Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Downtown Edmonton cultural facilities development as an example of "Transformational Projects Action Planning"

If I had to pick say five major lessons from my involvement over the past 18 years or so in urban revitalization in a major city, one would be that we need to harness the value and power of "networks" to leverage the opportunity for improvement.

My writings on leveraging new transit infrastructure as a way to drive complementary changes across the extant transit "network" ("Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network" and "Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for Northern Virginia?") or a city/conurbation like Silver Spring ("Creating a Silver Spring Sustainability Mobility District") are examples.

As I wrote in "(Big Hairy) Projects Action Plan(s) as an element of Comprehensive/Master Plans," there were many influences on my thinking in terms of developing the TPAP concept as an element of master planning at the city-wide and sub-city scales, including learnings from Bilbao ("Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning) and other European cities like Dublin, Hamburg, Helsinki, Liverpool, and Marseille, which I wrote about for a writing project commissioned by the EU National Institutes of Culture Washington Chapter project in Baltimore (entries archived at "Europe in Baltimore").

A major influence was the work of Toronto planner Joe Berridge, who outlined a vision of a variety of transformational projects for Toronto in the late 1990s. While not an official document, most of what he recommended came to fruition ("Toronto needs to take one last step to reach civic greatness" and "Toronto needs a new wave of world-scale projects," Toronto Star). Just think how much more could have been accomplished had the official planning processes been more purposive. Perhaps Toronto wouldn't be facing a transit crisis because of the failure to take on the "Downtown Relief Line" ("Subway crowding at crisis level," TS).

An article, "Six projects that are reshaping Downtown Edmonton," in the Toronto Globe & Mail, is another example of what I mean by embarking on a set of transformational projects as a way to further urban revitalization and success.

The point is to stich these up into a program and seize every opportunity to wring out and realize all the potential and possibilities, to achieve even more than can be achieved by any one project.

The six (seven) projects in Edmonton are:
  • a new building for the Royal Alberta Museum which is twice the size of the old building, near to the Alberta Art Gallery and with a direct underground connection to the Edmonton Light Rail system
  • a renovated and expanded central library, the Stanley A. Milner Library
  • Allard Hall, MacEwan University -- the arts building is part of the program that has shifted the university's campus from the West End to Downtown Edmonton by adaptively reusing an old railyard; the building has two theatres and an art gallery on the ground floor that will be facilities used by the curriculum but also open to the public, better engaging the university with the city outside its doors
  • Arts Habitat Edmonton: ArtsCommon and Artists Quarters -- affordable housing and live work units for artists
  • Edmonton Opera Centre, besides the auditorium, the facility includes set construction and costume facilities open to other performing arts groups
  • Winspear Music Centre, home to the city's symphony orchestra, is developing an additional facility which will replace a parking lot with a 600-seat theatre and a community arts facility.
The seventh project is in the West End, where the old arts building for MacEwan University has been purchased by the city for redevelopment as a multi-faceted arts hub and cultural center.

I'd call this effort in Edmonton a TPAP for cultural facilities.

As I argue in:

-- "Arts, culture districts and revitalization," 2009
-- "The Howard and Lincoln Theatres: run them like the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust/Playhouse Square Cleveland model," 2012
-- "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016
--  When BTMFBA isn't enough: keeping civic assets public through cy pres review," 2016
-- "BTMFBA revisited: nonprofits and facilities planning and acquisition," 2016
-- "Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?," 2016

facilities planning and development should be a fundamental element within community cultural plans.

Separately, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a model example of managing multiple arts facilities across a district to foster cultural endeavors and revitalization, is looking to open a cinema in Downtown Pittsburgh ("Pittsburgh Cultural Trust considers movie theater on Sixth Street," Pittsburgh Business Times) to broaden the cultural offer there.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Scholarships available for Southeastern US Creative Placemaking Leadership Summits

Email from Leonardo Vazquez at Arts Builds Communities:
Thanks to a grant from The Educational Foundation of America, The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking can provide 10 full scholarships to the Southeast Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit (March 15 and 16 in Chattanooga) and 20 to the Appalachian Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit (June 21 and 22 in Charleston, WV).

Scholarships for the Southeast Leadership Summit will go to social practice artists or representatives of community development, economic development or cultural organizations which serve residents of the Black Belt region. The scholarships cover admission to the two-day program.

Scholarships for the Appalachian Leadership Summit will go to social practice artists or representatives of community development, economic development or cultural organizations which serve residents of the Appalachian region. The scholarships cover admission to the two-day program.

This is a rare opportunity to build your skills in creative placemaking and build connections with people who can help you help communities.

To be considered for the scholarship, please send a request of no more than 2 pages to 
In your request, describe the work that you do or have done to benefit communities in either the Black Belt or Appalachia, and what you hope to learn while at the program. If you are given the scholarship, please expect to 'pay forward' what you learned within six months. (You can conduct a workshop, create an event, or do a presentation to an influential group.)

