Posts tagged "sustainable development"
“COMMENT> SPURNING SPURA
David Bergman protests the planning strategies of the proposed Lower East Side mega-project.
David Bergman. Sept 27, 2012
Forty-five years ago, when the lots on the south side of Delancey Street in the Lower East Side (LES) of Manhattan were first cleared for “urban renewal,” the prevailing planning theory called for “towers-in-the-park.” Indeed, that was what was installed slightly south and east of the site: one of the many bastardizations of Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin for Paris. To the north and west, the landscape of low-rise walk-up tenements largely remained.
In between them is a hole, the black hole of the Lower East Side. If you arrive by the Williamsburg Bridge or emerge from the Delancey Street subway station, look south and you’ll see entire vacant blocks occupied mostly by parked off-duty delivery trucks.
This site, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) has a long and contentious history. And finally a plan for its redevelopment is near approval. Community Board 3 and the City Planning Commission both recently gave the go-ahead.
Community groups and elected officials fought hard for a primary need of the neighborhood: affordable housing. Reaching a successful accord on that, though, seems to have distracted attention from the two disastrous backbones of the plan, both of which rely on old school ideas of urban renewal and zoning. Even more frustrating, newer enlightened policies are being promoted by the city’s planning department, while the outdated and discredited ones are still retained by another city organization which happens to be SPURA’s owner, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
The EDC policy derives from the continued presumption of the primacy of cars. A basic tenet of what’s known as transit-oriented development involves restricting the amount of parking in order to both discourage driving and congestion, and to free up funds and land for other, more valued uses.
But the EDC insists on pursuing the opposite track: requesting an exemption to provide additional parking spaces beyond what the current—yet to be updated—zoning allows. With the confluence of mass transit and existing density around the site, there is no justification for this outdated approach. (Please recall this is from the agency that brought us the white elephant of a parking structure sitting empty at the new Yankee Stadium.) People do not come to the LES by car to shop. Nor should we want them to. Delancey is already one of the most dangerous and difficult streets to cross in the city. While the city is in the midst of some safety improvements following a rash of fatal accidents, adding parking and traffic will just worsen the situation.
There’s an even more significant flaw in the EDC’s master plan. Though it’s informed enough, thankfully, to avoid repeating the street life-draining nearby towers, it doesn’t really get that it’s not just a matter of building to the street line.
In the 1970s and 80s, the low-rise sections of the LES might have been mistaken for some of the worst areas of the South Bronx, replete with trash-filled vacant lots and burned out shells of six-story walk-ups. In the following 20 to 30 years, the neighborhood picked up dramatically, coat-tailing on the bubble economy.
Unlike some other Manhattan neighborhoods, the Lower East Side managed its mini-boom fairly gracefully, at least at first. Abandoned walk-ups that no longer had stairs to walk up were gutted and repopulated. Some of the vacant lots were “infilled” with new buildings similar in height to the adjacent survivors.
Yes, gentrification took place, but there was a bit of a difference here from the typical pattern. Because of a combination of tenant protection rules and the availability of vacant space, the gentrifiers (myself included) often ended up meshing into the existing fabric, which, in turn, was strengthened with newly infused economic vitality. It wasn’t a perfect evolution, to be sure. But the LES became a rare example of change without upheaval and, aside from the inevitable issue of rising rents, few questioned whether it was an improvement over the previous decades.”
Via: the Architect’s Newspaper
Image: RENDERING OF PROPOSED PLAN FOR SPURA ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE.
COURTESY NYC HPD

COMMENT> SPURNING SPURA

David Bergman protests the planning strategies of the proposed Lower East Side mega-project.

David Bergman. Sept 27, 2012

Forty-five years ago, when the lots on the south side of Delancey Street in the Lower East Side (LES) of Manhattan were first cleared for “urban renewal,” the prevailing planning theory called for “towers-in-the-park.” Indeed, that was what was installed slightly south and east of the site: one of the many bastardizations of Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin for Paris. To the north and west, the landscape of low-rise walk-up tenements largely remained.

In between them is a hole, the black hole of the Lower East Side. If you arrive by the Williamsburg Bridge or emerge from the Delancey Street subway station, look south and you’ll see entire vacant blocks occupied mostly by parked off-duty delivery trucks.

This site, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) has a long and contentious history. And finally a plan for its redevelopment is near approval. Community Board 3 and the City Planning Commission both recently gave the go-ahead.

Community groups and elected officials fought hard for a primary need of the neighborhood: affordable housing. Reaching a successful accord on that, though, seems to have distracted attention from the two disastrous backbones of the plan, both of which rely on old school ideas of urban renewal and zoning. Even more frustrating, newer enlightened policies are being promoted by the city’s planning department, while the outdated and discredited ones are still retained by another city organization which happens to be SPURA’s owner, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

The EDC policy derives from the continued presumption of the primacy of cars. A basic tenet of what’s known as transit-oriented development involves restricting the amount of parking in order to both discourage driving and congestion, and to free up funds and land for other, more valued uses.

But the EDC insists on pursuing the opposite track: requesting an exemption to provide additional parking spaces beyond what the current—yet to be updated—zoning allows. With the confluence of mass transit and existing density around the site, there is no justification for this outdated approach. (Please recall this is from the agency that brought us the white elephant of a parking structure sitting empty at the new Yankee Stadium.) People do not come to the LES by car to shop. Nor should we want them to. Delancey is already one of the most dangerous and difficult streets to cross in the city. While the city is in the midst of some safety improvements following a rash of fatal accidents, adding parking and traffic will just worsen the situation.

