Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Planning in 2009 and the future of cities

Brent Toderian over at Planetizen has this excerpt from a speech he gave very recently in Canada regarding the future of planning:

Borrowing rhetoric from American president-elect Barack Obama, City of Vancouver planning director Brent Toderian said the planning profession needs change. “We need to be much more persuasive, much more creative, more dogged and passionate than frankly our profession has been,” Toderian told the crowd of 830-planning professionals gathered at the Royal York Hotel for the 18th annual University of Waterloo planning alumni of Toronto dinner, Monday night. “I believe planning departments across the country need to be thought-leaders, partners of politicians…we tend to be too passive as a profession and not nearly passionate enough about what real progressive city building is and needs to be.”

A graduate of the Waterloo planning program, Toderian was the first person in the annual event’s history to attend the dinner as a student, as an alumnus and then return as a speaker. He has been called an “urban firecracker” by the Globe and Mail and is a passionate advocate for creative city building, working in Ontario, Calgary and now Vancouver. Toderian admitted that he could have talked about specific projects from his planning department or planning for the 2010 Olympic Games, but instead he decided to bend the ear of his target audience and inspire change.

He said there is a new generation of planners—a creative wave—knocking on the door. “Planning departments are not regulators, we’re not rule defenders, we’re not merely passive followers of politicians or community and we’re not poll-takers,” he said. “We are professional and persuasive voices in progressive, sustainable city building, creative and engaged listeners and leaders. We need different planning departments across the country with a much stronger sense of urbanist leadership, more of a design background and much better at strategic thinking.” In a challenging tone, Toderian asked: are planning departments prepared for the next generation of leadership?

Many cities are going to be left behind as planning takes on more of an active approach to our built environments. In the US you can see that some cities are moving forward and being creative, while others seem to be stagnate and are stuck in another era. The next ten years will be exciting as smaller cities (that have the room, budgets, and know how) will make themselves into desirable places to live on many accounts. They will have short commutes, plenty of green space, and vibrant neighborhoods. They will provide the options that many city dwellers seek at a fraction of the cost (when compared to New York city, Chicago, and LA). I believe this to be true and recently relocated from NYC to the Twin Cities, and I think our future is bright.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Has Friedman been listening to Car Talk?

Love em or hate em Thomas Friedman makes some good points about the new administration and the gas tax. In this NY Times article he discusses how far we have not come in regards to this tax. He are a few excerpts I liked:

Today’s financial crisis is Obama’s 9/11. The public is ready to be mobilized. Obama is coming in with enormous popularity. This is his best window of opportunity to impose a gas tax. And he could make it painless: offset the gas tax by lowering payroll taxes, or phase it in over two years at 10 cents a month. But if Obama, like Bush, wills the ends and not the means — wills a green economy without the price signals needed to change consumer behavior and drive innovation — he will fail.

The two most important rules about energy innovation are: 1) Price matters — when prices go up people change their habits. 2) You need a systemic approach. It makes no sense for Congress to pump $13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit — and demand that the auto companies use this cash to make more fuel-efficient cars — and then do nothing to shape consumer behavior with a gas tax so more Americans will want to buy those cars. As long as gas is cheap, people will go out and buy used S.U.V.’s and Hummers.

Will we ever find that magic bullet that will change the way we have been living our lives? Realistically cars are not going away any time soon but we need to start planning for a future that better integrates other modes of transit (bike, bus, lrt, rail, walking, skating, skiing, ect). Until then we continue to spin our wheels at the pump.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Foreclosures in the Twin Cities

MPR had a good segment very recently about foreclosure in the Twin Cities. They spoke with Cecile Bedor the Director of the Department of Planning and Economic Development for the City of St. Paul and Tom Streitz the Director of housing policy and development for the City of Minneapolis.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Met Council says "nice try to MPR"

So the past week has been a media crazed one here in the Twin Cities where MPR tried to use its muscle to stop the proposed central corridor from going down Cedar. I think they miscalculated on both ends (public and political). The Star Tribune had this:

Minnesota Public Radio may stay or go, but the Central Corridor light-rail line will not be moved off Cedar Street in St. Paul, Metropolitan Council President Peter Bell said Monday. In a strongly worded statement, Bell criticized MPR for "using its airwaves and its website to rally its supporters" to push for moving the line off Cedar and away from its studios.

While MPR is a serious institution here, I think they poorly choose the way to breach this issue. I am happy that the Mayor and Met Council responded so quickly.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Car Talk advocates $.50 gas tax

Car Talk is a NPR show where two brothers who are mechanics take caller's questions. This past show Ray renewed his call for a national gas tax, including a new idea for who can reinvent themselves as train manufacturers.

