Blog: September, 2010
Kung Fu Tacos and the creme brulee guy in front of SPUR's opening party for DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change, on view through October 29. [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
The Power of Density: Writer Richard Florida argues for the economic benefits of urban density, suggesting that the geographic concentration of related industries and assets can play a powerful role in sparking innovation and economic growth.
Clever Crosswalk Squashes Jaywalking by Making it Legal: Korean designer Jae Min Lim has a simple but innovative idea for pedestrian safety—repaint crosswalks to reflect the way pedestrians actually walk.
Green Revolution Comes to Urban Neighborhoods: Organizations like the LA Conservation Corps are helping to "green the ghetto" by training young adults in low-income neighborhoods skills needed for green jobs. Residents of these areas say they've been left out of the environmental movement due to a common misconception that they neither want nor can afford eco-friendly improvements.
Spit, Glue, and Maybe Even Chewing Gum: The New York Times suggests that some of America's greatest infrastructure systems are also some of the most vulnerable, and it can often take little more than a tiny electrical fire or rusted pipe to bring an entire system to its knees.
SF Adding Parking Meters in Premium Districts: Don't be surprised if there's a sparkly new smart meter in your neighborhood soon. The SFMTA voted Tuesday to start installing 1,340 of the new meters, whose rates will rise and fall with demand, in neighborhoods where parking is at a premium.
Californians to Drive Less to Meet Emissions Targets
[Photo Credit: flickr user sandy kemsley]
This post is the first in an occasional series that hopes to make sense of the issues surrounding the implementation of California's smart growth law, SB 375.
California's future demographic reality is clear. We will grow — perhaps not as quickly as in recent decades — but we will nonetheless continue to increase our population. The state projects a population of 44 million by 2020 and well over 51 million by 2035. Even if the recent economic downturn results in slower future population growth, the question still remains: how do we manage this growth with minimal environmental impact?
For much of the past century, this growth was accompanied by increased auto use. But California's 2008 smart growth law, SB 375 — now being implemented throughout the state — proposes a different approach.
A key recent policy decision relates to "Greenhouse gas reduction targets." In August, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a set of regional targets for per capita greenhouse gas emissions based on decreased driving. The targets refer to how much less the average person will drive in the future. These numbers were submitted by each of the following metropolitan planning organizations, and then reviewed and accepted by CARB.
Targets for reduced per capita emissions from driving:
SCAG (Southern California) 8% 13%
MTC (Bay Area) 7% 15%
SANDAG (San Diego) 7% 13%
SACOG (Sacramento) 7% 16%
San Joaquin COGs 5% 10%
There are two simple ways to understand these targets. First, it is easier to make more significant change in average behavior for a region with a fast-growing population. So long as people in the future drive less than current drivers, the average goes down. That's why the fast-growing Sacramento region has the highest target.
Second, it is more difficult to achieve big changes in the short run. That's why all the targets are much lower for 2020 than 2035.
While the conclusion of these figures is simple — the average Californian is going to be driving less — the way we achieve these emission targets can be more complicated. Encouraging both new growth and infill development in transit rich cities, in turn shifting where people are both living and working, is important. We will also achieve these goals by pricing roadways differently, dissuading drivers from driving during peak hours on congested roadways.
Click here for a PDF of the full report.
DIY Urbanism: When a Recession Creates a Canvas
DIY Urbanism is a movement that arose in part from projects born out of the recession and resulting limited funds. But one project that has a more direct link than most is the San Francisco Arts Council's Art in Storefronts program. The economic downturn brought with it an uptick in empty storefronts, causing some harder-hit commercial strips to look blighted. Art in Storefronts seeks to counteract this by using art installations to enliven these vacant spaces. Efforts in the Mission, SOMA, the Tenderloin and Chinatown have been popular with merchants and pedestrians alike, and the SFAC has worked to make the installations into attractions in their own right, including publishing walking tour maps.
