Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Urban Design Literature Review

So, for my current research, I am reviewing the urban design classics. Have any suggestions? Here is the short list for now:

Alexander, Christopher. The timeless way of building . New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Appleyard, Donald, M. Sue Gerson, and Mark Lintell. Livable streets . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Ben-Joseph, Eran, and Michael Southworth. Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996.

Gehl, Jan. Life between buildings: using public space. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987.

Lynch, Kevin. Good city form. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: MIT Press, 2001.

Marshall, Stephen. Streets and patterns. New York: Spoon Press, 2005.

Moudon, Anne Vernez. Public streets for public use. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987.

Soderstrom, Mary. The walkable city: from Haussmann's boulevards to Jane Jacobs' streets and beyond. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 2008.

Whyte, William Hollingsworth. The social life of small urban spaces. Washington, D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1980.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks – Nine Books that Shaped My Career

Many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, a joyous time to be grateful and spend with our loved ones. Aside from a supportive family, best friends, great health and so on – I wanted to take time to thank those who have written books that have changed my career. I wrote part of this post over the summer just before moving to California for graduate school.

The process of moving to California has forced me to confront my belongings over a long period of time. First I had to determine what I needed over the summer and then prioritize what was going to California, reorganize and pack. I had budget and a finite amount of things that the movers could take. The heaviest and bulky items were sent, some of the valuable things were shipped as well. Then I had to sort through what was left, I would ask myself ‘is the item worth keeping in storage until it too can make the long journey to California?’ Many things were donated and the final twelve small boxes remained.

You might ask, “What were these boxes filled with?” I had a few boxes of clothes, but the majority of the boxes were filled with papers from graduate school and books. Books have been my biggest weakness during the entire move. What to do with the books? I already left boxes of books in the trunk of my car, desensitizing myself to their charm in preparation to donate them to Bookthing. I face down another 9 of my favorites right now and think about their influence on me personally, academically and career wise. Behind each cover, an anthology of knowledge and inspiration. The 9 books that notably shaped my career as an environmentalist and I could go on.

So in an effort to part with these popular titles, I will write briefly about each one in hopes to simplify the separation process. In no particular order…

Cradle to Cradle
William McDonough & Michael Braungart
Recommended by my friend Christopher Rampton during my internship at Skanska USA Building Inc. My copy still contains six large green post-it notes and countless dog-eared pages. An amazing read, the concepts within and the durabook idea really lit the CFL above my head and caused me to read numerous other books on this list. I also referenced this title in my undergraduate thesis, the main catalyst for my entire career post construction.

The Ecology of Commerce, A Declaration of Sustainability
Paul Hawken
I am not sure if this title came next on the sustainability book reading binge or the next title by Ray Anderson. Written in 1993, do I NEED to say more?! Hawken continued to strike the fires within confirming that sustainability is not a new concept. Flipping through its pages, I long to revisit the wisdom contained inside and I realize, again, how difficult it will be to part with such treasures.

Mid-Course Correction, Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model
Ray Anderson
A fellow graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology, my hero and role model, Ray Anderson and he initially inspired me with this title. So thrilled, I remember reading this book in one weekend in 2005. As an introduction to my undergraduate thesis, I included the poem on page 174 entitled Tomorrow’s Child, still marked, dutifully, with a post-it strip. I fumble through the heavy recycled pages and find a quote from Thoreau, “What use is a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Sigh, these were the Pre-Gore days.

The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Practical Advice from The Union of Concerned Scientists
Michael Brower, Ph.D. & Warren Leon, Ph.D.
Contained within, four post-it notes and a receipt from Starbucks dating February 5th, 2006 during my grande iced mocha phase! Memories! This title really spoke to me, being the first to really spell out that people as consumers vote everyday with their dollar. We have the ability to change our habits and inspire others to become more environmentally conscious. The book is hard to put down, even to write this response. There are so many amazing tidbits of knowledge, although, compiled in 1999, I am sure it is a tad outdated.

