Tag Archives: Urbanism

Selling Public Transit with Smart & Sexy Advertising

Americans have been being sold the dream of driving for decades. Cleaver advertising campaigns have been manipulating our collective conscience to keep cars synonymous with freedom. However, change seems to be in the air. I think I am going to take the bus this week.

This clip comes from M2 Film out of Germany. It does a great job:

1.) Glorifying small details as tremendous technology.
2.) Leaving a lasting image of the open road in viewers minds.
3.) And, of course, positioning riding the bus as a sexy activity.

Seems like a lot of the same tricks the automobile industry has been using for decades.

Placecraft: The Art of Shaping the Built Environment to Create Value

This term, Placecraft, is new. My friend Jen Krouse coined it while producing a month long planning event Imagining North Adams that is happening now. I need to thank Jen for asking me to participate in, as far as I know, the first Placecraft Summit happening this Friday in North Adams. She has defined the term as:

Placecraft = the careful art of shaping the built environment to create value, strengthen community, and protect the ecosystem. The term encompasses like-minded movements such as Placemaking, Smart Growth, and New Urbanism, among others.

I have been looking forward to this event because it is opening up the dialogue for how we can go about crafting great places. This is very much linked the Tactical Urbanism effort currently underway. There are several questions that keep coming up for me that I hope to discuss while in North Adams:

  1. How does local culture inform the building of authentic places?
  2. What role does the public have in the building of authentic places?
  3. More importantly, what role should the public not play?
  4. And, since we’ll be near Mass MoCa, what role should art have in the shaping of our towns and cities?

This month long series of events and Tactical Urbanism installations is a wonderful model for smaller towns and cities to explore for how to move big planning ideas forward. North Adams is very lucky to have Jen volunteering her time to make this all happen. If you are looking for a reason to visit the Berkshire Mountains stop by the Placecraft Summit or the Tactical Urbanism Salon this weekend.

Image Credit: Imagining North Adams Facebook Page

 

Integrated Transit Planning: Principles for Providence’s Mobility Network

Public Transit is the live blood of the modern city. It has become more and more apparent that the cities that have robust regional transit options will be the cities that prosper. I am excited about the plans that the Rhode Island Public Transit Administration is drawing up for the first Streetcar line serving downtown in over 60 years. With all the talk of transit going on due to RIPTA’s Core Connector Study, I pulled together the principles below to hopefully inspire the creation of a better plan that supports a more prosperous region that is, of course, a nicer place to live.

This is an incomplete list, and it would be great to hear your additions in the comments below.

The Region

The physical organization of the Metropolitan Providence should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.

A transit system should support the ongoing development of towns and cities by respecting historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.

Transit should serve to connect activity centers within the region. Corridors should be located to encourage the redevelopment of existing city fabric. The evolution of suburban development should also be considered when locating these corridors. Failing suburban retail center, big box stores and office parks should be consider retrofit opportunities that would add higher densities if served by transit.

Strong connection to regional rail and shipping services is not only an economic necessity, but will provide further alternatives to highway driving for the business and citizens in Providence.

Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways. Transit spines should work with these larger linear features to enhance the connections between neighborhoods.

Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, will help organize Providence’s metropolitan structure and revitalize the urban core. These corridors should be planned to connect neighborhoods and to provide easy access to the services and destination located in Downtown.

Wherever possible, new development shall be sited on underutilized, poorly designed or already developed land. Transit stops should be located in these areas to encourage redevelopment. Future development should be organized based on the principles of a walkable neighborhood with plans for transit integrated into the design.

Neighborhoods must be compact, with a range of densities that are compatible with existing places and cultures. Successful transit options require lively, mixed-use urban places.

Brownfields shall be redeveloped, using cleanup methods that reduce or eliminate site contaminants and toxicity. Redevelopment of these sites should rely on transit and reduce or eliminate parking requirements.