There’s an even more significant flaw in the EDC’s master plan. Though it’s informed enough, thankfully, to avoid repeating the street life-draining nearby towers, it doesn’t really get that it’s not just a matter of building to the street line.

In the 1970s and 80s, the low-rise sections of the LES might have been mistaken for some of the worst areas of the South Bronx, replete with trash-filled vacant lots and burned out shells of six-story walk-ups. In the following 20 to 30 years, the neighborhood picked up dramatically, coat-tailing on the bubble economy.

Unlike some other Manhattan neighborhoods, the Lower East Side managed its mini-boom fairly gracefully, at least at first. Abandoned walk-ups that no longer had stairs to walk up were gutted and repopulated. Some of the vacant lots were “infilled” with new buildings similar in height to the adjacent survivors.

Yes, gentrification took place, but there was a bit of a difference here from the typical pattern. Because of a combination of tenant protection rules and the availability of vacant space, the gentrifiers (myself included) often ended up meshing into the existing fabric, which, in turn, was strengthened with newly infused economic vitality. It wasn’t a perfect evolution, to be sure. But the LES became a rare example of change without upheaval and, aside from the inevitable issue of rising rents, few questioned whether it was an improvement over the previous decades.”

Via: the Architect’s Newspaper

Image: RENDERING OF PROPOSED PLAN FOR SPURA ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE.

COURTESY NYC HPD
“L.A. — transit’s promised land
Which major U.S. city is at the cutting edge of forward-thinking transportation planning? Surprise: It’s Los Angeles.
By Taras Grescoe. July 7, 2012
I’ve spent the last three years traveling to 14 cities around the world, looking at how places as diverse as Copenhagen, Tokyo and Bogota are trying to escape congestion, pollution and sprawl by finding alternatives to the car. When people ask me which major U.S. city is at the cutting edge of forward-thinking transportation planning, they’re always surprised when I reply that it is Los Angeles — those “72 suburbs in search of a city,” according to the tired put-down — that is working hardest to improve transit. Some express astonishment that transit is an option in L.A. at all, which leads me to soliloquize, a la Joan Didion, on the “rapture-of-the-freeway” and the joys of strap-hanging in SoCal.

L.A. has a two-line subway, I tell them, running trains through cavernous stations, like the one at Hollywood and Vine, where the ceilings are covered with oversized film reels. (You can actually get to the Oscars by subway!) The Orange Line’s buses shoot into the heart of the San Fernando Valley along dedicated busways. The articulated, air-conditioned buses look like something dreamed up by the set designer of “RoboCop”!) Connecting on one of the city’s four light-rail lines can take you from Pasadena to Mariachi Plaza in East Los Angeles, or from Culver City to the Long Beach Aquarium. When you’re downtown, or in more than a dozen other neighborhoods, you can hop a ride on the peppy, pint-sized DASH buses. (And get this: The fare is only half a buck!)
If Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans go through, I add, someday your gateway to the city won’t be LAX but the gorgeous Mission Revival-style Union Station, after a ride on the nation’s most advanced bullet train.
Many Angelenos are surprised to learn that their city’s reputation is at an all-time high among international transit scholars. This is the place, after all, that consistently ranks first in measures of commuter stress, as well as in hours wasted in traffic. (According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s latest urban mobility report, traffic delays in Los Angeles now amount to half a billion hours a year.) Of the nation’s 10 most congested commuter corridors, seven can be found in Los Angeles.

But it’s important to remember that freeways, though they have become the city’s de facto conduits for commuters, came relatively late. Los Angeles was originally a railway city, its early form set by the Southern Pacific Railroad and Santa Fe Railway. Its dispersed industrial suburbs were laced together by the inter-urban Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway and the local Yellow Cars of the Los Angeles Railway, a public transit system that, before World War II, was considered by many to be the best in the world.

Outsiders may see freeway-driven sprawl, but metropolitan Los Angeles is actually more densely settled, over its entire urban area, than the New York-Newark metro area. That makes the area ideally suited for the transit revival its leaders are trying to foster.

Los Angeles’ problem, though, is that it also suffers from a chronic transit deficit. Although many European and Asian cities of comparable stature built urban highways in the 20th century, they did it in tandem with development of their metro and commuter rail systems. (Shanghai, for example, took just 16 years to build the world’s largest metro system — one now more extensive, in terms of track mileage, than New York’s subway.)”
Via: LA Times
Photo: Passengers wait for the a Metro Red Line in Hollywood. (Los Angeles Times / December 10, 2011)

L.A. — transit’s promised land

Which major U.S. city is at the cutting edge of forward-thinking transportation planning? Surprise: It’s Los Angeles.

By Taras Grescoe. July 7, 2012

I’ve spent the last three years traveling to 14 cities around the world, looking at how places as diverse as Copenhagen, Tokyo and Bogota are trying to escape congestion, pollution and sprawl by finding alternatives to the car. When people ask me which major U.S. city is at the cutting edge of forward-thinking transportation planning, they’re always surprised when I reply that it is Los Angeles — those “72 suburbs in search of a city,” according to the tired put-down — that is working hardest to improve transit. Some express astonishment that transit is an option in L.A. at all, which leads me to soliloquize, a la Joan Didion, on the “rapture-of-the-freeway” and the joys of strap-hanging in SoCal.

