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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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News & Notes

Should high-speed rail focus on the northeast? [2nd Ave. Sagas]

During [New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s] testimony last week, the mayor criticized the government’s current investment plan. With projects in Florida, California and the Midwest garnering headlines, the Northeast Corridor has taken a backseat in Washington with only one percent of federal HSR funds coming our way. “That simply just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “What we need is a new approach to spending transportation money — one that is not dictated by politics, but based on economics.”

This area is in fact the biggest economic hub in the country, and without a solution to the congestion and transportation crisis, the U.S. economy could begin to feel a strain. As Crain’s New York noted, “The northeast corridor is an ideal place to invest in high-speed rail because its 50 million residents produce 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product.”

Could Bess Eaton doughnuts be coming back? [The Day of New London]

The Canadian-based [Tim] Hortons closed the former Bess Eatons around here in November, and most of them remain shuttered, fanning rumors that a revival is brewing.

[Bess Eaton found Paul] Gencarelli [of Westerly] said he understands that a group of investors in town has purchased the rights to the Bess Eaton name, and all the proprietary formulas, etc., and is planning to re-open sometime soon.

Planetizen DVD, “The Story of Sprawl” [Planetizen]

This 2-disc set is an unprecedented visual document of how sprawl happened, told through a series of historic films ranging from 1939’s The City, created by famed planner Lewis Mumford, to No Time For Ugliness from 1965, produced by the American Institute of Architects.

How Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Interventions Can Catalyze City-Wide Renewal [Project for Public Spaces]

Place-by-place interventions are emerging as a powerful way to create new life for an entire district, especially in cities where great economic hardship encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.

Yes, we do need to build more…. [Cap’n Transit Rides Again]

Last week, the Urbanophile posted an article called “Yes, we Do Need to Build More Roads.” He expected that a lot of people wouldn’t like it, and that he would come under a hail of criticism. I didn’t really see this hail materialize, but hey, I didn’t like the piece, and I’m ready to add my criticism.

In sprawling suburb, car drive you [Greater Greater Washington]

While last Wednesday’s hyped “thundersnow” underdelivered on the snow, it certainly didn’t in the chaos department. Storms like these highlight the benefits of compact urban development while underscoring the weaknesses of sprawling suburbia.

Residents of Washington’s outer suburbs struggled Wednesday night with horrendous traffic on the city’s commuter routes. At the same time, many DC residents were enjoying happy hours, snowball fights and otherwise carrying on with their lives. By the time people in the central city were fast asleep, many suburbanites were still fighting to get home.

Shameless Plug: Please feel free to nominate us as Best Blog in the Phoenix’s Best of 2011. You could also ask your friends, your mom, and your cat to nominate us if you like.

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News & Notes

News & Notes New RIPTA bus route proposed, coming right through Summit neighborhood [Summit Neighborhood Association]

Link shows a map of proposed routes. SNA is seeking comment and is deciding if they need to have a neighborhood meeting to discuss the proposed options.

My 2 cents, a bus route that serves Miriam directly is a good thing.


Investing in urban centers key to growing new U.S. economy: Brookings [International Business Times]

“When cities collect networks of entrepreneurial firms, smart people, universities and other supporting institutions in close proximity, incredible things happen,” [Bruce Katz, Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution] wrote.

“People engage. Specializations converge. Ideas collide and flourish. New inventions and processes emerge in research labs and on factory floors. New products and companies follow.”


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News & Notes

Public access to S.F. bay tied to private projects [SFGate]

“The public-private seam is a delicate one,” APA chief executive officer Paul Farmer mused before the award ceremony here last Wednesday. “There are tricky things involved – how do you negotiate access with a developer? How do you make public access feel truly public? When it’s done well, that’s something to recognize.”

Americans not hitting their walking stride [Yahoo! News]

Adults in western Australia average 9,695 steps a day. The Swiss followed with 9,650, while the Japanese clocked in with 7,168 steps. But Americans straggled far behind with just 5,117 steps.

He attributes the more active lifestyle of adults in other countries to their greater access to mass transit

The drive-not-walk mentality has dismal consequences. In the United States, 34 percent of adults are obese. During the past decade Australia, Japan and Switzerland have reported obesity rates of 16 percent, 3 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Now I want to get a pedometer so I can see how I compare.

Plan to reduce sprawl will boost health, environment [The Washington Post]

Oil dependency, climate change and health-care costs are but three of a growing list of ills, rapidly becoming crises, that give us reason to look again at how we build our communities and what policy can do about it.

The article’s authors are Andres Duany, known in Providence for hosting a Downcity charrette several years back, and his co-author of the book Suburban Nation, Jeff Speck.

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News & Notes

avoiding car-centered language: a directive [Human Transit]

Yes, crash sounds emotive while accident sounds cool, so it’s easy to assume that accident is more objective or factual. But sometimes the facts are emotive, and only an emotive word will accurately describe them. The directive even notices that avoiding the emotive word can constitute an emotional bias in the other direction: “Sheila was in a car accident!” “Oh no, I hope she’s OK!” “Well, she killed three cyclists, so she’s pretty upset!” “How terrible! I’ll send her some flowers.”

Human landscapes in SW Florida [The Big Picture]

Save-A-Lot (grocery store) Grows by Targeting Low-Income Neighborhoods [Retail Traffic]

Reclaim Your Streets: How to Create Safe and Social Pedestrian Plazas [Yes!]

Ten tips for planners to convert a shopping center into a village center [New Urban Network]

Driven Apart: How Sprawl Is Lengthening Our Commutes and Why Misleading Mobility Measures Are Making Things Worse [CEO for Cities]

Driven Apart ranks how long residents in the nation’s largest 51 metropolitan areas spend in peak hour traffic, and in some cases the rankings are almost the opposite of those listed in the 2009 Urban Mobility Report.

For instance, the UMR depicts Chicago as having some of the worst travel delays, when it actually has the shortest time spent in peak hour traffic of any major US metro area. In contrast, Nashville jumped from 31st to first on the list of those with the longest peak travel times.

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News & Notes

RIPTA restoring 100 daily runs with re-opening of Warwick Mall [Warwick Beacon]
I had no idea 100 trips ran to Warwick Mall, probably because that is the total of 3 different bus lines. There must be someway for RIPTA to make it more apparent that so many buses go to the mall.

Massachusetts Congressional Delegation Touts “Death Knell” for LNG [Newport Now]

Not just another strip mall [South County Independent]
Nice to see someone in South County editorializing against sprawl. However, it is maddening to learn that The Kingstown Road Special Management District prohibits drive-thru windows. Drive-thrus are banned in the sprawling hinterland of Peace Dale, but not on Hope Street in Providence. Ugh.

Free Parking Comes at a Price [The New York Times]

Access Denied Flickr Group
“This group is a place to show how inaccessible the world can be to wheelchair users, and people with all kinds of disabilities.”

[Flickr via Transportation for America]

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New favorite Obama quote

obamasprawl

In a question and answer session today in Ft. Myers, Florida, President Obama stated the following in response to a question about transportation and infrastructure in the stimulus package:

It’s imagining new transportation systems. I’d like to see high speed rail where it can be constructed. I would like for us to invest in mass transit because potentially that’s energy efficient. And I think people are a lot more open now to thinking regionally”

The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody” recognizes that’s not a smart way to design communities. So we should be using this money to help spur this sort of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation.

It is very exciting to hear a President say that. I’m going to keep this quote in my back pocket just in case we don’t see a change in the way we design our communities.


Previous favorite Obama quote: “What do you think ‘stimulus’ is? It’s spending – that’s the whole point! Seriously.”

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