The Ms. Teriosa fortune-telling window in the Mission [Photo courtesy SFAC]
The recession has also hit other cities, of course, and many of these are trying similar approaches. In New York, groups like Chashama and No Longer Empty have worked to find vacant spaces for artists to display their work in the past, and now some commercial landlords are getting in on the act. A New York Times article profiled storefront art in Brooklyn:
"Any sort of activity is better than no activity," said Jed Walentas, a Brooklyn developer whose company, Two Trees Management, routinely lends space in Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn for art projects. "As long as it's short enough and it's flexible, then there's no real cost. So the question is who can you find that's going to make an investment in a space with that level of uncertainty, and often it's the artist."
Meanwhile, in Southern California, Palm Springs undertook a similar effort last year to keep its shopping districts from looking too empty. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Eager to safeguard its image as an upscale tourist resort, Palm Springs is prescribing art therapy as a partial cure for downtown shops caught up in the economic doldrums.
The city is expected to adopt a plan requiring vacant stores to hang paintings, photographs of old Hollywood movie stars or come up with their own picturesque remedies to head off creeping blight in the city center.
"We have more vacant storefronts than we did in the past," said City Manager David Ready. "Many are transitioning or looking for new tenants. This program wouldn't cost the owner anything and would greatly improve the appearance of the buildings."
Local artists will be invited to showcase their work and the city will finance the installation.
Of course, while the economy will likely recover and many of these storefronts will once again become occupied, artists will still need opportunities to display their work. One hopes that this is one DIY Urbanism trend that outlasts the recession, and that even occupied stores will see some value in sharing space with the city's aspiring artists.
[Photo courtesy SFAC]
DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change, now on show at SPUR's Urban Center, features innovative "do-it-yourself" projects, providing a snapshot of this burgeoning and distinctively local movement.
DIY Urbanism: Outdoor Living Rooms Improve Neighborhoods without Resorting to Gentrification
An Outdoor Living Room in Los Angeles [Image courtesy of ciclavia]
Improving an inner-city neighborhood without setting it up for gentrification could be as simple as placing a few wooden seats on the sidewalk. Or at least that's the premise of architect Steve Cancian's Outdoor Living Rooms, a project featured in SPUR's new show at the Urban Center, DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change (opening today! -- get your tickets here).
The project began as an exploration of the problem of gentrification in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Cancian knew that many of these areas drastically needed improvement, but doing so often resulted in overdevelopment, and subsequent displacement of the current residents. The usual solutions for revitalizing these areas, such as lining the streets with trees, only made the neighborhoods more attractive to potential gentrifiers. Was it possible to improve these areas without the side effect of gentrification?
What constitutes neighborhood improvement for inner-city residents is often different than what constitutes improvement in wealthier areas. In Cancian's case, the residents of the neighborhoods he catered to wanted a livelier street and a better place to socialize. Cancian found that this street culture had the effect of preventing gentrification. Places like West Oakland, where ocean views and Victorian houses made it a prime target for gentrification, had not yet become gentrified because the vibrant street culture tended to repel developers who favored quieter streets. In preserving this street culture, Cancian hoped gentrification would be discouraged. "We want to celebrate what the neighborhood is," says Cancian in an interview with LA Weekly. "For anyone whose goal is to change the neighborhood into something that excludes the current residents, we hope that living rooms will actually be a deterrent to them moving in."
The solution, then, was simple. Create an outdoor living room by putting unembellished, inexpensive outdoor furniture on inner-city streets. This would facilitate community development and improve the area in a way the residents wanted, but also maintain an active street culture that prevents these vibrant areas from turning into homogenized middle-class neighborhoods."¨
"Living rooms" are straightforward enough that a community can agree on their look and location, they can be built almost immediately, and they are inexpensive enough for a low-income neighborhood to afford. "What has kept them expanding is communities without resources," Cancian said in a New York Times interview. "A simple pocket park takes a half-million dollars and two to three years to build, while a living room takes as little as a month and between $5,000 and $15,000."
And so far, the living rooms seem to be serving their purpose. Not only have they slowed gentrification and sparked street life, but they have also helped to make the areas around them cleaner and less crime ridden. Residents of low-income neighborhoods are embracing them, pleased with the positive changes they've seen. As one resident of South L.A. says about her local outdoor living room "There was nothing before, just a lot of trash right here. It makes it look a little bit decent."
