tidbits on eves of eve

this place is too new to summarize the year's posts as so many other sites are doing, but it's worth listing the most interesting stories these past two weeks. happy new year!

a rare portrait of amanda burden, NYC's planning director - illuminates the complexity of pulling projects through to completion, especially in a place like new york. ms. burden's focus on aesthetics seems to be more about uses, comfort, image, rather than pure design aesthtics. legend has it that she interned at PPS back in the day.

a survey on what happened after iconic buildings are built. this is all too rarely done. from this survey - which is still relatively short-term given the newness of the buildings, in balance, it seems that the designer buildings are worth the brand recognition for drawing crowds, but fall short of meeting demands of building function. a similar tale is starting to unfold across the country with the Caltrans building in LA. it's still early yet, and the good-faith effort to correct flaws is a step in the right direction. management of the building is now the highest priority. there are more icons to come.

from the midwest, infilling with people, offering land for free. the story makes it sound like a desperate situation, though it's really an re-education of townspeoples in what works for little communities, and from the sound of it, the strategy is working.

a smarter way to deal with the word choice problem that accompanies "smart growth" - "dumb growth"?


End of year

These past couple months have been a great experiment in writing and recording, one that I hope to continue next year. Yes, there will be fewer posts over the next several days. Happy New Year!


Government = customer service!

Not that this is entirely new to the U.S., where private sector customer service methods have permeated public sector and especially politics, to the point of rendering the idea "public good" obsolete, but some bureaucracies are beginning to change their tune.

One of them, the infamous WMATA, is looking to train their employees with "verbal judo," so that riders, their "customers," receive better service.

Here's a progressive journal's take on how traditional bureaucracies can change their ways. Re-orienting towards "customers" - i.e. the public - is one way of listening and encouraging public opinion and discourse, crucial elements in creating any built environment.

But don't go too far in doing this. Balance is the key, unlike Wendell Cox's "Public Purpose," which really turned my stomach this morning. The guy's trying to talk about freedom and liberty, but pretty soon there will be no freedom of mobility if you follow his thinking. Also, I just hate it when people appropriate terms, like "public purpose" to defend the motives and actions of private interests.

In both cases, it's a complicated story, full of nuances. I realize how temporal the discussion can be. But now I'm watching these people.


Yikes! Quality growth??!

I've been looking around for good campaigns that inform the ordinary person about the pros and cons of sprawl, and how they relate to transportation and land use. While doing that, I found a whole bunch of "quality growth" campaigns and think tanks, organizations and people who are against coordinated planning, traditional smart growth and instead favor more streets, the right to build anywhere, and the demand on government to support this lifestyle.

Yikes! Just look at this education toolkit that lays out each point, and debunks "myths" of smart growth.

Quality growth has also been a way that some smart growth proponents attempt to cast away the negative connotations of "smart growth" (i.e., if you don't do this, you must be dumb), but their opponents have appropriated the language for a completely different agenda.

I should have known better. These misleading organizations and individuals confuse the topic so much that not even the most stellar counter campaign, such as the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality and FHWA DOT's campaign, "It all adds up to cleaner air," will be able to debunk the debunking.

Trends: Seniors and land use

I had been too busy to read the Times lately, so a search for one article led to the discovery of a host of articles about land development and of course, from the advantage of retrospection, a trend.

It's seniors and where they choose to live. Fascinating, especially since the elderly are living longer and are more mobile than ever before. I had written about the Wal-Mart seniors but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Here's one about seniors who want to lived in recreation-rich, yet privileged gated communities.

Another about living on abandoned Army barracks.

There are also plenty of stories of people looking to give up their suburban home and to move to an urban setting.

How about the "bridge" demographic? Bridging empty-nesting and nursing home stages of life.

So this is how the micropoli are forming

Hog farmers vs. suburbanites - take 1,217...

