28 December 2010

New Gateway EmX Opening Next Week!

I am so excited for January 9th to come! Lane Transit District's second EmX line will be opening and there will be an abundance of festivities taking place that day including free rides on the successful BRT lines continuing throughout the week! I just might spend my entire workday riding the new line...

I think the thing I am most excited about is that the junction for the two lines in the bottom right corner of the map is Downtown Springfield! That's my project area! The impact that the EmX will have and already has had on the district is so significant! As stated in my letter to the Editor last week, the positive things happening in Downtown Springfield will only be reflected with yet another line out to West Eugene and the many more LTD has planned.

26 December 2010

Come on Rick Scott. Don't do this.

The new Florida governor-elect, Rick Scott, is showing some additional signs that he will not carry through with the new Florida high-speed-rail line between Tampa and Orlando, following suit with other Republican governors from Ohio and Wisconsin, claiming that they don't want to take more Federal dollars that would cost taxpayers.

Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, wrote an Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel this week, emphasizing that "High-speed-rail will be our generation's legacy". His comments, directed at Rick Scott, are exactly what I would have argued if I was put in his position. Scott's campaign platform was all about jobs, jobs, jobs. Some elaborate plan using the number '7' (that he had published) to create an extremely optimistic amount of jobs in his term. Jobs? Construction industry jobs? What Florida is really good at? And Scott is considering turning down a high-speed-rail project? How many thousands of jobs will he be missing out on? I wouldn't be too disappointed if he even claimed all of the jobs created by such a project as ones toward his goal!

Instead, he is still undecided, and rather mute, about the topic, and it is beginning to worry myself and others. This is such an incredible opportunity for the region and the country! Even though the proposed rail line has flaws, right now, it IS a pilot, and it IS SOMETHING! If nothing happens now, nothing will ever happen, and all of the money that has already been spent on planning for this project will go to waste, and all of the money set aside for construction, will most likely end up in California, where amazing plans for their line will become reality sooner rather than later.

Dear Rick Scott,
Don't be a like all of the other Republicans. You said you were a "political outsider", and people believed you (for some ridiculous reason). Live up to your promises.

22 December 2010

In the Reader

Next American City takes a look at whether a new streetcar in Downtown Atlanta can save MARTA, the region's transit system. "MARTA is the largest transit system in the country with an almost complete lack of state or regional funding—perhaps its biggest problem."

If you didn't catch my post the other day about physicist Geoffrey West solving cities through math, then you better read it and expect your mind to be blown.

Via Magazine, a publication of AAA tours several Main Streets in California and Oregon and compares them with Walt Disney's Main Street USA.

2010 Census data is out! Great news for all of us statistics nerds and planners. The APA analyzes briefly how
the redistricting works and why some states gain and some lose, even though it may not look like they should.

Common Ground, the seasonal publication of the National Realtor Association, takes an in depth look at economic growth and how it is stimulated by a variety of things including transit, art, zoning, public space, and public markets, all from the perspective of a Realtor. Check it out! (PDF - May take a bit to load)

And finally, an Op-Art piece from the New York Times about the controversial bicycle lane expansions taking place the Big Apple.

20 December 2010

Cities = Organisms

I will say it from the start: I am no biologist or physicist or scientist, but having understood and passed the required scientific classes throughout my pre-college education, I feel qualified enough to understand how cities are so incredibly similar to organisms.

Today, I read a fascinating piece by Jonah Lehrer from the New York Times Magazine about how a physicist, Geoffrey West, compared cities to organisms. Yes, I have been taught the concept of cities growing, surviving, and dying like living things throughout my education in the urban planning field, but it always blows my mind to really stop and think about how real it can be. I think this is what really beckons my calling to study cities from a different perspective; one that analyzes why humans survive best in urban atmospheres and why varying types of personalities are attracted to specific cities and their cultures and ways of life.