The deadline for the Southeast Leadership Summits is February 23. For the Appalachian Leadership Summit, it is March 30. 
Please contact Leo at if you have any questions.
WRT arts-based revitalization and/or cultural planning issues, see these past blog entries:

-- "Arts, culture districts and revitalization," 2009
-- "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector," 2014
-- "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016
-- "Dancing with the one that brung ya and challenging the dominant narrative," 2008

DC cultural planning

-- "Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," 2007
-- "The Howard and Lincoln Theatres: run them like the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust/Playhouse Square Cleveland model," 2012
-- "The song remains the same: DC's continued failures in cultural planning as evidenced by failures with Bohemian Caverns, Howard Theatre, Union Arts, Takoma Theatre...," 2016

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Friday, February 16, 2018

The car versus the pedestrian in (sub)urban design and placemaking

Pedestrian behavior in front of ground floors on Main Streets
"Pedestrian behavior in front of ground floors on Main Streets," from "Close Encounters with Buildings."

A point I should have emphasized more in the previous entry is that while it is true that the basics of intensification, urban design, and placemaking are the same whether or not you're working in the city or suburbs, the fact is that designing land uses in the context of automobility is different and does constrain your ability to do "great things" in the suburbs.

I've mentioned from time to time that I was at a conference in 2013 and after a presentation by a guy from Australia specializing in "night markets" as an activation device, a real estate guy (from one of the nation's biggest firms) came up to him talking about how he could do this at a suburban mall location in North Montgomery County, which his company was managing because it was in foreclosure.  I happened to be there and figured out what property he was talking about and exclaimed "just tear the mall down."  (It was Lake Forest Mall in Gaithersburg.) 

Building wrapped with colorful treatment in Crystal City and Metrorail/VRE signThey didn't tear down Lake Forest Mall and it's been through at least one more foreclosure since, but the basic point I was trying to make is that it's hard to activate a place that everyone drives to.

Although again, the way that suburban business districts like Crystal City have been working to activate what would be very drab places without the addition of a big dose of creativity ("'Crystal City is so cool': Maybe, but it's not quite D.C.," Washington Post; "JBG Smith wraps Crystal City buildings," Washington Business Journal ) proves that creativity and innovation is not exclusively a center city phenomenon.  Compared to Lake Forest Mall--20+ miles from Downtown DC--Crystal City is helped by a closer-in location, just across the river from the center city.

Outside of suburban urbanism in towns and town centers like Alexandria and Arlington, you can and do have many little oases of "new(er)" "urbanism", such as in the DC area: Reston Town Center ("Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County," 2015) and Bethesda Row ("Why are people so damn good at asking the wrong questions," 2006) which were some of the earliest examples of this; Shirlington; the Mosaic district in Merrifield; the developing Pike and Rose district on Rockville Pike as the augur of change in the redevelopment of the White Flint district, which had been anchored by a shopping mall; the fact of the matter is that in the suburban context, because you're designing around the car, it's still about superblocks and big spaces.

You can do placemaking in the oases, but people have to drive to those oases, and the distances between places make it difficult to build "Walkable Communities" where the sustainability expands outward beyond the small confines of the oasis.

-- "How can I find and help build a Walkable Community?," Dan Burden and Walkable Communities

It's also hard to get the residents to think "urbanistically," such as paying for parking as a way to manage the resource ("Reston Town Center parking issue as a "planning failure" by the private sector," 2017).

The Silver Line Metrorail addition in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in Virginia is a good example of this.

You can bring heavy rail service to the distant suburbs, but the distance between stations--about five miles--makes it very difficult to have the kind of intensification you get over the same distance in a city like DC where in a five mile distance you don't have two Metrorail stations, but six--at least in the core.

A good resource for thinking about developing places at the scale of the pedestrian is the work of Jan Gehl, in books like Cities for People and Life Between Buildings and this paper, "Close Encounters with Buildings," later published in Urban Design International.

Many years ago the Downtown DC Business Improvement District published a brochure listing the "Principles of Great Streets" and the "Principles of Great Storefronts."

Don't know where my copy is of that brochure, but some time ago I scanned the most important passages and put them in Flickr.

This doesn't get at the issue of cosmopolitanism either or the idea that "city air is free air."

For a variety of reasons, the people who live in cities tend to be more progressive, more interested in innovation, etc., although that is definitely a generalization that does not hold true in many contexts.

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The principles of intensification are pretty much the same for suburban and urban contexts

In line with the previous posting reprinting some of my musings about the difference between caring about and being focused on your house as opposed to simultaneously also being concerned about your community and the principles of successful communities as opposed to making your house great, NZ correspondent Nigel calls our attention to this article, "Density's next frontier: the suburbs," discussing the seemingly new phenomenon of intensification in the suburbs.

Nigel writes:
I think there are different density patterns for cities ... where land is scarce due to geographical constraints, the cities will be denser. Detroit will probably have low density for many years to come. I wonder about Richard Florida's wisdom in using only one city as his case study.
I responded (now amplified and expanded):

your point about density... the great transportation planner Ian Lockwood once said to me, looking out at the mountains around Salt Lake City from the top of the Library (the green roof there is open to the public), "the best cities are constrained."

Yes, Detroit and Baltimore have the same problem. Too much latent capacity in the suburbs, and the lack of a quality intensification mechanism (transit) to bring commerce and people back to the city.

Creating a Vibrant City Center by Cy PaumierAnyway wrt "the suburbs" ... anyplace where demand is high and supply of land and real estate development opportunity is constrained, they intensify.

Nothing particularly unique about it.  And it's been happening for 70 years!

