Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Condos killing Toronto's fabric and history

In this article Christopher Hume asks the question if Condos are destroying the fabric that keeps Toronto together.
It's time we understood that heritage represents a rare resource, a civic asset, not simply an obstacle on the way to a developer's bottom line. Our willingness to sacrifice our history at every opportunity reveals a worrisome lack of self-confidence and sophistication.

Regardless of what will replace these houses, the neighbourhood – and with it the city – will be diminished by their disappearance.

Is Hume really on to something here? Will we look back at the last 20 years of the condo boom as another mistake in the planning and revitalization for our cities? Will it be connected with urban renewal, the process that cleared city blocks, but this time for the direct purpose of building condos? Condos have their place and can be an affordable option to new homebuyers, but why is the trend to tear down and rebuild, instead of converting existing structures? This might help explain why.

Monday, March 24, 2008


On Thursday night, the full board voted to reject the idea, asking the department to explore car-free zones in a different form or perhaps on a different street.

The argument in favor of the plan, said Ian Dutton, a community board member who is a pilot and says he has seen pedestrian-only streets work well in Europe, is that the vast majority of traffic on Prince Street is foot traffic, yet nearly all the street space is given over to cars.

Opponents of the plan, among them Sean Sweeney, executive director of the SoHo Alliance, say that creating more space for pedestrians would make the area even more of a destination for tourists, attracting more visitors and vendors, which would force existing traffic onto adjacent streets and destroy any last remnants of the neighborhood’s residential character.

Here is a New York Times story on the CB2 meeting regarding the Prince Street proposal. CB2 voted it down. I am not sure if this is a clear sign that pedestrian mall/streets are not wanted, but rather, neighborhood politics as usual.

Where should the towers go?

The flamboyant exteriors of the recent crop of signature buildings represent yet another shift in architectural priorities. Whereas technological innovation once focused on the interior workings of the machine — from plumbing to structural innovations like steel frames — most of today’s architectural innovations are expressed through the buildings’ exterior forms.

Not everyone is happy with this state of affairs. Traditionalists, still stung by the rise of Modernism, see the current crop of signature buildings as a break with the historical street front. Mostly, they criticize these works on aesthetic grounds: as flashy expressions of architectural vanity.

It’s true that some of the new buildings are ostentatious. When workers broke ground two years ago on Herzog & de Meuron’s 40 Bond in the East Village, the building was hailed as one of the city’s first serious residential projects by an international celebrity firm. Today the cast green glass facade feels slick and mannered. An elaborate gate meant to resemble a three-dimensional work of graffiti is an embarrassing effort to tap into a bygone underground scene. (Nevertheless all of the multimillion-dollar units were sold before the building was close to completion.)

But the city has also been starving for innovative architecture. And to my mind the greatest residential projects of the last decade have managed to balance aesthetic freedom with a nuanced understanding of their surroundings. Rather than mimic period styles, such buildings are a physical expression of the needs and demands of the environments they inhabit.

While I am a traditionalist, I really like how this article talks about the class implications of architecture. While I am not against a "signature building" I firmly believe that those structures need to be located in city centers and not in low height and bulk residential neighborhoods.

Friday, March 21, 2008

+1 for Patterson

Congestion Pricing addresses two urgent concerns of the residents of New York City and its suburbs: the need to reduce congestion on our streets and roads, and thereby reduce pollution and global warming; and the need to raise significant revenue for mass transit improvements. We expect that revenue from the Congestion Pricing plan will support more than $4.5 billion in needed capital improvements for mass transit and meaningfully reduce traffic into the Central Business District of Manhattan. Before the constructive process of deliberation proceeds in both the City Council and the State Legislature, transparency requires that the public fully see what the system envisioned by the Commission will entail. While Commission Report highlighted other issues which need to be resolved, introducing this bill allows the City Council and Legislature to examine the details of the proposal and make an informed judgment on the Congestion Pricing program.

It has been a crazy past two weeks in Albany. During that time groups were pushing hard to convince our upstate legislators that congestion pricing is a thing to support. While our former governor was a supporter, today our new Governor David Patterson is not only backing congestion pricing, but will be introducing the Bill into the legislature.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


A Department of Transportation proposal to close six blocks of Prince St. in Soho to car traffic on Sundays is steering proponents and opponents on a collision course, as they paint vastly different portraits of what will transpire if the plan is enacted.

