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- July 9, 2010BY ANIKA JESI
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?Tags: Weekly Snapshot
- July 9, 2010BY EMILY EHLERS
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.
- July 7, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
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]
- July 7, 2010BY JORDAN SALINGER
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.
- July 2, 2010BY BEN LOWE
[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.
- June 24, 2010
Alleys serve many purposes and people, often all in the same space. They provide back access so that service vehicles and garages don't conflict with transit and pedestrians, and so that main frontages can be preserved for shops and lobbies. They provide affordable and quirky commercial spaces for small businesses. They reduce the scale of large blocks, bringing light and air into dense areas, and creating a humane physical and mental framework for walking — with shortcuts, variety, and interest. They provide intimate, slow-paced environments protected from the noise and traffic of arterials, where people can spill out into the streets. The most interesting alleys are those that mix back-of-house with front-of-house with the house itself. But above all, they're the nooks and crannies of the city. For me, the sheer promise of hidden-ness, mystery and a sense of the unknown glimpsed down every narrow side street is what makes the city intriguing.
However, alleys are under constant threat, including by development. Once "vacated" and sold, we can never get them back. The fine city fabric is lost, made coarser and consolidated into larger parcels with bigger buildings owned by fewer people. Publicly owned rights-of-way are our most valuable and flexible assets. Our modern standards and codes, too, challenge our ability to design and replicate the best of San Francisco. In areas with large blocks, particularly industrial areas, we need to require all new large developments to create new alleys in order to build the web of public paths that inspire and enable people to explore on foot.
1. Quirk and fabric. At six feet wide, Elim Alley (above) is about the narrowest right-of-way in the city. You can almost touch the buildings on both sides. It reminds me of the Callejon de los Besos in Guanajuato, Mexico, so-named because lovers can lean out of their windows across the public way to kiss. Easily overlooked artifacts of space are vulnerable — this alley may be threatened or celebrated by a current proposal incorporating the parcels on either side.
2. Mess makes function. This Chinatown alley shows that informality and messiness can create a functional and humane place. Great places such as these give the standard-bearers the fits: it's impossible to fit the required sidewalks on both sides plus a separated roadbed plus space for trash cans, light poles, etc. Pedestrians dominate the space and everything else gently fits in.
3. Misapplication of standards. The re-designed Valencia Gardens was supposed to continue the pattern of great small streets in the Mission (e.g. Lexington Street, right), which have one lane of traffic and parking. But the Fire Department applied a suburban 20-foot drive width here, so we ended up with an overbuilt two-lane road that later required the installation of bone-jarring speed-bumps.
4. Get vertical and span the space. Alleys are perfect for creating a "roof" to the public realm with lights and decorations that span from building to building. Adding thin, lightweight elements overhead that don't block the sky — like these banners and retractable awnings on Mark and Claude Lanes — creates vertical interest and a human scale to draw people down otherwise foreboding and canyon-like corridors.
5. It's the small things that count. Trinity alley has been transformed into a successful lunchtime Financial District open space. Thin retail slivers that hold a hot-dog stand and poster store show that it doesn't take much to enliven a space! It's back-street businesses like these, not the premier restaurants, that make the city functional and affordable day-to-day.
6. Moderation and scale. Keeping alleys livable means maintaining sunlight as well as an appropriate scale. The Planning Department is crafting new height controls to require stepbacks and lower height limits along alleys. The Yerba Buena Lofts, while eight stories on Folsom Street, creates the right scale along Shipley Street by stepping down along the alley.
7. Erasing the public realm. Jessie Street. RIP. Nice wall, eh? Selling off streets to increase the size of development is explicitly prohibited in the General Plan, yet strong policies protecting the city's intangibles often lose out when officials are enticed by the economies of scale.
Caseworker: Joshua Switzky is a planner and urban designer in San Francisco.
Photo Credit: All photos by author.
[Urban Field Notes, an additive of cultural landscapes and observations compiled by SPUR members and friends, will now be a regular feature on the SPUR Blog. Urban Field Notes can also be found in the Urbanist, a monthly publication sent to all SPUR Members. Send your ideas to Urban Field Notes editor Ruth Keffer at firstname.lastname@example.org]
- May 13, 2010BY JORDAN SALINGER
Data. The mere mention of the word can overwhelm, baffle, and cause general disorientation. In its raw state, or as displayed in traditional forms such as pie charts and bar graphs, data has a tendency to elicit these negative reactions. This confusion occurs when the reader is unable to decipher what story is being told, or why they are being told it. Given appropriate visual context and intuitive design, data has the power to modify behavior and influence the way we confront societal problems.
SPUR's latest series will analyze visual representations of data reflecting patterns in urban life, ranging from infographics to animation, powerpoints to histograms. Not all will be good, as we also can learn from clumsy design and ambiguous data. All the graphics, however, will question why we live the way we do and explore the underlying forces on our behavior.