Networks

Multiple transit option should be provided to ensure all citizens of Providence have access to jobs, entertainment and recreation. Automobile travel should be discouraged to promote more sustainable forms of mobility.

A resilient transportation network requires many nods, stations and multiple opportunities to navigate to a destination. Planners must recognize that people will change their course if needed and the network should provide as many choices as possible.

A transit system should be organized around a network of corridors, and thoroughfares. Transferring from one mod to another should be easy and well organized. Expansion of the network should create a web of transit facilities.

Providence has a fragmented urbanism which transit should work to connect. The network should provide transportation option within a neighborhood as well as travel between neighborhoods.

Streets and Blocks

The design of streets and the entire right-of-way shall be directed at the positive shaping of the public realm to encourage shared pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular use.

All transit stops should be designed as permanent amenities to the streetscape. These stations should build on the culture and identity of both the corridor and neighborhood.

Development should create a positive public realm that is designed to provide pedestrian comfort and safety. Transit should be integrated within developments and public space to further enhance these aims.

Retail and first floor commercial uses are important elements of a mixed use neighborhood. Transit should be planned to enhance the economic development potential of first floor uses that will add life to the street and enhance community safety.

Buildings

Development within a five minute walk of transit should not require parking. The market should dictate if any off street parking is needed based on sales or leasing requirements.

Transit infrastructure should respect the character of the neighborhood. The streetscape, including transit facilities, should be designed to improve the pedestrian experience, and enhance the surrounding businesses.

For more on smart planning principles click herehere and here.

[Image By food_pvd]

Bicycle Diaries, Emergent Architecture and David Byrne

David Byrne @ Bellhouse Jan 11, 2010 The incredible wise and creative Mr. David Byrne lectured in Providence at the invitation of the Mayor earlier this week. I hope this is an indication that the city is ready to look seriously at its bicycle infrastructure. Biking can be such a pleasant, and affordable, way to travel the city, and with Providence’s compact size we are missing a huge opportunity. The number one excuse I hear from potential bikers in Providence is the hills. Well, San Francisco has hills and they have still managed to embrace a bicycle culture. Real cities all over the country are putting biking on an equal footing with bus, rail and streetcar as a serious transit component. It was great to hear Mr. Byrne’s thoughts on the subject.

If you have not had the chance to read Mr. Byrne’s latest book, Bicycle Diaries, I highly recommend it. There was one particular chapter that has kept me thinking. Here is a quote:

“It is as if some genetic architectural propensity exists in us, that guides us, subtly and invisibly, as to how to best organize first a kiosk, then a stall, and from there add incrementally as our innate instincts guide us. Until soon enough there exists a whole marketplace and neighborhood.” – Bicycle Diaries, p.138

He is pointing out an interesting occurrence where public markets found throughout the globe are organized in strikingly similar forms. These forms are perhaps patterns that emerge from us humans as naturally as bees construct their hives or beavers their dams. The contemporary practice of urbanists and architects might be fancied with the theory of Emergent Architecture. However, I still think more focus is needed to fully apply this natural occurrence to the planning of our cities and towns.

Here is a link to more information about the David Byrne lecture. There is also some interesting writings over at Living Urbanism that are related to Emergent Architecture.

Photo by marc dalio

How Can Your City Support Extreme Sports?

With Bill on his way up the eastern sea board, there is a buzz of activity taking place in preparation for some potentially epic surf & kiting. Having talked with a half dozen friends this afternoon about the best spots, times and equipment needed to enjoy the most Bill has to offer I came to realize an interesting connection between cities and progressive sports. The video above was taken at Pleasure Bay in South Boston. You can literally take public transportation to one of the best kiteboarding location I’ve ever rode. How does your city take advantage of its natural environment to support these extreme sports? Sure, a glass calm, wind swept bay is not a straight forward as a little league baseball field, but skate parks, kitesurfing launches, surfing access to beaches and urban bouldering can all become unique amenities to a city. What type of riding can you enjoy in your city?

