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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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→ Warwick Beacon: RI Mall to have new life as home to big box retailers

…Winstanley sees the potential to attract larger retailers that are not yet present in the area, though he said it was premature to name any specifically.

Depending on retailer demands, Winstanley said the building could house either two or four large stores.

The preliminary phases of the project will continue over the next six to nine months, but Winstanley said people shouldn’t expect to see the mall re-open for at least two years. He said it will take at least a year to design and plan out the project and at least another year for construction.

Hasn’t the recession taught us that the age of the Big Box is coming to a close? Are there any retailers left to attract that aren’t already on Route 2?

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News & Notes

→ Transportation for America: Newly approved transportation bill is a clear step backwards

Unfortunately, this final bill moves closer to the House’s disastrous HR7, which was too contentious and unpopular to garner enough votes to pass. This final negotiated bill has been called a “compromise,” but it’s really a substantial capitulation in the face of threats by the House to include provisions with no relevance to the transportation bill — the Keystone XL pipeline, regulation of coal ash and others.

As a result of this “compromise,” the bill dedicates zero dollars to repairing our roads and bridges, cuts the amount of money that cities and local governments would have received, makes a drastic cut in the money available to prevent the deaths of people walking or biking, and ensures that you have less input and control over major projects that affect you and the quality of your community.

Despite record demand for public transportation service, this deal cut the emergency provisions to preserve existing transit service, does little to expand that service and actually removed the small provision equalizing the tax benefit for transit and parking.

→ See also: Bike Portland: Why advocates are distraught over new transportation bill


→ Next American City: France Commits to Tramways, A Possible Model for the Future of Urban Rail

The appeal of tramways is easy to understand. The electric vehicles are silent, modern-looking and entirely flat-floor. Their tracks can be nestled in a lawn, creating a grass median through which trains run; if done right, they can be used as a tool to restore the beauty of an urban boulevard, rather than deface it, as do some light rail lines traveling on grade-separated track. In some cities, like Nice, Bordeaux and Orléans, vehicles have been designed with batteries that allow them to travel some distance (such as across a historic square) without the need for overhead messenger wire. In virtually every case, tramways in France have been specifically located on major bus corridors in order to replace overcrowded routes with higher capacity services.


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News & Notes

Rotterdam

Image from I Make Rotterdam

News & Notes→ Rotterdam’s Crowd-Funded Pedestrian Bridge [The Pop-Up City]

The International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) and Rotterdam-based architecture firm ZUS have launched the project I Make Rotterdam, a spectacular temporary pedestrian bridge between the city’s Central and the North districts that will be financed through crowd-funding.


→ The Good (City) Life: Why New York’s Life Expectancy Is the Highest in the Nation [Good]

Most of us take for granted that urban dwellers are more stressed than country dwellers. Hey, it’s even proved by science! Not only that, their day-to-day existence is polluted, crime-ridden, and filled with hedonistic temptations. So they must have lower life expectancies, right? Wrong. In fact, the latest data from the Bureau of Vital Statistics shows New York City-my hometown-has the highest life expectancy in the country. Babies born in 2009 can expect to live a record 80.6 years. That’s almost three years longer than a decade ago, and more than two years longer than the current national average of 78.2 years.


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1959 film warns about suburban sprawl

This 1959 film, “Community Growth, Crisis and Challenge,” warns citizens, developers, and city officials of the dangers of urban sprawl. This historical artifact, co-sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the Urban Land Institute ULI) provides alternative approaches to land development. The film was produced by the NAHB.

Via Urban Land Institute

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News & Notes

Commute

Photo (cc) Dave Fayram

News & Notes→ Safety Keeps Pittsburgh Cyclists from Becoming Bike Commuters [Transportation Nation]

There is a bit of a catch 22 to increasing cyclist numbers though. Until cycling is widely considered safe, new cyclists won’t start riding to work. The solution, Pucher argues, is infrastructure. Pucher says the absence of bike lanes means only a small segment of the population is willing to ride to work.