In all seriousness, this is exactly what's being played out on the Eastern Shore too. I'll be heading there for the holidays, so I'll try to take some pictures and chat with the locals.

Not to jump to conclusions

I take it back...

It was too simplistic to think that the fires were only because of environmentalism, and not out of sheer boredom on the Eastern Shore, where development trends show that there will be fewer places to go and even less to do.


Trends: Suburbanization of cities

Via Archinect - only too true. The McBank referenced? That's the Commerce Bank in Park Slope you may have read about here a couple days ago.

People who don't understand places think is placemaking - mainly, creating centers via capitalistic commercial activities. Bill Witte, from The Related Company, said of his company's plans for the Grand Avenue project in Los Angeles, "This is place making," plans which include the Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil.

Expensive entertainment options is only place making - for corporate coffers.

Big Box Tank

I had posted this a couple months ago, but Big Box Re-Use got some mainstream geek play today. Here's another more comprehensive blog tracking big boxes - with a focus on Wal-Mart. The Box Tank.


Micropolis has hit mainstream!

Did I scoop the Times about "Micropolis"? No, it can't be true.

[Actually I think it first came out in the WSJ.] And the news-y bit is that the U.S. Census Bureau has officially defined it as a type of place to live.

A blip of a fantasy for the day.

In the media...

St. Marks on the Bowery

These articles are not as revealing as the Gothamist turned out to be, but because of this little list, I've managed to talk to more than a couple newspapers recently.

After listing the East Village as the #2 neighborhood in the world, my boss declines to comment and refers me to reporters looking for quotes. I personally don't think I ooze downtown scenester that much. Here's one slightly inaccurate version of my comments from the Villager.

My favorite is the article from Camden, Maine. Listed at #4, the journalist said cynically, "Camden gets on these lists all the time" then quoted me as saying, "PPS actually visited Camden before listing it." !!! I found it hilarious and an endearingly good representation of a small town newspaper.


Commerce Bank looking to land in Park Slope

...and with an entrance just for cars! Yup, on no longer up-and-coming, already arrived Fifth Avenue, Commerce Bank is hoping to build a branch that features a non-too-often seen in NYC service - DRIVE THRU! (This being America and all, I had to use the shortened version). Why the hell would Commerce Bank want to do that? Why not just build a branch without drive-through?

What's interesting to me is that the people who are opposed to it, Park Slope Neighbors, say that there is NO-one in Park Slope that is interested in this issue. So I ask...

What about the Fifth Avenue Committee, who I have found to be wonderful with community organizing? Or the Brooklyn Transportation Alternatives? Or just Trans Alt's "Reducing Automobile Dependence Campaign (maybe that should be renamed???)? There's also the Park Slope Civic Council, but I found their outlook to be a bit off-putting and exclusive. Not everyone lives in a floor-through brownstone!


On Gothamist!

I'm typically behind the scenes, so the interview for public viewing makes me feel slightly abashed. But it was great fun to answer the questions.

Many thanks to Lily and her interview partner Aaron!


Roads Gone Wild

This Wired article is old now, but it has a great take on how over-designed roads just create problems, and a bonus, it features one of my fave transportation people, Ian Lockwood.

Follow-up to arson in Maryland

Follow-up to yesterday's post about Maryland and the land-use conflicts.

Photos from fires from local station.

One person's dream is another's nightmare. "A dozen families were looking to move in this coming weekend."

...from local NBC affiliate...

...Sierra Club's official opinion...

I wrote about building around towns earlier, and am curious if anyone has looked into higher-density town development in this locality, rather than falling into get-rich-quick inappropriate density greenfield development.

A study to keep tabs on

Williams College professor and students study possible effects of community revitalization from a Mass MoCA, the Berkshire community's relatively newly formed arts and cultural base.


As much as I might disagree with the output of some of Cambridge School of Architecture's alums, the fact that architecture, art and design schools are forced to meet the inappropriate expectations of yet another system seems ridiculous.

