Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg pushes urban agenda

"In every city I have visited — from Baltimore to New Orleans to Seattle — the message of an independent approach has resonated strongly, and so has the need for a new urban agenda. More than 65 percent of Americans now live in urban areas — our nation’s economic engines. But you would never know that listening to the presidential candidates. At a time when our national economy is sputtering, to say the least, what are we doing to fuel job growth in our cities, and to revive cities that have never fully recovered from the manufacturing losses of recent decades?"

In this op-ed today in the NY Times, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg declared he is not running for president. Even more important, he stresses the urban agenda, and lack there of, in the current presidential candidates plans. I admire Bloomberg since he is able to make decisions beyond the politics of the two party system.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Clean Heat

So I was watching This Old House (guilty pleasure) this past weekend. Two things stuck out at me: fuel(less) lawn mower and pellet burning stove. Now how much it costs to heat a house these days, even a small 1000 sq ft Philly row house, is costly. I was impressed by these newer stoves that burn recycled wood that is made into pellets. From what I can gather from some online research these pellets can cost $250-500 for a winter (not that bad). The stoves, also can be used as boilers, are also an initial investment of $1,500-4,000. Is this going to be a better source of energy as people need to replace aging heating systems? While it seems the pellets are in short supply b/c of demand, it looks like a much more viable heating source than gas, oil, coal, and plain old wood. Even more interesting is that many of these new stoves can burn corn as well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

my $.02 on the GAP

I have decided to enter a competition to redesign Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. I ride through the GAP on a daily basis on my commute into Manhattan for work or school. I have just started to sketch out some of my ideas but plan on making my changes pretty simple with large impacts for pedestrian access and recreation. While Gehl and Gapco have both done excellent plans, I believe that you have to be extremely realistic as to what can be accomplished at this site. My only catch will be that cars, other than emergency vehicles, will be banned from Prospect Park. I'll update the blog as I make progress.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Baltimore denies urban renewal

"In a rebuff to city economic development officials, Baltimore's Planning Commission has refused to approve creation of an urban renewal district in the West Covington area of South Baltimore, saying redevelopment plans should go forward but condemnation should not be used to forcibly displace thriving businesses and occupied homes."

The Planning Commission in Baltimore has not approved a step to move forward with urban renewal plans in South Baltimore. I have to admit that I am surprised that the Planning Commission stood up to the political development machine. Will they actually try and rehab and improve these neighborhoods through charrettes and visioning process? I hope so.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is Your House Making You Look Fat?

This recent article in the NY Times points out some serious issues that this country is going to face regarding housing, transportation, and livability. The article is on the lighter side and really doesn't talk about what real TOD would look like in a retrofitted or new suburb. One issue I have is that it falls into the more density argument. While I am not one to argue against the idea that you do need a critical mass (density to sustain certain businesses and transportation) for this to work, they never actually give you the breakdown of what that density needs to be. I think we need to look at smaller cities as an example of how we can have low density, but still keep it high enough to support the things that a thriving neighborhood would want within walking distance. For example:

Portland, OR- 4,199.17 people per square mile
St. Paul, MN- 5,438/sq mi
Columbus, OH- 3,383.6/sq mi
Omaha, NE- 3,370.7/sq mi

Compared to:

New York, NY- 27,083/sq mi
Los Angeles, CA- 8,205/sq mi
Chicago, IL- 12,470/sq mi
Boston, MA-12,327/sq mi
Philadelphia, PA- 10,882.8/sq mi

Compared to:

Schaumburg, IL- 3,967.1/sq mi
Levittown, NY- 7,717.5/sq mi (first suburb in America)
Walnut Creek, CA- 3,305.7/sq mi

While density is clearly a factor, the above numbers demonstrate that something else is at work: DESIGN. How cities are designed and how people use them are the key factors. While suburbs can be dense, the reason they lack the amenities that many cities provide is because of the separation of land use. In the suburbs it is the common design practice to separate residential and commercial, the very thing that would make a community more likely to walk to the corner store. Even if this separation didn't exist, the design, right now, which is centered around the automobile hurts the prospects of parents and children walking anywhere nearby. While there have been some progress made on this front, the entire design of subdivisions needs to be scrapped if we want to get to more livable communities.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Central Corridor light rail project in the Twin Cities

"Planners of the Central Corridor light-rail line have been mixing and matching features for months, and on Wednesday they unveiled one combination of options that could be called "Most Likely to Succeed."
While the $909 million package meets federal cost requirements, the line is also likely to disappoint: The University of Minnesota wouldn't get its tunnel through the East Bank campus, and St. Paul neighborhoods that have asked for additional stations would have to wait until after the line was completed for them to be added."

Twin cities, supposedly after Portland, is the next best biking city in the country. I have read numerous reports that they have the highest # of riders during the winter months per capita. While I have been to the Twin Cities many times I have never had the chance to ride a bike there. Following in the foot steps of many other cities, the Twin Cities are now in the process of implementing their second Light Rail Transit (LRT) line that will go from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul. This is adding to the multi-modal approach that many cities are now taking very seriously. The Central Corridor will be this new line. What is maybe even more exciting is the pedestrian and bicycle improvements that are being discussed and drafted in St. Paul. I wonder if cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago will take another look at LRT since all have aging and crumbling infrastructure for their large subway and rail systems (or BRT)?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Moving on up

I met with my advisor this past week (2nd meeting). We went over my draft survey, IRB package, and discussed the main goal of the study. Ironically, the main goal, or hypothesis, for my study is not all that clear since I am taking a grounded theory approach. This approach means that I am going into the study without a set hypothesis and will let the data dictate where the study goes. While this approach seems a bit risky, and some might even say pointless, I feel it is a valid approach since I am starting the study as objectively as possible.

