27 January 2012

Preservation vs. The Future

I've started a new blog, SFUUrban, with my fellow students at SFU! A few posts in, here is one I did for today! I encourage you to follow it!
I will start this off by saying that I am a flaming preservationist. I worked for a year in a small downtown in Oregon leading a Main Street program with a focus on business development but from a preservationist approach. It’s easy to do that there, in a small town setting that thrives on its history. In a place like Vancouver, or any other large city with inflated housing and development markets, the preservation approach is much more difficult to use as a reason for keeping buildings, and it is clear that usually new, higher use buildings get the go ahead from developers and city council, replacing the few existing historical gems we have left.
Yes, cities like Vancouver must plan for the future. Yes, there is a housing crisis, and the demand and dire need for more housing is absolutely a priority for municipal policy. Yes, Vancouver is pretty much built out, and higher densities are needed as more and more people choose Vancouver as their home. But where do we draw the line? 
Click here to read the rest! 

26 December 2011

My hometown downtown: It's getting there.

I'm visiting Jacksonville for the holidays. My parents still call this place home, and I am proud to still call it my original home. Saturday, we took a nice walk down the Northbank RiverWalk to the Jacksonville Landing and around downtown and back. I always enjoy seeing the little (and big) changes that take place when I am away. It's been a year now since I've been home, and plenty of things have changed, a new mayor is in office, and I am seeing things successfully implemented in other cities being tried out here in Jax. Below are some photos of some neat new features I saw on the RiverWalk and around downtown since I've been home

Some beautiful new sculpture at a RiverWalk node adjacent to Haskell and the YMCA
Landscaping along Northbank RiverWalk
Permeable tree root covers along Laura Street! This is probably my most favorite thing that I saw. I completely nerded out when I saw these...

Excellent new, appropriately styled, and functional monuments and directional signage. Love it.

The LauraSt/Water St roundabout looks to be finally completed and with softer brick on the road area. There were lots of complaints, when originally installed, that the brick was too rough for drivers. To be fair, it really was rough and even unsafe when pedestrians walked on it. It is now still rough enough to make cars slow, but safer for pedestrians.

Though Jacksonville's core, like most city's, is far from where it should be, there is progress being made. I am so grateful to see new changes when I come home, even the minor ones. The downtown is certainly still lacking. There are still a number of historic buildings still completely gutted inside (see below photos) that would make beautiful lofts or trendy apartments. Huge vacant lots, only filled with parked cars or Jazz Festival stages during special events, scatter downtown leaving an uneven pedestrian scale and feeling of emptiness. Attracting life downtown is unquestionably the biggest challenge for Downtown Jacksonville and the organizations like Downtown Vision, Inc. that support it.

Recruiting a developer into the core to refurbish one of the historic buildings placing a grocery store and other retail with lofts and residential units above would change the future of downtown. A grocery store in the center core is what is lacking, and I think that would only spark a better future. There may be something in the works that I am unaware of, but I believe that is what would have the greatest impact.

I believe that a downtown can call itself successful when sidewalks are filled with people on a weekend day without a special event. Until then, the sidewalks of Downtown Jax will remain empty with plenty of room to take in the beautiful views of the scenic St. Johns.

13 December 2011

Reading and things

Check out this neat video of "Bicycle Animation!" A student created the video to understand how animation is created. The paper animation is not visible to the naked eye, but only through film. Pretty amazing! And bikes!

Having been away from this blog for quite some time, here are some favorite reads and media from the past week or two:
  • To Sleep on the Subway, Maybe, But to Dream? Poor Chance - New York Times
  • Minority Report at the US Border - An unwelcome encounter between a cyclist without a helmet and a border patrol agent on the Amtrak Cascades line between Vancouver and Seattle - Copenhagenize
  • "Street Fighter: One woman's mission to fight gridlock" - An interview with New York City's transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan - MSNBC
  • New condos going up in Sunny Isles Beach, FL (near where I lived formerly) will have parking spots specifically for Porsche sports cars...gross - Wall Street Journal
  • Disappointingly, Canada is pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol agreement - CBC
  • Hamburg, Germany to Cover Expanded Highway with Public Park - The City Fix
  • Bike sharing for cities with helmet laws like Vancouver, Seattle? Yes! - Atlantic Cities

12 December 2011

Research update

The first semester of grad school is complete! Two papers were produced, one on participatory budgeting in Peru, and the other on the economy of my hometown and whether it is truly dependent on the huge military presence there. I was really pleased with the latter paper (as was my prof :) ) and am hoping to submit it to a journal.

So, now that all of that has passed, I am beginning to think more about the urban related topics that I want to dive into deeper than I already have for an actual thesis topic. I am regularly being asked, "What is your research interest?" or "Oh, what area are you focusing on?" My usual answer is something along the lines of where public transit and community cross paths. So, the social aspect of public transit. Still, that is too broad of a research topic.

