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News & Notes

Christmas Tree & Ice Rink

Campus Martius in Detroit – Photo (cc) Per Verdonk

→ The New York Times: Small-Scale Developers, Big Dreams

These activist microdevelopers are different from the slumlords and absentee owners who buy properties in bulk, rent them to vulnerable communities and spend nothing on refurbishment or services, compounding Buffalo’s woes.

Recently, Mr. Abell, who grew up in Buffalo but left after high school, recalled what brought him home a few years ago and has kept him enthralled. “What’s drawn me in deeper,” he said, “is the D.I.Y., roll-up-your-sleeves community-building ethos that has taken over the entire city. Everyone has three charities they’re working on. I’ve never seen a group of people who give more of themselves.”


→ Project for Public Spaces: Detroiters Work: The Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Regeneration of a Great American City

Detroiters aren’t taking their city’s decline lying down—and a determinedly “can-do” attitude is driving everyone from individual activists to the community development groups, private investors, and philanthropic organizations that are reshaping the city. “Detroit is the type of city where you have to jump in and roll up your sleeves and do work,” says Community Development Advocates of Detroit Director Sarida Scott-Montgomery, a lifelong resident who will proudly tell you that she and her family chose to stay. “This is not an ‘easy’ city. But that, to me, has almost become an inherent part of being a Detroiter. Detroiters work. We are resilient.”


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News & Notes

Electric car charging.

Electric car charging station in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo (cc) CityofStPete

→ Grist: States promise to sell one new EV for every 24 people by 2025

They’re starting to step up. Eight states that represent, according to the New York Times, “a quarter of the national car market” just announced they’re going to work together on creating a better system for drivers of electric vehicles. They are, in descending order of population size, California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and they say their goal is to help get 3.3 million new EVs sold by 2025. With a combined population of 79 million people, that means one EV for every 24 people.

How are they going to do it? By creating a system that will give EV owners something only gas-guzzling car drivers have now: certainty about where and when and how they’ll be able to fuel up.

I’m all for things that help improve the environment, but I’ve got to say, I’m a little sad that the environmental press is not being more thoughtful on this story. Reduced carbon emissions are wonderful, but it is not simply the carbon which is problematic, it is safety (for people inside and outside of cars) land-use, household budgets, and more. These are among the things states are supposed to do to encourage electric cars:

  • More charging stations
  • Building codes that require chargers at workplaces and “multifamily residences”
  • Reduced tolls
  • Better parking
  • Cheaper electricity prices

These are all things that encourage more driving; encouraging sprawl, paving land, putting pedestrians and cyclists in conflict with auto-traffic (I don’t think you’re any less dead after getting run over by an electric vehicle than you are getting run over by a gas powered one), and leaving individuals and families tied to the expense of a car (granted, made less so by reducing the costs of powering the vehicle).

Rhode Island seems quite proud of itself for being part of this group of states, but Rhode Island continues to poorly support alternatives to automobile use, namely mass transit and cycling infrastructure.

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News & Notes

SPRAWL

Photo (cc) Mark Strozier

→ Project for Public Spaces: Mistakes by the Lake, River, or Sea

In cities around the world, waterfronts are showing new signs of life. Parcels once dominated by industry or highways are now opening up to redevelopment, offering enormous opportunities to create new public spaces and rejuvenate old ones. Too often, however, decision makers hungry for solutions latch on to uninspired design and development plans that constrict public use.


→ The Boston Globe: Worcester’s revival proving elusive

Ten years ago, Worcester’s downtown was going to hum. A consortium of city officials and investors pledged to turn 21 acres of blight into offices, stores, entertainment sites, and luxury residences. The $565 million project — to be privately and publicly funded — was named CitySquare.

Today, CitySquare is still a far-off promise, an unrealized revitalization effort that is all too common in the region’s old mill and manufacturing cities.

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News & Notes

Bixi

Montreal’s bike share system, Bixi. Photo (cc) arcsi

→ CBC: Bixi to continue despite financial problems

A member of Montreal’s city executive committee says he cannot guarantee the municipal administration will put more money into Bixi if it requires financial assistance.

The bike-sharing program has struggled to make ends meet since it first hit Montreal streets in 2008.