Just that people too easily say city dense, suburbs not dense, without looking at the underlying phenomenon.

Cy Paumier outlines that phenomenon in Creating a Vibrant City Center and how the pattern of downtowns (central business districts) developed around pedestrian-scaled streets, blocks, and buildings because of:
Concentration and Intensity of Use: "The intensity of development in the traditional central area was relatively high due to the value of the land. Maximizing site coverage meant building close to the street, which created a strong sense of spatial enclosure. Although city center development was dense, construction practices limited building height and preserved a human scale. The consistency in building height and massing reinforced the pedestrian scale of streets, as well as the city center's architectural harmony and visual coherence." (p. 11)

Organizing Structure: "A grid street system, involving the simplest approach to surveying, subdividing, and selling land, created a well-defined, organized, and understandable spatial structure for the cities' architecture and overall development. Because the street provided the main access to the consumer market, competition for street frontage was keen. Development parcels were normally much deeper than they were wide, creating a pattern of relatively narrow building fronts that provided variety and articulation in each block and continuous activity on the street." (p. 12)
The street grid, transportation practices and construction technology of the times, and the cost and value of the land led to a particular form of development on city blocks that focused attention on the streets and sidewalks, creating a human-scaled, architecturally harmonious built environment.

As construction technology advanced and taller buildings could be constructed, and as the walking and transit city was supplanted by the automobile, the scale of block development changed significantly, with a focus away from the pedestrian and towards the car.

The whole Edge City phenomenon (written about in the 1990s) "merely" describes this phenomenon as it relates to suburban centers in the automobility context.

Note that I spar intellectually with the writings of Joel Kotkin.  He always writes that the urban revitalization phenomenon is flawed or a flash in the pan, that suburban development is transcendent.  He misses the point as I used to. 

Intensification is the issue.  While it's a lot harder to do cool stuff in suburban locations for different reasons--people choose to live in the suburbs because they aren't seeking out cosmopolitanism, the conditions that lead to intensity are phenomena not limited to center cities. 

There's cool stuff outside of center cities, in towns, suburbs, rural areas, etc.  You may have to look harder to find it, but you shouldn't close your mind to it.

Anyway, when I first got involved in this stuff, the Urban Land Institute was publishing various "Ten Principles" guides to urban and suburban redevelopment, and while the first one I read was about revitalizing urban retail, as I read others as they were published I thought that the "suburban specific" publications were equally as informative as the urban and transit publications.

That's because the underlying point of all the publications was the same: (1) intensify; (2) plan in an integrated fashion; (3) use sound urban design principles.

Frankly, if you only have the time to read a few publications about the principles of  revitalization, equally applicable to urban or suburban contexts, these ULI publications are evergreen!

-- Ten Principles for Reinventing America's Suburban Strips, 2001
-- Ten Principles for Reinventing Suburban Business Districts, 2002
-- Ten Principles for Rebuilding Neighborhood Retail, 2003
-- Ten Principles for Successful Development Around Transit, 2003
-- Ten Principles for Successful Public-Private Partnerships, 2005
-- Ten Principles for Rethinking the Mall, 2006
-- Ten Principles for Developing Successful Town Centers, 2007 (this is a download, not a viewable, link)
-- Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places, 2013

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Lecture: Modernism, Traditionalism and Authenticity: Architecture and Preservation in Washington, DC, February 28, 2018

From email:

The Latrobe Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians presents a Lecture by Dr. Cameron Logan, University of Sydney

Preservationist critics and historians of American city-making in the twentieth century typically highlight a conflict between postwar urban redevelopment and the human-scaled and neighborhood-oriented architectural legacy of the nineteenth century to explain the rise of preservation from the 1960s onwards. This story of destructive redevelopment either explicitly or implicitly casts modernism as villain. But this orthodox account is badly in need of revision. In this talk I will draw on work from my recently published history of Washington, DC, Historic Capital, to rethink the relationship between modernist architects and the city's preservation movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dr. Cameron Logan is an urban and architectural historian and his work explores the relationship between, architecture, urban identity and history via two main lines of inquiry. The first of these is the exploration of civic culture and place-based citizenship in debates about architecture, preservation and urban design. The second is the history of building types in twentieth century architecture. He is the author of Historic Capital: Preservation, Race and Real Estate in Washington, DC (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and co-author of Architecture and the Modern Hospital: Nosokomeion to Hygeia (Routledge, 2018). Cameron teaches in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney, where he directs the postgraduate program in heritage conservation.

February 28, 2018

The First Congregational United Church of Christ
945 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20001
6:30 pm – reception, 7:00 pm – lecture

Reservations are not required. $10.00 for Latrobe Chapter members, student members (full time) free with ID, $15.00 for non-members (reduced admission for non-members!).

Damn. I didn't know that Cameron finally published his dissertation, which I will have to track down. I saw him present about it as a work in progress more than ten years ago at the DC Historical Studies Conference, and I read the dissertation after it was finished. I'll have to track down and read the published book!

I wrote this about it in 2009:

The house as a haven and refuge, nimbyism, and urban-ness

Karaoke, Adams-Morgan Day
Adams Morgan Day--a fun festival serving the city, or an abomination, an unreasonable sacrifice provided to the city on the part of Adams-Morgan residents?