Earlier this week, the DC-based Brookings Institute released a "State of the Metropolitan America: On the front lines of demographic transformation." This extensive report details "the continued growth and outward expansion of our population, its ongoing racial and ethnic diversification, the rapid aging on the horizon, our increasing but selective higher educational attainment, and the intensified income polarization experienced by our workers and families." To go along with the nearly 170-page document, Brookings provided this data-intensive graphic:
This graphic allows tremendous user interactivity. The user selects from a criteria of demographics, time frames, locations, and other indicators.
City with the greatest percent of population between 15-24 years old:
Provo, UT Metro Area (40%)
City with the greatest percent of population 65 and up:
Sarasota, FL Metro Area (26.8%)
Percent of SF Metro Area workers who commute by public transportation:
14.4 % (2nd in the nation)
City with greatest percent of workers who commute by driving alone:
Youngstown, OH Metro Area (85%)
- May 5, 2010BY COLLEEN MCHUGH
Our second installment of the Photos of the Week posting features images submitted by SPUR members and friends. If you are interested in seeing your own photos show up in the Photos of the Week, please add your shots to our Flickr Pool!
[Image: flickr user lunatic teacup]
There has been a lot of excitement lately surrounding the multitude of Pavement to Parks projects popping up around the city. However, this particular vacant-lot-turned-mini-park on Judah and the Great Highway has been around since 2004. (And as someone who in high school frequently crossed the former trash-filled concrete median to grab some coffee at nearby Java Beach, I can attest that it was a much welcome change.) Now the Outer Sunset community and the Surfrider Foundation are extending La Playa Park to the median on the other side of the N Judah streetcar turnaround — and adding a bocce ball court!
[Image: Neal Patel]
This perfectly framed shot of Laguna Street near Fort Mason highlights the contrast between streetscape and parkscape. I know which path I want to take!
[Image: Danielle Espinal-Stekert]
And we conclude this week with a beautiful and piercing set of eyes in the Mission. I keep finding something new in the details of this mural!
- April 16, 2010BY COLLEEN MCHUGH
We are starting a new posting series with the hopes of engaging the creative points-of-view of the SPUR community. Each week we will feature a few photos from SPUR members and friends in a "Photos of the Week" blog. If you are interested in participating, please upload your images to our Flickr Group Pool. Include a caption, if applicable. For now, the theme is all things SPUR — San Francisco, public space, transportation, street culture, housing, sustainable development, etc. But in the future we may be asking you to share photos around a more focused theme.
To start things off, here are a few images from my own week:
Last Thursday the Fix Muni Now campaign launched with a slew of volunteers — along with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf — gathering petition signatures at West Portal. Here are a few images I snapped at the tunnel entrance, reminding me that sometimes a morning commute can be a beautiful thing. More photos from the campaign kick-off here.
A vacant lot down the street from the Urban Center at 524 Mission Street. The spring calendar at the Urban Center includes a series of forums discussing the use of stalled construction sites for public enjoyment. The next Leftover Lots forum is on May 5, with presentations from two projects in Hayes Valley.
A beautiful morning along the Embarcadero. The railings on the waterfront provide a picturesque frame for parked bikes, though they also suggest the Ferry Building may need to increase the capacity of their dedicated bike racks.
The corner of 3rd Street and Palou in the Bayview. A quote from Toni Morrison painted on this mural reads: "Part of this business of living in the world and triumphing over it has to do with the sense that there's some pleasure." And on that note, 3rd Street is hosting this weekend's Sunday Streets!
[Images: Colleen McHugh]
- April 6, 2010BY ESTHER
In Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development, Joan Fitzgerald, director of the Law, Policy and Society Program at Northeastern University, showcases how some cities have taken the lead in creating policy that is mutually beneficial to both the environment and economic development. Ms. Fitzgerald spoke on this subject and introduced her book at SPUR, this past November 17th.
According to Joan Fitzgerald, it has fallen to cities around the world to embrace the challenge of sustainability, because national governments have failed to come to an agreement on a global policy. The lack of any significant outcome from the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last year serves to underscore the matter: you cannot effect environmental change without addressing the underlying issues of how that change affects disparate groups.
It is not surprising that San Francisco is one of the cities responding to the call to take these economic factors and questions of accessibility into consideration—you can read what SPUR has contributed in our report Critical Cooling: San Francisco can fight global warming through smart changes to local policy.
Fitzgerald agrees that cities are uniquely situated to make a difference due to population density and use of public transportation, to promote and benefit from green economic development in particular. She provides examples of policy from cities that have successfully addressed the interrelated environmental problems of global warming, pollution and energy dependence, with social justice, equity, and job quality in mind as well as policy from cities that have found the process more challenging. Fitzgerald provides a guide to help city and regional planners and policymakers move toward becoming “emerald cities.“