Jean-François Lisée, the provincial minister responsible for Montreal, said Bixi was a valuable service and deserved to be helped out. He said the Quebec government is working on a $5-million bridge loan for the program.

See also: → The Atlantic Cities: In Paris, Thefts and Vandalism Could Force Bike-Share to Shrink


→ The Walking Bostonian: Car-free housing in Boston is natural

I feel strange explaining the concept of a market to someone as old as Tom Keane. The idea that residents could rent or purchase a parking space in a nearby garage should not be that difficult to grasp, and it’s not much different from the many other transactions which take place between residents and local businesses. For example, most apartment buildings are not constructed with grocery store requirements. However, most people seem to understand that when a resident wants a bottle of milk, they can walk down to a nearby store and buy one. We do not need to build “minimum grocery store requirements” into the zoning code because those products are handled perfectly well by normally operating markets. And parking spaces are no different. They are just one type of land use, among many, that can be purchased or leased on the real estate market.

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News & Notes

Transportation Act Projects announcement

Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown announces improvement to Marc train Red Line by Brian K. Slack at Baltimore, MD. Photo (cc) Maryland Gov Pics.

→ The Baltimore Sun: O’Malley to announce $1.5 billion for Baltimore-area transportation projects

Gov. Martin O’Malley plans to announce $1.5 billion in new state funding for the Baltimore Red Line and more than a dozen other transportation projects in the area Wednesday, officials said, outlining for the first time how the state’s gas tax increase will be tapped to improve local infrastructure and mass transit here.

O’Malley also plans to discuss the state’s interest in attracting public-private partnerships to help fund the Red Line project, and a Dec. 7 start date for weekend MARC train service between Baltimore and Washington, which has never been offered before.

[Baltmore Mayor Stephanie] Rawlings-Blake said the new funding “says that the state is serious about being a partner with Baltimore” to improve connections between transportation options.

“They’re putting their money where their mouth is,” she said. “They’re recognizing that for the state to be strong, Baltimore has to be strong, and it has to be strong as a connected city.”


→ The Boston Globe: Menino pushes plan to boost housing

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is proposing to reach his ambitious goal of building 30,000 homes in Boston by allowing taller structures with smaller units, selling public land to developers at a discount, and using subsidies to spur development of more affordable housing, according to a blueprint to be released Monday.

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News & Notes

Walking in the ditch

Photo (cc) Transportation for America

→ Greater Greater Washington: When we lost the War on Pedestrians

Every new bike lane, speed camera, or change in parking requirements becomes an attack in what organizations like AAA decry as a “War on Cars.” But in the 1920s, there was a different war over our streets. And pedestrians lost.


→ Cincinnati Business Courier: City tosses out residential parking requirements

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (D) has approved an amendment to the city’s zoning code that eliminates parking requirements for many residential developments and substantially reduces them for others.

Under the new regulations, any residential development with 20 or fewer housing units would not have to provide any parking, while those with more than 20 units would have to provide 0.75 spaces per housing unit above 20. That means a development with 32 housing units would need to provide nine parking spaces.

“The goal of the ordinance is to encourage development in the urban core by permitting developers to determine their own parking needs for downtown developments,” explained Simpson, who is vice chair of council’s Livable Communities Committee. “I firmly believe that the market will work to meet parking demands better than government minimum parking requirements.”

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News & Notes

Detroit - Renaissance Center

Detroit from Canada. Photo (cc) Patricia Drury

→ Spacing: Converting Alleyways to Livable Laneways and Country Lanes

Asphalt paving was removed and replaced with “structural grass,” rigid plastic honeycomb cells sprinkled with ordinary lawn seed and nurtured into green swaths. Concrete strips were embedded on two sides, creating a durable driving surface. Permeable brick pavers were installed in driveways and at the lane way entrances; these allow rain water to infiltrate between their joints and into the ground, reducing run-off, the bane of municipal storm sewer systems.


→ Newshour: Will Other U.S. Cities Follow in Detroit’s Footsteps?

Well, I think cities have realized they’re not going to grow their economies by bribing companies to come in[1].

