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, September 27, 2023

Scattered site buying of houses in high cost neighborhoods doesn't seem to be a good way to develop scale for a community land trust

The Douglass Community Land Trust in DC was created to ward off gentrification in Ward 8 that was predicted to occur as a response to the creation of the 11th Street Bridge Park connecting East and West of the Anacostia River.

Personally, I don't see the bridge park as a likely high velocity augur of gentrification because it isn't located near housing, on either side of the river.

It will be a trek to get to.  I think it's cool and disclosure, I was on the Design Review Committee for its initial development, but it's a lot of money and because of locational issues, isn't likely to have the impact that is predicted.

In general, my criticism of land trusts is they need to be created long before the velocity of community change is heightened and demand has been stoked in neighborhoods once ignored, like 15 years ago at least, not 5 years ago.  And that's my criticism of cities (and DC) and housing policy more generally.

There needed to be a plan, and a lot of money to fund it, around 2000, not many years later.  Although to be fair, DC has funded a fair amount of housing through its Housing Production Trust Fund.

Anyway, the Washington Post has an article, "A ‘clerical error’ could cost D.C. 65 new units of affordable housing," that the Douglass Community Land Trust is in danger of losing a $2 million grant, because of errors on the part of the DC government.

Within the article there is an interesting subsection, about how the Trust is buying high cost houses, albeit for less than market value, West of the River, as a way to build their portfolio.  I understand the sentiment, but it seems like mission creep of massive proportions, and a poor use of scarce funds.

From the article:

To provide permanent affordable housing, the trust acquires homes at a below-market rate and sells them to households earning 80 percent or below the median family income, Executive Director Ginger Rumph said. The trust also creates affordable homes by purchasing land and leasing it to developers, establishing co-op housing and partnering with construction companies. Using these methods, Rumph said, the council’s $2 million award would have financed the creation of 65 affordable units. 

With Douglass’s mission in mind, Ed Lazere, a former D.C. Council chair candidate, and his wife went to the trust in September 2022 to sell it the Brookland home they purchased in 1992. “We wanted to pass our home to someone that was like we were — people early in their career, moderate income — rather than be a part of gentrification in Brookland,” Lazere said. 

But the city didn’t disburse the $2 million as promised in March, Rumph said, and the land trust couldn’t immediately complete the sale. “It wasn’t clear to us that [the sale] was going to happen,” Lazere said. “We were prepared to sell the house at market rate.” 

The trust ended up taking out a loan to finance the purchase, Rumph said, on top of another loan it took out to buy a property in Northwest Washington. The sellers in that case were also private citizens who agreed to a sale price well below market rate because they wanted to help preserve affordable housing. The two purchases left the trust $1.2 million in debt. 
A couple million for two houses, versus what they say, that $2 million could leverage 65 houses in Anacostia.

FWIW, the book Streets of Hope: the Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood, published in 1999, describes the creation of a community development corporation/land trust in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.  Over 30 years, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative has developed not quite 300 units of housing.  That doesn't seem like a lot to me.

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Biking to Work Isn't Gaining Any Ground in the US | Bloomberg Opinion

 -- article

Duh.  In an environment where more than 90% of US trips are conducted in part by the automobile, for people to cycle instead, especially in the face of attitudes that treat biking as a toy, they need assistance to do so.

Very little such assistance is provided.

Therefore, people don't bike.  

I do have a piece on this, "Revisiting assistance programs to get people biking: 18 programs."  It's ready for a slight update because I have a couple more items.

We spent 60+ years building a system of automobility.  

We need to build a similar system for biking.  

Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012

It doesn't need to take 60 years.  But it does need to be purposive.  Right now, few cities are doing much that is substantive to directly assist people in transitioning to biking.

With one exception.  Vouchers and tax credits to buy electric bikes.  

But as I point out, that creates a need for higher quality, secure bicycle parking, and there's no movement on that ("If you're going to promote electric bikes at scale, there needs to be complementary investment in secure bicycle parking and charging").

Many argue that electric bikes can be a game changer.  That they can substitute for a car for many trips.  But without assistance in transitioning to biking, and without creating a complementary secure parking and charging infrastructure, it will likely bump up against existing barriers to take up, along the lines of the Rogers diffusion curve, and will remain stuck in the early adopter phase.