I am not quite finished reading Cameron Logan's dissertation on planning in DC, covering the period from 1950-1990, and mostly dealing with the role of historic preservation in the city's planning processes, and how it organized neighborhood stabilization in response to expansion of downtown northward (Dupont Circle) and the U.S. Capitol Complex (Capitol Hill), and how developers and real estate interests learned to respond and reshape the debate in the 1980s, under a particularly hospitable political regime (Marion Barry).

One of the interesting things that I am pondering is how for many people involved in the neighborhood preservation movement, there wasn't an interest in creating the kind of urban vitality of mixed use and activities at different times of the day that is discussed in say, Death and Life of the Great American City, the Jane Jacobs classic.
House cartoon
This could have been because of the development of more nucleated families, and a more self-involved household focus, rather than a more externally connected, community-neighborhood involved perspective.

Clare Cooper Marcus, in "The House as a Symbol of Self" says that for the most part, people desire a house form that is "separate, unique, private and protected" while Delores Hayden writes in Redesigning the American Dream about the haven strategy, where the house--home--serves as a haven, a refuge, from the exploitation and competition of the mass market and the industrial world.

In the neighborhood preservation movement in DC (as opposed to the preservation movement focused on downtown buildings), for the most part people were focused on saving residential building stock, and perhaps because often preservation was a protective response to encroachment by commercial real estate developments, they were less inclined to be interested in or supportive of retail and other commercial activities.
Commercial district cartoon by Peter Wallace
Neighborhood commercial district cartoon, Peter Wallace.

Logan describes some discussions of neighborhood vitality including local retail in a positive light. Interestingly, these perspectives came from people with commercial interests, a real estate business proprietor key to resuscitation of the Capitol Hill neighborhood (Barbara Held), and from the mid-1970s editor of the community newspaper The Intowner, which still serves DC's "mid-city" neighborhoods.

I wonder if there really is a widespread commitment to urban-ness, mixed use, variety of activities, and vitality in the center city? Maybe there isn't?

I ask this question because on the ANC6A listserv, there is a negative thread about the recent National Marathon, which involved, besides running, the closing of a number of streets in Capitol Hill for a goodly part of one day. (Judging by some of the postings when the Marathon happened, one of the problems is inadequate training for the people, including police, working the Marathon, because for the most part when queried, they were unable to provide alternate route information.) One of the respondees wrote (edited):
There is an ever increasing number of races and other such events that burden the Capitol Hill community, often drawing large crowds and buses, and forcing traffic and parking restrictions. David has a point that it's time that other sections of the City share the wealth and/or the burdens.
Granted, I don't live in that area now. But I tend to think of street closures as temporary events that can be dealt with, minor annoyances that can be responded to with "work-arounds," but also part of the "ballet" of civic life and urban vitality.

As a resident in my neighborhood, I give up some things on occasion (I can hear loudspeakers for sporting events at Coolidge High School even though I live three blocks away; the pool is closed on occasion for swim meets; the occasional train whistle on the Metropolitan Branch railroad line; etc.), in favor of serving others, and I expect that "what goes around, comes around" -- that I get things back too, when I go to activities in other neighborhoods, such as Adams-Morgan Day, which can cause hardships for people in that neighborhood on that day, even as people like me reap the benefits.

Given that I have been pondering civic engagement and planning issues for the past few days in the context of Cameron's dissertation, I have been wondering if the idea of what it means to live urbanistically is a construct also, a construct that few residents really have an interest in or support generally, whether or not they face specific development threats from time to time, and utilize preservation policy or other neighborhood or community organizing strategies as a way to respond?

Maybe nimbyism is merely a smaller piece of a much larger problem?
Neighborhood comic
Interestingly, while discussions of diversity talk about the value of different perspectives, research by people like Robert Putnam finds more civic involvement in more homogeneous communities.

I talked with Anwar Saleem of H Street Main Street about doing a session at next year's Main Street conference about the "difficulties" of doing commercial district and community revitalization activities in "hetereogeneous" communities. It's very difficult. That's what people have spent the last ten years learning on H Street. Sadly, the Main Street commercial district revitalization model doesn't adequately prepare volunteers for this reality.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

More guns, more deaths

Re: the mass shooting yesterday at a high school in Florida, where 17 people were killed

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the more guns there are the more they are used and the more people are killed. It ought to be obvious that access should be restricted to guns that have as their only purpose killing a lot of people very quickly.

-- "More Guns, More Mass Shootings—Coincidence? | America now has 300 million firearms, a barrage of NRA-backed gun laws—and record casualties from mass killers," Mother Jones Magazine

It's not a coincidence that during the period when there was a ban an assault weapons, there were fewer mass shootings, and fewer deaths.

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Restored TV Home Show on DIY Network the best hands down in terms of "historic preservation"

I write from time to time about the newer tv shows about home renovation that are historic preservation oriented, except for "This Old House" (while I admire the craftsmanship and like the related magazine, the projects they do aren't realistic and are mostly focused on making big houses gargantuan and are about excess, albeit with high quality).

For example, generally I like the work that Nicole Curtis does in "Rehab Addict" and while I am no longer all that interested in the formulaic redos in "Fixer Upper," I am incredibly impressed with how the Gaines' have created a multifaceted business ecosystem and have become a force in Waco's tourism offer and the revitalization in and around the city's core.

