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News & Notes

Forbes: The Economic Secret of Vacant City Spaces

Most of us feel attached to our neighborhoods, but can this emotional connection help fuel local economies? According to a multi-year study by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the answer is yes: Communities with high levels of attachment actually have higher local GDP growth.

Surprisingly, the top factors that encourage community attachment are aesthetics and having spaces for people to socialize, according to 43,000 survey participants who ranked these factors above safety, education, and municipal services. But with foreclosures and vacant buildings and the resulting loss of tax revenue, how do you create and pay for public spaces?


Bloomberg: U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs

American taxpayers will shell out many times what their counterparts in developed cities in Europe and Asia would pay. In the case of the Second Avenue line and other new rail infrastructure in New York City, they may have to pay five times as much.


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News & Notes

Union Plaza tunnel from Waterplace

Waterplace Park, photo (cc) pvdEric from Flickr

Planetizen: The Top 100 Public Spaces in the U.S. and Canada

The results of our crowdsourcing project, in collaboration with the Project for Public Spaces, reveal not an objective Top 100 but instead a handful of communities passionate about their own local public spaces.

Number 66 on the list is Providence’s Waterplace Park, described by Project for Public Spaces.

Waterplace Park and the Riverwalk linked to it have a welcoming, well-thought-out design, which has become a focal point of the overall revitalization of Providence’s downtown area. But what really makes these great places is the wealth of activities they host. Between the annual Convergence art festival, the WaterFire installation which runs on selected nights most of the year, the Summer Concert Series, and long-term installations of public art, there’s always something going on – and all of these events are FREE.

Here’s what we said about Waterplace back in 2008 when the APA named it a Top 10 Public Place.


Streetsblog: The Power of Blogs and Social Media in Transportation Policy

Speaking to Streetsblog in July, attorney David Savoy gave bloggers credit for the granting of a retrial to his client, Raquel Nelson, who was charged with vehicular homicide after her four-year-old son was hit by a car as they attempted to cross a dangerous arterial road on foot. “I’ve never understood the power of the blogosphere,” Savoy said, “and now I’m humbled.”

Blogs? Hey, that’s us!

See also: Greater Greater Washington.


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News & Notes

SFGate: Footbridge an elegant new icon in East Bay

The 600-foot-long arc not only eases the way for pedestrians and bicyclists, it also sends a message naysayers choose to ignore: our society should aim to produce civic works on par with cherished landmarks from the New Deal or the Carnegie libraries of the generation before that.

This larger cultural role is what civic infrastructure can achieve when built with ambition and the long-term view. Contra Costa’s Redevelopment Agency deserves credit for pulling together the funding from county, state and federal sources.

The word “icon” is used far too often in architectural hype. But at its own modest scale, Robert I. Schroder Overcrossing shows what an icon can be. You don’t expect to see it; once you do, you’re glad it’s there. And you look forward to seeing and experiencing it again.


American Planning Association: 10 Best Public Spaces of 2010

Maybe someday Kennedy Plaza will make the list.


The Gondola Project at Creative Urban Projects: Rio to Open Urban Gondola System This Year

Peter Brassard touched upon aerial trams, or gondollas, in his recent post and here is another urban system to add to the list in Brazil. As Rio prepares to host the Olympics in 2016(?) this is one of the infrastructure projects they have been working on.

In this article I even learned a new term, CPT meaning Cable Propelled Transit system. Add that to the lexicon of BRT, LRT, TOD, and other transit acronyms.


Lincoln Institute of Land Policy: Public Space Project and Shared Space-Harvard Square-Woonerf Streets

But in Europe, designers are taking it a step further – removing traffic signals and signage altogether, relying on the human ability to adapt and communicate with other drivers and pedestrians by entering an intersection or traveling down a street and figuring it all out. It’s a counter-intuitive notion to be sure, based in the Dutch concept of the “woonerf,” a street that eliminates the strict separation of uses and instead invites a civil set of ad-hoc rules and eye contact. Woonerfs are all around us – the valet area in front of a hotel, or the parking lot in front of Target. Everybody slows down because there is an obvious mix of parking and getting out of cars and moving around on foot.

I mention woonerfs here from time to time and at some point really should devote an entire post to the concept, but until I get around to it, this post is a really good introduction to the concept.