Jane Jacobs has always been my favorite of the classic urban planners, and her book The Life and Death of Great American Cities will forever be on my bookshelf within reference grabbing distance. The author writes about his conversation with West about Jacobs:

“She compared the crowded sidewalk to a spontaneous ‘ballet,’ filled with people from different walks of life. School kids on the stoops, gossiping homemakers, ‘business lunchers’ on their way back to the office. While urban planners had long derided such neighborhoods for their inefficiencies — that’s why Robert Moses, the ‘master builder’ of New York, wanted to build an eight-lane elevated highway through SoHo and the Village — Jacobs insisted that these casual exchanges were essential. She saw the city not as a mass of buildings but rather as a vessel of empty spaces, in which people interacted with other people. The city wasn’t a skyline — it was a dance.”

All of those things are vital characteristics of true communities, towns, cities. Many of the so called “neighborhoods” across America are far from this ideal portrayal that Jacobs describes. If cities can be considered organisms, I’d say many of our cities are dying organisms. Where is this “dance”? Why are the communities with these “crowded sidewalks” so few and far between?

Our organism-like cities became too large and sprawled out, causing the brains of our civilizations to lose their relevancy and central command power. Now, populations are realizing the damage done and yearning for a return to the original foundations of our metropolitan regions. Community was lost but is returning. We thought we could survive in our own separate personalized modes of transportation, but we can’t. Someone thought building enormous expanses of open pavement was a great place for parking those vehicles instead of using that space for basic human essentials like parks, public plazas, and general space where natural socializing can occur.

Like an organism, more specifically, a human body, a city will perish (or at least be a really unpleasant and embarrassing place to live) if certain things are glossed over. This simply cannot be reiterated enough. I am beyond excited to see just a general interest in people of my generation realizing the need for cities and wanting to stay or relocate into more urban areas. This is what makes cities survive! Initiatives like Obama’s Office of Urban Affairs are a step in the right direction for the future of America, even if they may just be for liaison purposes currently.

Wow. I really make city related things sound exciting! Or maybe I put you to sleep… Either way, dense, thriving, urban districts are our future. Why shouldn’t we be supporting them in every way possible?

17 December 2010

Letter to the Editor regarding EmX expansion

I was approached by a guy on the EmX bus the other day who asked me to write a letter to the Editor of the Register-Guard about the EmX expansion here in Eugene/Springfield. He is apparently going to send it to the City Council and Lane Transit District Board as well... Nice!

16 December 2010

To the Editor,

Efficient and effective transit is a privilege in communities for certain people. It is a necessity for others. The EmX system in the Eugene/Springfield area is not only a necessity for me personally but the envy of many medium sized cities. I have recently relocated to the area to work in Downtown Springfield. I have lived in cities throughout the southern U.S. where transit is simply ignored. Moving to Eugene/Springfield has been a challenge because of its small size, but the local transit, is a lifesaver! I ride the current EmX everyday directly into Downtown Springfield. The Downtown Springfield community is seeing the positive effects of EmX. The new Gateway line opening in January will benefit the district even more with new accessibility, economic development, and pride! I will be one of the first on the new line opening day! If Downtown Springfield can experience the great benefits of EmX already, with even more coming soon, I can only imagine the success for businesses along the West 11th expansion! LTD is proud to serve its community through an effective and comprehensive EmX system, and it has been proven throughout the world that this kind of transit expansion is cost effective and vital for the growth of communities like our own.



14 December 2010

So what is happening in Downtown Springfield, Oregon?

I'm so glad you asked!

Downtown Springfield was recently designated as a "Transforming Downtown" under Oregon Main Street's downtown revitalization program, which follows the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Main Street Model. Basically, that means

Now, Downtown Springfield is similar to your average downtown district, and yes, even the one in the famous Simpsons show. Once a thriving town profiting off of the nearby lumber industry. When that went dry decades ago, the city turned to other sources of revenue, namely growth and development. As the city grew, strip malls, office campuses, and the typical shopping mall came in leaving the original core of the city in the dust

An unfortunate piece of Springfield's history goes back to the prohibition era as well. Back when the country was dry and slowly began to become wet again, the city of Springfield began alcohol consumption again several years before the city of Eugene (Springfield's metro area neighbor and more well known municipality). Thus, Springfield's reputation in the region as "the town where you went to get drunk" began. So, currently, Springfield, more specifically, Downtown Springfield, has a very negative perception among the majority of the local population as a sketchy part of town where druggies, prostitutes, and questionable people hang out. The streets are dark at night, and people just are worried to be on the streets leading to businesses closing shop at 4pm, because, apparently, "people get mugged."