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Friday, September 22, 2023

Space needle thinking: Seattle, seizing opportunity, and transformational projects action planning

Visionary thinking comes up because of a recent matter I lost out on, in my board service, over the inability to see the value in responding to changed circumstances and taking advantage of an opportunity "suddenly" presented.

I thought about it in terms of what I call "transformational projects action planning," and how part of the concept was influenced by the articles I wrote about culture-based urban revitalization in 7 European cities, for an EU National Institutes of Culture project in Baltimore.

Based on my observation of cities like Bilbao ("Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning"), I concluded that best practice revitalization initiatives, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these six elements

  1. A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
  2. the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program. Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
  3. strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure--in my experience, over time, such initiatives become less focused under city control);
  4. funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
  5. integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);
  6. flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).
Flickr photo by John Smatlak.  

In Bilbao, both the Guggenheim Museum and the surface tram system are examples of seizing opportunity.  

The opportunity to snag the museum came up after Graz, Austria balked.  Bilbao already had a broad ranging plan, and it called for adding cultural attractions.  But it wasn't specified.  The Guggenheim became a way to realize that concept.

And the tram system was developed after the museum opened, and they realized they needed better "intra-district" transit service between subway stations to better serve the patrons of the Guggenheim Museum.

The Space Needle in June after heavy rain in Seattle. (Luke Johnson / The Seattle Times)

Recently the Mayor of Seattle, Bruce Harrell, called on the city to once again start thinking big ("Harrell’s ‘Space Needle thinking’ needs to aim high," Seattle Times).  From the article:
He also called for “Space Needle thinking” to bring forward ambitious ideas for the city’s future. It’s a catchy phrase and plays on something I’ve long noticed about Seattle: Its ability to reinvent itself over and over. The concrete plans that come from “Space Needle thinking” have yet to emerge. But it allows for a thought exercise about Seattle past, present and future.

What's interesting about "space needle thinking," is that according to the columnist, Jon Talton, it was anomalous at the time, that Seattle was actually pretty conservative and in some ways backward.  Committing to being the location of the World's Fair was a big jump from a standing start.  The Space Needle and the World's Fair were initiated by the private sector, not local government.

But because 60 years later, Seattle is in a much different place, and much more economically successful, it has different opportunities.  From the article:

Today, Harrell’s “Space Needle thinking” is a means to bolster and grow ingredients that we already know make great urban spaces. 

One example might be rezoning in Belltown and on blighted Third Avenue to encourage taller buildings and residential development. More than 106,000 people are already living in the central core, a 61% increase since 2013. Build the First Avenue streetcar to complete the Center City Connector, enhancing mobility from the Chinatown International District to Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, First Hill and South Lake Union. 

Our downtown assets will bring people there (recent summer tourism seasons reinforce that we’re building from a great base), but we need to make sure we’re getting the basics right (a clean, safe and welcoming downtown) if we’re going to keep bringing workers and foster an environment where people want to locate their businesses. 

Harrell has found a relatable and fun way to encourage people to think creatively about what’s possible downtown. Perhaps it’s a way to shift thinking by using a symbol of pride and accomplishment to rally people around change. Can Seattle still muster its genius for reinvention? I hope so.

Post covid urban revival.  I've also been thinking about this in the context of post covid urban revival.  

The biggest thing is to double down on the elements that make urban living worthwhile--high quality urban design and placemaking, things to do, access to cultural institutions.  Not just high quality transit, but support for sustainable mobility--walking and biking.  And a reasonably attractive environment for business and commerce.

Addressing disorder is fundamental to public safety.  charlie calls our attention to a report by the DC Chief Financial Officer, that outmigration of population during covid, especially of relatively young high earners, has cost the city $200 million per year in lost tax revenue.

Some of this has to do with public safety.  I first moved to DC in grim times, the late 1980s and 1990s, when crime burgeoned.  charlie frequently points out that it was the crime drop starting in the very late 1990s that set the stage for city revival across the nation.