L.A. has a two-line subway, I tell them, running trains through cavernous stations, like the one at Hollywood and Vine, where the ceilings are covered with oversized film reels. (You can actually get to the Oscars by subway!) The Orange Line’s buses shoot into the heart of the San Fernando Valley along dedicated busways. The articulated, air-conditioned buses look like something dreamed up by the set designer of “RoboCop”!) Connecting on one of the city’s four light-rail lines can take you from Pasadena to Mariachi Plaza in East Los Angeles, or from Culver City to the Long Beach Aquarium. When you’re downtown, or in more than a dozen other neighborhoods, you can hop a ride on the peppy, pint-sized DASH buses. (And get this: The fare is only half a buck!)

If Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans go through, I add, someday your gateway to the city won’t be LAX but the gorgeous Mission Revival-style Union Station, after a ride on the nation’s most advanced bullet train.

Many Angelenos are surprised to learn that their city’s reputation is at an all-time high among international transit scholars. This is the place, after all, that consistently ranks first in measures of commuter stress, as well as in hours wasted in traffic. (According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s latest urban mobility report, traffic delays in Los Angeles now amount to half a billion hours a year.) Of the nation’s 10 most congested commuter corridors, seven can be found in Los Angeles.

But it’s important to remember that freeways, though they have become the city’s de facto conduits for commuters, came relatively late. Los Angeles was originally a railway city, its early form set by the Southern Pacific Railroad and Santa Fe Railway. Its dispersed industrial suburbs were laced together by the inter-urban Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway and the local Yellow Cars of the Los Angeles Railway, a public transit system that, before World War II, was considered by many to be the best in the world.

Outsiders may see freeway-driven sprawl, but metropolitan Los Angeles is actually more densely settled, over its entire urban area, than the New York-Newark metro area. That makes the area ideally suited for the transit revival its leaders are trying to foster.

Los Angeles’ problem, though, is that it also suffers from a chronic transit deficit. Although many European and Asian cities of comparable stature built urban highways in the 20th century, they did it in tandem with development of their metro and commuter rail systems. (Shanghai, for example, took just 16 years to build the world’s largest metro system — one now more extensive, in terms of track mileage, than New York’s subway.)”

Via: LA Times

Photo: Passengers wait for the a Metro Red Line in Hollywood. (Los Angeles Times / December 10, 2011)

"The Hidden Costs of Tiger Water
John Thackara. June 27, 2012 
This jequitiba tree in Brazil moves hundreds of gallons of water up into its canopy every day. It does so without pumps, without electricity, and without recourse to the concrete reservoirs and sewage treatment plants on which most modern cities depend.The jequitiba is a joyous marvel to behold, of course – but it would also be an practical inspiration to the world’s designers and city builders, faced with imminent energy descent, if only we were minded to notice.”
But we’re not. As with energy, although threats to the security of water supply command a lot of attention, we’ve lost touch with the realities of where it comes from, and how we use it. By the year 2050, as a consequence of this hydro-myopia, as many as two-thirds of the world population will be living in areas subject to water stress.
Here is a thought experiment to demonstrate how alienated we’ve become from water. Imagine emptying 500 litre bottles of water into a huge pot and carrying it 50 miles – every day of the year. That’s the weight and distance of water moved for a US citizen every day once her share of the country’s agriculture, manufacturing, car washes, window cleaning, laundries, ornamental ponds, health clubs, swimming pools and golf courses, are added together. Your white tea shirt? That took 700 gallons of fresh water to make. That pizza? The water footprint of a 25oz (725 gram) pizza margherita is 320 US gallons (1216 litres).Does moving all that water around sound like hard work? It is hard work. Never mind 500 bottles, try carrying even five for a few miles; you’ll soon appreciate how it can be true that twenty percent of a city’s energy footprint involves moving and treating water.In New York or London, we don’t think about the energy footprint of water because we don’t have to carry it – and in any case, its flows are invisible.They also invisible at the new Tiger Woods Golf Course in the desert city of Dubai – even though four million gallons are pumped on to its immaculate grounds every day. 
This vast quantity of water is needed not just to keep its swathes green, but also to dampen the one billion cubic feet of sand (25m cubic metres) that have been sculpted to create the contours of a links-style course. (If they weren’t dampened, these high-end sand dunes would soon dry out and be blown away). The water for Tiger’s golfing oasis is pumped from vast desalination plants around the Gulf many miles away; there, energy-guzzling plants suck vast volumes of water out of the sea and strip out the salt. Forty four per cent of the cost of desalination are the energy component – and that’s before it’s pumped to the point of use.
It’s small wonder that Tiger water is the most expensive on earth – but what the heck, his clients can afford it. Whether the planet can afford it is another matter.”
Via: Design Observer

"The Hidden Costs of Tiger Water

John Thackara. June 27, 2012 

This jequitiba tree in Brazil moves hundreds of gallons of water up into its canopy every day. It does so without pumps, without electricity, and without recourse to the concrete reservoirs and sewage treatment plants on which most modern cities depend.

The jequitiba is a joyous marvel to behold, of course – but it would also be an practical inspiration to the world’s designers and city builders, faced with imminent energy descent, if only we were minded to notice.”

But we’re not. As with energy, although threats to the security of water supply command a lot of attention, we’ve lost touch with the realities of where it comes from, and how we use it. By the year 2050, as a consequence of this hydro-myopia, as many as two-thirds of the world population will be living in areas subject to water stress.