Earth in the Balance, Ecology and the Human Spirit
Al Gore
Environment! Eco-nomics and Externalities! Oh my! I read Gore’s book within a year after viewing An Inconvenient Truth. Written in 1992, yes, nearly 20 years ago, Gore laid out a comprehensive analysis of the immense importance of striking the right balance between economy, government, resources and humanity. As Time Magazine states “His book itself is an act of leadership.” I give many thanks to Gore for putting the environmental crisis at people’s dinner tables.

Silent Spring
Rachel Carson
A classic, as I hold this book, I pause and take a breath. The cover says itself “The classic that launched the environmental movement.” I read the majority of this book on a flight from Atlanta to Toronto, with Paris as the final destination. My boarding pass was still tucked into the pages, flight DL4950 departing August 31st, 2007. My heart winces at chapter 8’s title “And no birds sing” which is related to Keats’ “The sedge is wither’d from the lake, and no birds sign.” I lament from the immense sorrow DDT imposed, with losses innumerable. The book almost looks untouched as I am always careful to never bend the spine.

Frozen Earth, The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages
Doug Macdougall
I read this shortly after moving to Baltimore for my graduate program. I was so intrigued by anthropogenic induced glacial changes; I decided to write a research paper for my Hydrology class examining the topic.

Field Notes from A Catastrophe
Elizabeth Kolbert
In her thrilling title, Kolbert covers various case studies impacted from climate change. On the back cover, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. reveals “In this riveting view of the apocalypse already upon us, Kolbert mesmerizes with her poetic cadence.” My hardcopy, adorned with pristine dust jacket, prompted me to learn about climate change’s impact on the Comma butterfly, Shishmaref’s erosion, and flooding in the Nile river delta.

Crimes against Nature, How George W. Bush & His Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country & Hijacking our Democracy
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

A rather humorous read. I presented a brief paper to my Environmental Real Estate class about the air pollution in Port Arthur, TX due to the refineries. My Professor quickly interrupted me by stating anyone can write a book, I was speechless. I later found that he was a Bush-appointed official for the EPA and not everyone that teaches in an environmental science graduate program is in fact a liberal.

Exploring each book has left me a bit saddened and broken hearted. Writing this commentary has only strengthened my bond with these priceless texts as I remember not only their contents but also what I was doing at that time in my life, where I was going and what I longed for in my academic pursuit. Their writers, their contribution to society has exposed and inspired so many. I am undeniably grateful for their efforts as the road is long, risks are great and persistence, knowing a day’s work is never done.

Needless to say, I never donated the books. I simply shipped them to Davis media mail. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Walkability and the Importance of Street Design : A Fifteen Minute Writing Exercise

Sidewalk design plays an important role in increasing walkability in an area. The architectural features adjacent to sidewalks are also important. Certain features entice people to walk. Often people just want to be around other people – to be seen. Designing street fronts with the pedestrian in mind drastically alters the street. While recently walking in San Francisco’s financial district – I noticed I was surrounded by parking garages on both sides of the street. Who would walk down this block and why?

Too often streets are designed for one user in mind – the automobile. Engineers and planners fuss endlessly about parking capacity and traffic volume while our cities’ street life decays. If we are concerned about lowering vehicle miles traveled, then maybe it should be least convenient to drive. Street design is only one component. People may walk for pleasure, but wouldn’t it be best if there was a destination in mind?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Welcome to Portland's Bike Boulevards

Portland's Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Part II Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles: A Fifteen Minute Writing Exercise

A continuation from the piece “Why Private industry will not save us from peak oil,” specifically analyzing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. As proposed by Joan Ogden, faculty at U.C. Davis, a rather limited network of stations is needed initially in the Los Angeles area for consumers. If so, why have vehicle manufacturers or energy companies not jumped on the opportunity? Where is the chutzpah of capitalism, why is “being a trendsetter” not an admirable title? And furthermore, why are corporations so afraid? Research has proven peak oil and it is a widely known fact that resources are limited. With current knowledge and technology – I am surprised a revolution has not already occurred.