A woonerf plaza outside City Hall is included in the Vision For Kennedy Plaza and I often walk down the alley I live on on Federal Hill and imagine it transformed into a shared space. Let’s try to introduce “woonerf” into the Providence lexicon.


Market Urbanism “Urbanism for Capitalists/Capitalism for Urbanists”: The inanity of airport connectors

The airport connector is a special beast of a rail-based transit system that’s a relatively recent phenomenon outside of transit-dense regions like Western Europe and Japan. So manifestly wasteful that it generates more animosity towards mass transit than it does riders, it’s a project that only politicians and unions could love. Unlike more integrated networks where the airport is just one station on an otherwise viable route (like Philadelphia’s Airport Line or DC’s proposed Silver Line), airport connectors generally serve only the airport and one local hub. With no purpose other than to get people in and out of the airport, they provide neither ancillary transit benefits nor TOD opportunities. Oftentimes they don’t even reach downtown, acting instead like glorified park-and-rides.

Luckily our connector is one stop on a line that runs from Boston and eventually past the airport onto Wickford Junction and maybe Westerly, New London, who knows… It is one of the good ones…

[...] with the Rhode Island DOT recently reaching a deal on its $267 million “Interlink” project, which entails building a station at the airport on an existing line, along with a commuter parking garage and a rental car facility. The station is only expected to see six trains a day initially, which is probably for the best since Providence’s T.F. Green Airport isn’t exactly O’Hare. No word on whether any additional density is being allowed around the new station, but something tells me the answer is no.

Sigh. The City of Warwick established the Warwick Station Redevelopment Agency years ago to guide development in the “Metro Center” area around the station. RIPTA is keen on transforming bus services in Kent County to focus transportation on the new station, making it a transit hub not just for air and rail, but for buses, further fueling the transit oriented development potential of the station area.

Yup, T.F. Green is not O’Hare, for that matter neither is Logan or BWI or LaGuardia or JFK or LAX. 6 trains a day, initially, yes. But once Wickford Junction opens next year, that number goes up. The Interlink is not about getting people to and from planes full stop, it is much more than that. It is a commuter link for Kent County and South County, it is an economic development tool for the City of Warwick and the airport.

Kevin Dillon, President and CEO of RIAC pointed out in rebutting Joe Paolino’s characterization of the Interlink as a “boondoggle” on GoLocalProv that low cost European carriers are looking at the northeast and at T.F. Green in particular. Why Green and not Bradley or Manchester? Because of the Interlink.

[airport connectors] are often a sort of cargo cult urbanism that seeks to emulate the frills of good transit systems isn’t willing to make the hard decisions necessary to actually build a robust network and allow the density to fill it. In the case of the the Providence airport, lawmakers said they hoped the station would attract international service to the currently domestic-only airport – as if Providence can acquire the amenities of a big city without allowing itself to become one.

There will undoubtedly be some NIMBY hurdles to overcome regarding density along the rail line, especially if we add a station in Cranston (can you imagine, denisty in Cranston!?), but the whole point of the southern push of commuter rail is to build density where it makes sense, along the transit line, and to aid people who live further from it in leaving their cars somewhere other than downtown (or idling on the highway getting to downtown).

The line about Providence trying to attract big city amenities without actually allowing itself to become a big city… that I just don’t get. Again, there will always be NIMBYism surrounding growth, but I think political leaders, the business community, and a good deal of the citizenry would be more than happy to see the city become bigger. At the very least, if we grew it would be indicative of our economy emerging from the toilet.

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News & Notes

FooFest – August 14th: Over 20 art installations and creative activities. [FooFest]

Maker Faire Rhode Island – August 28th: Celebrate New England D.I.Y! Featuring hands-on making, building & hacking, culinary crafting, garage technology, arts and creativity for sale, and robots, culminating with a Waterfire in the Creative Capital, Providence, RI. [Maker Faire Rhode Island]

(Ohio) Mileage tax suggested to replace gasoline tax [The Columbus Dispatch]
The Coalition for Transportation Choices has urged the Rhode Island Assembly to consider a similar measure. The proposed bill did not pass the House this year.

Senate Committee approves forward-looking Livable Communities Act [Transportation For America]

The Mark of a Great City Is in How It Treats Its Ordinary Spaces, Not Its Special Ones [The Urbanophile]

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