Here is an excerpt from the show and website:

"I think it's an idea whose time has come," he said. "I know most politicians have been too wussy to do it, but I think the logic of raising the gasoline tax right now is unassailable.

"Gas is less than two bucks a gallon. There's never been a better time to do this. If we added a 50-cent national, gasoline tax right now, and gas cost $2.50 a gallon, would that be the end of the world? Hardly.

"This new tax would generate between 50 and 100 billion dollars every year for the treasury. That money could be used to help rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, and develop new technologies for more fuel-efficient cars... further decreasing demand for oil. This is a way for us to get on the wagon, and stop sending money to countries that don't like us. We could become energy independent.

"The other thing that the gas tax revenue could fund is high-speed-train infrastructure between major cities. And who would build all of the new high-tech, high-speed trains we'd need? GM and Ford! We'd help them start a mass-transit division, convert some of those factories from building inefficient gas hogs to building high-speed trains."

What do you think? Is Ray on to a genius idea that will point our country towards a sustainable transportation future? Or does he have his headlight firmly implanted in his tailpipe? Is it even a political possibility?

Says our humble co-host, "I'm sick of people whining about a lousy 50-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline! I think its time has come, and I call on all non-wussy politicians to stand with me, because our country needs us."

Listen to Segment 9 here. Check out the support it is getting in the comments section.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Officer Is Indicted in Toppling of Cyclist

The officer who knocked a cyclist (more like body checked) during critical Mass in NYC months ago has been indicted by a grand jury. The NY Times City blog reports:
A police officer who was caught knocking a man off his bicycle in Times Square over the summer in a video that was distributed widely on YouTube has been indicted by a grand jury, according to lawyers involved in the case.

The officer, Patrick Pogan, has been instructed to report to State Supreme Court in Manhattan for the unsealing of the indictment, his lawyer, Stuart London, said. David Rankin, a lawyer for the bicyclist, Christopher Long, said the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, informed him around 3 p.m. that a grand jury had voted to indict Officer Pogan. Mr. London and Mr. Rankin both said they did not know the specific charges, and Mr. Morgenthau’s office declined to comment.

It is believed that prosecutors were seeking felony charges of filing false records in connection with the police report that Officer Pogan filed after arresting Mr. Long. Officer Pogan, who was stripped of his gun and badge in July after the video emerged, also could be charged with a misdemeanor count of assault.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is it time to buy?

This New York Times article demonstrates that this might be the best time to buy your first house. While many people are worried about job security, if you have the downpayment, prices and mortgage rates are at the lowest they will be for years to come.
When Jaime and Michael Proman moved this fall to Minneapolis, his hometown,from New York City, they craved a different sort of life after two years together in a 450-square-foot studio apartment. “We didn’t want a sterile apartment feel,” said Mr. Proman, who is 28 (his wife is 26). “We wanted something that was permanent and very much a reflection of us.”

The fact is, in many parts of the country there are few if any attractive rentals for people looking to put down roots and enjoy the sort of amenities they may spot on cable television home improvement shows. Comparing a rental with a place that you may own seems almost pointless in these situations, especially for those who are now grown up enough to want to make their own decisions about d├ęcor without consulting the landlord.

Still, for anyone feeling the urge to buy, a number of practical considerations have changed in the last year or two. The basics are back, like spending no more than 28 percent of your pretax income on mortgage payments, taxes and insurance. Even if a lender does not hold you to this when you go in for preapproval, you should hold yourself to it.

It might sound crazy to some since we still don't know where the bottom is, but if you are smart and keep your costs to one overhead for couples, then this might be the best opportunity to get more house for a lot less.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Caught in the Middle

Here is a great segment from Smart City Radio with Journalist Richard Longworth about how the Midwest can stay vibrant in a global economy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Chicago Photo Essay

I have always liked downtown Chicago (I grew up just inside and outside the city). Until I became older and got an urban palnning degree I could never really articulate why. I went home for Thanksgiving and having a few hours to kill waiting for my wife to arrive via Amtrak I decided to take the opportunity to see downtown again. Below are the photos and some of my thoughts on why Chicago's downtown is one of my favorites.

Even though Chicago has large buildings the streets are still at a human scale

Bike Station

How I got there

Union Station

El (elevated subway in Downtown Loop)

The Chicago River

Art Institute

Millenium Park

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wintertime Commuting

The snow has hit the Twin Cities and I still had to run my errands last week. Most people think you are crazy to commute by bike in the winter. What I have found is that having the right equipment makes all the difference and makes winter commuting quiet easy.

Saturday, December 6, 2008