Just as Bruce said, they’re going to build on their own strategic assets, and as specialized as they are — and Bruce knows this — they also to be diverse. Diverse economies grow. But in the United States, the cities and regions that are having trouble are the manufacturing regions that have not revitalized and developed their knowledge assets and diversified.

And Sun Belt regions that are dependent on real estate and construction, our economy is being reshaped around knowledge centers, big and small. Ann Arbor right outside of Detroit is doing fabulously well, and energy centers — and those are becoming the powerhouses of the U.S. regional economy. But there are very real winners and losers in this economy. And for those falling behind, they have to take steps to specialize, to focus on their niche, but also to diversify their economy.

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News & Notes

Flying Into Boston 005 - Tilt Shift v2

Boston. Photo (cc) Kevin Tostado.

→ The Boston Globe: Don’t require more spaces; price curbside ones properly

If you give a valuable resource away for free, the inevitable result is overuse and crowding. In the old Soviet Union, groceries sold eggs and butter at near-free prices, and therefore shoppers faced long lines and empty shelves. In modern Massachusetts, on-street parking is available at low or no cost, and therefore drivers can’t find a parking spot. Low parking costs also ensure there are more drivers congesting the roads.

Small comfort I suppose that even in Boston, residents are aghast at the idea of reduced parking minimums.


→ The Boston Globe: Boston’s population boom speeds up

It’s not just the city proper. If you look at the other New England cities of 50,000 people or more you see that in general, the closer these sizable cities were to Boston, the faster they grew. (An exception: the similarly fast-growing cities along southern Connecticut’s I-95 and commuter rail corridor, which fall into the orbit of New York City.) This is an acceleration of a trend that began in 2000-2010, when Boston grew faster than the rest of New England for the first time in more than a century.

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News & Notes

→ The Washington Post: Delaware is bailing out its casinos. Wait, what?

Earlier this week, Delaware’s casinos got a surprise windfall. Just days after saying no to tax breaks, Gov. Jack Markell (D) proposed that $8 million of the state’s budget surplus be distributed amongst its three struggling establishments, to forestall the layoffs that at least one of them had threatened.

That would seem to defeat the purpose of casinos: Generating revenue for states. The problem is, for the past decade, almost every state in the nation has tried to cash in–and gamblers aren’t keeping up. Twenty-three states have now legalized commercial casinos, and revenues are back to 2007 levels after taking a dip during the recession.

A small state surrounded by other states with lots of people and better casinos…



→ Next City: Loving My City Enough to Fight For It

These days, the zeitgeist has changed. If before, you were a happy but passive contrarian, enjoying the “lifestyle” that cost-of-living, accessibility, great culture, and tight-knit neighborhoods afforded — now there is a bit more at stake. The mood in Cleveland (speaking from my white, liberal, professional vantage) is more proactive. No longer can you just sip your wine and chat about how nice it is here. The ethos has shifted to an activist one: you have to help out, pitch in, you have to do something. There is an emergent sense of civic obligation.

Why this shift? Why this pressure to help the city’s economic, educational, political and cultural life? Not because things are worse but because they are better.

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News & Notes

Citi Bike Share

Citi Bike, NYC bike share. Photo (cc) ccho.

→ Gawker: Tycoon’s Pet Newspaper Thinks For-Profit Citi Bikes Are Socialism

The Observer objects to Citi Bike not because the bikes are hideous or dangerous—the editors mention, but shrug off, the possibility of “accidents involving goofy tourists,” which for many New Yorkers is a plus—but because of… socialism. Yes! Citi Bike “represents another governmental incursion into the private marketplace.”

Okay, but. This is 180 degrees wrong. It is exactly backwards. Citi Bike, run by Alta Bicycle Share, is a for-profit business, and functions as a massive marketing campaign for Citi Bank .


→ Crane’s New York Business: A storm-proof way to elevate city buildings

Up and down the coast of New York and New Jersey, property owners are being forced to raise their homes and businesses above a new 100-year floodplain drawn up and mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In the five boroughs, elevating multistory buildings present a particular problem.

If buildings must be raised five, eight, even 12 feet up on stilts, planners fear it could deaden New York’s vibrant street life along coastal areas. In other words, will Jane Jacobs float?


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