The popularity of the automobile is only growing. In Dan Sperling’s book Two Billion Cars, he discusses the increased demand and impacts from such growth. Driving has even increased in the United States and, unless the recession continues, vehicle miles traveled will increase. Many places have more vehicles than residents, causing a variety of land use and environmental issues.

The hurdle to alternatives may not be the technology but rather the political and economic infrastructure. Our policies support and subsidize the gas powered automobile. Our economic systems do not truly reflect the cost of gasoline – to secure fuel, wars to support trade and demand, environmental impacts, or even the cost of roads, bridges and tunnels. Until the political and economic systems truly reflect the cost of gasoline and infrastructure – any alternative fuel vehicle will lack support form the industry.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meeting Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken brought a chuckle and smile to Greenbuild’s closing plenary yesterday. The USGBC offered attendees a revised version of his book, The Ecology of Commerce. I had the pleasure of meeting Hawken at the book signing after the speech. He penned into one of the front pages, “to Jacquelyn, with my blessings, Paul Hawken.” He has impeccable penmanship and a wonderfully lovable personality. He spoke candidly about his struggle to publish his book – how people often criticized his initial draft as being too dark. He talked about being ostracized after his talks and how he had no idea that the book would ever be this successful. Hawken thanked Ray Anderson for his early support. When Anderson read The Ecology of Commerce in 1994, it was a “spear in his chest,” in 2005, the book was a spear in mine along with Anderson’s Mid Course Correction.

When meeting Hawken, all I could do was shake his hand and thank him profusely for his impact by persevering and publishing The Ecology of Commerce. I wished him well, a picture was taken and off I went. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to thank such a prominent figure in the field – the speech, exchange and his legacy has been and will continue to be nothing short of inspirational.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why private industry will not save us from peak oil: A Fifteen Minute Writing Exercise

It is a common belief that technology and private industry will save us from dwindling resources and peak oil by developing flex fuel or battery power vehicles. However, when analyzing other industries, the private sector has made certain technological advances, but not necessarily for the public benefit. Private sector businesses are often solely focused on profit, and other endeavors, to benefit the public, fall by the wayside.

For example, how the pharmaceutical industry seeks likely illnesses and diseases to develop curative medicines. There are countless blood pressure medicines on the market, or drugs to treat depression. But what about rare cancers that people still suffer from, what are industries doing for those individuals? Research and development is often spent in areas likely to reap a reward.

Similarly, our food industry has fallen victim to private sector profit mongering. Highly processed foods are more profitable and food makers are pulling all the stops to increase profit and drive down quality. Hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics are all used to keep our food systems “productive,” but what is the value in producing food that makes people ill? All the side effects from this system are placed outside of the economic model. The fact that highly processed foods are likely to cause diabetes is never a line item on the balance sheet.

Likewise, why would private industry automobile and energy companies go out of their way to produce alternative fuel vehicles for the common good? They would be taking a risk, even though peak oil is upon us, they have a profit margin to worry about. In this instance, capitalism is not pushing competitiveness, it is a lame duck with each company daring the other to take the leap and “pave the way.” In these economic times, who is going to reach out and be the Ford of the new century?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bikes I have enjoyed photographing in New York City

A visual response to Kaid Benfield's piece "Bikes I have enjoyed photographing."

