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- August 13, 2010BY JON ROGERS
[Photo Credit: flickr user Troy Holden]
In 2011, America's estimated 78.2 million baby boomers will begin to reach retirement age, officially ushering in the "silver tsunami" - a term used to describe the impending onslaught of retirees into a society that is currently ill-prepared to handle the needs of an aging population.
Most boomers currently live in suburbs, having ridden the wave of suburban flight in the 1950's and 60s. As boomers begin to retire, many people will likely reevaluate where they live, with the understanding that needs will evolve as the years tick away. As boomers retire and age, where will they live?
There are two main theories about what this demographic shift will mean for our built environment, in general, and where people will choose to live, specifically. On the one hand, some planners, demographers, and urban thinkers believe many people will move to cities as part of a larger "back to the city" movement as seniors looking for smaller, more manageable homes with easy access to basic necessities. These new urban residents would join millions of seniors who already live in cities.
Another school of thought is that seniors will remain in suburbs as they age. Surveys show that most (about 90%) older adults wish to age-in-place, an approach to aging in which elders remain in their homes or communities as long as possible during the aging process. Aging-in-place is a popular option for seniors because it allows them to maintain social and physical connections that are vital to health and happiness. Seeing as how so many people already live in suburbs, it is likely, given people's preferences for aging in place, that most people will remain in the suburbs.
Regardless of where seniors will choose to live - in the suburbs or in cities - communities across the county will need to adapt to accommodate the needs of a rapidly growing segment of the population. Adaptation is necessary in order to meet the physical, economic, and social demands of older people. Meeting these needs requires rethinking how we approach many facets of our built environment: from transportation and mobility to social support service provision to affordability. Additionally, creating aging friendly communities requires both minor changes (i.e. increasing crosswalk signals to accommodate slower pedestrians) and major, fundamental interventions (i.e. changing land use policies to allow for denser, walkable neighborhoods not dependent upon the automobile). Although cities have some advantages over suburbs such as high-quality transit systems and walkable street grids, neither cities nor suburbs are fully prepared for the needs and demands of an aging population.
But preparing our communities for the elderly should not be seen as an onerous task or a sacrifice. In reality, planning for older adults is just good planning - something that people of all ages stand to benefit from. Take for example, the issue of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), often called "granny flats". This type of housing would allow homeowners to add a rental unit (usually in the basement, behind a house, or above a garage). This unit would provide added income to supplement older adults on fixed incomes. Additionally, granny flats would provide relatively inexpensive places to live for lower-income residents. The only problem is that ADUs are illegal in most places - cities and suburbs alike. Permitting ADUs is just one example of numerous changes that both cities and suburbs could implement to enhance quality of life residents of all ages.
Surely, the task of retrofitting suburbs and cities is a tall order. However, it is one that must be dealt with - we have the practical and moral charge to make sure we're ready . With the silver tsunami coming, communities across the country must act immediately.
- August 12, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
Plug-in cars in San Francisco [Photo Credit: flickr user felixkramer]
PG&E's clean energy blog, Next 100, recently explored the idea of the rise of electric vehicles in the Bay Area. At the recent Plug-In 2010 conference, PG&E President Chris Johns predicted that the Bay Area will see around 500,000 electric vehicles (EVs) "plugging in" over the next decade.
From a sustainability perspective, electric vehicles are a big improvement over their traditional alternatives, to be sure. But all of these new vehicles "plugging in" will create a huge demand for energy from the grid. According to PG&E, one EV can draw as much power as three homes in San Francisco. Compounding this supply problem is the challenge of supplying this energy from clean, renewable sources, and determining whether new technologies to move energy around more efficiently — such as through a "smart grid" — could satisfy new demand without the need to build new generation.
One partial solution is shifting demand off-peak. Currently, PG&E offers special pricing for EV owners who charge their vehicles during off-peak hours in order to mitigate the demand on the grid. However, this may not be enough if EVs become as popular as Johns predicts.
In order to better understand the infrastructure needs of the future, PG&E and the Electric Power Research Institute recently began a pilot project to examine how different vehicles impact the electric grid throughout the day. Various groups around the Bay Area are helping cities figure out how to finance and build the necessary infrastructure to prepare for EVs to go commercial this fall, with the release of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.
Want to travel sustainably while EVs get figured out? SPUR recommends taking advantage of the old-fashioned clean transportation choices we have in the city: walking, biking and riding public transit.