Having lived through that period of disorder, I am always amazed that elected officials in cities like SF, Seattle, Portland, and DC are happy with encouraging it.  To be fair, I don't think that's what they intended.  

But as crime dropped, they thought on social justice grounds that we could absorb a bit more disorder by decriminalizing certain quality of life and other crimes, that improvements in public safety meant it wouldn't be that big of a deal.

Instead what happened is instead of being grateful for the light treatment, perpetrators saw this as a signal to commit more crime, that anti-social behavior was not being sanctioned, but dismissed, and even encouraged.  Hence, more crime.

DC is a laboratory now for failed approaches.  Lenience for youth perpetrators is fine when they are acting out in simple ways.  But carjackings and robberies by youth as young as 12, murders by kids under 16 years of age are not merely "kids being kids."  

It's a dire problem, requiring a serious response.

Like with the decriminalization of crimes by adults, anti-social acts by youth are seemingly accepted and dismissed, when the consequences for committing crimes are minor.

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National Public Lands Day, Saturday September 23rd

 Always the fourth Saturday of September.

-- Last year's blog entry

Entrance to national parks is free.  Many parks, at all levels: national; state; and local, have events.  More should.

Federal shutdown.  Interesting that the federal government is on the verge of shutting down ("US government shutdown: What is it and who would be affected?," Reuters), which means that parks and open lands close too.  Although states and localities can step in with interim funding to keep them open.  From the article:

NATIONAL PARKS AND NATURAL RESOURCES It's not clear how the United States' 63 national parks would be affected. They remained open during the 2018-2019 shutdown, through restrooms and information desks were closed and waste disposal was halted. They were closed during a 2013 shutdown. 

 Wildfire fighting efforts would continue, though timber sales on national forest lands would be curtailed and fewer recreation permits would be issued.

Congress has tried to keep parks open, to ward off animus by the public.

Austerity impact on parks and open space.  This paper is about the UK, and how communities have given up on public spaces through privatization, because of a lack of money to maintain them.

-- "Austerity urbanism in England: The ‘regressive redistribution’ of local government services and the impact on the poor and marginalised," Environment and Planning A (2017)

Conservation as a legitimate use for public lands.  Republicans are up in arms that the Biden Administration wants to make "conservation" a legitimate land use for the leasing of public lands controlled by the Bureau of Land Management ("House Republicans aim to block a BLM land management proposal," Roll Call).

Trails access, mountain and electric bikes.  Is a big issue on Forest Service lands especially but parks and open spaces more generally ("New Mexico trail clash echoes culture war across US West," Reuters, "Major Proposed Oregon Mountain Bike Network Withdrawn from Consideration," Singletrack, "An electric bike rode into the backcountry. Now there's a nationwide turf war," USA Today, "On Orange County beaches, proliferation of e-bikes brings battle to the boardwalk," Los Angeles Times, "E-bikes are an environmental dream — except out in nature," San Jose Mercury News, "On beautiful country trails, fights over e-bikes can get ugly," Washington Post).

Wilderness.  There is tension in the federal laws on parks and public lands, between access and protection, including keeping some lands natural, or wilderness.  I'm not saying this is a scintillating article, but I read it at the doctor's office, "What does it mean to be ‘wild’? Inside the Gila Wilderness area," National Geographic.

Building bridges instead of barriers.  Really great article about the group "Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz" and how they've developed into a major force, with a real focus on partnership and volunteerism, in expanding the trails network, using trails as a way to "add eyes on the street," their success in advocacy etc. ("How Mountain Bikers Beat Heroin Hill," Good Times).

Security planning for trails.  Using new cameras and license plate readers to crack down on thefts. ("New security measures in place after thieves target hiking trails along Chattahoochee River," WSB-TV). 

At the trailhead for the Decalibron Loop, hikers hoping to reach four of Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains are instead told to stay away. Photo: Rachel Woolf for The Washington Post.  

Sometimes you just have to buy the land.  In the vein of BTMFBA, sometimes to get access to open space, you have to buy it ("14,000 feet up, liability fears block access to iconic Colorado peaks," , "The Conservation Fund Solves Colorado “Fourteener” Closure by Securing Land and Permanent Public Access for Mount Democrat," Morning AgClips).

