Blog: August, 2010
Why Are Our Roads Seeing Red?
[Image courtesy of Streetsblog]
San Francisco has a problem with its roads. Since 1988, the average pavement condition of roads in San Francisco has declined 20%. No longer considered an essential city service to be paid for out of the City's General Fund, city officials are looking for new ways to pay for street repavement projects. They are also prioritizing street repairs based on how fundamental each road is to the overall system.
With the current average PCI (pavement condition index) of San Francisco roads registering at 63 out of 100, we are in a troubling situation. Our roads are no longer considered "Good" (roads with scores of 70 and above). Instead they are dangerously close to "At risk" (roads at 57 and below).
According to a report prepared by San Francisco's capital planning program, "San Francisco's street network as a whole is slightly below the threshold for preventive maintenance. Engineers typically identify a PCI of 64 as a tipping point at which the pavement deterioration rate begins to steeply increase and more expensive treatments are needed for repair." The report also claims the cost of repair of any San Francisco street will be four times more over the course of 70 years of use, if the proper preventive maintenance does not occur. If new funding sources are not identified, our roads stand to decline at the rate of roughly a point per year.
To get a complete analysis of San Francisco's roads, and how we can best address this problem click here.
Known for their work in the intersection of design and data, Stamen and SimpleGeo have joined forces in taking an interactive look at this issue. They take the PCI statistics, readily available on DataSF, and overlay them on a map of San Francisco. We look forward to seeing a lot less red in the future.
Roads with PCI of 0-49 shown in red, 40-69 in yellow [Image courtesy of San Francisco Department of Public Works]
Farming the City: Hayes Valley Farm
A patch of greenery at Hayes Valley Farm [Photo Credit: Fabiana Meacham]
Situated on a former off-ramp to Highway 101, Hayes Valley Farm is a powerful symbol of a bottom-up transformation of neglected urban infrastructure. Planned according to permaculture design principles, which mimic the biological relationships found in naturally occurring ecosystems, the farm will serve as an exemplary model of this design philosophy.
Although the farm currently has only a two to five year interim use permit for the site, volunteers and staff have wasted no time creating a new kind of urban landmark for the Hayes Valley community. In addition to providing an opportunity for locals to learn about growing food, the farm offers a variety of workshops and classes, including yoga in the mornings.
The community response has been "overwhelming" according to Garden Educator Intern Dave McConville, with up to 2,000 volunteers (mostly drop-ins) participating within the last six months. He senses that "people are looking to get involved with solutions" and recognize "a need for change."
On a recent Sunday afternoon at Hayes Valley Farm, the picturesque Freeway Food Forest — a literal freeway of edible plants — could be found on the site of the former off-ramp, yellow lines still in tact. A small group of volunteers conversed quietly while working in the shade, a young man read a book on a pile of cardboard, and a passerby admired the unexpected sight of a farm in the middle of the city.
The Freeway Food Forest [Photo Credit: Fabiana Meacham]
A moment of repose [Photo Credit: Fabiana Meacham]
The farm thrives behind the chain-link fencing [Photo Credit: Fabiana Meacham]
Hayes Valley Farm is a featured project in DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change, opening Tuesday, September 7. Purchase tickets here.
The last installment of "Farming the City" profiled Alemany Farm.
Market Street [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
The Good, the Bad and the Empty: Students at Walt Whitman Middle School in partnership with the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)made a video examining the link between land-use and neighborhood well-being by asking the basic but thought-provoking question of "Why are there so many empty lots in our neighborhood?" More on CUP here.
Homeless and Empty Homes—an American Travesty: With 3.5 million homeless U.S. residents, and more than 18 million vacant homes across the country, should we be finding ways to turn these empty houses into shelters for people in need?
What Beijing's 62-Mile, Nine-Day Traffic Jam Means for China's Turbulent Future of the Car: Popular Science's Clay Dillow suggests that China's nine-day-long traffic jam, having unveiled the flaws of an auto-centric transit system, has the potential to spark serious urban planning and infrastructure innovations.
