federal agencies are reacting, although local and state agencies are more in the lead because of the vacuum of leadership and competence.

Public health and health care is not an integrated system.  The US has adopted an approach generally and specifically in terms of health care to governance and funding that de-emphasizes the importance of surveillance and stocking slack resources to be able to respond to pandemics in a timely fashion.

I can't remember the article I read, but it made the point that "the US doesn't have a health care system, it has various disconnected marketplaces."

Rural areas have been particularly hard hit ("The Quiet Crisis Of Rural Hospital Closures, Kaiser Health) and because rural Republican states have declined to expand health care access to the poor.

But plenty of urban hospitals have closed ("Hahnemann University Hospital Closure: What Philly Is Losing," Philadelphia Magazine; "St. Vincent Medical Center closes after a century, shocking community," KCRW/NPR)sometimes because they are owned by for profit firms, or because the cost of uncompensated care is high and threatens the financial health of university parents.

These 2019 entries include links to past entries concerning health care matters in the DC area:

-- "Another example of a failure to do public capital planning in DC: Council votes to stop funding United Medical Center
-- "Community health improvement planning"

This has resulted in a continued reduction in the number of available hospital beds and usually a decline in the number of ICU beds as well.  Per capita numbers for the US lag countries with national health systems.

More recent efforts to tie public welfare health coverage and food assistance to employment, making it more difficult for immigrants to get citizenship status if they've received public benefits increase the likelihood of poor health outcomes.  Not to mention the difficulties of applying for benefits--most states haven't adopted best practice computerized systems, and have closed offices where people normally apply, etc.

Difficulty of responding extranormally when circumstances warrant.  Plus the bureaucratic nature of agencies tends to make it difficult to respond in innovative ways let alone with alacrity in extranormal situations (e.g., compare South Korea or Taiwan's response to that of the US, and the testing creation and approval process; cf. the debacle concerning expanding the Seattle Flu Study to test for coronavirus, etc.).

Need for a national health care system.  How the US health care system is set up disincentivizes people to get "wellness" care because of copayments, missed work and loss of income, lack of sick leave, etc.

Ideally, a net assessment would be like Britain's health services assessment during WW2 ("Want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness: are Beveridge’s five evils back?," Guardian) because in moving people from cities to the country, they realized that the country was underresourced in terms of health care systems and that people weren't very healthy.

That resulted in the creation of Britain's National Health Service in 1948.

(How health care is delivered in the US needs to be reorganized, in three tranches for normal care: (1) wellness care; (2) management of chronic disease; and (3) catastrophic care; alongside a more robust public health system.)

Globalization and the precariousness of work.  The problem with globalization isn't necessary globalization, that is the economic and social interconnectedness, although this can be simultaneously strengthening and weakening--but because it was paired with the adoption of neoliberal principles and the simultaneous disruption to and elimination of a social safety net.

The loss of the safety net has heightened effects because of the change of the nature of work and the organization of the economy away from large employers, who traditionally provided health insurance (and pensions) in the US system.

Globalization made work more competitive, led to the migration of large scale industry to countries with cheaper labor, putting many people out of work, especially in center cities where manufacturing had been concentrated.

Replacing labor with capital.  Plus alongside globalization you have an increased focus on capital and mechanization, the simultaneous upskilling of jobs while also eliminating or outsourcing jobs whenever possible.

For example, an auto plant probably has 25% or fewer workers than it did 30 years ago.  In Flint, which had a peak GM employment of over 80,000 people (+ the multiplier effect of 3.0 add on jobs at suppliers), today there are fewer than 9,000 GM jobs.

Although some of that is because GM spun off its part manufacturing into separate firms including Delphi--still the overall number of jobs has been reduced by more than 50%).

More recently, IT, telecommunications and software has led to the elimination of jobs (such as in human resources, accounting, etc.).

People out of work, low wages, and limited social safety provisions are vulnerable.  This creates a fragmented society and economy that is economically and socially vulnerable to exogeneous shocks--climate change; financialization; pandemic; etc.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A bad bump for the sharing economy

wework, the coworking firm already on the ropes because of poor financial controls and overexpansion, may be seriously hurt by coronovirus since people won't want to be in places in close proximity to others ("Coronavirus may kill wework," Forbes Magazine).

The Wall Street Journal opinion piece "Coronavirus Will Permanently Change How We Work" suggests that the virus will increase significantly teleworking. I tend to disagree because the whole point of agglomeration economies is exchange and connectedness.

In a connected world public health surveillance and response systems need to be robust.  While the virus is bad, it is a 100-year (or more) event, and sadly, one that could have been contained if (1) the Chinese didn't have wet markets; (2) the Chinese were direct and honest about the emergence of the virus; and (3) the failure to have an ongoing and sound surveillance and proactive reaction system in place such as that employed in Taiwan ("Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan: Big Data Analytics, New Technology, and Proactive Testing," Journal of the American Medical Association), Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea.

South Korea, where the virus was more prevalent earlier, has fewer deaths from it than does the US, where the prevalence of the virus came later ("What the U.S. Needs to do Today to Follow South Korea's Model for Fighting Coronavirus," Time Magazine).

Jimmy Williamson rides an empty BART train from the East Bay to San Francisco on March 10, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Micromobility services shutting down in high risk areas.  Separately, e-scooter/bicycle sharing operations have announced a pullback ("Lime is yanking its electric scooters from California and Washington due to coronavirus," The Verge), which to me makes little sense because these devices allow people to make trips instead of on (theoretically) tightly packed transit vehicles--although transit systems are experiences catastrophic declines in service based on the statements that you need to be within 6 feet of someone with the coronavirus for 15 minutes to get infected--sounds like the minimum amount of time for a transit trip...

