Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dubuque going Green

The residents of Dubuque, Iowa, have signed onto a unique experiment to revitalize their city though a focus on sustainability. Local historian and museum director Jerry Enzler shares a little bit of the background — where Dubuque came from — and how and why this focus on sustainability is important for his city’s future.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Redefining Human Capital

Cities seem to want the quick fix. These days the quick fix is paying Richard Florida large amounts of money to come to your city to "fix" whatever ails you. Create class, Human capital are all just gimmicks about how to attract or retain your residents. I think the recession has leveled the playing Field because the cool cities aren't that cool when you have been looking for work for 24 months and unemployment is about to run out and your $500 dollar rent (for that 3 bedroom you share with 5 people) is due.

Vincent Valk over at Next American City has this to say:

Urbanophile, aka Aaron M. Renn, suggests that cities work at finding a niche and exploiting it, rather than all chasing the same goals. “The question is what specific types of people you can attract to your city,” Renn says.

This hints at something larger, I think: an evaluation of what we really mean when we say “human capital.” People hear about “human capital” and “talent” and, at least in urbanist circles, tend to think vaguely of freelance graphic designers bringing bikes on to light rail while happily sipping flavored coffee (yes, I am stereotyping). But the world only needs so many designers, researchers and programmers. Is a good mechanic or electrician not “human capital”? How about high-tech factory workers, or medical assistants, or traveling salesmen

What does it mean to redefine human capital in your city?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Urban Farming in Birmingham, AL

The new movement has started and it seems we are all finally catching up. Urban Farming was an oxymoron for years. Why would we farm in the middle of dense, dirty cities. With the recent events it seems that land has become affordable enough that we can not use it for more than just development of retail, commercial, or residential. Green space is all the rage, but urban farming can provide a real benefit for neighborhoods with no real healthy food options.

Jones Valley Farm is just one of our recent urban successes. From the Grist article:

In fall 2001, Edwin Marty and Page Allison drove across the country, back home, to start a farm. That might be when the Breaking Through Concrete idea began.

Edwin and Page had been living on the West Coast, farming in Baja, Mexico, and instructing youth at Washington’s Pacific Crest Outward Bound School. The young 30-somethings belonged on the West Coast, surfing and teaching among the burgeoning, youthful tribe of educated, worldly organic farmers. But Birmingham needed them more than any of the progressive, farm-friendly towns out west.

Jones Valley Urban Farm began on a skinny vacant lot in Birmingham’s Southside neighborhood. Abandoned houses surrounded the weed-and-rubble-strewn plot. A corner convenience store across the street sold everything but wholesome food. The afternoon ice-cream truck supplied the freshest food for miles. That is to say, this food desert was not much different than most neighborhoods in downtown Birmingham and much of Southside. But, just up the street, Frank Stitt’s James Beard Award–winning restaurants were catching the first wave of the national Slow Food movement and tapping into the regional bounty of the Deep South, from Apalachicola Bay oysters to Black Belt, Alabama, produce. And every Saturday in the summer, the Pepper Place Market, about 20 blocks away, sold produce and fruit from Alabama farms to a growing consumer pool.

This would be great to replicate in our neighborhoods in cities through out the U.S.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

OH NO! Guerrilla Gardeners

As usual cities can't even take advantage of residents that are willing to spend their own time and money to beautify the city. I for one am more than happy to see sprouting vacant lots, instead of trash ridden vacant lots. Guerrilla Gardeners seem to have gone to far and have come out of the shadows planting directly on city owned land.

From the Pioneer Press:

Tully Hall doesn't look like a criminal.She pays her taxes, loves her family and obeys the law — with one glaring exception.Hall is a guerrilla gardener. She plants flowers and vegetables on land she doesn't own — like a growing number of undercover green thumbs emerging from the shadows.

To Hall and her furtive cohorts, beautifying ugly land can't be a bad thing. "All it means is that a little bit of ground is being improved," said Hall, gazing at her 8-by-12-foot garden on city property behind her town home.

I say take Hall away like the criminal she is! What is even more ironic is that with all that is happening in the world this made the front page of Monday's newspaper.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Streetcar Plan for Oakland - Cost $987

Since states and cities have less and less funds these days it would seem that to get things accomplished and cutting expenses would be at the top of the priority list. Anybody who has worker with any municipal body about a future project realizes that it can get studied to death and they pay a lot for those studies. Stanford University undergraduate Daniel Jacobson has started a new trend without even knowing it yet. Jacobson decided, with the help of a small grant, to design and do the feasibility work for a Oakland downtown Streetcar line. This seems like a great win win situation for everyone.

From the SF Chronicle:
The 20-year-old native of Point Richmond spent nine months of independent study producing a detailed and ingenious plan to revive Oakland's economy: build a 2.5-mile streetcar line that runs through the heart of the city, connecting Piedmont to Jack London Square. The plan would create up to 24,000 jobs, housing opportunities for an equal number of new residents and breathe life back into downtown Oakland.