Here is a thought experiment to demonstrate how alienated we’ve become from water. Imagine emptying 500 litre bottles of water into a huge pot and carrying it 50 miles – every day of the year. That’s the weight and distance of water moved for a US citizen every day once her share of the country’s agriculture, manufacturing, car washes, window cleaning, laundries, ornamental ponds, health clubs, swimming pools and golf courses, are added together. Your white tea shirt? That took 700 gallons of fresh water to make. That pizza? The water footprint of a 25oz (725 gram) pizza margherita is 320 US gallons (1216 litres).

Does moving all that water around sound like hard work? It is hard work. Never mind 500 bottles, try carrying even five for a few miles; you’ll soon appreciate how it can be true that twenty percent of a city’s energy footprint involves moving and treating water.

In New York or London, we don’t think about the energy footprint of water because we don’t have to carry it – and in any case, its flows are invisible.

They also invisible at the new Tiger Woods Golf Course in the desert city of Dubai – even though four million gallons are pumped on to its immaculate grounds every day. 

This vast quantity of water is needed not just to keep its swathes green, but also to dampen the one billion cubic feet of sand (25m cubic metres) that have been sculpted to create the contours of a links-style course. (If they weren’t dampened, these high-end sand dunes would soon dry out and be blown away). The water for Tiger’s golfing oasis is pumped from vast desalination plants around the Gulf many miles away; there, energy-guzzling plants suck vast volumes of water out of the sea and strip out the salt. Forty four per cent of the cost of desalination are the energy component – and that’s before it’s pumped to the point of use.

It’s small wonder that Tiger water is the most expensive on earth – but what the heck, his clients can afford it. Whether the planet can afford it is another matter.”

Via: Design Observer

“The maple plan: Bringing the forest to the city
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 30, 2012
As the bus lumbered through the city on a day that cried for shade, Arthur “Butch” Blazer fanned the barely conditioned air with his black Western hat. At every turn, trees swept past the windows — the mature canopy in Allegheny Cemetery, the new line of saplings in the median on Penn Avenue in East Liberty — until the bus stopped in North Point Breeze at Tree Pittsburgh’s seedling nursery.
Mr. Blazer, the U.S. Agriculture Department’s deputy under secretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, joined Tree Pittsburgh’s Thursday afternoon tour, after which it presented its urban forest master plan at an evening reception at Bar Marco in the Strip.
The $275,000 plan resulted from two years of data collection, analysis, consultations and benchmarking, and the USDA helped pay for it.
"The master planning process here is extremely important because it connects to the president’s Great Outdoors Initiative," Mr. Blazer said. "When people think ‘great outdoors,’ they think of places like Yosemite. They need to start thinking about places like Pittsburgh, too. Eighty percent of our country’s population is in urban areas, and we know the importance trees have on the psyches of humans."
The master plan reports the city has more than 2.5 million trees that sequester 13,900 tons of carbon dioxide a year, saved residents $3 million in energy bills last year and remove 519 tons of pollution at a savings of $3.6 million a year. Street trees alone diverted 41.8 million gallons of stormwater last year.
Research for the master plan used new Forest Service technology that takes data and spits out environmental impact.
Danielle Crumrine, executive director of Tree Pittsburgh, said the plan will spur tree advocates to increase the size of the canopy, improve its condition, diversify its species and plant in neighborhoods that have been neglected. Although 42 percent of the city is covered in trees, most of the canopy is in parks and more affluent neighborhoods.
At the nursery, high school students from Homewood’s Junior Green Corps, an Operation Better Block job training program, were harvesting seeds and planting under a tent at the back of the nursery, which was established two years ago in part with a grant from The Sprout Fund.
Kahlil Morris, a supervisor of the Green Corps, said all 21 participants are training to be Tree Tenders, a volunteer program run by Tree Pittsburgh to teach residents about the proper care and pruning of trees.
"We want to keep this partnership," he said. "It’s a cool program and it’s close" to Homewood."
"I’m excited to see the work these young people are doing and the things they are learning," Mr. Blazer said. "As you implement your plan and improve upon your urban forest, we on the federal level can work with the city and local organizations to create more opportunities for young people."
Via: Pittsburgh Gazette
Photo: Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette
Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer of the U.S. Agriculture Department, center, speaks with, from left, Matt Erb of Tree Pittsburgh, Christine Ticehurst of TreeVitalize, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Danielle Crumrine of Tree Pittsburgh during stops at Tree Pittsburgh’s nursery on Simonton Street in Homewood during a tour of Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The maple plan: Bringing the forest to the city

By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 30, 2012

As the bus lumbered through the city on a day that cried for shade, Arthur “Butch” Blazer fanned the barely conditioned air with his black Western hat. At every turn, trees swept past the windows — the mature canopy in Allegheny Cemetery, the new line of saplings in the median on Penn Avenue in East Liberty — until the bus stopped in North Point Breeze at Tree Pittsburgh’s seedling nursery.

Mr. Blazer, the U.S. Agriculture Department’s deputy under secretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, joined Tree Pittsburgh’s Thursday afternoon tour, after which it presented its urban forest master plan at an evening reception at Bar Marco in the Strip.

The $275,000 plan resulted from two years of data collection, analysis, consultations and benchmarking, and the USDA helped pay for it.

"The master planning process here is extremely important because it connects to the president’s Great Outdoors Initiative," Mr. Blazer said. "When people think ‘great outdoors,’ they think of places like Yosemite. They need to start thinking about places like Pittsburgh, too. Eighty percent of our country’s population is in urban areas, and we know the importance trees have on the psyches of humans."

