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