Car-Free Community Cropping up in Rural Columbia Suburb: The nation's first car-free, cycle-oriented community is under development in South Carolina. The town, appropriately named "Bicycle-City," hopes to tackle the problems of obesity and climate change all at once.
To Catch Cairo Overflow, Two Megacities Rise in Sand: Cairo has become so overcrowded that the Egyptian government has undertaken the massive urban planning project of building two megacities from scratch in order to house the millions of residents the city can no longer sustain.
"Palletecture" Marks Trend in Use of Recycled Building Materials
An example of "Palletecture" from I-Beam Design [Photo via I-Beam Design]
Architects and designers are getting creative about finding low-cost ways to build green structures that are just as compelling, if not more so, than their pricier counterparts. It is no wonder, then, that trends such as "Palletecture" and other forms of architecture that use recycled and reclaimed materials have become a worldwide phenomenon.
Palletecture is more or less what it sounds like—a new and surprisingly trendy form of architecture that utilizes old shipping pallets as a building material. The benefits of using pallets over traditional building mediums are many. For starters, pallets are easy to come by; they are durable, reusable, and come in a standard size. Units built with pallets are also inexpensive, running as low as $11 per square foot, making them perfect for use in low-income and transitional housing.
One example of Palletecture's potential for humanitarian use is a prototype designed by the American firm I-Beam, which employs pallets to create a temporary shelter for refugees that can be built in less than two weeks, and can be manipulated to accommodate the needs of the individual families who live in them.
Architects have also used Palletecture for less philanthropic purposes, building single-family homes for environmentally-conscious clients, and even for building structures as grandiose as an opera house.
Palletecture is not the only trendy form of architecture utilizing recycled material. As of late, shipping containers have been gaining popularity as a building material for many of the same reasons pallets have—low cost, efficiency and universality. With fewer demands on our manufacturing infrastructure, thousands of shipping containers sit untouched in shipyards, no longer needed for their original purpose of exporting goods. Recently, architects have thought to turn the unused shipping containers into dynamic livable spaces. Shipping containers are popular materials for housing, as they can be converted into unexpectedly homey dwellings for the fraction of the cost and resources of conventional building materials -- and with the added bonuses of mold, termite and fire resistance.
In 2008, a shipping container was converted into a low-tech "Tasting Pavillion" for the San Francisco Food Festival, and more recently several recycled shipping containers were used to build the stunning OceanScope Observatory in South Korea.
A dumpster pool in New York City [Photo Credit: flickr user Inhabitat]
One of the most popular and recent projects that utilized discarded material for urban revitalization was the dumpster pools installed in New York City this summer. The idea was simple in nature, but innovative in that the architects utilized a lowly dumpster, turning it into a structure that was well designed, and brought strangers together who wouldn't have otherwise interacted.
Architects and designers are drawn towards recycled building materials such as pallets and shipping containers, not only for their low cost and green credentials, but also because of the interesting design challenge these materials present. As one I-Beam architect writes on "Palletecture," "each pallet has its own difficulties, it has its own geometry, and its own embedded history"¦ for an architecture student spending most of his or her time working in front of a computer, it is an eye-opening opportunity to confront real material that has mass, weight and structure, history, resistance, and ideas."
The success of these recent architectural innovations can be attributed to more than just a trend. Their popularity might stem from the fact that they present one possible future for the direction of sustainable cities, and they give us, as an urban society, hope that we can thrive in a world affected by climate change. Why not use these materials that would otherwise sit unused in the landfill to create a something that furthers the architectural dialogue, or betters our built environment?
New Housing Affordability Index Now Includes Cost of Transportation
While living in the suburbs often appears less expensive than living in the city, this is often not the case when factoring in transportation costs. The Center for Neighborhood Technology just released an expanded version of their housing and transportation index which provides a comprehensive view of neighborhood affordability. Unlike other affordability indices, the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index takes into account transportation costs associated with neighborhood design and location. Their website allows users to explore neighborhood-level data about housing and transportation prices which include information on auto ownership, transit use, and housing density that can help Americans make more informed decisions about where they want to live.