So, having said that, I am soliciting ideas. I am always writing things down when talking with someone about this. I have a list of potential ideas, and the more I read news, the more I think to myself, "Oh THIS would be neat to look at in a different angle!"

These are potential ideas that I might explore further:
  • Social interactions on public transit in rural vs. urban settings. Less frequent rural transit would mean riders would most likely see each other at the same times on their commutes as opposed to urban riders who have many schedule options and more frequent transit. Does this make for more relationship building? Something along those lines...
  • Do different modes of transit (rail, bus, etc) promote more social interactions?
  • How do varying transit stations or stops build community? What levels of the different types of  interactions (primary, secondary, tertiary) are promoted at different transit stations and stops? How can deeper social interactions be encouraged, producing more 'community'?
  • Look at some cases (if any) where more social interaction/community was created as a result of transit coming in. 
  • I read this article today about sleeping on the subways in New York. VERY fascinating. I think there is possibly something else in this that could be expanded...
I realize all of these are extremely broad areas and anything that I was to write a thesis on would have to be incredibly refined and narrowed. I also fully recognize that 'community' is something that is difficult to measure or quantify. But I am simply in the exploring stage, so any direction would be much appreciated!

Here's a Christmas related photo for inspiration:

Christmas Tree Bicycle 03

27 June 2011

Urban Policy: "Stifling Drivers" or "Irking" Them?

This New York Times article is getting quite the buzz on the transportation twittersphere this morning.

Grist even has an argument for why it is a misleading headline.

I revisited the article and the title has been changed to reflect the print edition! I still didn't see too much of a problem with the original. I think it is appropriate to say "stifled" (in this use: suppressed, curbed, withheld), because then they will see the tram or bus getting priority passing them on the street while they're sitting there bottled up. Next time, taking transit might be a better option over driving.

Nonetheless, it is definitely a fascinating article worth checking out. Displays the differences in American transportation thinking and all of the benefits our cities are potentially passing up.

08 June 2011

Seattle's Transit

Again, I apologize for slacking on this blog. But here's a fun post about some observations from my recent trip to Seattle:

I recently took a trip to Seattle with my best friend from back east. I have been twice before, but for no longer than a couple of hours. This time, we spent three days, two nights in downtown and played tourist the whole time. Of course, the only thing I was there for was to check out the public transit and see how it measured up.

Being versed in the transit world, I have never really heard or seen anything special about Seattle's transit other than that awful video of the bus sliding down the hill this past winter. So my expectations were little to none. However, before the trip, we tried to plan as much as possible when we thought we might need to use the transit. This proved to be difficult over the internet since it turns out that Seattle's transit is actually comprised of a number of separate agencies. So, that right there just made the task seem a bit daunting.

Fortunately, we stayed in a really nice hotel in Downtown Seattle that was relatively close to everything we planned to do and see. Therefore, we walked the majority of the time. I forced my friend to at least ride the Link light rail just once, just to say we had done it.

Seattle has a pretty impressive transit system, despite the different modes being comprised of several agencies. Sound Transit operates the Express Buses, the two Link light rail lines, and the two Sounder commuter rail lines. In the downtown core, the Link and a good portion of the express buses travel through an underground tunnel. Seattle is well known for its historical underground, which I assume has produced this neat feature for the city. You can read more about Seattle's underground here or go on the Underground Tour if you're in town. I highly recommend the corny, but informative tour.

Anyway, the transit. We decided to ride the Link light rail on the way back from the Seattle Center to our hotel, assuming it was free in the downtown zone. We were told by the concierge at the hotel that transit inside the downtown zone was free, so you would assume light rail, like Portland's MAX, would be free inside the downtown zone. Not the case. The Link costs $1.50 for the zone we were in. Luckily, I happened to have found an Orca card on the ground earlier that day that still had a $7 remaining balance. Turns out, just the buses are free in the downtown zone. Ah well. It was light rail! In a tunnel! The touristy thing to do would be to ride it, right? So we did.

The even MORE touristy thing to do is to ride the monorail. The Seattle Monorail was built during the World Exposition in 1962. And trust me, it is very 1962-ish. It's privately operated and travels between the Seattle Center and the Westlake Center Station in downtown. Did I mention it costs $4.00 and only goes between two stops? Needless to say, we didn't ride this. We just walked below its concrete pylons and stopped at various donut shops along the way. I know, very classy.

I know this is somewhat of a scattered review of Seattle's transit. We did not take any ferries or ride any buses after all. I would enjoy spending more time there and venturing outside of the downtown core to see more of the city. However, to me, the major problem I felt was a major lack of communication. Things were simply unclear. There was confusion about where stations were, what mode of transit operated in these stations, what fare card or payment to use, etc etc. It was discouraging in some ways, at least for the acting tourists that we were. A simple but challenging suggestion might be to do a little better marketing and commucation for the system and try to make things more seamless.