Over the past year or so, a number of downtown merchants and influential people have been meeting monthly to identify problems in downtown and determine reasonable solutions to address these issues. I was brought on board with the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) as an AmeriCorps*VISTA to be the Main Street Coordinator to spearhead the project and establish the groundwork for the program to be successful in the future.

Committees have been formed under the Four Points of Main Street: Organization, Promotion, Design, and Economic Restructuring. These committees are developing work plans and courses of action for the coming year to tackle some small but visible victories for Downtown Springfield to keep the momentum going and action happening.

Already, a major culture shift is taking place in Downtown Springfield! We have partnered with the Eugene Storefront Art Project (ESAP) to place numerous art installations in vacant storefront throughout the district. People are now stopping to see the art, and realize that these so called "scary" streets really aren't that bad. New stores are filling these vacancies, and a very successful Art Walk has been established on the second Friday of each month!

People are taking note, and Downtown Springfield is already turning around! Several strip clubs and bars that have been the staple of the downtown's negative perception, have recently been denied their liquor license renewals and are being shut down the first week of the new year. This is great news for the community and will only lead to a more inclusive and inviting community.

The city has some elaborate downtown renewal plans, which you can view here. The Main Street program looks at downtown revitalization from a more grassroots, business perspective. Still, whatever projects we decide to pursue will be directly related to the overall vision of the urban renewal plans.

I am really enjoying working this job, even though it might be a temporary thing. I am getting some excellent experience and developing some extraordinary networking and public interaction skills. Meeting and working collaboratively with city officials, board directors, and local movers and shakers is pretty exciting. Coordinating committees is quite the challenge I am figuring out.

For a good summary news article, read this if you haven't already. I love positive, free PR for my downtown. haha

10 December 2010

Green Dragon Bus: Is EmX a foe or friend?

The BRT bus in Eugene/Springfield is nicknamed "My Green Dragon". I love this caricature of it along with this article debunking the negative myths about it's service and proposed expansions.

There are at least 500 mil empty parking spaces in the US at any given time

And there are only 250 million cars and trucks on our roads.

Civil engineers at the University of California, Berkeley published the first comprehensive estimate of parking spaces in the United States. This study pinpoints the real environmental impact associated with creating these hundreds of millions of parking spaces.

The wasted space that parking lots create only proves once again the automobile-centric lifestyle that Americans have become so accustomed to. Imagine all of the parks, plazas, open space that 500 million parking spaces could be transformed into. Of course creating parking lots is inevitable, but a re-evaluation of our land use policies must be done.

I remember my senior design project last spring before graduating, I was working with civil engineers to determine the best placement for a new transit center, public safety complex, and mixed-use facility. Several of the groups (including mine) were working together to select sites adjacent to one another in order to save space through shared parking. One would not believe the challenges we faced even considering the idea because of the parking space requirements layed out in the city's land use codes. It was ridiculous. The picture is so much bigger than parking, and getting this reality through people's minds is one of the greatest challenges we as planners face.

Second Friday Art Walk | Downtown Springfield

Second Friday Art Walk tonight in Downtown Springfield. Come be a part of the reemergence of this lovely downtown district!

09 December 2010

How Donald Shoup Will Find You a Parking Spot

This is a fantastic quick spiel about how to handle the issue of parking in downtowns. I want to show this to all of the merchants and those concerned with parking in Downtown Springfield. Some key quotes:
"Just because the driver doesn't pay for parking, doesn't mean the cost isn't there."
"The cost for free parking in the United States is somewhere between what we pay for MediCare and Defense."
Thanks to Brandon at Masters Planning for this gem!

07 December 2010

In the reader...