-- "Historic preservation month post: building the capacity for self-help and "Rehab Addict" as an example of how more could be done"
-- "Historic Preservation Tuesday: Critical mass of rehabilitation and a big dose of tv exposure sparks community revitalization in Waco, Texas"

And there are a couple of other shows on DIY Network/HGTV that feature preservation in cities like Nashville ("Nashville Flipped") and Charleston, ("American Rehab: Charleston") and those programs also feature high quality work.

But "Restored," featuring Brett Waterman working on amazing houses in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties in California ("'Restored' returns to Redlands for second season on DIY Network," Redlands Daily Facts) is probably the best of the non-This Old House shows in his attention to detail and the quality of the work.

I've watched a couple of the shows and was floored by the projects enough to want to move to one of the properties...


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Texas Share the Road traffic safety program/campaigns

The Transportation Communications News e-letter mentioned a bike safety video produced by the Harlingen-San Benito MPO, but the piece they referenced from the Valley Morning News, "With help, MPO produces bike safety video," didn't include a link to the video. Neither did the MPO's Facebook feed.

But the MPO's feed mentioned a video by Share the Road Texas, the traffic safety initiative by that state's Department of Transportation.

Share the Road Texas does a good job in breaking data down in useful ways, in infographics and graphic forms generally, differentiating data by time of day, urban and rural land use, county, age group, etc.

I was impressed.

They have Twitter and Facebook feeds, etc.

This is the video:

Bicycle Safety: Mid-Block from TTI on Vimeo.

And this is one of the infographics:

And another:

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America's Infrastructure Needs

This graphic ran in the Wall Street Journal yesterday ("White House to Roll Out Trump Infrastructure Plan." 

The data compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers likely doesn't include all kinds of projects that could be done, but aren't already listed in various "transformational project action plans" or "constrained long range transportation plans"--such as a separated blue/silver Metrorail line in DC.

-- ASCE's 2017 Infrastructure Report Card

From the Los Angeles Times editorial "Trump's infrastructure plan isn't a plan. It's a fantasy":
President Trump's infrastructure plan isn't a plan. It's fantasy. The outline the administration put forth Monday is essentially this: The federal government will offer a diminished amount of money — $200 billion over 10 years — for building or repairing roads, bridges, airports, seaports, energy projects and water systems and somehow, magically, $1.5 trillion to $1.8 trillion in infrastructure spending will materialize.

Where would all that money come from? The president's framework doesn't say, but the intent is for the federal government to spend a lot less money on infrastructure and for local and state governments to spend a lot more. Oh, and private investors are expected to rain down money on infrastructure projects too. ...

But the Trump framework is short on funding and pragmatism. The plan calls for $200 billion in federal spending over a decade, but much of that money is set aside for rural communities and loan programs. One hundred billion dollars would go to competitive grants, providing a mere $10 billion a year for roads, railroads, airports, water treatment plants, flood control systems and contaminated land cleanups.

That's barely enough money to make a dent in the estimated $2 trillion of needed transportation, water and energy system upgrades. By way of comparison, the federal government spent $96 billion on transportation and water projects alone in 2014.

The $200 billion wouldn't be new money. It would be paid for by cutting other infrastructure-funding programs.

According to the editorial, the Trump Administration document calls out LA County's Measure M local sales tax to fund transit projects as an example of what local jurisdictions can do to raise money for such projects.

But typically, Republicans rail against such measures, and when it comes to gasoline excise taxes organize referenda to overturn increases ("Group aims to repeal California gas tax hike on November 2018 ballot," LAT) and they are hard to pass anyway ("Most California voters already want to overturn gas tax increase, poll," LAT).

Separately, the Metropolitan Area Projects program in Oklahoma City, regional parks tax and investment programs (e.g., Hamilton County, Ohio; Salt Lake County, etc.), the Allegeny County Pennsylvania Regional Assets District, and the Denver Scientific and Cultural Facilities District are models for local infrastructure and cultural financing programs.


Airports and public transit access: O'Hare Airport and the proposed fast connection from Downtown Chicago

Note below:

I'm wrong. There is a Metra Station serving O'Hare, called O'Hare Transfer, on the North Central Line. The issue isn't so much the time it takes to get from Downtown -- 32 minutes. It's that the service is infrequent--two trains in the morning, three trains in the afternoon, five in the evening--and not convenient for early or late flights. While the airport ground transportation system does provide service to this station, I don't know how long it takes to get to the airport from the station by shuttle. When you factor that time in (plus it costs more than the subway), the subway makes more sense.

Midway is in striking distance from the Heritage Corridor Metra line, but not super close, a few miles from the Summit Station. The line has limited service, unlike the rapid transit line.

Chicago, IL
O'Hare Airport serving the Chicago Metropolitan Area is one of the world's busiest.

Rapid transit serves the O'Hare Airport--the Blue Line--along with various bus services, including regional bus from distant locations. While Chicago has a rich system of regional railroad passenger service including the nation's only still existing interurban railway, the South Shore Line (serving Chicago from Northern Indiana) neither O'Hare nor Midway Airports are served by trains that is, the Metra system of regional passenger railroad services).  Midway too has rapid transit ("L" or "El") service, although the last time I was there, the station was a long walk with heavy baggage to the airport.