On Tues., March 11, the Traffic and Transportation Committee of Community Board 2 heard a proposal by D.O.T. on whether to make Prince St. between Lafayette St. and West Broadway into a car-free zone on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Soho has faced an increase in both vehicle and pedestrian traffic in recent years, and this fact figures heavily into the arguments for and against this proposal. The Soho Alliance is opposed to the proposal and expresses concern that it would worsen the traffic on the surrounding streets.

Check out the article and the DOT presentation over at Streets blog.

Monday, March 17, 2008

When going green has gone too far

Too much house?

Since 1990, construction of supersized homes of 3,000 square feet or more has doubled, to 24 percent of new homes. Combine that with the shrinking size of the American family, and the result is that average floor space per person has grown by three times since 1950.

As the heavy-breathing real estate market reached its zenith, square-footage mania spread from the suburbs into cities, mutating into a doubly wasteful disease: teardown fever. Normal-sized, sound, comfortable houses were demolished to free up urban lots for the biggest, flashiest structures that could be squeezed in.

It is funny when I read these articles cause growing up my parents did not have a huge house (yes I shared a room with my brother until my sister moved out). Even today when I return home for visits (after living in 700 sq ft the past 6 years) my parents house still seems pretty small. Other than the few luxuries (garage, washer/dryer, yard) why do people buy a house that really is just too big for their own needs? I am always impressed by the smaller row houses in Philadelphia and Baltimore because while these houses are not huge (usually 1,000 sq ft) they seem to provide enough space for a couple or small family. Levels seem to work well cause they give you the feeling of more space when the square footage might not be that much.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Do the Test, Transport for London

More from Transport for London's campaign for cycling safety

Going green and sustainable

This couple really has set a new bench mark for green building. I find this article interesting because very recently I did a land use exercise where we had to do planning for 5 years, 50 years, and 7 generations out. It was difficult to try and predict what 50 years and 7 generations would look like, but I came to the conclusion that houses and buildings would be self-sufficient. I think this couple and there new house are on there way to self-sufficiency.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Master Plan?

So when is it time to update a master plan? 2-5-10 years? Well on a forum I belong to it came up that the NYC Bike master plan was finished in 1997. Just from riding here for the last 6 years I can tell you a lot has changed. So it is a bit foolish for DOT to still be implementing a plan that now is over 10 years old?

 I would say they would be much better off, if instead, they took a year, or even two, to update the plan and then start to implement parts of it.  While the landscape of NYC has changed, we have plaNYC, and if luck is on our side, congesting pricing very soon. Don't these two things alone have a huge impact on how the cycling infrastructure of the city is going to change. I think so.

As a planner and planning student I have read many plans in the last few years. A master plan that is not up to date, really is not a plan worth implementing. Just looking at the neighborhoods, density levels, traffic, ped, and bike patterns is enough of a justification for me.  Also, DOT is making some pretty significant changes, so why not rethink the masterplan of 1997.

You can read the plan here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Time of the City (is now?)

The results of all this have been boiled down to The Endless City, a 500-page doorstep of a book I edited with Ricky Burdett and which is published this week. It has a lot of messages about reducing the reliance of cities on the car, on high-density cities being more sociable places in which to live, as well as more sustainable environmentally, about the importance of a coherent form of city government. Though it doesn't shrink from the darker aspects of city life, it is also a powerful affirmation of the city as mankind's greatest single invention.
This interesting article in the Guardian, and new book, discusses what is the future of cities around the world. In a world that is changing daily, how can, and do, cities plan for their futures?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Misc. Short Vids

Here are a few different short videos about biking.

Bike Parking in Germany

Cycling in Delft

Greenway in Minneapolis

Illegal, but proving a point, Holland Tunnel NYC

Lakefront path (26 miles) in Chicago

Monday, March 10, 2008

Chicago on the Rise

Check out this segment on Smart City Radio (a great weekly show everybody should listen to). This segment deals with the cycling improvements in Chicago.

City Cycling and Sustainable Landscaping
While we've talked often on the show about sustainability, there are two related topics that haven't had much attention: cycling as an alternative means of transportation and landscaping using sustainable practices.