[Map generated on H + T website comparing affordability in the Bay Area]
The H + T Affordability Index is a product of a collaboration with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Center for Transit Oriented Development and was developed as a project for the Brookings Institution's Urban Markets Initiative. In the works since 2006, the Affordability Index recently expanded its analysis to cover 330 metropolitan areas in the United States, which accounts for more than 80% of the population in the United States and covers more than 161,000 neighborhoods.
SPUR understands the role that effective and affordable transportation options play in affordability and quality of life. Check out SPUR's article on Transit-Oriented Development in the Bay Area as well as our transportation page for more information on how SPUR is working to encourage better transportation options in the Bay Area visit.
Graphic Designers Create Informational Posters on Complex Policy Issues
[The Vendor Power! poster breaks down NYC's rules and regulations for street vendors. Photo courtesy of Making Policy Public]
Much to the chagrin of many graphic designers, the most effective and skilled examples of their trade often exist within the field of advertising, where the profits reaped from consumption dominate the end product. But when the rare opportunity does arise to use graphic design for the public good, the results can be inspiring and just as effective.
By bringing together advocates and designers to create informational fold-out posters, the Center for Urban Pedagogy's (CUP) "Making Policy Public" project illustrates and elucidates complex policy issues for the average person. CUP has released a total of six posters on issues ranging from immigration rights to the juvenile justice system. Rather than taking a hard stance on most issues, the posters serve to educate the public about the policies that currently exist, emphasizing their impact on communities and personal lives.
Although hard copies of the posters are for sale through the website, PDF versions are available for free online. While CUP is a New York-based organization that deals largely with local issues, the posters are nevertheless an inspiring example of how we might use graphic design to teach ourselves and our communities about the often nebulous world of public policy.
Urban Craft: Print Shops and Big Ideas
The Levi's Workshop on Valencia Street [Photo Credit: flickr user thepostfamily]
Nestled among artisan manufacturers and freshly ground coffee, the Levi's Workshop at 580 Valencia Street continues the Mission's tradition of craft through a community print shop. This bold artistic enclave merges the pop appeal of the storefront with the patience of the printmaker. The wide windows and old signs from a past laundromat make the shop feel accessible to the general public. However, the workshop also exudes a level of intimacy because of the printing studio set-up, traditionally a place for artists to perform their craft in solace in order to achieve a certain degree of precision required in printmaking. With the Levi's print shop, the social and individual identities of the creative process merge together in this space, creating an inspiring place for a range of artists.
The Valencia pop-up shop houses classic letterpress machinery, screen-printing design and setting type, encouraging respect for the artisan and craftsman, while also providing a crucial service and education for artists in San Francisco. The term "craft" can sometimes be associated with a kitschy aesthetic, invalidating the art instead of recognizing it as an indication of a practiced skill. This was most notably exemplified when the former CA College of Arts and Crafts updated its name in 2003 to the CA College of the Arts. Part of the name change of this well-respected art school was the concern that a school for "arts & crafts" would not be taken seriously (craftsmen not being as valued as they once were during the Industrial Revolution and Arts and Crafts Movement). The Levi's Workshop restores the positive definition of the artisan through a shop that caters both to the experienced printmaker, but also to the wanderer who happens to walk by.
In line with Levi's current ad campaign, creation merges with community through a series of events and workshops hosted at the print shop. The workshop has laid out a series of collaborations with local businesses and community groups to create original artwork and inspire design. On August 20 in conjunction with Alice Waters and Future Farms, the Levi's Workshop launched a second Edible Schoolyard event to launch their book Farming 2050. This space creates a community, while also preserving the artisan printmaker and aiding those businesses that are looking to support local printing.