The master plan reports the city has more than 2.5 million trees that sequester 13,900 tons of carbon dioxide a year, saved residents $3 million in energy bills last year and remove 519 tons of pollution at a savings of $3.6 million a year. Street trees alone diverted 41.8 million gallons of stormwater last year.

Research for the master plan used new Forest Service technology that takes data and spits out environmental impact.

Danielle Crumrine, executive director of Tree Pittsburgh, said the plan will spur tree advocates to increase the size of the canopy, improve its condition, diversify its species and plant in neighborhoods that have been neglected. Although 42 percent of the city is covered in trees, most of the canopy is in parks and more affluent neighborhoods.

At the nursery, high school students from Homewood’s Junior Green Corps, an Operation Better Block job training program, were harvesting seeds and planting under a tent at the back of the nursery, which was established two years ago in part with a grant from The Sprout Fund.

Kahlil Morris, a supervisor of the Green Corps, said all 21 participants are training to be Tree Tenders, a volunteer program run by Tree Pittsburgh to teach residents about the proper care and pruning of trees.

"We want to keep this partnership," he said. "It’s a cool program and it’s close" to Homewood."

"I’m excited to see the work these young people are doing and the things they are learning," Mr. Blazer said. "As you implement your plan and improve upon your urban forest, we on the federal level can work with the city and local organizations to create more opportunities for young people."

Via: Pittsburgh Gazette

Photo: Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer of the U.S. Agriculture Department, center, speaks with, from left, Matt Erb of Tree Pittsburgh, Christine Ticehurst of TreeVitalize, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Danielle Crumrine of Tree Pittsburgh during stops at Tree Pittsburgh’s nursery on Simonton Street in Homewood during a tour of Pittsburgh on Thursday.

“The Future of Measuring Community Sustainability
KAID BENFIELD JUNE 21, 2012
Some very interesting things are happening in the world of sustainability measurement, or our ability to gauge how well we are doing in moving neighborhoods, cities and regions toward a healthier future. It’s a new and rapidly evolving field, and in some ways an elusive one: as I’ve written before, there are some concepts critical to our well-being that don’t lend themselves to objectivity, and frankly I think that’s a good thing. As a lover of art, music, romance and matters of the spirit, I don’t particularly want to live in a world that can be entirely reduced to numbers.

But there are some things that are important to our well-being and to our environmental health that we can measure, and it is fascinating to follow the systems some leaders are coming up with, such as the “happiness index” pioneered by the government of Bhutan. Closer to home, I have been impressed by efforts I have recently gotten to know in Illinois and New Jersey. I’ll get to them in a minute; but, first, a little background.
LEED-ND and neighborhood measurement
As longtime readers know, NRDC was deeply involved for the better part of a decade in the construction of a sustainability tool called LEED for Neighborhood Development. (Our partners in the endeavor were the US Green Building Council and the Congress for the New Urbanism.) The idea was to come up with a set of measurements that can be used to identity and certify smart, green land development, in order to encourage more of it and help us separate the praiseworthy from the pretenders.  Our hope was to do for multi-building, neighborhood-scale projects and for smart growth what the LEED systems had already done for individual green buildings. 
LEED-ND measures things like proximity to transit and existing infrastructure, walkability, mix of buildings and neighborhood amenities, and the likely performance of environmental management systems. Applicants that pass certain prerequisites may then earn credit points toward a certification by the US Green Building Council; as with other LEED systems, the more points, the higher the rating.
Although our system had the misfortune to hit the street at the same time that the Great Recession slowed real estate development to a crawl, I think there is little doubt that we created something useful and influential, if inevitably a bit imperfect. 
Over a hundred projects have been certified under the pilot program and the fully launched system, with at least that many more in the pipeline for eventual approval. Some are truly outstanding examples of just the sort of development that brings environmental, social and economic benefits. LEED-ND is better at measuring some things (for instance, transit richness) than others (inclusiveness), but it’s been a good start and will be improved over time.”
Via: The Atlantic
Photo: Dockside Green in Victoria, British Columbia, courtesy Perkins and Will

The Future of Measuring Community Sustainability

KAID BENFIELD JUNE 21, 2012

Some very interesting things are happening in the world of sustainability measurement, or our ability to gauge how well we are doing in moving neighborhoods, cities and regions toward a healthier future. It’s a new and rapidly evolving field, and in some ways an elusive one: as I’ve written before, there are some concepts critical to our well-being that don’t lend themselves to objectivity, and frankly I think that’s a good thing. As a lover of art, music, romance and matters of the spirit, I don’t particularly want to live in a world that can be entirely reduced to numbers.

But there are some things that are important to our well-being and to our environmental health that we can measure, and it is fascinating to follow the systems some leaders are coming up with, such as the “happiness index” pioneered by the government of Bhutan. Closer to home, I have been impressed by efforts I have recently gotten to know in Illinois and New Jersey. I’ll get to them in a minute; but, first, a little background.

LEED-ND and neighborhood measurement

As longtime readers know, NRDC was deeply involved for the better part of a decade in the construction of a sustainability tool called LEED for Neighborhood Development. (Our partners in the endeavor were the US Green Building Council and the Congress for the New Urbanism.) The idea was to come up with a set of measurements that can be used to identity and certify smart, green land development, in order to encourage more of it and help us separate the praiseworthy from the pretenders.  Our hope was to do for multi-building, neighborhood-scale projects and for smart growth what the LEED systems had already done for individual green buildings. 