Some landowners provided access to open space, but changes in interpretation of legal liability in Colorado led some to dial back.  In this case, the Conservation Fund bought the property.

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Can a city really die? | Financial Times

Opinion piece in the Financial Times special section on City Living.  The author makes a couple points, focusing on San Francisco, and all the coverage on the city's demise.  

First, many times in the past, people say a particular city, including SF is now dead. Second, cities wax and wane, in cycles, and that working in and out of these cycles takes a long time.

A quick read.


Also see, "What if San Francisco never pulls out of its ‘doom loop’?," from May. I didn't realize that SF's homeless population is equal to 1% of its population.


Thursday, September 21, 2023

If you're going to promote electric bikes at scale, there needs to be complementary investment in secure bicycle parking and charging

 One of the biggest hindrances to electric vehicle adoption is the need for access to charging.  Say what you will about gasoline, but it's easy and fast to fill up, and there are scads of gasoline stations.

One of the biggest problems with cycling take up, besides the fact that it's slower, so longer trips are less likely to be capturable--even so, 64% of all US trips are 7 miles or less--is secure bicycle parking.  Sure there is bicycle parking, but most of it isn't secure.

Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012Image.

I suggested a system for secure bicycle parking operating at the metropolitan scale a few years ago, based in part on the Parkiteer model in Melbourne.  It's more imperative with the focus on electric biking.

-- "Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale," 2017

Many communities, including DC ("D.C. plans to use e-bike subsidies to cut car trips," Washington Post), are creating incentive programs for electric bikes, and compared to gasoline cars versus electric cars, which all in all aren't that much different when it comes to substantive effect, switching trips to bicycles from cars makes a real difference ("The Environmental Impact of Bikes and E bikes," Environmental Protection).  

Note that most communities are providing larger credits based on income, to provide an equity element.

That matters for cheap bicycles when that's all you have to get around, that matters for expensive bicycles, and it really matters for electric bicycles, which can cost $3,000 or more.  Lack of secure parking is a real problem.

And just like there needs to be electric charging for cars, the same will go for bikes.  (I know that for the park I'm on the board of, I've been looking into this.)

This kind of bicycle parking won't cut it.

Full bike racks during a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park this year. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Incrementalism as a concept of iterative improvement in government project development no longer a legitimate public administration theory

As an advocate, my experience with trying to do "new things" in government, is that you only get one chance to do it right.  That there isn't enough social, organizational, community, and financial capital to take up the issue again--to expand it, improve it, etc.

DC streetcar advocates are holding a community event to advocate for expansion of the streetcar to Ward 7, which DC Council recently defunded.  

A perfect example is the DC streetcar.  It took 13 years to make it operational after planning first started--by contrast it took Seattle four years, and they've since expanded.  

And for the most part, DC City Councilmembers aren't interested in putting out the money to expand it to make it more useful.  Ironically, originally there were supposed to be multiple lines.  

Even though transit usage is much reduced in DC post-covid, I don't think DC elected officials understand how central transit is to the city's competitive advantage and identity.  That even so, transit (and sustainable mobility) is what distinguishes DC from the suburbs and that you need more of it to continue to differentiate DC as a place to choose to live and conduct business.

Or the Norfolk light rail.  It was supposed to go to Virginia Beach, but with opposition they cut that part from the project, expecting that once the system started operating, there'd be a clamoring to expand ("As light rail nears in Norfolk, Virginia Beach begins to reconsider previous decisions to not participate," 2009).  Nope, in 2015, plans to move forward were scuttled, seemingly forever ("Virginia Beach was right to reject light rail extension," Norfolk Virginian-Pilot).  And as a result, the Norfolk light rail is pretty much a failure, with ridership less than a DC bus line.

I remember arguing with a past director of the DC Historic Preservation Office, who was trying to get the city to approve the concept of "conservation districts" as opposed to historic districts.  Historic districts have a lot more protection, CDs, minimal.  She argued that a CD could transition to an HD.  I said communities don't have the energy (various types of "capital") to go through such a process twice. Let alone the city the energy to approve the concept.  She didn't last long.  Etc.

There are many such examples in government.