Here are some news stories and blog posts that have caught my attention over the past week or so and are worth checking out:

I feel like a wuss when I see pictures like this. (Amsterdamize)

05 December 2010

Portland's Park Blocks

I just read a brief success story article from Metropolis Magazine about Portland's newest addition to their park blocks, Director Park.
I must say, this is an incredible public space. It was a block from my hotel the first week I was in Portland for my AmeriCorps training, and every opportunity I had to venture outside onto the streets, I always wanted to return to this plaza and just sit. I think every time I have been to Portland since moving out to Oregon, I have gone here and ordered a sandwich or coffee or something from the lovely Violetta cafe serving "Portland's fastest slow food." It is simply the most relaxing atmosphere smack in the center of Downtown Portland, and the plaza is always full of people. During the summer, there were children splashing in the fountain, and people just taking a break from their offices. Here's a photo I took:
The whole idea of the park blocks in Portland is just one of the unique things that sets Portland apart from other American cities in its planning for public space. You can clearly distinguish the blocks when looking on Google Maps. Every 100x200 foot block (smaller than the standard 200x200 ft Portland city block) contains some sort of public art, the infamous "bubblers", and is adjacent to many public venues such as the Portland Art Museum or The Oregon Historical Society and also serve as the greenspace Portland State University in the South portion. The parks are also intersected the Portland Streetcar and MAX lines.

It's funny. My intention when I set out to write this blog entry was going to be to suggest specific places in one or more of the three cities I've lived in in the past, but I just can't. What Portland has done with the entirety of their park blocks was platted in 1845 when the city was first being planned. If a planner came in now and said to the City of Atlanta, for instance, "We should strip these blocks from Edgewood to North Avenue and make them open greenspace", everyone would freak! The same goes for any already established city. There are buildings, sometimes historic buildings, tons of red tape, zoning approvals, etc that hinder something like this from ever happening. It is nearly impossible.

This is why cities are seeking to complete projects like Atlanta's Beltline and Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale's River Walks. These projects are simply using what little open space the cities still have in their urban centers for public space, which is great and greatly needed. I am in no way suggesting gutting numerous city blocks for public space. I am simply pointing out the need and public desire for adequate public space. Hemming Plaza in downtown Jacksonville and Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta are good examples of public space, but they seem to only be full of warm bodies during special events like art walks or concerts. What Portland has done with Director Park and the other park blocks is something different. There is a mix of things that explain why, such as a much more mixed use downtown, including shops and cafes adjacent to the blocks at ground level, integrating transit, landscaping, limited vehicular access, etc.

Revitalizing streets within our downtowns, making them "complete streets", geared as places for living, working, and playing, is what we have left. We must do whatever it takes to slow traffic, integrate transit, incorporate pedestrian friendliness, and encourage mixed use. My point is that if we want our downtowns to thrive, public spaces like this essential.

For my AmeriCorps project in Springfield, Oregon, there is no public park or plaza on Main Street in the much smaller scale downtown. There is, however, a block wide plaza in the urban renewal plans, and I hope the city, residents, and business owners see the necessity of implementing this plan properly and in a timely manner. I'm also glad to see this happening in my hometown of Jacksonville on Laura Street between the Landing and Hemming Plaza. I can't wait to check out the progress when I visit home for Christmas.

02 December 2010

The High-Speed Rail and Transit Debacle

Since President Obama has been in office, there has been a massive push from many parties to establish the groundwork for a high-speed rail system here in the United States. With the admirable leadership of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, the funding has become available and already dispersed to construct several rail corridors as pilots for the rest of the country, one being in my homestate of Florida between Tampa and Orlando. Though this line and the others are far from perfect and only a baby step in establishing a nationwide system (which honestly, seems more and more like a farfetched dream), it is SOMETHING!

However, over the past few weeks leading up to the midterm elections and the weeks since, there has been a sudden backlash against these high-speed rail projects as well as other public transit projects within cities. This anti-transit sentiment seems to be due solely to the fact that tax dollars are required to fund these projects.

Well, DUHH!

Do these governors who actually want to give back federal dollars because they think this is a waste of taxpayer dollars really believe that things will just happen? Even with a market like this? Some solutions are to just not spend the money (even though thousands of jobs would be created...) or to put it toward something like highways. Really?