The American Clean Energy Security Act & Urbanism

Meeting Al Gore at Obama's 2009 InaugurationA Cape-and-trade system is at the core of the house version of the American Clean Energy Security Act passed on Friday. I know very little about climate change science and even less about cap-and-trade economics, but something strikes me as strange about this whole system. Isn’t it still only addressing the symptoms and not the cause? Ultimately, the reduction of carbon emitting lifestyles in America will lead to larger reductions in CO2 emissions. The bill does establish a 2020 target for America to have 20% of it’s power generated by renewables. Which seems like a good start, but is it enough? Just as the Huffington Post article points out what is missing, I would like to question if true, long term solutions are being considered. Why is urbanism not discussed as a viable solution to our environmental crisis? Rather then figuring out what to do with the carbon created by our car-centered American lifestyle, why not focus on how to stop producing the carbon all together. The last time I checked, walking wasn’t a tax and was good for both you and the environment. Now, why hasn’t the form of our built environment been called into question? I share Al Gore’s excitement over this “extraordinary moment“, and yet I fear real solutions to our global challenge have not yet been broadly discussed.

The Rural Urbanism of Fishers Island

2009_05_fishers_island_showThere are places in this country that have managed to stop time and not age. Fishers Island, New York is one of these places. The island is a magnificant example of a rural urbanism. Even with the dirt roads and stunning landscape, a framework of compact, pedestrian centers hold the island’s charming character together. The grocery store is the first neighborhood center with the yacht club a short walk away. The fire station, hardware store and public docks create the second nod of activity. The two unique structures, each perched on the edge of the shore hanging effortlessly over the waters of the bay, are timeless buildings grown out of utility and love. The final, and most active center, is of course where the coffee shop, ice cream and liquor stores are located. Pulled together with a handful of other, more urban minded, buildings this hamlet is more about the landscape supporting the structures then the framing of space through architecture. It is both a garden and a retail district all in one. We were lucky enough, as guests of friends, to be within walking distance of the ice cream shop. The wind worn shingle siding, painted wood floors and 1940′s bathroom fixtures were the final touches convincing me that the Island had not been touched by time for generations. A truly remarkable collection of timeless buildings and character defining landscapes.

Are the Suburbs Modern Frontier Settlements?


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Spending the holidays in Florida has left me wondering about the wild west. I realized the suburbs are the modern equivalent of the frontier town. Sprawling out across the landscape consuming resources as if they were kids in a candy store. They may not have been built as quickly as the gold rush town’s of the West, but the modern suburban development performs under strikingly similar principles.

First, profitable natural resources spark hysteria (after 1848 it was Gold, recently it was cheap land & gas). Second, the masses built as quickly as possible to consume and capitalize on the resource. Third, society turns a blind eye to the lack of civility present in these places (then it was gun fights in the streets, now it is half hour drives to buy milk). Fourth, the resource is consumed. Finally, no further financial growth occurs and investment into the infrastructure specifically design for harvesting the natural resource deteriorates. Ghost towns, prairie outposts and, luckily, San Francisco were left in the wake of the Gold Rush. What will we do with the suburbs now that the resource of cheap land and easy mortgages have come and gone?

Frontier development is inherit to American culture. By reframing our view of the suburbs as the modern equivalent of a typical America typology, frontier development, are we able to better forecast the proper course of action for the future of the suburban landscape now that the boom is over? How will the end of this cycle change the perceived permanence of sprawl development? This temporal manifestation of capitalism must be accepted as a frontier experiment. Will the deeply rooted opposition to change and growth that exists in the exurbs of America today be able to accept the urbanization of these places? The suburbs are either the first step for the establishment of a new settlement or the are the begin of the modern ghost town. 

I hope our governments current stimulus package takes into account the grand retrofit of suburbia that will have to occur in the coming decades. Instead of building bridges and highways, why not build parking structures and public transit systems that will support the compact development a sustainable future requires.