Blog: July, 2010
W Hotel Greens Existing Building
[Photo Credit: Timothea Tway]
At SPUR we work hard to promote the use of green building and energy efficiency practices. (Did you know the SPUR Urban Center recently achieved a LEED Silver rating? Look for it in our lobby soon!) The City of San Francisco has a comprehensive green building ordinance to address new buildings and large retrofitting projects, however we always love to see more retrofitting of existing buildings in order to further conserve resources.
That's why we're so excited about W San Francisco. Located a few blocks from SPUR in the heart of SOMA, the W Hotel recently received the first LEED certification of an existing building owned by a major hotel chain in the nation. The building is also only the seventh hotel in the country to receive LEED recognition for an existing building.
In order to help achieve LEED certification, the hotel incorporated energy efficient lighting into 70% of its guest rooms, and utilized motion sensors and an HVAC system to save 300kWh of energy annually. The hotel also offers "zero-waste," carbon neutral events as well as meeting experiences for clients featuring local and organic food and beverages. The hotel is even considering incorporating wind turbines on the building's roof in order to further improve energy efficiency, which, if implemented, would be a first for a commercial building in downtown San Francisco.
The City of San Francisco currently has more than 50 LEED certified buildings, many of which are newly constructed. Hopefully this project will bring attention to the many opportunities in the City for green retrofitting and the benefits of improving the energy efficiency of already existing buildings. For more information on this topic, check out this recent report by the Mayor's Task Force on Existing Commercial Buildings.
Signing petitions for the Fix Muni Now campaign. [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Elbsernd Muni reform measure has money and signatures to spare: SF Supervisor Elsbernd proudly presents the nearly 75,000 signatures collected for Fix Muni Now, the SPUR/Elsbernd Muni reform campaign which has proved successful despite union and mayoral opposition.
The case for pay-as-you-drive car insurance: This idea for usage-based car insurance, charging a fee per miles traveled, could deter unnecessary driving and provide a financial incentive for drivers to use their cars less -- practical for pocketbooks and the environment.
Pop-up restaurants popping up all over: In an effort to avoid the financial risk of opening a restaurant and to minimize the subsequent waste of resources if it fails, temporary and sustainable eateries have begun "popping-up" around the globe.
Inventive possibilities for urban farming: A Philadelphia-based organization wants to turn the unused roofs of Philly homes into vibrant mini-farms that would supply the neighborhood with fresh and local produce.
Ellen Dunham-Jones: Retrofitting Suburbia: How do we make our existing suburbias meet the needs of a new generation of residents who prefer green housing and urban dwelling to a two-car garage and suburban sprawl?
HSR Report: What can California Learn from High-Speed Rail Systems around the World?
This Week: JAPAN
For evident selfish reasons, I like to tout the Golden State as the breeding ground for innovation. And as California attempts to build the first high-speed rail (HSR) network in the country, it's tempting to consider ourselves warriors heralding in a new day for transportation. Really, though, HSR has been successful for decades in Asia and Europe. Nations from South Africa to South Korea are doing precisely what California hopes to achieve.
Scheduled to break ground in two years, HSR in California is the single largest infrastructure investment since the days of Eisenhower's superhighways. HSR will transform the space-time dynamic, seamlessly connecting cities across the state. It presents enormous opportunities for economic development, mass transportation and transit-oriented development. On the flip side, the environmental, economic and social costs of screwing up high speed rail are equally great. To facilitate the former, it is imperative to analyze the experiences and operational context of our HSR predecessors abroad—which I'll conveniently take up in this blog series.
Let's start at the beginning: Japan
[Photo Credit: flickr user jamesjustin]
The case of Japan is particularly relevant to California because it simultaneously articulates the best and worst effects of HSR. Plus, even though Japan developed the world's first system in 1964, its system remains iconic. The sleek efficiency and glamour of the Shinkansen train streaming past at 200 mph is hard to deny.
Practically from the onset, HSR in Japan has turned a profit, repaying initial construction costs in just seven years. Acknowledging the transformative economic and social potential of HSR, the government-owned Japan National Railways (JNR) addressed both operational efficiency and development around the station. JNR operated all rail transportation in Japan, integrating local and regional transit with the Shinkansen HSR, which made transit more convenient and accessible. On the development front, in the wake of the Shinkansen, many station areas grew into active, high-density office and residential spaces. However, it's difficult to tell how much of this growth would have occurred anyway. HSR may have simply redistributed growth around the station.
The system certainly redistributed and concentrated growth within urban areas, but it had some of the most profound—if harried—effects on more rural areas. Inherently, HSR's speed and convenience has the potential to expose previously remote locations to development, mobility and job markets. And in Gifu, the new transportation system stymied economic development for decades.