LEED-ND measures things like proximity to transit and existing infrastructure, walkability, mix of buildings and neighborhood amenities, and the likely performance of environmental management systems. Applicants that pass certain prerequisites may then earn credit points toward a certification by the US Green Building Council; as with other LEED systems, the more points, the higher the rating.

Although our system had the misfortune to hit the street at the same time that the Great Recession slowed real estate development to a crawl, I think there is little doubt that we created something useful and influential, if inevitably a bit imperfect. 

Over a hundred projects have been certified under the pilot program and the fully launched system, with at least that many more in the pipeline for eventual approval. Some are truly outstanding examples of just the sort of development that brings environmental, social and economic benefits. LEED-ND is better at measuring some things (for instance, transit richness) than others (inclusiveness), but it’s been a good start and will be improved over time.”

Via: The Atlantic

Photo: Dockside Green in Victoria, British Columbia, courtesy Perkins and Will

“The American Dream: Phase II
By Alison Arieff
“Sprawl … It’s the American dream unfolding before your eyes.”
That’s L. Brooks Patterson’s irresistible description of sprawl, proving yet again how masterful the stalwarts of the status quo are at messaging that which they hope to preserve in amber.
In a speech to his constituents earlier this year, Patterson, the county executive of Oakland County, Mich., continued to wax poetic on the topic: “I love sprawl. I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can’t get enough of it. Are you getting the picture? Sprawl is not evil. In fact, it is good … [it] is new jobs, new hope and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.”
Patterson’s rousing stump speech for sprawl is emblematic of how we as a culture are far too invested in a vision of the American dream that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. Over the past 30 years we’ve stripped away the supporting mechanisms of sprawl but have continued to create it.
We’ve built more houses than we’ve needed — and built them farther away from jobs. This has led to longer commutes, which has created more traffic. In response, we built more highways, increasing fuel consumption and, as transportation planners acknowledge, doing little if anything to reduce traffic. It’s a vicious, seemingly endless cycle, and at its core is the notion that the American dream can exist only within the framework of the single-family home on a large lot.
Indeed, we’ve become so fixated on this as the sole delivery mechanism of that American dream that we’ve spent a disproportionate amount of our collective energies (home-) improving it without considering meaningful alternative visions — or devoting at least a smidgen of attention to what’s outside the front door or down the block. Everything in our culture today reinforces this idea of home as castle (or fortress) rather than home as part of a larger whole (i.e., neighborhood). We need to find our way to the latter view, and part of that means finding a better way to talk about it.
The good news is that more and more people are.
It’s true that for years, homebuilders and home-sellers were touting Patterson’s sprawl-friendly sales pitch. If you were to walk into the sales center of any subdivision or master-planned community, from Modesto, Calif., to Tampa, Fla., the first question you’d be asked was, “How much square footage are you looking for?” Not “What kind of community would you like to be a part of?”
But increasingly, many of those looking for places to live found that the market had nothing for them. Houses were too big, too isolated, too generic, too hard to maintain. Or they were designed for the quintessential nuclear family that exists more in our cultural imagination than in reality. Few homes offered options for aging in place, for returning college kids or elderly parents, or even decent home office space. Would-be residents lamented the lack of amenities like a café or a playground within walking distance in master-planned communities of 5,000, 10,000 or even 40,000 homes (!), an absence often explained away with “a community of this size couldn’t support it.” For years, I heard from builders and developers who said they knew there was a market for smaller, more sustainable properties — they just couldn’t get such projects to pencil out.
Now, it seems those pencils have been sharpened.

“The giants of the building industry, the creators for decades of massive communities of cookie-cutter homes, cul-de-sacs and McMansions in far-flung suburbs” are doing an about-face, suddenly building smaller neighborhoods in and close to cities, noted an article in USA Today last month.
The market slowdown, the article went on to explain, “has given builders time to assess sweeping demographic changes that are transforming the way Americans want to live.”
In short, builders are recognizing that buyers (and renters, too!) value the neighborhood as much as — if not more than — the house. And what they want from that neighborhood might not be McMansions and four-car garages after all. Resale value may not in fact trump all else. Young and old, whether they’re in the city or the suburbs, want to walk to places like restaurants and shops. (And let’s stop talking about the integration of things like cafes, public transit and bike racks as “urbanizing” an area, which only reinforces the divide between two entities that are divided enough already.)
People have begun to wake up to the fact that the more time spent in the car means poorer health and less time with their families — and they’re seeking shorter commutes. They’re interested in smaller homes that are easier to maintain (and less expensive to heat and cool). Young millennials and older baby boomers are also showing less and less interest in car ownership and a corresponding greater interest in public transit, walking and biking. And again, it’s likely that we’re all less interested in continuing to discuss “urban” and “suburban” as dueling polar opposites — and more interested in recognizing there’s mutual benefit to some overlap.
The aforementioned changes point to the fact that a paradigmatic shift in our concept of the American dream is underway. And this shift is not just because of the recession, says Gregory Vilkin, managing principal and president of MacFarlane Partners, quoted in that USA Today piece, “It’s no longer the American dream to own a plot of land with a house on it and two cars in the driveway.”
Via: NYTimes
Photo: Lago Vista, Tex., March 2006 by Stacy Arezou Mehrfar

The American Dream: Phase II

By Alison Arieff

“Sprawl … It’s the American dream unfolding before your eyes.”

That’s L. Brooks Patterson’s irresistible description of sprawl, proving yet again how masterful the stalwarts of the status quo are at messaging that which they hope to preserve in amber.