This print shop is just one of many artisan shops in San Francisco that promote community, while also establishing small businesses that keep this city vibrant. The time is ripe for a return to the roots of meaningful communication and respect for the process of production. Roll up your sleeves, get to work and press on.
The Tenderloin National Forest [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
DOT Unveils New Pop Up CafÃ© in Financial District: NYC takes a page from San Francisco's book and installs a parklet as the first in a series of attempts to address the lack of public space caused by Manhattan's cramped sidewalks.
Beyond City Limits: In this "urban age," are megacities replacing nation-states as the centers of governance and power, and the hubs of economic vitality?
Goodbye Land Transit? Say Hello to New Flying Suntram: In an attempt to solve their traffic congestion problems, Denver has proposed the Suntram -- a high-speed, zero-emissions "flying" tram that would carry passengers high above the ground.
Animal Shaped Cities? South Sudan Unveils Big Plan: South Sudan has unveiled plans for a radical urban planning project in hopes of boosting tourism in the state. The $10 billion project proposes to restructure Sudan's capital cities into the shape of several animals found on the Sudanese flag.
Farming the City
Hayes Valley Farm extends to the very edge of a more traditional urban scene [Photo Credit: Fabiana Meacham]
Spend a few hours walking through any sector of the city and you will inevitably stumble upon a small patch of toiled earth, usually surrounded by chain-link fencing and accompanied by the all too familiar odor of manure. Urban farms have surfaced throughout the country in recent years -- in both major and not-so-major urban areas -- and San Francisco has been no exception. We now have a proposed legislation to loosen zoning restrictions on urban agriculture -- a measure that would profoundly affect small scale farms' capacity to do business.
The reasons for practicing urban farming are copious: a closer connection to food sources, reclamation of vacant land in blighted areas, education about healthy eating habits, a source of employment in hard economic times.
But for many city dwellers, urban agriculture remains a somewhat vague practice carried out by highly motivated individuals who have somehow found time to till, sow, weed and harvest small slivers of earth that have escaped the traditional urbanizing forces of cement and asphalt. For most of us, urban farms still don't play much of a role in defining the way we experience our cities and questions concerning the feasibility and longevity of urban farming still remain:
- What are the actual urban farming scenarios taking shape throughout the city and how did they come to be there?
- How do urban farms confront the task of growing food in areas that were never intended to support agriculture?
- To what extent can urban agriculture integrate itself into the urban landscape and way of life in the long-term?
- Is urban farming about more than just feeding people? What else is it about?
"Farming the City," a new blog series, will address these questions by highlighting the urban farms taking root in and around San Francisco, the people who run them and the particularities that define their role in the urban landscape.
This week we'll look at Alemany Farm, one of San Francisco's pioneering urban agriculture projects.
Alemany Farm occupies four and a half acres of land in southeastern San Francisco. Wedged between the Southern Freeway and the Alemany public housing development, the farm and its immediate surroundings reflect much that has gone wrong -- and the potential to do right -- in San Francisco's planning.
One of the City's early forays into urban agriculture, Alemany first came into use as a farm in 1994, when the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) received permission from the Recreation and Park Department to convert the site from a dumping ground to a community farm for residents of the Alemany and Potrero Housing Developments. Although SLUG eventually disbanded, the farm's commitment to community involvement persists. Today, a core group of 15-20 volunteers (with the occasional weekend influx of corporate community service groups) cultivates the land while maintaining a close relationship with the adjacent Alemany Housing Development, whose residents are eligible to receive a free CSA (community supported agriculture) share from the farm's harvest and have open access to the grounds at all times.