Another one is the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, which doesn't include Bergen County.  It was conceptualized as a waterfront adjacent line connecting Hudson and Bergen Counties in New Jersey.

It opened in 2001 and was completed in 2011, serving Hudson County only, and a recent proposal to finally extend it to Bergen has been further delayed ("Three decades later, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line still has no Bergen spur. How come?," North Jersey Herald).  

So for 12 years, and now longer, no Bergen County section.

Incrementalism is a public administration theory proposed in the 1950s by Charles Lindblom.  I think though that I'm arguing something slightly different.  

He said that incremental project development is much more likely than the creation and implementation of big projects based on a formal rational decision making process.  From Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Incrementalism was first developed in the 1950s by the American political scientist Charles E. Lindblom in response to the then-prevalent conception of policy making as a process of rational analysis culminating in a value-maximizing decision. Incrementalism emphasizes the plurality of actors involved in the policy-making process and predicts that policy makers will build on past policies, focusing on incremental rather than wholesale changes. Incrementalism has been fruitfully applied to explain domestic policy making, foreign policy making, and public budgeting. 

Lindblom regarded rational decision making as an unattainable ideal. To function properly, rational-comprehensive decision making must satisfy two conditions that are unlikely to be met for most issues: agreement on objectives and a knowledge base sufficient to permit accurate prediction of consequences associated with available alternatives.

From that standpoint he's right. Incremental versus a beautiful, complete, big concept.  That hasn't changed.

What I'm arguing that the concept of incrementalism in government as iterative improvement is flawed because in reality you don't get second chances to improve or extend projects.  They take so long anyway.  Therefore, try to do it right and "the best" from the outset.  The likelihood of your getting the opportunity to fix, improve, extend is minimal.

Another example is the Suburban Maryland Purple Line light rail.  I first read about the concept in a cover story in the Washington City Paper in 1987!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It will open a section, finally, in 2027.  40 YEARS LATER!!!!

The section of the Purple Line that will open in 2027 is from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

But there is zero planning, zero planning, on extending it further, either west to Tysons in Virginia on the north, or further west in Maryland and to Alexandria, Virginia on the south.

And another failure in planning is failure to leverage such additions to the transit network to further improve and extend the existing network.

-- "Codifying the complementary transit network improvements and planning initiatives recommended in the Purple Line writings," 2022

And Maryland just announced a massive plan to rebuild the American Legion Bridge, connecting Maryland and Virginia, with zero plans for transit! ("Maryland pursues publicly funding Beltway relief project," Washington Post, "American Legion Bridge would be even more congested without transit, study says," Fairfax Now).


So examples when what I call "Transformational Projects Action Planning" actually happen, such as in Bilbao ("Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning," 2017), are beyond remarkable.

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Monday, September 18, 2023

Jumping the shark: claiming that not adding bike lanes to Connecticut Avenue NW will help bring workers back to Downtown

 WTF?  I'd be embarrassed writing a piece like this, "Viewpoint: Want workers back in the office? Stop Connecticut Avenue bike lanes" (Washington Business Journal).  It claims that protected bike lanes are being removed across the country because they don't work.  Mostly it's because elected officials roll over in the face of angry motor vehicle operators.

Currently Connecticut Avenue is six lanes, with more than enough capacity to shrink and still provide enough throughput capacity for cars.  Especially considering the large numbers, even in the face of post-covid shrinkage, of people who take transit to work.

Plus, as if.  All downtowns across the country are experiencing serious decline in the number of office workers returning to work.  Connecticut Avenue doesn't even have the bike lanes yet.  What makes bike lanes the X factor for Downtown DC?

Although I will say that lanes are not enough.  There needs to be a lot more focus on raising the number of people cycling for transportation.  And I don't think any North American city is particularly exemplary on that dimension.

-- "Revisiting assistance programs to get people biking: 18 programs," 2020

P.S.  This Friday is World Car Free Day.  In response, MTA in Baltimore is providing free transit ("Maryland Transit Administration to offer free public transportation this weekend," Baltimore Sun).