From the Observor, Deyan Sudjic comments.

The messiness and hominess of city life

A fabulous column in the New York Times about the messiness and comforts of great public spaces.


Starting in Maryland

The stand-off between developers who are building for transplants and the long-time communities who have deep roots in the community will only continue to creep down the Delmarva peninsula. Check out this New York Times article about eco-terrorism to sabotage new development.

A couple weeks ago, it was clear that something was afoot. Under the very pristine and quiet atmosphere that typifies the Eastern Shore, land-use conflicts were brewing in dirty ways.

What's interesting about this particular Maryland case is that the density of new housing being built is out of context. Tim Henley, a geologist who prepared an environmental impact study for Save Araby, Mattawoman and Mason Springs (SAMMS), said, "

If development must proceed, lots should cover several acres. Hunters Brooke has quarter-acre lots.
The rule-of-thumb of higher density to consolidate impact is only creating a greater strain in this place - it does little to alleviate it.

There is no straightforward formula to how best to use land. But one die-hard principle that is becoming evermore significant, is that context of the land must be paramount. This sounds so obvious, but it is so rarely carried out. The photos posted below are from Assateague, thankfully protected by the National Park Service. Most land on this stretch do not have that kind of protection. It's clear that unless people recognize that it is their desire to live in new developments that strain natural resources, there won't be any more hawks left to see.




the northpoint of Greenpoint



Yellow Arrows

Another example of collaborative technology that highlights the tiny elements that make our built and natural surroundings unique.

Yellow Arrow - I haven't seen any of them around, but I haven't been looking. Supposedly there have been 1,000 arrows distributed. And now Art Mob is in on the act.

Why do I have a funny feeling that I'm a latecomer to this party?


The master of news fodder

For this realm of information, nothing beats Planetizen. No way I can keep up.

Creating a Commons

I really like On the Commons's public slant. Public-oriented without being too overbearingly crunchy or academic.

It posted an update (which, due to my shoddy research, I missed!) on the Philly's Wi-Fi situation.

Rendell! How could you?? Makes his Economic Stimulus Package which contains his Main Street program in the New Pennsylvania Plan seem like just another marketing campaign with no substance. Come to think of it, ain't that the slickest government policy initiative web site you've ever seen?

Kunstler apologizes??

Kunstler always struck me as immune to obligation or apologies, so I really appreciated the thought.

"I feel that the young people of America deserve an apology from the past two generations, mine and my parents', for wrecking their everyday world."
When backed up with this photo

from Shreveport, Louisiana, it's easy to see why he was so moved.


Built Environment and Health

Not to get too deterministic about the built environment, but this collection of case studies show that solid community cooperation and innovation can really work. Is it too obvious?


Cheesy, but I don't know what to say about this surprising news in Oregon. Maybe people are tired of public service and wants to make a little money for a change.

I can't help wondering what the underlying cultural story is.

Eden Lost and Found

Drat! Another TV show idea done and done.

sniff - i just found out that we could have worked with them! they contacted us, but the PPS dogma just didn't work its way in.

The wireless way to urban revitalization

The Philadelphia Wi-Fi issue is unfolding not a moment too late. In addition to the economic ramifications, this interesting article from Salon.com (PPS is mentioned towards the end) talks some about some of the interesting social implications of wireless technology in cities.

I disagree with Paul Goldberger cited in the article, who wrote in Metropolis

"the mobile phone renders a public place less public...it turns the boulevardier into a sequestered individual, the flâneur into a figure of privacy. And suddenly the meaning of the street as a public place has been hugely diminished,"
and tend to succumb to the allure of the projects from Glowlab, who use wireless technologies to explore the urban realm, allowing greater exploration of connections between increasingly specific localities (i.e. attention paid to a single block in the Lower East Side reaps enough material for an exhibit now ended). These innovations can give deeper and more local meaning to the sense of place than ever before.