Ben Gomberg and Randy Neufeld are cycling experts in Chicago, and they share a vision of making their city the most bike-friendly in the nation. We'll talk to them about their progress and what other cities can learn from it. Ben is the City of Chicago's Bicycle Coordinator. Randy is the Chief Strategy Officer for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

Listen to the segment here.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Two Wheel Solution

VANCOUVER — For all the techno talk about magnetic levitation trains or personal rocket packs, the urban transport system of the future turns out to be bicycles. Sprockets and chains, seats and handlebars, this 19th century technology may be the best weapon we have for the long campaign to make livable cities in the 21st century. Bicycles take a fraction of the space and materials of cars or buses, are powered by the excesses of our calorie-rich diets, and have the huge advantage for those who ride them of extending both quality and length of life.

This recent article talks about how liveability will be tied to the biking capability of cities. As with many plans for cities, it directly relates to the simplicity of biking and how that can change cities. When you think about the infrastructure costs for cycling versus more highways, light/heavy rail, BRT, and subways, the cost benefit analysis should be clear to everyone. Yet, we find that time after time, excuses are always found why biking as a form of transit is not a viable option. Hopefully the tides are changing, ever so slightly.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Survey is Live

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

In a city that is dominated by the automobile I want to find out how its residents who use other modes of transportation actually view the built environment. While all forms of transit modes could be studied, I find that this small minority (0.5% of residents who commute by bike) would make for an interesting study. The sole purpose is to record the subjective perspective (mental image/imageability) New York City bicycle commuters have of the build environment, good or bad, through a survey. The survey is 23 questions and will take less than 10 minutes to complete. No compensation will be provided for participation in this study.

It is anticipated that 100 individuals will participate in this study. Participation in this study is voluntary, and refusal to participate will involve no penalty or loss of benefits to which you are entitled. You must be 18 or older to participate in the study. If you have questions about the study, you can contact the researcher, Matthew Ides at (917) 627-4445/mides@hunter.cuny.edu or his faculty advisor, Prof. John Chin, at (212) 772- 5603.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Unforeseen

I got an email from the NYC chapter of APA about The Unforeseen. While it looked a little contrived, I figured I would go see what it was all about. Although I didn't love this film, it was a nice mix of documentary and experimental film, and I thought some parts had a nice poetry to them. 

Where it lost me was it seemed to be two separate films. One was about overdevelopment in Austin and the other was questioning the concept of growth and development in the US. What I found refreshing was the point that growth needed to be measured qualitatively, not quantitative. Basically, we need to focus on the quality of growth (quality of life, liveability), since that's really matters. I have always felt that the future of our country is redevelopment, by which I mean that we need to make our existing landscape work. 

Tear it down and build it back up is not going to be the solution.

Monday, March 3, 2008

IRB application

IRB application has been submitted today. I am hoping to update the survey and get that live by the end of the week. LA Streets blog just launched, so check it out.

Here is an excerpt from IRB application:

In a city that is dominated by the automobile I want to find out how its residents who use other modes of transportation actually view the built environment. While all forms of transit modes could be studied, I find that this small minority (.05% of residents who commute by bike) would make for a rich case study. The sole purpose is to record the subjective perspective (mental image/imageability) New York City bicycle commuters have of the build environment, good or bad. In addition, the goal of the study is to gather, through a survey, general information about bicycle commuters in New York City. This data will illustrate bike commuter demographics and issues that these bike commuters face. The second component, through one on one interviews, of the study will look at how a bicycle commuter views the city via imageability.

Also, the study will use the methodology of Kevin Lynch from The Image of the City. This method will be incorporated to give substance and understanding to the imageability of participants commute. For example, does a bridge crossing pose a problem (getting over the bridge, barrier between two land masses), a positive (good view corridors of the city and water, separated bike path from traffic), or symbol/landmark (historical significance of the Brooklyn Bridge).

Saturday, March 1, 2008

MTA increase

Well at 12:01 Sunday the new fares will go into effect. This NY Times article sums it up. As someone who usually just buys $10 or $20 here or there as I need to use the subway, I am still not sure how this is going to change my riding habits.