Jacobson's plan is an impressive and comprehensive 140-page how-to manual on how to build, run, operate and finance a successful streetcar project in Oakland.

He lays out a route that would link two BART stations, the Oakland ferry, Amtrak and main AC Transit lines. He projects residential and commercial growth along the rail line, identifying 125 acres of underutilized land adjacent to the line. He provides job projections for the next 20 years. He also provides a road map for local, state and federal funding to pay for the $92 million price tag of the streetcar line.

Most students in urban planning, architecture, and design need to complete real world project in order to graduate. While some of this cross pollination has been happening (I remember working on a Staten Island project in graduate school), would it not behove cities to seek out programs and students to work on some real projects? The students get great experience and the city you get a clear vision and feasibility of the project. Seems like a great partnership in these budget cutting days. You can see the full study and plan here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jay Walljasper hearts St. Anthony Park, St. Paul

From the Line:

Former editor of Utne Reader, author of The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Placemaking (New Society Publishers/Project for Public Spaces) and of the forthcoming What We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, Jay Walljasper likes to stroll, explore, lounge at cafe tables, chill on park benches, meet friends, window-shop, and just generally enjoy the micro-environments called neighborhoods in the world's cities. He's got a trained eye for the little things that make neighborhoods great, and a sense of the history that lies behind those details. One of his favorite Twin Cities neighborhoods is St. Anthony Park, in western St. Paul. Join him as he strolls Como Avenue, pops into College Park, and celebrates the street life of this urban village.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Get on the Bus!

I really can't remember that last time I rode the bus, but this was a great story by MPR the other day about bus ridership in the Twin Cities region. While the good news is that ridership is up, this story really demonstrates that how our 50 years of sprawl are making it difficult for some to use public transit.

From the MPR article:

Americans collectively make billions of trips a year -- to work, shopping, to the corner store. But the number of trips made via mass transit is still a very small piece of the pie -- just 2 percent, according to some national research. On a given workday in the Twin Cities, fewer than 10 percent of commuter trips are by transit, according to the Metropolitan Council. But the selective use of trip statistics irks Twin Cities Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons. Gibbons says a more meaningful measure is to look at how many people ride buses at critical times -- at rush hour, for example.

Metro Transit says its surveys show lots of people want to ride the bus. But there aren't any bus routes close to them, or bus trips take too long, or buses don't run often enough. The excuses, of course, are often true. Laura Graves describes as "fantastic" the bus service from Edina to downtown Minneapolis, when she worked there. Now she lives in Minnetonka with a job way across town in Woodbury, a commute that is a transit desert. "I investigated the bus option and there's nothing, there is absolutely nothing. There wasn't a way to make it work," said Graves. So, every workday she endures a 45-60 minute commute each way.

The answer is clear that people need to move closer to work, but we still need to build a strong transportation network that will provide real options for those people living in first and second ring suburbs to get to work in other first and second ring suburbs. The reality is that many of our job centers are no longer in the city center.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bike Sharing has Arrived: Nice Ride MN

Our new bike share program in Minneapolis kicks off this Thursday. Over the weekend the docking stations have sprung up like daisies after a long rain. While I still remain a skeptic, I must admit that I am excited to see this infrastructure being put in place and will be happy to try it out in a few days.

The Start Tribune had this to say:
The annual celebration of alternative commuting will culminate Thursday with the official launch of a bike-sharing system in Minneapolis that organizers say will be the largest of its kind in the United States. Nice Ride will feature more than 700 neon green and sky-blue but otherwise sensible bikes docked at 65 solar-powered, automated kiosks around Minneapolis, where anyone with a credit card can check one out for a ride.

The idea, said Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride MN, is to provide short-distance, fuel-free transportation (and exercise) to people who aren't bike commuters. "What it's all about is to make it easy for people who got downtown a different way to use a bike to take short trips when they're downtown," Dossett said. "They're for people who might like to take a three-mile trip to go buy something, or meet some friends, go hear music, whatever."

I'll have a full report in a few days after I take one of these bikes for a spin. I will say they are putting the bike stations close enough to make this a real viable option for the everyday person. In the meantime you can read all about the program here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The City We Imagined / The City We Made

From Urban Omnibus:

In that light, Archipelago seeks to explore how the physical environment of New York is used and experienced in one neighborhood in each of the five boroughs. Each of these communities has undergone changes both visible and invisible in the past ten years, wrought by development in some cases and disinvestment in others. Each defies preconceptions while attesting to the baffling complexity of the city’s systems, from the world’s largest food distribution facility to the AirTrain JFK, from the luxury high-rises along the High Line to the mobile homes beneath Goethals Bridge. And each is worthy of a visit.