In a speech to his constituents earlier this year, Patterson, the county executive of Oakland County, Mich., continued to wax poetic on the topic: “I love sprawl. I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can’t get enough of it. Are you getting the picture? Sprawl is not evil. In fact, it is good … [it] is new jobs, new hope and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.”

Patterson’s rousing stump speech for sprawl is emblematic of how we as a culture are far too invested in a vision of the American dream that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. Over the past 30 years we’ve stripped away the supporting mechanisms of sprawl but have continued to create it.

We’ve built more houses than we’ve needed — and built them farther away from jobs. This has led to longer commutes, which has created more traffic. In response, we built more highways, increasing fuel consumption and, as transportation planners acknowledge, doing little if anything to reduce traffic. It’s a vicious, seemingly endless cycle, and at its core is the notion that the American dream can exist only within the framework of the single-family home on a large lot.

Indeed, we’ve become so fixated on this as the sole delivery mechanism of that American dream that we’ve spent a disproportionate amount of our collective energies (home-) improving it without considering meaningful alternative visions — or devoting at least a smidgen of attention to what’s outside the front door or down the block. Everything in our culture today reinforces this idea of home as castle (or fortress) rather than home as part of a larger whole (i.e., neighborhood). We need to find our way to the latter view, and part of that means finding a better way to talk about it.

The good news is that more and more people are.

It’s true that for years, homebuilders and home-sellers were touting Patterson’s sprawl-friendly sales pitch. If you were to walk into the sales center of any subdivision or master-planned community, from Modesto, Calif., to Tampa, Fla., the first question you’d be asked was, “How much square footage are you looking for?” Not “What kind of community would you like to be a part of?”

But increasingly, many of those looking for places to live found that the market had nothing for them. Houses were too big, too isolated, too generic, too hard to maintain. Or they were designed for the quintessential nuclear family that exists more in our cultural imagination than in reality. Few homes offered options for aging in place, for returning college kids or elderly parents, or even decent home office space. Would-be residents lamented the lack of amenities like a café or a playground within walking distance in master-planned communities of 5,000, 10,000 or even 40,000 homes (!), an absence often explained away with “a community of this size couldn’t support it.” For years, I heard from builders and developers who said they knew there was a market for smaller, more sustainable properties — they just couldn’t get such projects to pencil out.

Now, it seems those pencils have been sharpened.

“The giants of the building industry, the creators for decades of massive communities of cookie-cutter homes, cul-de-sacs and McMansions in far-flung suburbs” are doing an about-face, suddenly building smaller neighborhoods in and close to cities, noted an article in USA Today last month.

The market slowdown, the article went on to explain, “has given builders time to assess sweeping demographic changes that are transforming the way Americans want to live.”

In short, builders are recognizing that buyers (and renters, too!) value the neighborhood as much as — if not more than — the house. And what they want from that neighborhood might not be McMansions and four-car garages after all. Resale value may not in fact trump all else. Young and old, whether they’re in the city or the suburbs, want to walk to places like restaurants and shops. (And let’s stop talking about the integration of things like cafes, public transit and bike racks as “urbanizing” an area, which only reinforces the divide between two entities that are divided enough already.)

People have begun to wake up to the fact that the more time spent in the car means poorer health and less time with their families — and they’re seeking shorter commutes. They’re interested in smaller homes that are easier to maintain (and less expensive to heat and cool). Young millennials and older baby boomers are also showing less and less interest in car ownership and a corresponding greater interest in public transit, walking and biking. And again, it’s likely that we’re all less interested in continuing to discuss “urban” and “suburban” as dueling polar opposites — and more interested in recognizing there’s mutual benefit to some overlap.

The aforementioned changes point to the fact that a paradigmatic shift in our concept of the American dream is underway. And this shift is not just because of the recession, says Gregory Vilkin, managing principal and president of MacFarlane Partners, quoted in that USA Today piece, “It’s no longer the American dream to own a plot of land with a house on it and two cars in the driveway.”

Via: NYTimes

Photo: Lago Vista, Tex., March 2006 by Stacy Arezou Mehrfar

Hello All, 

Photos from our roundtable discussion in Jersey City, Workable Cities: Community Development are up! Thank to everyone who attended for generating an engaging dialogue on urban development issues in Newark and Jersey City. Special thanks to New Jersey Community Capital and University of Orange for sponsoring the event. 

Photos courtesy of Maulin Mehta.

Density Without High-Rises?

Edward T. McMahon. May 11, 2012.

When it comes to land development, Americans famously dislike two things: too much sprawl and too much density. Over the past 50 years, the pendulum swung sharply in the direction of spread-out, single use, drive everywhere for everything, low density development.

Now the pendulum is swinging back. High energy prices, smart growth, transit oriented development, new urbanism, infill development, sustainability concerns: are all coalescing to foster more compact, walkable, mixed use and higher density development.


The pendulum swing is both necessary and long overdue. Additionally, there is a growing demand for higher density housing because of demographic and lifestyle preference changes among boomers and young adults. The problem is that many developers and urban planners have decided that density requires high rises: the taller, the better. To oppose a high-rise building is to run the risk of being labeled a NIMBY, a dumb growth advocate, a Luddite — or worse.


Buildings 20, 40, 60 even 100 stories tall are being proposed and built in low and mid-rise neighborhoods all over the world. All of these projects are justified with the explanation that if density is good, even more density is better. Washington, D.C. is just the latest low- or mid-rise city to face demands for taller buildings.