[Photo Credit: flickr user kamoda]
When a new Shinkansen station was announced in 1964, speculation led to high land costs that quashed developers in the area. Without a strong link to Gifu, the station area for decades remained low density, and the viability of the Shinkansen station continued to rely on large customer parking lots. However, things have changed. Since 2007, just north of Gifu Station today stands a 43-story high-rise residential and office tower, the tallest building in the prefecture. In fact, recent construction centers on Gifu Station.
After twenty years as a national railway company engaged in both operations and station area development, the Japan Railways (JR) Group fragmented into seven regional, for-profit companies in 1987. These seven private entities have further diversified to incorporate—in addition to land development—hotel development, retail sales and tourism under their purview. The JR Group even has offices in Paris and New York to further promote tourist-use of the Shinkansen. The network continues to redefine itself.
Meanwhile, California grapples with alignment and ridership projections and local land use policies. So what can we learn from HSR in Japan?
- Planning is important for the coordination of station area economic development and operational efficiency
- Integrated regional transit and HSR is imperative to attract ridership
- Because HSR stands to transform rural areas the most, they warrant increased attention
In the coming weeks, we'll look at HSR in France and the United Kingdom, drawing conclusions about what it all means in the California context.
SPUR's policy paper on high speed rail is due out this fall.
What's in a Name? Mission Bay's "Block 27 Parking Structure" Highlights Neighborhood's Potential
Maybe "Block 27 Parking Structure" isn't the most promising of names, but there's not much one can do to jazz up this widely reviled building type, so why try to come up with something catchy -- right?
At least that's what I thought before encountering WRNS Studio's garage on SPUR's Mission Bay walking tour last week. The Mission Bay Redevelopment District, home to luxury condos, swanky biotech headquarters, and a burgeoning UCSF campus, contains one of the most inspired parking structures around. Winner of a 2010 AIA San Francisco Design Award, the building incorporates "a deeply canted plaster wall" and perforated aluminum panels to great effect, standing out sharply from the surrounding office park. Although I'm not sure anyone on the tour picked up on the "pixelated imagery of California's redwood forests," it's curious to think that a parking garage, of all things, could invoke the region's ecological heritage.
The parking structure, which will accommodate the parking needs of nearby laboratories and offices, joins Ricardo Legorreta's UCSF Community Center and Richard Serra's giant oxidized steel sculptures as landmarks in this newly minted high-tech community. All these structures incorporate elements inspired from nature and contrast sharply with the glossy corporate setting, creating a more textured and personal sense of place in Mission Bay.
Ballast, Richard Serra (left); UCSF Community Center, Ricardo Legorreta (right)
[Photo Credit: All photos by Colleen McHugh]
Datablog: Does Unemployment Equal More Crime?
Crime and unemployment: two things cities consistently battle with, but rarely like to talk about. While it may seem like these two issues are linked, with crime rising out of necessity, GOOD's recent infographic shows that a positive correlation may not exist. Working with Part and Parcel, a small design firm in New York, GOOD's Transparency graphic confronts this issue in a very direct manner. Using the FBI's crime data going back to 1989, this graphic sorts crime into two categories: violent and property crime.
"¨"¨[Image Credit: GOOD Magazine, Part & Parcel]
Stand-Out Facts: "¨"¨
As unemployment rose from 5.8 to 9.3 from 2008 to 2009, property crime dropped 6%"¨"¨
Violent crime has dropped 44% from 1991 to 2009"¨"¨
This infographic succeeds in describing a few complex problems and dispels the notion that as unemployment rises, crime would inevitably increase. In its simplicity, however, the graphic fails to provide alternative explanations for the general trend of dwindling crime since 1989. While it's a great snapshot of the issue, the graphic should not be a substitute for further analysis.
Recently, crime data in San Francisco has become publicly accessible through the city's DataSF website. Doug McCune, a local blogger, took the crime data from 2009 and presented it in a captivating and unique form - elevation maps. As additional cities choose to release this type of information, we look forward to the creative ways citizens will use this data.
Fix Muni Now Campaign and Supervisor Elsbernd Deliver Nearly 75,000 Petitions to City Hall
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
For the past several months, SPUR has been working with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and the Fix Muni Now campaign to get Muni reform on the November ballot. Later today, the campaign will submit to the Department of Elections nearly 75,000 petitions—about 30,000 more than needed to qualify for the November ballot. The signature-gathering effort relied heavily on the help of hundreds of volunteers from throughout the city who, over the course of the past two months, brought in thousands of signatures gathered from friends, co-workers, and family members.
Now that signature-gathering is complete, the next phase of the campaign will involve reaching out to neighborhood organizations, advocacy groups, and others in San Francisco who benefit from good public transit—in other words, nearly every group in the city—and letting them know how critical it is that this reform passes in November.
Are you interested in helping the campaign? We're looking for volunteers to help do everything from knocking on doors and making phone calls to writing letters to newspapers and speaking on the campaign's behalf to groups volunteers are active in. If you are interested in helping out, please send an email to email@example.com.