“Roads to Rails
The Streetcar of the Future
Eric W. Sanderson. June 10, 2013
When we begin to value the land for what it is and build cities worth living in, density develops, and density makes things happen. Some of those happenings are economic, in the sense of improved productivity; others are environmental, in terms of fewer resources consumed. Density also has a lot to offer in terms of our trades of time for space.
Past transportation revolutions have been rooted in land. The railroad companies were encouraged to expand west by massive giveaways of public land; the streetcar operators were given monopolies to encourage their development; and the automobile industry received the greatest gift of all — roads — carved out of the public domain, bought or appropriated from private citizens. Many people and innumerable beasts were hurt in the process, so that other folks could be whisked on their way. Such radical efforts were necessary to make 20th-century transportation feasible, affordable and widespread in America.
A similarly radical approach is required today, but without all the giving and the taking. It’s simple. We just need to decide to make better use of the land we all already own together: the public roads. Our roads today suffer from an identity crisis. We want them to provide thoroughfares for private cars, routes for public transit, spaces for parking, lanes for bicycles, sidewalks for pedestrians, access for people with disabilities, space and light for buildings, drainage for storm water, and even room for trees and flowers! Take a look out your window — the streets are contested territory, trying to be all things for all people.”
“Can The LA River Go From Concrete Ditch To Portlandia-Style Paradise?
Lamar Anderson. May 3, 2013
Bodies of water have so much allure—particularly in overpaved cities—that we’re content to put up with the algae-scented funk of the Central Park pond, or even the stench of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, just to rest our eyes on something blue (or, er, brown).
In recent years the LA River has enjoyed a renaissance. Though the waterway hasn’t really been a natural habitat since the 1930s (when the city lined the riverbed with concrete to control flooding), new bike paths, public art, and kayak tours now draw Angelenos to the water’s edge. So far these upgrades have been largely peripheral, due in large part to urban enthusiasts’ determination to start using the giant ditch they inherited as a river. Meanwhile, the city’s more substantial plan to transform the channel into a living habitat is mired in delays at the federal level.”
Photo: Tom Andrews, via High Country News
“Buildings that Don’t Exist: Fake Facades Hide Infrastructure
From the sidewalk, this Paris building looks just like those around it, complete with doors, windows and balconies. but take a look at Google Maps, as Paul of the blog Paris by Cellphone did, and you’ll notice something strange: there’s nothing behind that facade. Like many others all over the world, this ordinary-looking building is just a shell to disguise unsightly infrastructure.
The building, at 154 Rue La Layette, is hiding a giant ventilation chimney for the metro. The chimney is about as large as one of the real buildings that surround it. In another location in Marais, artist Julien Berthier constructed a false door to go on the side of one of these buildings that wasn’t quite as well-disguised”
The New York Times:
“Now Atlanta Is Turning Old Tracks Green
Robbie Brown. Feb 14, 2013
ATLANTA — Until last year, the old railroad tracks that snaked through east Atlanta were derelict. Kudzu, broken bottles and plastic bags covered the rusting rails.
But these days, the two-mile corridor bustles with joggers, bikers and commuters. Along a trail lined with pine and sassafras trees, condos are under construction and a streetcar is planned.
The Eastside Trail, as the path is known, is one of the first legs of an ambitious proposal that has been in the works since the early 2000s — to transform 22 miles of vine-covered railroad into parks, housing and public transit around Atlanta.
“We are changing Atlanta into a city that you can enjoy by walking and riding a bike,” Mayor Kasim Reed said. “We have been so car-centric that you didn’t experience the city in an intimate way.”
Photo: Rich Addicks for the NY Times
“How to Make Suburbs Work Like Cities
Successful strategies for creatively using and adapting infrastructure to support more dense development in America’s suburbs are highlighted in Shifting Suburbs: Reinventing Infrastructure for Compact Development, a new ULI report. (Download Shifting Suburbs here.)
by Trisha Riggs. February 7, 2013
The report focuses on the growing trend for suburbs to be redesigned and redeveloped to be more people oriented than automobile dependent, offering more options for walking, cycling, or using public transit to get from one place to another. With the U.S. population anticipated to rise by 95 million over the next 30 years, and with the vast majority of this growth expected to occur in the suburbs of metropolitan areas, the challenge of providing the appropriate infrastructure to encourage compact growth has never been more important, notes Shifting Suburbs. Specifically, suburban arterials and first-ring suburbs would benefit from the development of new approaches to solving infrastructure and land use challenges, it says.”