The Airports are owned by the City of Chicago, which put out a tender for creating a high(er) speed rail connection from Downtown (the Loop) to O'Hare Airport. According to Progressive Railroading ("Four teams vie to build Chicago O'Hare express rail line"), four companies have responded.

Airport service through a set of regional rail services?  In January, there was an interesting op-ed, "The limited thinking behind the O'Hare-Loop high-speed rail idea," in the Chicago Tribune making the point that (1) there isn't good recent data on how many people go to the airport from the Loop, (2) but that the most recent study (from 1988) found that it was about 20%, and (3) that it makes more sense to not just focus on adding a rail connection from Downtown but from other locations in the region as well.

-- proposal for express service to O'Hare, Midwest High Speed Rail Association

Rail service and National and BWI Airports.  That dovetails with discussion in this blog about railroad passenger access to National Airport in Northern Virginia. It's limited, but does exist via VRE, which provides limited mostly one direction service (from Virginia in the morning and to Virginia in the evening) so that the station isn't a particularly convenient way to get to the airport.

-- "A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service," 12/16
-- "Revisiting stories: ground transportation at airports (DCA/Logan)," 11/17

By contrast, the BWI Airport in Maryland is served bi-directionally by both the regional passenger service MARC and Amtrak. A few years ago, MARC added weekend service on the Penn Line serving BWI, so that it is reasonably cheap to get to and from there by train ($7 one-way) every day of the week.

Were the MARC Penn Line and VRE Fredericksburg Line to be merged as I have suggested ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines"), this would provide service to National Airport, Union Station, and BWI Airport on the same line.

Toronto and London.  WRT the desire for higher speed train service to the airport, Pearson Airport in Toronto developed such a service, separate from the existing GO passenger rail system, and it hadn't been particularly successful, although ridership has increased reasonably significantly since the premium pricing was replaced with cheaper fares ("Union Pearson Express fare slashed from $27.50 to $12, CBC; "Ridership Has Tripled on Toronto’s Union Pearson Express," Torontoist).

Heathrow Express is an example of a higher speed railroad passenger service that is premium-priced ("Heathrow Express peak fares increase by almost nine per cent," London Evening Standard) and successful, but London is a huge metropolis and an international center. 

Next year, the new London Crossrail project will bring additional passenger rail service to the Airport ("Heathrow Express braces for Crossrail to end airport monopoly," Bloomberg).

Even though O'Hare is slightly busier as the world's sixth most used airport, while Heathrow is the seventh busiest, a much greater proportion of O'Hare's users are "local" while Heathrow's customer base is international, and international travelers have a greater propensity to use higher priced ground transportation services.

Chicago and Toronto are similarly sized.  It's arguable that there is enough demand for a premium priced train service to O'Hare Airport from Downtown. But as the Toronto experience proves there is demand for a faster and more direct service, even if people aren't willing to pay a premium price.

Regional transportation planning often overlooks (or under-studies) airports.  The Downtown-centric project initiated by Mayor Emanuel does indicate that likely it's better to have a comprehensive transportation planning program for airports, led by the area metropolitan planning organization, so that broader questions can be asked and answered.

I haven't found many examples of such plans, but the Puget Sound region is one of them.

-- Regional Airport Ground Access Plan, Puget Sound Regional Council (note that the plan is out of date, and no longer on the PSRC website)

Utilizing demand for airport travel as a way to bring about better regional passenger train service to the airport and other destinations as suggested in the op-ed would achieve higher quality outcomes than the current project's strict focus on travel between Downtown Chicago and the O'Hare Airport.

One example of this is the proposed improvements at O'Hare for access from Chicago's western suburbs ("Chicago to deliver on western access facility for passengers at O'Hare, officials say," Northwest Suburbs Daily Herald).

Lessons for the proposed national infrastructure initiative
. While it's less that likely that President Trump's interest (even if significantly flawed) in spurring infrastructure development will have legs, it and the O'Hare project are illustrations that focusing on specific projects as one-off initiatives not part of larger thinking and well thought out plans means that it's easy to get a lot less return on investment from such projects than is anticipated.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

What's the responsibility for maintenance when a property owner installs an appurtenance in the public space for use by all?

The Apollo Apartment building on H Street NE--the building where the Whole Foods Supermarket is located--also has apartments on the back side of the property, on I Street NE.  Adjacent to the bike racks they installed, they put in a seemingly high quality public rated bicycle pump, by Cyclehoop.

But it's broken.  I discovered this a couple weeks ago and had to walk my bike over to Florida Avenue NE to reflate the tire that I tried to add air to there.

I informed them by email, never got a response, and the pump is still broken, with no sign on it saying it is out of order.

I guess I should report it to 311.  But how do they handle service requests on "street furniture" in the public space that is not maintained by the city?

Unworking bicycle air pump at the Apollo Apartments, 617 I Street NE

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Maybe people don't know they are bicycle racks?

Interestingly, at the Navy Yard Metrorail Station, there are two sets of bicycle racks, one by the street is a typical utilitarian set, while the other, installed by the developer of the adjacent property, employs "arty" architecturally forward racks.

When I was in the area on Wednesday, I noticed that the architecturally forward racks were unused even though they are closer to the entrance, and better placed in terms of the potential to get smacked by an errant motor vehicle.