- August 10, 2010BY ELIZABETH HOLDEN
Reflected Loop [Image via San Francisco Arts Commission]
We are visual creatures. As such, we derive our orientation of our relative location according to the landmarks and visual reminders around us. This is especially evident in how we navigate urban areas, by remembering a block near a notable statue or fountain in an otherwise crowded arrangement of buildings.
It's a common situation - getting disoriented in an underground or enclosed public transit station (even for those who are spatially inclined). Without any visual cues, it's easy to get turned around and then end up walking an extra block or two in hopes of reaching the final destination. The Central Subway Public Art Program hopes to remedy this common dilemma by installing "landmark" and "wayfinding" art pieces inside the future terminals, playing with our natural visual tendencies for orientation.
These installations will be tailored according to three stations: Chinatown, Union Square/Market Street, and Moscone. Through creative interpretations of the cultures of those three areas of San Francisco, these projects have the potential to be impressive art installations, questioning the standard of an unpleasant commute by bringing back the enjoyment of a grand public transit system.
In the Union Square station, Jim Campbell and Werner Klotz's Reflected Loop (above) strings a series of light and ambient reflections through the station. The band winds around the station and connects back with itself in a continuous loop that has no beginning or end. The polished stainless steel discs of various sizes will reflect light according to the spaces around them.
Passing Time [Image via San Francisco Arts Commission]
Inspired by the evolving development of Union Square from a rural environment to a residential area to retail business center, artist Keith Goddard's Passing Time (above) uses a series of intricate plaques to serve as visual reminders for areas of the station. He will use varied materials to make these mosaics.
The SFAC's Public Art Program brings the "public" back into public art through an innovative series of proposals for the station-specific installations. In preliminary stages, the plans were shown in three different museums for the three different stations, allowing for public feedback and for anyone to state preferences for particular pieces. "We are confident that the overwhelming participation of local and nationally known artists will result in artwork that displays the rich cultural diversity of our City and creates modern day art exhibits for the public to enjoy while awaiting their train in our new subway stations," stated SFMTA Executive Director/CEO Nat Ford. This intersection between arts and transportation exemplifies the new ways in which San Francisco is rethinking its public transportation and the importance of the visual mind in the process of traveling to and from places around the city.
- August 7, 2010BY GABRIEL METCALF
The California High Speed Rail Authority met yesterday in San Francisco. The agenda was packed with many interesting things including a new station area development policy. But the real controversy was about the section between San Jose and San Francisco. I joined hundreds of people during public comment to weigh in on this one small segment.
Over the past few years, a group of high speed rail opponents has been gathering strength in some of the Peninsula communities such as Atherton and Menlo Park, arguing that the train will impact their views, be too noisy, and otherwise ruin their quality of life.
There is certainly a lot of design work to do as the High Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain explore the peninsula segment and figure out how to make "joint operations" work.
But what some of the residents of the Peninsula seem to be asking for is an impossibly expensive project or no project at all. There cannot be a 60-mile subway up and down the Peninsula.
The Bay Area Council penned a strong letter pointing out the flaws with the "build it right or don't build it at all" approach. If "building it right" means addressing every local impact of the project to the satisfaction of every local resident, there will not be enough money in the world to build this project.
TransForm pointed out at the hearing that the issues with the Peninsula communities stem from the fact that the High Speed Rail Authority made the fundamentally correct decision in 2004 to choose an alignment that re-uses existing track where possible and goes through existing cities. (This was in contrast to a cheaper alternative that went through agricultural lands and skirted many existing cities, relying instead on "greenfield" stations.) Having made the big decision the right way, the Authority now faces the political and design problem of actually bringing the train through all of these already-developed communities. Even though the Peninsula creates design challenges it is absolutely critical that the project goes all the way to San Francisco, where the highest ridership stations in the entire state will be located.
I tried to put this project into some larger context in my remarks. California is already the most populous state in the nation (by far). It will grow from 38 million people today to 50 million people by 2030. The real reason we need high speed rail is to provide an armature or framework for organizing this massive growth. Where the interstate highway system was the infrastructure that enabled the suburbanization of America, high speed rail can enable a re-centering of growth. It is the necessary supporting infrastructure for walkable communities in California.
The real question we are facing is whether we are still capable as a society of actually getting something like this built. In the age of CEQA, in the age when we seem to believe that more public process is always better, in the age when we seem to believe that nothing should happen unless there is consensus, can we actually create a transformative infrastructure? As America tries to learn how to compete with "single vision" nations that do not share our democratic values, the question of how we learn how to actually get things done under our political system looms larger and larger as a central problem to overcome.