The New York Times:
Sam Roberts. Jan 18, 2012
“100 Years of Grandeur. The Birth of Grand Central Terminal
One hundred years ago, on Feb. 2, 1913, the doors to Grand Central Terminal officially opened to the public, after 10 years of construction and at a cost of more than $2 billion in today’s dollars. The terminal was a product of local politics, bold architecture, brutal flexing of corporate muscle and visionary engineering. No other building embodies New York’s ascent as vividly as Grand Central. Here, the tale of its birth, excerpted from “Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America,” by Sam Roberts, the urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, to be published later this month by Grand Central Publishing.”
The Atlantic Cities:
“Mumbai’s Walkability Problem: Plenty of Pedestrians, Not Enough Sidewalks
MUMBAI — In the middle of the road just outside Citi Mall, Rishi Aggarwal and I are stuck. We made it only halfway across K.L. Walawalkar Marg, the broad boulevard in the northern neighborhood of Andheri West. So we wait on the median. We then do what many of the roughly ten thousand others who cross the same street every day do: find an opportune moment to sprint to the other side.
As Aggarwal shows me his native city, I thought of my own. Earlier this fall, Michael Coleman, the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, unfurled another set of plans to make his city more “walkable.” Like many other mayors of vacated U.S. cities, his announcement was part desperate plea to convince people to move by foot.
Cities like Mumbai, as they scramble to manage their swelling numbers, hold a critical advantage that metropolises in the tinier democracy do not: Indians walk.
Every day, Mumbai pavements host around 15 million walking trips. Many are en route to buses or trains, or both. Yet nearly a third of these trips are completed on foot alone. For a majority of the many households here earning less than $100 a month, walking is the sole means of travel.
But Indian cities can be impossibly cruel to pedestrians. Before crossing, Aggarwal and I watch a blind man navigate deep potholes beside a bus stand. “It’s a complete mess,” he sighs.”
Photo: Mark Bergen
“The Architect’s Newspaper:
VENICE ON THE HUDSON?
New York considers massive floodgates to protect against storms.
by Alex Ulam. Dec 3, 2012
Hurricane Sandy has made it abundantly clear that addressing New York’s vulnerability to storm surges and rising sea levels is of paramount importance. Through the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, the Bloomberg Administration has commissioned a study of major flood barrier infrastructure, with a draft report due in February.
“This hurricane has put everything upside down,” said Jeroen Aerts. Aerts, a professor of environmental studies at the Free University of Amsterdam, spoke in a phone interview from Holland, where he has been working for the past few years on the draft report.
Aerts said that his instructions from the city were to do a cost-benefit analysis of two strategies. “One is looking at upgrading the current regulations—focusing more on building codes, zoning regulations, and flood insurance—as compared to developing levees and surge barriers,” he said.
Currently, Aerts and his team are analyzing two gate options. One, which would cost about $10 billion, involves a set of gates running between Sandy Hook and Breezy Point, and another in the East River in the area of Throgs Neck and the Whitestone Bridge. The second option, estimated to cost about $17 billion, involves three to four barriers that would cut off the Arthur Kill tidal strait between New Jersey and Staten Island, the Verrazano Narrows, the East River, and perhaps Jamaica Bay.”
Tax Land, Not Buildings
by Chris Keimig. Dec 10, 2012
Earlier this year, the city of Minneapolis received a grant from Met Council to study possible strategies for doing away with its over-abundance of downtown surface parking. For lots of reasons, the fact that surface parking covers one-third of the entire surface area of downtown is bad news for the city. (You can find an exhaustive discussion of these reasons here.)
One solution to this problem that the city should seriously consider: taxing land at a higher rate than buildings.
The conventional property tax, which taxes land and buildings at the same rate, is essentially backwards when it comes to the behaviors it incentivizes. It penalizes property owners for building or making improvements to their structures, while rewarding speculators and absentee landlords who would rather allow their properties to decay than make expensive (and annually taxable) improvements.”
Photo: The owners of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange building pay nearly 42 times more per square-foot of land in property taxes than the adjacent surface parking lot.. Chris Keimig
“The Washington Post:
D.C. debates best path to cleaner waterways
By Darryl Fears. Dec 3, 2012
For environmental activists who fight to clean the District’s dirty waterways, there was no sweeter victory than the one they witnessed in 2004.
That year, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority was forced to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed it failed for decades to stop its Civil War-vintage sewers from spewing pollution. D.C. Water agreed to build three huge tunnels within 20 years to stop pipes from overflowing during hard rains, sending billions of gallons of storm water mixed with raw sewage into Rock Creek and the Potomac and Anacostia rivers every year.”
Photo: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post