(Unused) Fancy bicycle racks at the Navy Yard Metrorail Station

Bicycle racks adjacent to the street at the Navy Yard Metrorail Station (technically these racks don't meet DC regulations and industry practice)
Bicycle racks adjacent to the street at the Navy Yard Metrorail Station (technically these racks don't meet DC regulations and industry practice).


Some things are beyond understanding (well, not really)

<i>Understanding Trump</i> books for sale at the Ultimate Thrift Shop, Georgia Avenue NW, Washington, DC
Understanding Trump books for sale at the Ultimate Thrift Shop, Georgia Avenue NW, Washington, DC.

In "Civic engagement and governance when facts don't matter in a post-truth environment," I made the point that democracy works based on a set of conditions:

-- that citizens are committed to being informed and willing to educate themselves on the issues
-- that people running for and holding office are committed to being knowledge-driven and open to different viewpoints, and committed to quality governance
-- that political parties are motivated by the greater good, albeit committed to pushing their positions and approach to the best of their ability, but not mendaciously
-- that there is a system of media (newspapers, magazines, television, radio, cable, other) that reports on the issues and campaigns and is objective

It all falls apart if many participants in the process and "system" aren't committed to "the truth" -- facts and honesty.

I didn't feel the need to buy the book.

Speaking of Newt Gingrich, whose tenure as Speaker of the House changed Congress significantly in terms of putting party before country, I wrote this last June:

Making the Congressional Budget Office out to be a political animal against Republicans is about denying factual and objective research and analysis.

The New York Times reports ("Little known agency, striving for neutrality, finds itself under withering attack") on how Republicans are attacking the CBO for telling the truth about the impact of Republican proposals for changing health care legislation, etc.

The CBO traditionally has been seen as a nonpartisan, objective, fact-driven organization. So why should Republicans not want such an organization to be seen as credible? Because they are pushing forward legislation that is mendacious and they want to be able to deny it ("CBO Has Clear Message About Losers in House Health Bill "NYT).

Remember the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment?

I finally understand, 20 years after the fact, why the Newt Gingrich led Congress abolished the OTA ("Bring Back the Office of Technology Assessment, NYT; and "The Much-Needed and Sane Congressional Office That Gingrich Killed Off and We Need Back," The Atlantic).

It's because Gingrich, despite having a PhD and being a college professor, wasn't favoring facts and knowledge, but ideology. An independent assessor of technology and science was seen as a threat, not a capacity builder.

The same is now true of the CBO. Hopefully, the same won't happen to the Congressional Research Office.

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Um, no, DC doesn't have one of the highest rates of police shootings (flyer posted on traffic control box, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW)

Actually, DC doesn't have one of the highest rates of police shootings (flyer posted on traffic control box, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW)

This style of flyer is posted pretty frequently across the city. There is no identification on the flyers of the group putting them up.

I took the photo, forgot about it, and then when uploading some photos today, looked up some data. While of course, one killing is too many, and DC has a fair amount of violent crime, which means it's more likely that there will be some police killings, according to the most recent data I could find, from the Mapping Police Violence website (2015 data), DC ranks 46th of the nation's 60 largest cities.

Is that "one of the highest rates"?

Probably not. It definitely is a misuse of data.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

African-American History Month and Urban Planning

I have a post that I typically reprint with additions, which discusses Black History and Urban Planning.

-- "African-American History Month and (Urban and Transportation) Planning," 2017

A few weeks ago, on an e-list, someone exclaimed how an article they read about structural racism within urban renewal was revelatory.  The article wasn't all that, but it made me realize that there are basic points about historical structural racism within land use and transportation planning practice which need to be constantly repeated and reinforced.

1.  Until the late 1960s, the federal mortgage insurance program mandated segregation.  When I first learned about this--not until around 2001--I was floored.

-- "The Racist Housing Policy That Made Your Neighborhood," The Atlantic

2.  Segregated housing districts were often mandated by deed restrictions limiting the sales of property to Whites only.  The Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that this was no longer enforceable, but just because this form of segregation was no longer legal didn't mean that the practice didn't continue.

Last week, I saw a very brief presentation by two local historians, on African-American history in Ward 4, where I live in DC.  I've been aware of deed restrictions for a long time but hadn't been too interested. But even the brief presentation made me realize it's a lot more interesting than I realized.

-- Mapping segregation in Washington, DC, Prologue DC

Especially because of how long segregation in housing persisted after deed restrictions were ruled illegal--because the federal mortgage insurance underwriting restrictions remained intact.

3.  Urban renewal, focused on maintaining property values in central business districts and the cores of center cities, was, yes, often focused on ridding center city districts of low income residents, usually African-American. It wasn't called "Negro Removal," a point made first probably by writer James Baldwin, for nothing.

-- "Urban Renewal Under Fire," Congressional Quarterly Researcher

Similarly, DC's Alley Dwelling Authority, created in 1934 and rolled into other programs later, which aimed to eliminate alley housing, typically well-placed and lived in by African-Americans was a precursor to the broader urban renewal program.

-- "Wagner-Steagall and the D.C. Alley Dwelling Authority: A Bid for Housing-Centered Urban Redevelopment, 1934–1946," Journal of the American Planning Association, 78:4 (2012)

4.  Center city freeway construction programs too were a tool of reproducing space in a manner that forced out center city residents, usually Blacks, and divided neighborhoods. It turned out that freeways weren't such a great tool for urban revitalization, making the city just as easy to avoid as it was to visit.