Yet Washington is one of the world’s most singularly beautiful cities for several big reasons: first, the abundance of parks and open spaces, second, the relative lack of outdoor advertising (which has over commercialized so many other cities), and third a limit on the height of new buildings.

I will acknowledge that the “Buck Rogers”-like skylines of cities like Shanghai and Dubai can be thrilling — at a distance. But at street level they are often dreadful. The glass and steel towers may be functional, but they seldom move the soul or the traffic as well as more human scale, fine-grained neighborhoods.
Yes, we do need more compact, walkable higher density communities. But no we do not need to build thousands of look-a-like glass and steel skyscrapers to accomplish the goals of smart growth or sustainable development.


In truth, many of America’s finest and most valuable neighborhoods achieve density without high rises. Georgetown in Washington, Park Slope in Brooklyn, the Fan in Richmond, and the French Quarter in New Orleans are all compact, walkable, charming — and low rise. Yet, they are also dense: the French Quarter has a net density of 38 units per acre, Georgetown 22 units per acre.


Julie Campoli and Alex MacLean’s book Visualizing Density vividly illustrates that we can achieve tremendous density without high-rises. They point out that before elevators were invented, two- to four- story “walk-ups” were common in cities and towns throughout America. Constructing a block of these type of buildings could achieve a density of anywhere from 20 to 80 units an acre.


Mid-rise buildings ranging from 5 to 12 stories can create even higher density neighborhoods in urban settings, where buildings cover most of the block. Campoli and McLean point to Seattle where mid-rise buildings achieve densities ranging from 50 to 100 units per acre, extraordinarily high by U.S. standards.”

Via: Citywire

“Impressive Denver study on equity & transit should become national model
Kaid Benfield. May 4, 2012
Transit analysts Reconnecting America and the Denver equity coalition Mile High Connects have released an impressive compendium of maps and research showing how expansion of that city’s transit system could bring major opportunity to traditionally underserved populations – if local agencies take the necessary steps to prepare and coordinate.  Called the Denver Regional Equity Atlas, the data-rich report is among the more sophisticated uses of GIS mapping that I have seen.
It should be immensely useful not only to city officials, advocates, planners and social scientists in Denver, but also to anyone looking for a state-of-the-art analytical model to assist the coordination of transportation, housing, jobs, and access to important services in other American cities.  It must have cost a fortune to underwrite. 
The Atlas comprises five chapters and 31 large-scale maps that cover demographics, housing, health, jobs and education; data were collected from a variety of sources for seven counties in the metro Denver region. Each map also shows the current and future transit network, including high-frequency bus routes and rail lines, enabling users to see quickly how well the transit lines and stops match up with, for example, concentrations of low-income populations, jobs, affordable housing, parks, shopping, medical services and the like.  The report was co-written with the Piton Foundation.
Denver’s Regional Transportation District is currently engaged in one of the country’s most ambitious expansions of public transportation infrastructure and services.  RTD’s“FasTracks” Program is a multi-billion dollar effort to build 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail and 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and to enhance current bus service for access and transfers across an eight-county district.  It is already beginning to change the region by bringing more and better ways of getting around to more people, while stimulating walkable development around the rail stations.
The potential for such substantial investment to be transformative is obvious.  Within walking distance of most transit stations, communities across the region hope to build a mix of housing, office, shopping and other essential community resources in order to create a unique sense of place and reduce reliance on automobiles.  But the authors make clear that it cannot be assumed that these benefits will accrue equitably:”
Via: NRDC Switchboard

Impressive Denver study on equity & transit should become national model

Kaid Benfield. May 4, 2012

Transit analysts Reconnecting America and the Denver equity coalition Mile High Connects have released an impressive compendium of maps and research showing how expansion of that city’s transit system could bring major opportunity to traditionally underserved populations – if local agencies take the necessary steps to prepare and coordinate.  Called the Denver Regional Equity Atlas, the data-rich report is among the more sophisticated uses of GIS mapping that I have seen.

It should be immensely useful not only to city officials, advocates, planners and social scientists in Denver, but also to anyone looking for a state-of-the-art analytical model to assist the coordination of transportation, housing, jobs, and access to important services in other American cities.  It must have cost a fortune to underwrite. 

The Atlas comprises five chapters and 31 large-scale maps that cover demographics, housing, health, jobs and education; data were collected from a variety of sources for seven counties in the metro Denver region. Each map also shows the current and future transit network, including high-frequency bus routes and rail lines, enabling users to see quickly how well the transit lines and stops match up with, for example, concentrations of low-income populations, jobs, affordable housing, parks, shopping, medical services and the like.  The report was co-written with the Piton Foundation.

Denver’s Regional Transportation District is currently engaged in one of the country’s most ambitious expansions of public transportation infrastructure and services.  RTD’s“FasTracks” Program is a multi-billion dollar effort to build 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail and 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and to enhance current bus service for access and transfers across an eight-county district.  It is already beginning to change the region by bringing more and better ways of getting around to more people, while stimulating walkable development around the rail stations.

The potential for such substantial investment to be transformative is obvious.  Within walking distance of most transit stations, communities across the region hope to build a mix of housing, office, shopping and other essential community resources in order to create a unique sense of place and reduce reliance on automobiles.  But the authors make clear that it cannot be assumed that these benefits will accrue equitably:”

Via: NRDC Switchboard

Architectural + Urban Research

Mass Urban is a multidisciplinary design-research initiative concerned with contemporary cities and urbanism. Mass Urban was co-founded in April 2011 by David Lee and Cliff Lau.

Website: http://www.massurban.com/
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