Transit is not meant to make money. It is meant to be equitable. It's purpose is to help people go from point A to point B quickly, efficiently, and sustainably. Is this something that private, deep pocketed investors can provide? Maybe. But the role of government, at least in the United States, according to the Preamble of our Constitution is to "form a more perfect Union,...insure domestic Tranquility,...promote the general Welfare..." I am pretty confident that providing decent public transit is an obligation of our government.

Now, this does not mean that we are off the hook, of course. Do we realize how much we drive and take the plane? Do we realize how dependent we have become on these things? Do we understand the impact it is having on our future? Do we know that there are alternatives, like effective transit and inter-city rail out there? Do we let our government know that we want those alternatives? Are we willing to pay a bit more in taxes? Why not?

I think our politicians and those who are afraid of taxes need to grow a pair and deal with it. Establish the proposed gas sales tax. Levy an income tax in places that don't have one (ahem...Florida...). There, I said it! Call me a socialist, but I will just refer to you as a greedy, non-communal, and blind to the fact that we're actually not the best country in the world like you continue to believe. (I probably won't do that, because I'm nice)

But really, America. I continue to be ashamed that this is even an issue.

30 November 2010

Vancouver, BC: "A Review"

A complete last minute decision was made the night before Thanksgiving last week to make the the train trip via Amtrak Cascades up to Vancouver after spending my Thanksgiving in Portland (I currently live in Eugene). I contacted my friend (whose blog you can read here) up there in Canada to make arrangements, and before I knew it, I was about to explore one of the most amazing, or MOST amazing city I have ever set foot in.

Here's a small list of things that I found unique about the city:

Architecture: I think the most noticeable thing about downtown Vancouver is its architecture. When looking at the skyline from across Burrard Inlet or False Creek, the city center is filled with what looks like a bunch of barely different cookie cutter skyscraper condo buildings. As my friend says, "Vancouver is so dull, but it's so magical." There's no better way to say it. Vancouver is bit dull, and the winter climate doesn't make it any less so, but it is so strangely fascinating, in such a beautiful way.
Here's what I mean:

Density: Vancouver is surprisingly dense.
At 5,335 people per km2 (13,817.6 people per mi2) in 2006, Vancouver is the fifth most densely populated incorporated city with population above 500,000 in North America, after New York City, San Francisco, Mexico City, and the adjoining cities of Boston/Cambridge/Somerville. Urban planning in Vancouver is characterized by high-rise residential and mixed-use development in urban centres, as an alternative to sprawl. This has been credited in contributing to the city's high rankings in livability. (wikipedia)
I don't think much more explanation is needed. I just am always pleased with a city when people actually live and enjoy living downtown. And seeing the density of downtown Vancouver, this is clear.

SkyTrain!: Vancouver's elevated rail/subway operated by TransLink is an incredible system that links downtown with the surrounding communities. With a current daily ridership of 344,800, it is the primary mode of transit for much of the region's population. It was built for the World's Fair in 1986, Expo 86.
Now, I have never visited Vancouver before this past weekend, but the impact that the transit system has had on urban development is evident. The system has clearly become a catalyst for town centers and higher density development along the three existing lines.
Here's a map of the planned system for 2020:

Progressiveness: From an outsider's perspective, Vancouver is one of the most progressive cities I have ever seen. Just from an exploration of the city, doing my best to live for a day in the shoes of a local, it was very easy to live. I mean this in the sense that everything one might need is close. Things are accessible via foot, bike, bus, train, seabus, etc. The city seems to be thriving and continuing to mold itself in a way that every city in the world should. Hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics certainly has helped Vancouver in that direction, but it is clear that residents, visitors, and city officials are taking note that the the future must be sustainable and livable despite the cost or challenges faced.

One thing is for sure: Vancouver certainly lives up to it's title of the Most Livable City in the World.


So, I have decided to begin a separate blog about planning, cities, politics, well, like it says above. I think this will be a good way for me to just write about things that relate to the professional world a bit. I already have several articles/blog posts from elsewhere starred in my Google Reader that I plan to share my thoughts on.
We'll give this a try and see how it goes.

First up, a quick review of my trip to Vancouver this past weekend.