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Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Bloomberg Businessweek Cities Issue

 -- Bloomberg Businessweek Cities Issue

At least two interesting articles, on state legislature preemption of city action, especially by Red States over Blue Cities (but it's true of Blue States and Red Communities too, although not nearly as much) and nine ways to improve cities.  

And a graphic on the change in transportation to and from downtown in the face of post-covid work from home.

You might have to use to access multiple articles.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Chicago's annual "Bike the Drive"

Over Labor Day weekend, for the last 20+ years, Chicago has closed DuSable Lake Shore Drive to motor vehicle traffic, so bicyclists can "Bike the Drive," which is sponsored by the Active Transportation Alliance.

-- "Thousands of cyclists cruise DuSable Lake Shore Drive for Bike the Drive," Chicago Tribune

It's similar to "Open Streets" events which also focus on pedestrians as well as bicyclists. 

Bicyclists enjoy the ride on North DuSable Lake Shore Drive through Lincoln Park on Sept. 3, 2023, during the 22nd Bike the Drive, an annual event hosted by Active Transportation Alliance that closes the roadway to vehicles from Bryn Mawr to 57th Street for the morning. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

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Fox Television station license being challenged in Philadelphia, on character grounds

 I've argued for years that Fox television station licenses should be challenged on character and fitness grounds, because of the way the company runs Fox cable operations. 

-- "Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary on the Murdoch media empire and Trump," 2021
-- "Part 2 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary on the Murdoch media empire and Trump," 2021

In the 1980s, RKO General lost their broadcast licenses first because a separate part of the corporation was found guilty of criminal behavior, and later because of multiple fitness failures on the part of RKO.

Now, the only license up for renewal until 2028, in Philadelphia, is being challenged by the Media and Democracy Project ("FCC allows for public comment on petition to deny Fox 29′s broadcast license," Philadelphia Inquirer).

Public comments are being accepted, and I'm working on my submission.  There isn't a final deadline date listed.

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Sprawl washing/sprawlwashing

The term "greenwashing" is used to refer to organizations that announce sustainability initiatives as a way to detract from their generally poor practices.

I have been critical about the announcement of the "Utah City" development in the Vineyard community of Utah County, Utah, which will be new urbanist, mixed use, aims to leverage a commuter railroad station, etc. ("Utah City breaks ground, a very ambitious TOD: A new transit-oriented development in Utah is planned with the density and amenities of a big city downtown," Congress for the New Urbanism).

It's 700 acres.  A tad over one square mile.

Utah County has over 2,000 square miles of land--I don't know how much is undevelopable because it's mountains.  Salt Lake County 800.  Davis County 634.  Again for Davis and Salt Lake Counties, a goodly amount of land is tied up in mountain ranges

Still, that's almost 3,500 square miles, that is developed as classic sprawl ("Study: Utah has second-fastest urban sprawl," Salt Lake Tribune, 2014).

Weekend travelers join the traffic on I-15 near Point of the Mountain near Draper 
Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

So a development or two here and there, using nonsprawl principles, doesn't make any difference.  Although people criticizing my stance say it's an important step forward.

Meanwhile, Utah faces incredible drought (the Governor calls for praying for rain, "Utah governor asks citizens to pray for rain to end drought," AP), isn't expanding the Trax light rail system, does plan to widen I-15, continually fails to address air quality issues, is in danger of losing the Great Salt Lake ("‘Last nail in the coffin’: Utah’s Great Salt Lake on verge of collapse," Guardian), is a state dedicated to resource extraction especially of fossil fuels, etc.

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Motor vehicle related traffic deaths: Washington State

The Seattle Times has an article, "After reaching sad record last year, WA traffic deaths trend higher," about how traffic related deaths are still rising, while they are plateauing elsewhere.  An interesting point is that there are fewer crashes, but more deaths per crash.  The article discusses what they believe are key factors:

The pandemic-effect narrative has been complicated by the continued rise, despite traffic levels returning to something close to normal. In reality, it’s likely a mix of factors, including more speeding, heavier vehicles, dense development concentrated around multilane roads, and a decrease in traffic enforcement. In Washington, 75% of deadly crashes in 2022 involved one or more of the “fatal four”: impairment, distraction, speeding, and not wearing seat belts.