-- "From racial zoning to community empowerment: The interstate highway system and the African American community in Birmingham, Alabama," Journal of Planning Education and Research, 2002

5. Because of how public transit was segregated, primarily in the South, you can see why African-Americans would see automobiles as a tool of liberation.

-- "Old 'Green Book' Guides for African American Travelers Get Republished in the Age of Trump," Newsweek
-- "Pit stops of safety," Architect Magazine

Separately, I think that the "Taste of Black Austin" event in Austin, Texas is cool.

-- "Taste of Black Austin returns to celebrate black food history, culture," Austin American-Statesman

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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Failure of outsourcing in Great Britain

Because the UK was the first mover in pushing a neoliberal approach to politics, governance, and government operation first under PM Thatcher but then later under Labor PM Blair, it's interesting it is running into real problems.

-- the railroads aren't running that great--although this has been an issue for a long time, see "The privatization of public utilities can be a disaster" International Herald Tribune, 2001), some of the private operators require or have received bailouts

-- and the fares are high 3x to 5x higher than on the continent or compared to the cost of US commuter rail services ("Only a third of rail commuters think fares are value for money," Guardian)

-- water bills are a lot higher under privatization as are corporate profits but quality of services hasn't improved ("Privatised water costs consumers £2.3bn more a year, study says," Financial Times)

-- heads of outsourcing operations make a lot more money to run these businesses than would the equivalent personnel in the public sector

-- local governments are outsourcing many operations out of a desperate need to reduce costs (because their budgets have been reduced by as much as 50% by the national government) with many problems and the destruction of the value of public goods

-- one big outsourcing company, Carillion, just declared bankruptcy and another isn't doing too well ("It's not just Carillion. The whole privatisation myth has been exposed," Guardian)

-- private financing (the Blair government's "Private Financing Initiative") costs a lot more than if the government were to fund projects directly ("PFI discredited by cost, complexity, and inflexibility," Financial Times) -- note that what the British call PFI we call "Public-Private Partnerships"
-- etc.

-- "The Observer view on outsourcing public services"
-- past blog entry, "Public-private partnerships aren't 'partnerships' but contractual relationships"
-- Out of Contract: Time to move on from the ‘love in’ with outsourcing and PFI, Smith Institute (UK)
-- "After Carillion and Capita, is PFI itself on the critical list?," Financial Times

Note that there is a definitional difference between privatization and outsourcing, and the UK situation is somewhat different from the US, because at the time of Margaret Thatcher's rise many UK corporations were owned by the government and for various reasons, they were not managed and operated well and were uncompetitive.

Still, when you have the country's leading financial newspaper editorializing against elements of privatization and private financing of government infrastructure, clearly something is wrong with privatization and private financing, at least at how it is practiced in Britain.

withens-avenue-hillsborough, tree cutting, sheffieldTrees in Sheffield before and after outsourcing.  Photo: Sheffield Tree Action Groups.

The UK situation is also different at the local level, where local government budgets have been decimated and so governments outsource operations in ways that end up being very deleterious, such as with public space maintenance and clear cutting of trees in Sheffield by the private operator (Look to Sheffield: this is how state and corporate power subverts democracy," Guardian).

A real problem in the UK is that when local governments outsource services they seem to cede away the legal right for public input into operation of services by and for the public.

Sure, in the US various privatized toll roads have gone bankrupt, but for the most part third party corporations are fully able to construct buildings or operate services.

And the US has always been big on contracting out operations anyway.  For example, federal laboratories are run by various corporations or universities, IT systems have been run by third parties for decades (for all of Ross Perot's talk about what a great independent businessman he was, EDS was heavily reliant on government contracts).

Governing Magazine seems to be somewhat skeptical of the likely success of All Aboard Florida, the nation's first major private railroad passenger rail service to launch in decades ("All Aboard? The Uncertain Future of America's First Privately Built Railroad in Decades").

What I think is important to be concerned with is the concept of public goods, and whether or not privatization diminishes their value.

Similarly, the neoliberal approach denigrates the value of government generally and government provided services specifically in favor of "the market," but the reality is that there is a difference between "the market," "competition," and sound management and operation of service delivery.

From the Guardian article "Neoliberalism's 'trade not aid' approach to development ignored past lessons: Neoliberal development policy was radical and abstract, but its uncompromising approach proved dangerous in the real world":
Neoliberalism is often used today as shorthand for any idea that is pro-market and anti-government intervention, but it is actually more specific than this. Above all, it is the harnessing of such policies to support the interests of big business, transnational corporations and finance. It seeks not so much a free market, therefore, as a market free for powerful interests.
The private sector, by definition, isn't necessarily the best provider anyway. Some companies are run well and are responsive to customers. Others aren't. And just like transit agencies, they often satisfice service and breadth in the face of budget cutbacks. 

And yes, some government agencies do a great job providing services, while others don't.  This can be about disconnection, labor capture, or other reasons, including corruption ("The Tax Divide" series on the property tax assessment office in Cook County, Illinois, and "A Cook County property tax study has been delayed: How convenient for Berrios," Chicago Tribune).

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