On a recent tour of the site led by dedicated volunteer Kom Siksamat, the farm boasted vegetable patches, a native plant garden, fruit trees, a bee colony, a frog pond, and an evolving terrace farm. Siksamat has led the effort to cultivate the steep slope comprising about one quarter of the farm's total land area, but the challenges of applying the ancient practice of terrace farming to the urban farm micro-scale have become apparent. (The Inca may have mastered terrace agriculture by constructing miles of irrigation channels in the Central Andes, but most urban farms can't count on the unflagging labor of thousands of devoted subjects to carry out such undertakings.) For now, much hand watering and heavy lifting is required. Siksamat hopes that a "hillside full of food" will one day become a mainstay at Alemany.
In many ways, Alemany perfectly embodies the non-profit model of urban farming: greening a slice of underutilized urban space, creating opportunities for the community to enjoy and learn from it, and thereby providing a new lens through which we might question our relationship to the surrounding urban environment. The existence of this thriving patch of land in the midst of such classic crimes of urban planning (the freeway cutting through the city, the alienated public housing project) implies that although we may not be able to completely dismantle such misguided urban mega-projects, we can at least ameliorate their negative impact through smaller scale interventions. Alemany Farm gives us a reason to visit this neglected part of the city, providing a rare opportunity to consider not just what went wrong there, but also marvel at everything that seems to be going right.
The Southern Freeway looms in the distance
A volunteer amidst an abundance of greenery
The terraced hillside
[Photo Credit: All photos by Fabiana Meacham]
On Saturday, August 28, SPUR's Young Urbanists will host Urban farming 101 at Alemany Farm at 11:30 a.m. Participants will have the opportunity to practice skills learned in the workshop from 1-3 p.m
Urban farms play a central role in SPUR's upcoming exhibition, DIY Urbanism: Testing the Grounds for Social Change, opening September 7.
Datablog: Creating Framework Without a Frame - the Burning Man Infographic
Flint Hahn's Burning Man infographic. (Click to view larger.)
For some it is a yearly spiritual revival providing an emotionally charged respite from reality; for others it simply means they are able to eat brunch without standing in line. The mark left by Burning Man on San Franciscans and this city is undoubtedly immense, but is hard to truly measure. The same can be said about the impact on Black Rock City, Burning Man's yearly home, but this stunning infographic provides an all-encompassing perspective on the event.
Over the course of two weeks, from conceptualization to final graphic design, Flint Hahn, a six-year veteran of the event, put together this infographic. He gathered the data needed from post-event after reports on the Burning Man web site, contacting various departments in the organization, the Nevada Bureau of Land Management, NASA historical astronomy data, online population sources, Flickr, Wikipedia, among a variety of other sources. Regardless of the amount of data collected, Flint was well aware that displaying the true essence of Burning Man through data could never be achieved. Flint stated, "This is an event based on personal experiences. I could produce many interesting statistical trends, eye-catching illustrations, and visual charts, but it would never capture what the event is. It's a common question with unlimited answers, "What is Burning Man?" If anything, this infographic may be the antithesis of what Burning Man is." As we at SPUR found out this past spring when we hosted Burning Man's founder, Larry Harvey, some questions are better left unanswered.
To find out more about the design process I asked him about the most challenging elements of the graphic. According to Flint, "Between the Temples and the Man with its accompanying base, those two sets of illustrations were the most challenging facets of this poster. " Datasets were not made available, or may not even exist for those projects. Also, limitations based on design feasibility, budget, and location made for significant differences between the original renderings and the ultimate result. Flint improvised by "determining the respective sizes for the temples due to the nature of this event being highly documented in photographic form. Using long shots of the temple with people nearby, one may base the structure's height by calculating the average height of the people in relation to the scale of the structure."
This graphic is, however, built upon hard data — ticket price, number of attendees, etc. In 2008, for example, $771,000 was spent on portable toilets alone. When first glancing at this graphic it is easy to spot the decline in attendance, overall budget, and several other important indicators last year. While it is unclear if the changes in pricing structure can counteract the lagging economy, for those out on the playa, these numbers are largely irrelevant.
Number of Theme Camps - 746 (2008)
Total expenditure — $12,317,000 (2009)
Theme in 1999 — Nebulous Entity