More biking.  With coronavirus, more people are biking in NYC ("A Surge in Biking to Avoid Crowded Trains in N.Y.C.," New York Times).

More driving?  But probably there will be more driving, except in the most congested places.  Although because people are self isolating/sheltering in place, fewer people are driving also.

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Monday, March 16, 2020

Quotes exemplifying political leadership, or not

From the 2017 March for Science protest.

From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself.”
Winston Churchill in 1940, as the United Kingdom military retreated from France (Dunkirk), brought back to the UK in large part by citizen boaters, with the fear of a Nazi invasion:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
And President John F. Kennedy, during the Cold War between the US and the USSR:
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
JFK also created the Peace Corps...

President Trump:
"No I don't take responsibility at all."

WRT President Trump's overall statement, it seemingly isn't really problematic. He doesn't take responsibility, stating that the government is incapable of creating lab tests quickly in extranormal situations, that you need the private sector to do it ("I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it," Washington Post.

That's not true. Other countries and other government agencies like the World Health Organization developed tests and systems just fine.  Although others did not.

Charlie shares with us a great article from the Financial Times, "Containing coronavirus: lessons from Asia," although because it is an article normally behind a paywall, it might not work.

It discusses best practice response by Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Because these countries dealt with SARS and MERS, they maintained epidemic response systems which were allowed to atrophy in the US.

The piece cites a medical journal article on the Taiwan response to Covid-19, "Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan: Big Data Analytics, New Technology, and Proactive Testing," Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Digital advertising promoting positive health behaviors to ward off Coronavirus

A coronavirus public service announcement is displayed on the scoreboard prior to Inter Miami and D.C. United playing at Audi Field on March 7, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images). 

 Since this photo was taken, professional sports leagues have suspended their seasons, and events of this size in stadiums and arenas have been banned in most major cities across the US and increasingly in other countries.

A billboard on the A194 in South Shields warns motorists of the symptoms of coronavirus and gives advice on what to do if they feel ill

Coronavirus campaign by the British government on billboards in Wood Green, north London Matthew Chattle—Barcroft Media via Getty Images. "Government coranavirus ad campaign to take over TV, social media, print and and billboards," i news

An NHS coronavirus information sign at Heathrow Airport in London today; Heathrow said the number of passengers travelling through the airport fell by 4.8 per cent year-on-year in February due to the impact of coronavirus.

Highway message board in Southern California.  Photo: Getty Images.  

Munich airport: The sign reads "Wash your hands, keep a distance, cough into your elbow."

A billboard advising people to be responsible and stay home is seen at the almost empty Preciados Street, due to the coronavirus outbreak, in central Madrid, Spain, March 14, 2020. AP photo?

A billboard near the Crosstown Expressway on Friday, March 13, 2020, displays information about the coronavirus and the hotline set up by the City of Corpus Christi and local health district. (Photo: Courtney Sacco/Corpus Christi Caller-Times)

The Outdoor Advertising Association of America has developed a set of open access public service messages on Coronavirus in standard digital formats.

Lamar Advertising is one of the firms participating in the OAAA program.  

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Shopping arcade at a transit station in Osaka as an example of the unrealized opportunity at the NoMA Metrorail station in DC

I have mentioned the NHK World channel from Japan, which is broadcast on HDTV and on cable systems in many areas across the US.

One of the programs I try not to miss is "Japan Railway Journal," which is about passenger transit across Japan, ranging from traditional railroad services to streetcars (where they exist) and subways.  It's a great way to get best practice ideas.

The latest program is "JR Osaka Loop Line: Developing a Better, More User-Friendly Line," about the 19-station circle line serving Osaka's center.

Among other elements, the program mentioned the ongoing station renovation program. One of the shots is a new "shopping street," what we would call an "arcade" at the Momodani Station.
Shopping street/arcade, Momodani Station, Osaka Loop Line

It reminded me of my piece from 2011, suggesting that a similar kind of shopping arcade could be created alongside the NoMA Metrorail Station in DC, as a distinctive placemaking feature.
New York Avenue Metro station walkway
Since this photo was taken, to the left of the pylons for the elevated rail line there is now a building, although both the first and second floors (the second floor abuts the Metropolitan Branch Trail) are offset so they are not level with the ground on either floor).

But they could have created an arcade as part of the building project.  But there was no way to influence the developer to take such an action.

Ersatz e-scooter parking on the Metropolitan Branch Trail

Nor is WMATA particularly focused on transit and urban design (see "Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods" and "Transit stations as an element of civic architecture/commerce as an engine of urbanism").  And wrt the NoMA station area specifically, "Public improvement districts ought to be created as part of transit station development process: the east side of NoMA station as an example."

Another example of a similar kind of urban design treatment is the backside of the BANQ library in Montreal, which is set up as "Booksellers Alley."
Bookseller alley (L'Allée des bouquinistes) Bibliotheque Nationale de Quebec, Montreal

Although not an arcade, Cecil Court is a booksellers alley in London, and it shows how stores can line a tight space.  Of course, in the case of the NoMA Metrorail Station, one side is for the station.
Police Light

But when DC created the density bonus program for building in NoMA, no urban design requirements were instituted, and they didn't put any energy into figuring out opportunities for distinctive design treatments around the train station or abutting the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the shared use--biking and walking--path alongside the railroad and subway line.

Normally, an arcade in this location wouldn't have the kind of pedestrian traffic necessary for retail to thrive, but by being made into a distinctive place, it could have become a destination.

While I am sure there are many other relevant examples in Tokyo and Osaka, another is the Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street arcade also in Osaka, which is not connected to a train station, and is about 2km in length.

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