With every infrastructure project that SPUR supports we face the dilemma of how to be supportive against the tide of opponents while still working constructively to improve projects and make them as good as they can be. We could not be happier with the "big moves" that the High Speed Rail Authority has made thus far. They have picked the right alignment, one that will reinforce center-oriented growth. Now the task is to get the small moves right to find that elusive balance between more expensive designs that address community concerns and the need to keep the project affordable enough to actually build it.
This is the most important project in California. It is a naÃ¯ve and impossible wish to "get it right" if right means the ideal design in every community. We need to get it "right-enough" to attract lots of riders away from the automobile and enable a new pattern of growth in the state.
- August 6, 2010BY ANIKA JESI
PlantSF [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Paris's popular bike rentals spark electric car plans: Influenced by the success of its bike-sharing program, Paris plans to add the electric car to its repertoire of shared transit.
Ground Zero mosque plans move forward after key vote: Despite proposals for symbolic land-use restrictions, NYC's controversial plans to build an Islamic mosque near ground zero are moving forward after a vote to demolish a building in the mosque's proposed site.
Food stamps go organic: Farmers markets in Healdsburg and Petaluma are now accepting food stamps in a trial run designed to encourage individuals receiving government aid to shop at their local markets. This arrangement benefits not only low-income shoppers, but local farmers as well.
The future of cities and transportation: One author suggests that if we want our cities to have a truly sustainable infrastructure, we need to look further into the future when making planning decisions today.
Changing clocks could cut carbon costs: What if shifting clocks forward an hour was the key to cutting carbon emissions and improving our general quality of life? According to the UK's Lighter Later Campaign, it is.
Line between cops, civilians blurs with new SFPD program: A new program through the SFPD, which would train civilians to respond to and investigate non-violent crimes, aims to reduce SF police officers' workload, allowing them more time to focus on violent or high-priority cases.Tags: Weekly Snapshot
- August 6, 2010SFpark has released a video demonstrating how the new and improved parking system can help reduce traffic, carbon emissions -- and road rage -- while driving on San Francisco streets. Find out more about the program in this blog post.Tags: transportation
- August 4, 2010BY JORDAN SALINGER
With just under a year in operation, San Francisco's "data liberation" website, DataSF, has inspired some compelling visualizations. One person who has actively taken advantage of this website is flickr user Eric Fischer. This past week he introduced an animated graphic that caught my eye.
While it may take a few views to deduce, this animation shows a full day, starting and ending at 3 a.m., with each of the days layered on top of each other. Wanting to know even more about the process, I figured I would reach out to him to get his thoughts. In an email conversation with Fischer, he revealed that he wrote a program to filter the DataSF files by both minute and hour, and then plotted each of the points. He then converted the set of images into a movie file.
According to Fischer, "there is actually no base map that it is overlaid onto -- where streets are visible in the animation, they are visible just because Muni vehicles have passed along them." To him the results speak to the relative regularity of service. A route like the 108 Treasure Island, if viewed in isolation, seems to confirm his assessment.
I was also intrigued as to what other type of data Fischer wished he had access to, and what would inspire more creative output. According to Fischer, "as great as real-time data is, I wish sources of it like NextBus would also make records of the past available, since often it is more interesting to find out what has changed over time than what is happening right now."
If you enjoyed his animation, explore some of Eric Fischer's other work on flickr.
"Locals vs. tourists" [Photo Credit: Eric Fischer]
- August 3, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
As a budding apiarist, I was devastated to hear about the Hayes Valley Farm incident last week. An unknown person sprayed two beehives with household pesticides - destroying the hives and killing thousands of bees. Hayes Valley, the community farm in San Francisco, used the San Francisco Bee-Cause beehives in to help educate Bay Area residents about beekeeping and urban farming.
Dead bees at Hayes Valley Farm [Photo Credit: flickr user HayesValleyFarm]
Despite this terrible news, it's exciting to see that cities and community groups around the world are recognizing the importance of bees and embracing urban beekeeping by holding festivals, implementing official urban beekeeping programs, and even changing laws which made beekeeping difficult. Some notable examples include:
London's City of London Festival included several bee related events (partly to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010), including the installation of beehives throughout the city as well as bee-centric poetry, music, and seminars. Many of the festival's events were free to the public.
The Ginza Honey Bee Project in Tokyo maintains beehives in the Ginza shopping district. The hives are used to produce products for local businesses. Bakers use the honey from the hives to make sweets which are sold in local shops, and the wax from the hives is used for local church candles.