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Summary - Landscape Preservation and the Containment of Urban Growth

Land use and transportation policy co-determine the development of the urban fabric. Sprawling development changes the land use function by developing unaltered contiguous land into fragmented parcels. If uncontrolled and uninterrupted by geographic features, urban growth will continue along transportation arteries and expand outward, creating exurban development to the detriment of surrounding landscapes. The ability to measure sprawl provides an excellent management tool for planners and municipalities to monitor land use development. Municipalities can use this data to strategically implement alternative land use development policies and make projections for future development. Ewing et al. developed the most comprehensive method for assessing sprawl measuring twenty-two factors of development focusing on four major dimensions: density, mix, centers, and streets. Scores are pooled within these dimensions and averaged to create an overall index. The components of the index can be used as a scorecard assessing development trends. Municipalities can monitor development and implement urban containment policies to effectively preserve landscapes. Through continued monitoring, municipalities can later reassess development and critique tactics for harnessing sprawl. The ability to measure sprawl is necessary to implement policy driven strategies for harnessing unsustainable development.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

LaHood puts Foot Down

Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, stood his ground this week by notifying newly elected Republican officials to either spend the dedicated federal funds on high speed rail or return the money.

The Ballet of the City Sidewalk

Excerpt from The Death and Life of Great American Cities – Jane Jacobs

Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance – not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dances and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and it any one place is always replete with new improvisations.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What is Suburban Sprawl? Ideas to Manage

Suburban sprawl is defined as non-contiguous development occurring on or beyond the urban fridge on land typically classified as Greenfield space. This type of development is characteristically automobile dependent and low density with single use spaces segregated by zoning. Sprawl tends to lack identity, exhibiting the “geography of nowhere” in James Kunstler’s terms.

Communities want to manage growth and minimize sprawl because it is more cost effective to cluster development as there is less infrastructure to manage. By implementing mixed use infill development, communities run less power, water and sewer lines. Also, there are fewer roadways, which are considerably expensive to install and maintain. Emergency services travel shorter distances. In some instances, children may be able to walk to school thus eliminating school busses. There are also many social benefits including increased community interaction and in some cases, lower crime.

There are a variety of ways to limit growth. One of the most stringent, and controversial, ways to limit growth is by implementing the urban growth boundary (UGB) around a community with policies limiting the subdivision of land beyond the boundary. In twenty years, the community may wish to redefine the UGB but until that time, growth occurs only within the boundary. Another way to limit growth is to provide incentives for infill development. Incentives may waive taxes or fees, and could include faster planning approval time lines. Incentives are a more likely measure to limit growth and less politically contentious to implement.

Moving forward, certain policies are necessary to curb automobile use and increase alternative transportation modes. Policies need to encourage mixed-use infill development that bolsters alternative transportation. Zoning may need to be altered to allow higher densities.

Smart growth aims to implement infill development that mixes use that creates vibrant areas for alternative transportation. Smart growth examines development at a larger scale than the New Urbanist movement, which is more concerned with fine-scale design issues along with community function. Both are effective strategies for managing growth when implemented properly. The New Urbanist communities implemented like Seaside, Florida or Kentlands, Maryland have received major criticism for not having adequate job-housing balance, high automobile dependence, and Greenfield development.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Baltimore - More than Words

Who says beauty can not reside in the gritty urban city?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Clip from The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

William H. Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces - The Street Corner from MAS on Vimeo.

Watching Whyte's film in tomorrow's class.

Introduction to Road Design – A Response to Current Times: A Fifteen Minute Writing Exercise

Transportation planning in the United States is a complex endeavor involving federal, state and local governments. Transportation planning and road design have two main purposes, to create mobility and accessibility. Different designs are used for different functions. For instance an interstate a few access points but high speeds for mobility. Conversely, cul-de-sacs have high accessibility with limited mobility.

The urban fabric comprises of a complex network of phenomena. Spanning time and consisting of many layers; community design, the marrying of architecture, planning and socioeconomics - planning is a response to current phenomena. Thought of as a positive response to the ills of that era.

For example, the Garden City inspired Radburn plan in Fairlawn, New Jersey, some 16 miles from New York City, and designed by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright. The Radburn plan was a direct response to increased automobile usage, congestion, squalor, and gridiron of New York City at that time in the mid 1920s. The Garden City concept implemented curvilinear streets, used a hierarchy of streets, and conserved land for public green space.