The reason I bring this up is because many advocates continue to focus on street design--no question that it is important--but the reality is that impairment, distraction, and speeding are frequently more significant factors, especially in cities like Washington, DC.

-- "Revisiting Vision Zero in DC and NYC," 2021

I'd been meaning to write about this, because after some high profile crash deaths in DC, the city has been refocusing on identifying and addressing "bad drivers," since it is bad driving, not street design, that has been a key factor in the majority of the deaths ("D.C. struggles to rein in risky drivers. One car has $186,000 in tickets," "D.C. to begin sending targeted messages to high-risk drivers," "D.C. traffic deaths at 14-year high with low-income areas hardest hit," Washington Post).

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Saturday, August 26, 2023

How do you make the ground floor of an arena strengthen the area around it, rather than diminish it? | Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers basketball team (owned by the managing partner of the group that recently bought the Washington NFL football team), released a proposal last year to build a new arena as part of the sputtering Market East shopping center on Market Street, using examples of DC's Capital One Arena and the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn to demonstrate the value of centrally located arenas ("A downtown arena for the Sixers can be a Philly thing, too," Philadelphia Inquirer).

-- "Proposal to build new basketball arena in Downtown Philadelphia," 2022

Much of the opposition has centered around the potentially negative impact on Philadelphia's Chinatown, which may well lose Chinese related businesses and residential buildings as a result of the kind of reproduction of space that is unleashed as a result of such developments ("In Philadelphia, a new threat looms over Chinatown," Washington Post).

Along premier Inquirer urban design writer Inga Saffron argues the proposal will have significant negative effects on the Jefferson Street SEPTA station, which serves regional rail and the Market Street line ("Off track? A Sixers arena at 11th and Market would compromise Jefferson Station").

While not the reason--both outmigration to the suburbs and the earlier creation of the DC Convention Center is why--DC's Capital One Arena certainly hasn't strengthened the presence of Chinese-related community and commerce in what for a long time I have derisively called "Chinablock" in DC.  

Philadelphia's Design Advocacy Group, uniting more than 2,000 professional architects, designers, and planners, has come out against the proposal too, because it argues it will have a deadening effect on Market Street at the ground level ("A large Philly-based group of architects and designers just came out against the 76ers’ arena plan," PI).

Note that when I started out in revitalization work, DAG's Urban Design Evaluation Tool helped me think about how to approach proposals for new development in a systematic and "demanding" fashion.

That's a legitimate argument.  The buildings are big and usually the ground plane is not set up to be vibrant and active, the rents are high for the spaces that exist, and retail businesses focused on events in the building still have to find customers for the other 200-300 days of the year when there isn't anything going on in the arena.

When I've written about new arenas, I tend to focus more on the transportation demand management elements, although "Framework of characteristics that support successful community development in association with the development of professional sports facilities" has a big section on urban design:

Urban Design 

  • centrality of location: Downtown/central business district/waterfront versus outlying locations within a city or suburbs.  Negative examples include the Salt Lake Bees stadium outside of Downtown, with limited redevelopment opportunities; how the Atlanta Braves chose a suburban location for their new stadium, counter to the trend of siting in center cities; the debate in Oakland about a waterfront location versus a new stadium in their current location ("A's plan to build a new waterfront stadium at Oakland's Jack London Square takes big step forward," San Francisco Chronicle), and the location of the Real Salt Lake soccer team in the suburbs instead of the center city.  Positive examples include the waterfront stadium for the San Francisco Giants, the Downtown stadium for the Baltimore Orioles, and the relocation of the Washington Wizards basketball team and Capitals Hockey teams from the suburbs to the City of Washington;
  • size of the facility and its ability to be integrated into the urban fabric (baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer), bigger stadiums--football stadiums specifically--are harder to integrate in the urban fabric.
  • isolation or connection: how well is the facility integrated into the urban fabric beyond the stadium site and does it leverage, build upon, and extend the location and the community around it.  The classic example is Wrigley Field in Chicago versus White Sox Stadium ("Expert offers his dream Sox stadium," Chicago Tribune).  Wrigley Field is embedded in its neighborhood, while White Sox Stadium is disconnected from its.  But also in how Oracle Park in San Francisco leverages its waterfront location.
Oracle Park.  Photo: Ron Niebrugge.