→ Why small cities are poised for success in an oil-starved future [Grist]

So how do these small cities, long derided as provincial and irrelevant, prepare for the future that Tumber sees coming? She focuses on several broad topics: controlling sprawl and redeveloping the suburban fringe, developing agriculture in and around the city, reviving small-scale manufacturing, and redesigning economic networks and school systems. All of these topics involve interlocking policy conundrums that may be more easily navigated in small cities, where relationships are closer and bureaucracy less entangling.


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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

→ The Art and Science of Designing Good Cities for Walking [Streetsblog]

The article is a great read, but this photo is the best part to me:

Copenhagen sidewalk
Photo from Streetsblog

This Copenhagen sidewalk completely flips the script on the relationship between cars and pedestrians at intersections. Rather than there being a curb, the sidewalk ending, and pedestrians moved into the street via a crosswalk; the sidewalk continues across the road and it is the car that enters the pedestrians domain in order to move through the intersection. Why are we not making all minor side streets have this relation to the main?


→ Which part of Detroit really needs to be ‘right-sized’? [Grist]

Shrinking city? Really? What this tells me is that an even bigger problem for Detroit than the decline of the Rust Belt economy has been that the fringe of the region has been allowed, more than in most places, to expand, not shrink, and to suck the life and hope out of the inner city. So why aren’t the self-styled progressive responses to “the Detroit problem” addressing this critical aspect of the situation?

Maybe they are, but the only ones I hear and read are about “right-sizing” the inner city — demolishing vacant (and even some occupied) housing, letting vast areas revert to nature or farming, and so forth. Let sprawl, the cause of the problem, be someone else’s issue to address. But, in fact, the areas that are sprawling are where the “right-sizing” most needs to occur.


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News & Notes

→ Downtown need a makeover? More cities are razing urban highways [The Christian Science Monitor]

Removing roadways presents an opportunity for wiser, gentler redevelopment that can – if all goes well – add vibrancy and livability to areas around city centers.

That possibility has planners from Providence, R.I., and Baltimore to New Orleans and Seattle rethinking decisions to run highways through the hearts of cities.

Two things are driving these extreme make-overs. One is the simple fact that many highways built in the postwar years are nearing the end of their useful lives, says Joseph DiMento, a professor of planning and law at the University of California, Irvine, who is at work on a book about urban highways. The other, he says, is a growing faith that urban centers, including some that have been long neglected, have development potential.


→ Is Generational Turnover Necessary for the Return of Cities? [Streetsblog]

How many times have you heard this line: Young people prefer urban living.

Of course, everyone acknowledges, this isn’t a universal preference. But a clear generational shift away from suburban lifestyles is the phenomena on which many of our discussions about urbanism are premised.

However, while young people may be a driving force in demanding vibrant urban environments, they aren’t necessarily in the driver’s seat when it comes to the important policy decisions that continue to shape metro areas, often at the expense of cities.


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News & Notes

→ Sidewalk Rage: Mental Illness or ‘Altruistic Punishment?’ [Time Magazine | Healthland]

While it sounds like an oxymoron, altruistic punishment is basically how social norms get enforced. So when you expel a huffy “Excuse me!” to the rude sidewalk clogger in front of you who has stopped midstride to check his BlackBerry, you’re trying to discourage behavior that endangers other members of the society. It’s called “altruistic” punishment, because your efforts to protect civility come at personal cost with little chance of personal benefit: you are far more likely to get an obscene gesture or even a punch in the mouth than a thank you.


→ Nonprofit group wins funds for Olney Village rehab project [The Providence Journal]

Olneyville Housing Corporation has received key financing assistance from Rhode Island Housing that will permit the nonprofit organization to move forward with its Olney Village project.

The $10-million development project will turn 11 foreclosed properties and a large vacant lot in the Providence neighborhood into 39 affordable apartments, plus spaces for two organizations: the food pantry formerly located at St. Teresa’s Church and the Manton Avenue Project, a youth arts and theater program.


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