10 April 2011

Refurbished urban design

I was looking back through some pictures of my travels thus far throughout the Pacific Northwest as I'm planning a better trip to Seattle when my friend visits over Memorial Day weekend. Above is one from the Yaletown district in Vancouver, BC. It dawned on me how fascinating I found these rehabbed loading dock and rail platforms in the old warehouse districts. I can recall only a handful in Portland, but Vancouver had many.

Now, raised, possibly extended with much narrower right of ways, with restaurants and shops, these walkways, separate from the street, serve as great examples of refurbished urban design that I just really love and enjoy.

According to Wikipedia:
While little or no original housing from the 19th century survives, several older buildings from the industrial days still exist. Hamilton Street and Mainland Street are the most significant, comprising two intact streetscapes from that era. They are lined with handsome brick warehouses built on rail platforms, many with cantilevered canopies. These have been converted into loft style apartments and offices, with boutique stores, bars and restaurants at the ground level.
I am really interested in finding out more about about these and if there are other examples elsewhere.

PS: My apologies for a lack of posting lately. Life is busy, y'know.

10 March 2011

Eugene City Council backs EmX Extension!

From the Register-Guard:

Mayor Kitty Piercy cast the decisive vote Wednesday in favor of building a controversial rapid-transit bus line in west Eugene, breaking a 4-4 tie on the City Council over Lane Transit District’s latest EmX project.

Then, in a subsequent vote, the council voted unanimously to select Sixth and Seventh avenues as the route to run the buses from downtown to West 11th Avenue. That was a victory for those opposed to running buses on 13th Avenue to West 11th, but it would be a more expensive route for LTD to operate. LTD has said it wants the West 13th route.

“I want us to have a complete transit system,” Piercy said after the meeting, adding that EmX will address city goals regarding compact development and lower carbon emissions. “Having EmX built out is very important to me.” [...]

This is huge news for the successful Lane Transit District! It's got two more approvals to pass before being finalized, but they should be a breeze.

I am personally excited for the chosen route down 6th and 7th, as it will run right past my apartment (though who knows where I'll be when it is constructed...)!

03 March 2011

Ugh...Florida...rail...will it ever happen?

This whole high-speed rail debacle in my home state has just got me upset in all kinds of ways. Frankly, I'm pretty much over it by now, and I honestly think the funds would be much better used in the Pacific Northwest because the politicians in this region are thirsty and begging for projects like this that are a "respectful" use of tax dollars.

You can read up on all of the crazy waste of time and money thanks to our wonderful new governor. Two state senators tried to sue the governor for overstepping his power as governor, and the case was in court today, and must be finally decided by tomorrow and reported back to Secretary LaHood.

I did just read an article though about Governor Scott holding his opposition and claiming that Tri-Rail is the perfect example of a failed rail system for Florida. He states in an interview with CNN that "Tri-Rail shows the potential problems with investing in high-speed rail."

Alright. Mr. Scott,

  1. Tri-Rail is by NO MEANS high-speed rail, much less an even comparable example to compare the Tampa-Orlando line with. You should get that straight.
  2. Tri-Rail IS a pretty failed system, but that is not at all the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority's (the agency that operates the train) fault. The train is slow, it does not connect the downtown cores of South Florida cities, and there is a major lack of connecting public transit to and from the stations. It should have been built along the eastern rail line down there, and everyone knows that, but due to regulations and property acquisition, etc, that never happened.
  3. And finally, Mr. Scott, how can we drill this into your brain? Public transportation is not meant to make money! It's meant to be subsidized. In the case of Florida's high-speed rail, that subsidy will be coming explicitly from the Feds. How can we make it any clearer?
It requires investment! The economic benefits seen from the resulting industry trends, tourism, travel, etc are what makes this investment worthwhile! I read news stories everyday of new high-speed trains opening in Europe and Asia, and think to myself how sad it is that because of people like you, Mr. Scott, we will be stuck in this automobile centered society forever.

It's truly sad.

21 February 2011

A Taxonomy of City Blocks

A few weeks ago, I came across some fascinating art that I would absolutely love to have in my future, more permanent dwelling place. Any sort of art involving cartography always catches my eye, and these I just can't pass up. I came across these again today on strangemaps.

These pieces by French artist Armelle Caron consist "of a series of map pairs, one a blind, but recognisably real city map, the other what looks like an assembly kit for that same city, with the its blocks impracticably but neatly arranged by shape and size.
The transformational process involved is threefold: the city on map A is deconstructed, its blocks are classified for size and shape, then reassembled in rows, arranged by type, on map B. The result is reminiscent of butterfly cases and other taxonomical tableaux rather than of a street map. More Linnaeus than Mercator."

Manhattan, the East River, Brooklyn


Tamarac, FL

The full series and some other neat cartographic art by Caron can be seen here.