 But the reality is that the point, "isolation or connection: how well is the facility integrated into the urban fabric beyond the stadium site and does it leverage, build upon, and extend the location and the community around it" needs to be further developed.

For example, while some arenas have nice public spaces around them--again, overall, minimally used--they don't generate a lot of activation on the ground plane.  This is definitely true of Capital One Arena in DC.

Capital One Arena, 7th Street NW, west facade

Actually, the Design Advocacy Group could be a significant boon on this issue, with impact nationally, if it addressed this issue as a charrette, and came up with a series of recommendations on how best to integrate arena ground planes into the neighborhood outside the arena, in ways that make it very active and vibrant.

Golden 1 Center. Image Credit: Sacramento Kings.  The Sacramento Kings arena is set off from the buildings around it, providing little opportunity for spillover activation.  

Together Credit Union Plaza, Ballpark Village, St. Louis.

A lot of teams now are into the idea of complementary developments to add activity during events, on non-event days, and to generate revenues theoretically to support team revenue needs to be competitive ("A Great Team, an Ambitious Plan and an 'Existential' Issue," New York Times).  From the article:

He generally keeps his distance from the field and clubhouse, focusing on the business of the organization. His priority for now is not a lease extension — Angelos does not like the word lease — but a “public-private partnership” that would reinvent the Camden Yards campus. 

The plans, naturally, would include the usual live-work-play stuff — residences, hotels, shops, restaurants, bars — that modern owners covet. 

But Angelos mentioned several other possibilities: an elementary school located in the warehouse, a health and wellness clinic, internship and mentorship programs for local youth. 

“People will speak about Baltimore like, ‘Wow, Baltimore is cutting-edge,’ which is what they said about Camden Yards,” Angelos said. “If we develop it right, and we include that impactful community program module, we can change the whole brand of Baltimore.” 

While Camden Yards inspired a building wave of stadiums and arenas designed to lift surrounding local businesses (at least in theory), the Atlanta Braves’ complex in suburban Cobb County, Ga., is the new standard. Instead of only profiting from in-ballpark sales, the Braves essentially built their own city — known as the Battery and opened in 2017 — to give them a stake in adjacent properties, too. 

You see it all over: The San Francisco Giants developed the area on the other side of McCovey Cove; the Boston Red Sox built a 5,000-seat music venue at Fenway Park; the Chicago Cubs bought several buildings that border Wrigley Field. But Atlanta is the ideal, and Angelos has visited the Braves’ complex with Maryland’s governor, Wes Moore, and stadium authority officials. 

“The Braves have a couple of things going for them,” Angelos said. “They’ve done very well on the baseball side. They have a really big market, which helps a lot. And then they’ve developed this whole other revenue stream, this whole other business. 

“And if big markets like Boston and Atlanta are doing it, it becomes existential — how are we going to compete and keep pace? Everybody won’t be able to do it. But I think because of what’s here — the brand of this ballpark, this piece of property of 60-odd acres with other land around it that could be accessed, maybe bolted on, with the mass transit you don’t even have in Atlanta, with the great highway systems — we think it’s existential.”

I'm skeptical.  I think they want more money, but with limited guarantees they will invest it in the team.

The Battery Atlanta, a mixed-use development with offices, residences, restaurants and bars, was built next door to the ballpark and attracts customers year round. Photo: Mortenson Construction.

And interestingly, while the Atlanta side project is touted as a national best practice ("New Atlanta Ballpark Considered Model for Royals Coming Downtown," CityScene KC), Kennesaw State University professor J.C. Bradbury, argues it hasn't done much for Cobb County, which provides significant subsidies ("Study finds Cobb residents are paying $15 million dollars to run Truist Park home of Atlanta Braves," Atlanta News First, "Reply to Zimbalist: 'Report on the Fiscal Impact of Truist Park and the Battery'," Social Science Research Network).

Mutual benefit should be the outcome of so-called "public private partnerships."

Good for the team, bad for the County?  It doesn't make sense to me that the high cost of sports income for owners and players should be subsidized by local and state government.

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