If Archipelago whets your appetite for some intrepid urban exploration, then read some basic information about each neighborhood below and get inspired to visit the New Fulton Fish Market, ride the AirTrain just for fun, go shopping on the Fulton Mall, wander the industrial fringes of Staten Island, and, of course, stroll along the High Line. As you do so, consider that these sites do not possess their singular senses of place by accident. These neighborhoods are the way they are because of a layering of choices made by planners, policy-makers, developers, designers and citizens.

New New York 2001-2010: The City We Imagined / The City We Made is on view until June 26th at 250 Hudson Street (entrance on Dominick). Stay tuned for info on summertime venue for the exhibition starting July 4th weekend.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Is New Urbanism Working?

I have long been skeptical of New Urbanism. While I agree with them on principles, I find that the actual developments tend to be not in line with my way of thinking. I have been following this New Urbanist development in Atlanta and I must say that I am very intrigued. Is Glenwood Park a hold over from the past or our new bright future?

From the NPR Story:

Many New Urbanist developments are located in suburbs, but the movement's influence is increasingly showing up in cities like Portland and Denver. Glenwood Park, which has more than 300 townhouses and condominiums, is one of several developments arising near downtown Atlanta. Its founder was Charles Brewer, who also started the Internet company Mindspring.

Brewer was on the lookout for a new business opportunity when local architects introduced him to the writings of New Urbanist pioneer Andres Duany. He was hooked.

Is Glenwood Park a model we should be following, or are the New Urbanists tied to a past that is no longer relevant for today? You can find out more about Glenwood Park here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Central Corridor and Complete Streets

University Avenue is the main thorough fare to get from St. Paul to Minneapolis without using one of the many freeways we have in the Twin Cities. University Avenue is also where the new LRT line will be running in 2014. Over 80% of on street parking is going to be eliminated and only two lanes of auto traffic will be allowed. With the new design that will accommodate the new LRT line one this has been lacking: bikes. Bikes using University Avenue have never really made it into the discussion or even considered in the planning process for the new line.

Russ Stark, Saint Paul Council Member, had this to say in this MPR story:

University Avenue isn't what you'd call a scenic route. Russ Stark, a bike-riding St. Paul city councilman, says all the trucks and cars can make for an unpleasant ride. "It's not my favorite place to be on a bike. It's pretty dirty, and loud, and hot," he said.

Stark is standing with his bike on University Avenue, near the western edge of St. Paul. Just north of him is an expansive rail yard where many other east-west streets come to a dead end.But he does find a practical elegance in this wide, urban thoroughfare. It's the most direct street that connects downtown St. Paul to Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.

"So University is such a straight shot -- it goes right through. The people who are used to riding in traffic and who don't mind the noise, dust, and cars use it all the time," he said.

Two years ago, Stark floated what seemed like a radical idea: Cut the number of vehicle traffic lanes from four to two. That would make room for the planned light-rail trains, bike lanes, as well as street parking. But when that idea didn't meet federal funding standards that were in place at the time for light-rail projects, Stark backed off.

Since the new line has taken years to become a reality many things have been lost in the process not to jeopardize the project as a whole. Now we have to do the work of looking what we have and making that work. Some fights have been fought and resulted in victories, but I know that the bike lane argument for University Avenue is going no where and fast. I think we are much better off fighting for a better bike network in St. Paul in other areas where more people will actually ride, otherwise we might end up wasting a lot of political capital on University Avenue.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Leaf Sells out

In today's world it seems hype can just about sell anything. How many people really needed the iphone when it came out? It seems just about everybody has one these days. Well, the news in the automotive world is that the Nissan Leaf, with its preorders, is already sold out. 19,000 vehicles have been presold in the US and Japan and should be hitting the dealers later this year.

I have to ask the questions why so much hype about electric cars now? It seems we are spinning our wheels since we have been through this before. I really don't see this making any progress forward other than reduced environmental impacts.

From a NY Times story:

Nissan has given the Leaf a starting price of $32,780, minus a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Volt, whose price has not been disclosed, is expected to sell for close to $40,000 before the tax credit.

Among the other electric vehicles planned for sale in the United States within several years are a battery-powered version of Ford’s compact car, the Focus, and the Tesla Model S sedan, which will be built in California as part of a new partnership with Toyotaannounced last week.

The preorders for the Leaf include 13,000 in the United States, where dealers take a $99 deposit, and 6,000 in Japan. Mr. Ghosn said sales in the United States would be concentrated in areas where there was sufficient means to support electric vehicles, like cities in California and other states that are installing charging stations.

We are going to charge large amounts of money to purchase these cars and then waste money building additional infrastructure for a means of transportation that seems to be less than worthwhile these days. For too long now cars have dominated our way of thinking how we move ourselves to get form point A to B. It might be time to start investing in real transportation infrastructure that gives people choice, rather than another monthly car payment.