Earlier this year, the New York City Board of Health voted to remove a ban on beekeeping in the city, making it easier for urban keepers to operate.
The White House garden is now home to the first ever White House beehive. The hives are used to educate children who visit about the importance of bees in food production and the honey from the hive is used in the White House kitchen. Check out this great video on the project.
The White House beehive [Photo Credit: flickr user Funky Tee]Tags: Bees
- July 31, 2010BY ANIKA JESI
The Castro parklet [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Fleeing Phoenix out of fear of Arizona's immigration law: Thousands of immigrants are fleeing Phoenix, AZ before the state's harsh new immigration law goes into place, leaving neighborhoods vacant, and forcing local stores out of business.
Seedbombing for the modern guerilla gardening movement: Guerilla gardeners are arming themselves with "seedbombs," their new weapon of choice in the quest to make the world a greener place.
Bikes and cars: A lesson in Los Angeles: The mayor of Los Angeles broke his elbow last Saturday, when a swerving car knocked him off his bike, serving as a painful reminder that his city still has a ways to go in improving bike safety.
Exploring algae as fuel: Certain strains of genetically engineered algae are showing promise for being used as a green source of fuel.
Atlanta's Buford Highway is a death trap: A highway in an Atlanta suburb exemplifies the serious problems with suburban transit infrastructure that caters to cars and not to pedestrians.
The G-list: Architect Magazine has compiled a list of the "top-five most important green buildings since 1980", in response to Vanity Fair's recent top architecture list which gives surprisingly little representation to green architecture.
Old San Francisco mint to become a gorgeous green museum: The San Francisco Mint, which has been vacant since 1995, will find a new purpose as a cultural hub and historical museum thanks to an adaptive reuse project aimed at greening and redeveloping this famous SF Landmark.Tags: Weekly Snapshot
- July 30, 2010BY JON ROGERS
Taking the guess work out of parking. That's what SFMTA's innovative new parking program, SFpark, aims to accomplish. When implemented, the program will dramatically change how drivers locate and pay for parking.
A new SFpark "smart meter" [Photo Credit: flickr user SFMTA_sfpark]
Here's a quick breakdown of how SFpark works:
- Sensors located in parking spaces and City-owned garages will track real-time parking availability
- This information will be uploaded to the SFpark data feed which will be publicly available so people can easily find an open space
- Drivers will access this information through smart phone applications, SFpark.org, and street signs
After drivers find an available parking space, they will find new parking meters that accept coins, credit and debit cards, or SFMTA parking cards.
SFpark is putting those sensors and parking meters to work for another good use: variable pricing. The more parking spaces available, the lower parking costs will be. The fewer parking spaces available, the higher parking costs will be. Basically, SFpark will use technology to direct drivers to park where there is a lot of availability and encourage shorter parking durations where available parking is more limited.
Aside from making it easier for drivers to find and pay for parking, SFpark promises a variety of other benefits. Circling for parking represents about 30% of driving in San Francisco. By reducing the need to drive around for parking, there will be fewer cars on the road. This will make our streets quieter and safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, reduce air pollution, and speed up buses.
Despite these expected benefits, one area that may be cause for concern is decreased revenue from parking tickets. The city currently brings in about $17 million a year from tickets for expired meters. However, the new parking payment options will make it easier for drivers to avoid tickets, which will likely decrease ticket revenues. It remains to be seen if the new revenues from higher parking rates during peak times will be enough to offset the expected loss of expired meter revenue. Although not an explicit goal of SFpark, any decrease in revenues will be cited by SFpark's opponents given the city's current fiscal problems. This points to a larger problem with implementing any innovative program in today's economic environment: any policy will be judged through a short-term fiscal lens, even if the policy accomplishes long-term city goals.
Installation of 190 new parking meters in Hayes Valley will begin on July 27, 2010 -- the first step in implementing the SFpark program. All told, about 5,000 new meters will replace old meters in SPpark pilot areas, including Downtown, the Marina, the Fillmore, SoMa, the Mission, Civic Center, and Fisherman's Wharf.
Map of SFpark area:
[Map courtesy of sfpark.org]
SFpark will be testing its new parking management system at 6,000 of San Francisco's 25,000 metered spaces and 12,250 spaces in 15 of 20 City-owned parking garages. The pilot phase of SFpark will start this summer and run for two years.Tags: transportation
- Sensors located in parking spaces and City-owned garages will track real-time parking availability