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Portland Streetcar Success has Fueled Interest Elsewhere: The success of Portland's streetcar is helping to spark a streetcar "renaissance," in which cities nationwide are seeking federal grants to build their own networks of electric streetcars.
"¨"¨In Stockholm, Rental Blue Boost Black Market: One flipside to Stockholm's egalitarian-minded rent system is that is has fueled a black market in which only renters willing to dish out large sums of money under the table can avoid the system's years-long waitlists, and have access to the best rent-controlled apartments in the city. "¨"¨
Matchmaker, Matchmaker: The Van Alen Institute has launched "Design Speed Dating," a new series in which emerging designers rotate around a table filled with established designers and critics, receiving half-hour long portfolio reviews and constructive feedback from the professionals.
"¨"¨The New Agtivist: Gene Fredericks is Thinking Inside the City's Big Box: Local entrepreneur Gene Fredericks proposes converting the Bay Area's vacant big-box stores into year-round indoor food growing centers."¨"¨
Sewage Streams into Scenic Parks? One Man's Goal: Urban Planner Manit Rastogi hopes to turn a heavily polluted sewage line running through the heart of New Delhi into a scenic path that will serve as an eco-friendly and safe transit network for pedestrians and bicyclists who currently have to traverse the city's congested and dangerous streets.
Bring Park(ing) Day to Your Favorite Neighborhood CafÃ©!
SPUR's Park(ing) Day 2009 installation [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Park(ing) Day 2010 is just two weeks away. First celebrated in San Francisco in 2005, PARK(ing) Day has since become a global phenomenon. The annual event celebrates public space and street life by temporarily transforming parking spaces into public parks (or performance spaces, reading lounges—whatever you like!). It is also a great opportunity to test what a parklet on your street can do for your neighborhood or business.
Wish there was more outdoor seating in front of your favorite cafe?
Is there a place in your neighborhood you'd love to see a parklet?
Help spread the word about parklets by printing the Great Streets Project's easy How To Guide and encouraging your favorite business or institution to participate in Park(ing) Day.
Click here to watch Streetfilms' video from Park(ing) Day 2008 in New York City.
More than Just a Place to Park Your Bike
A prototype for a bike rack designed by David Baker + Partners [Photo Credit: David Baker]
Build pretzel-shaped steel tubes, bolt them to the sidewalk, and the cyclists will come. Or at least that seems to be the logic behind the newfound interest in bike rack design in cities throughout the country. I remember a time when parking your bike meant locking it to anything you might tie a dog to, but these days everyone seems to have an opinion on the right way to lock up your bike — and a lamp post or park bench just will not do.
San Francisco-based architect David Baker (whose elegant, pleasantly weathered bike rack prototype is featured in DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change -- opening next Tuesday!), provides an excellent primer on bike rack design and implementation. Who knew that round tubes were more susceptible to pipe cutters? Or that a standard U-rack can easily accommodate three bicycles? It would behoove city planning officials to consult this guide before potentially installing the wrong kinds of racks on their city streets.
But bike racks have become much more than just another place to park your bike. Following in the wake of widespread bike lane implementation in even the most car-centric of cities (like Indianapolis and Detroit), bike racks are an instantly recognizable symbol of a city government's commitment to promoting bicycle transportation. In recognition of the bike rack's symbolic potential, cities like New York and San Francisco have brought industrial designers and architects into the process, sponsoring bike rack design competitions. Even David Byrne has collaborated with the New York Department of Transportation to install his own whimsical designs — although he seems to be on such good terms with the DOT that his work managed to bypass the usual jury process.
American cities have a long way to go before we come close to approximating the volume and efficiency of bike storage in iconic cycling cities such as Amsterdam, but a standard curbside U-rack with a galvanized steel finish is a good place to start.
Bike storage in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: flickr user julia.simard]
Criteria for bike rack installation in San Francisco [Image courtesy of SFMTA]