Creating a balanced survey (not being overly negative or positive) and keeping it short and to the point was challenging. Not to tout their horn, but the question pro website and online survey process have been pretty easy and great to use thus far. Should be doing one more final check over my IRB application this week and then mailing it in. Once I get a green light my survey will go live.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Retrofitting our cities

A friend sent this to me. Ecocitybuilders has done a before and after rendering of what a city might look like if it was retrofitted for pedestrians and rebuilt with recycled building material. While this might seem a bit out of the future (remember blade runner), as an urban planner I really think that a major challenge in the next 50-100 years is how are we going to retrofit cities to be more livable, economic, and pedestrian friendly. The Ecocitybuilders might not be all that far off from the mark. Some of our urban centers are this green (Portland and San Francisco come to mind) that have integrated nature into the city.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Staten Island Light rail and Subway connections

Having just worked on a study and rezoning proposal for Staten Island, I am still in shock with the lack of transportation options. Just like all public transit is geared towards getting riders into and out of Manhattan, Staten Island is concerned only with getting its riders to and from the ferry terminal. At least now there is a bus connection to light rail in New Jersey, but your only option to get to Manhattan is ferry, bus (via NJ or Brooklyn), or get in your car and drive. From Hunter College to Staten Island's North shore can easily be a two hour trip. Ironically enough, you can get to Philadelphia faster via the Chinatown Bus.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

NYC wins Bike Award

AMNY reports:

NEW YORK - New York City is being honored for its commitment to improving conditions for bicycling.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan accepted a Bicycle Friendly Community Award on Monday from the League of American Bicyclists.

The city says the number of cyclists has grown by an estimated 75 percent since 2000. Factors considered by the league included safety initiatives and a "share the road" ethic among bicyclists and drivers.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Research Concept Paper

Met with my advisor last week. Things went well and turned in my research concept paper. Next steps:
1. IRB application
2. Longer summary
3. Draft Survey

Research Concept Paper

Title: Hub and Spokes: Imageability of the Daily Bicycle Commuter in New York City

Objective: The purpose of the study is to gather general information about bicycle commuters in New York City. A grounded theory approach will be pursued. This data will illustrate the demographics and issues that these bike commuters face. The second component of the study will look at how a bicycle commuter views the city via imageability. The purpose is not to demonstrate the true observations, but instead to record the subjective perspective (mental image) they have of the build environment, good or bad.

Expected Output: The output I expect from this research will be a rich and detailed summary of how daily commuters by bicycle view and understand the city, and specifically New York City. The survey will paint a general picture of these commuters and give us insight as to why they choose to commute via bicycle. I expect the second part, one on one interviews, will provide a more detailed account of the positive and negative aspects of commuting by bicycle. In addition, this will also be the process by which I will get the imageability of the commuters through drawings/illustrations of their daily route.

How do you plan to:
Target Group- Through the internet, organizations, and individuals, I plan on getting the web address for the survey out. There are numerous bike forums that are specific to New York City or that have sub-forums specific to the city. I will also try and utilize the base that many organization and people have with bicycle commuters (Transportation Alternative, Times Up, Kissena Cycling Club, Bike Snob NYC, BikeBlog, Bike forums, and bike shops). In addition, I will also do postcards at bike specific events where turn out is expected to be high.

Variable-Through the different outreach methods I believe that I will get a varied response. Some of the organizations are far reaching while others target a specific population within the bicycle community. With the mix of outreach organizations and individuals I should have a random group of respondents.

Data Collection- For the survey I will use that provides custom surveys for graduate students at no charge. This software is complex enough to give me statistical data, and I will also use SPSS as needed. The one on one interviews will be tape recorded and I will actually have the subjects draw out their route on paper with very little direction. After that a more accurate google map of the route will be done. The location of the interviews will be chosen by the subjects for their own level of comfort and safety.

Data Analysis- For the survey I will utilize the software provided by and SPSS. I feel these two analytical tools will allow me to quantify the survey data accurately. For the imageability and interviews I will compare and contrast the drawn map to the google map. After that I will actually ride the route to take pictures, record important data, and get my own observations in relation to the drawn map. To analyze this data I will base it on the model of Kevin Lynch's imageability. I will use these terms (paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks) to help explain imageability, or mental mapping, that the subject drew and illustrated through out the interview process.

Changes in Chicago

The mayor introduced an ordinance Wednesday that would slap fines ranging from$150 to $500 on motorists who turn left or right in front of someone on a bicycle; pass with less than three feet of space between car and bike; and open a vehicle door into the path of a cyclist. Daley, an avid rider, said he personally has been involved in unhappy encounters with motorists, providing them with "a few choice words" and "salutes" that he said were delivered "in the Chicago way."

Chicago has been for years making great improvements to the cycling infrastrucure. This is the latest.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

City Mayors

"Eighty per cent of Americans live in metropolitan areas comprised of hub cities and surrounding suburbs. Metro economies account for 87 per cent of America’s total economic output. Central cities, in other words, are major generators of wealth that attract business, labor, tourists, and investment. One might expect that the health of central cities would be at the forefront of debate during the presidential election campaign, yet candidates pay little attention to cities"

While many articles have been published lately about the presidential candidates not giving much attention to urban issues, I find the City Mayor website and this NY Times article informative and insightful on this subject matter. Since cities are the economic engine of America, and many say we are slowly sliding into a recession, why has there been a lack of discussion on either side of the aisle?