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- 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.“
- April 5, 2010BY COLLEEN MCHUGH
SPUR is co-hosting with the AIA a lunchtime lecture on bottom-up sustainability practices in India. “Grass roots green” refers to the design approaches in India and other developing countries, which look to innovatively use traditional common-sense methods, knowledge and approaches to minimize consumption. Speakers Nimish Patel and Parul Zaveri, cofounders of the Indian design firm, Abhikram, will share some of their award winning projects that follow this bottom-up green strategy.
Join us as we learn how sustainable design concepts and practices differ in India:
Friday, April 16, 12:00 - 1:00 pm
AIA San Francisco, 130 Sutter Street, Suite 600
- March 19, 2010BY COLLEEN MCHUGH
Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, DPW Director Ed Reiskin and a crowd of supporters gathered yesterday in front of Mojo Bicycle Café on Divisadero at Hayes to celebrate the opening of the city’s first of many new “parklets.” These parklets—parking spaces repurposed as lively sidewalk extensions—are part of the city’s Pavement to Parks initiative.
The new Divisadero Street parklet consists of a wooden platform elevated to sidewalk height and extended across two former parking spaces. Benches, tables and chairs, planters, and bike parking fill the transformed public space.
These parklets can be attributed in some respects to several years of creative PARK(ing) Day activism. PARK(ing) Day was conceived by REBAR in a single San Francisco parking space in 2005. Since then, it has been celebrated in parking spaces across San Francisco and around the world. Opening exactly six months after PARK(ing) Day 2009, the Divisadero parklet shares many of the design aspects first experimented with in the Urban Center’s most recent PARK(ing) Day project—a collaborative effort between SPUR and the Great Streets Project. Architect Riyad Ghannam, who volunteered his time and skills to design the Divisadero parklet, also designed the temporary mobile platforms we used in front of the Urban Center. PARK(ing) Day 2009 was a great day at SPUR—a street-side celebration of sun, friends, neighbors, music, and public space. And it is exciting to see that the hours of construction by Riyad and other volunteers and interns in the depths of the SPUR basement may have had an impact beyond just one perfect day in September.
Left: PARK(ing) Day 2009 at the Urban Center. Right: Divisadero St. parklet. [Images: Colleen McHugh]
- March 11, 2010- posted by Esther
Don't be sheepish—try the new Google Maps cycling directions feature.
In response to years of requests for a bicycling option and over fifty thousand signatures on the “Bike There” petition, Google Maps has unveiled a new feature that helps cyclists find bike-friendly roads and while avoiding less-friendly streets.
In this Web 2.0 era, platforms like NextBus.com and 511.com have made it easier to make use of public transit: by using GPS and mobile applications to map routes, commuters are able to schedule trips with more ease. The new bicycle-route option on Google Maps will hopefully do the same by helping cyclists plan safer routes with fewer steep inclines.
The service is still in beta; in a recent interview on Streetsblog, Google Engineer Scott Shawcroft encouraged users to try the service and submit feedback to help Google improve the map system. As always, meanwhile, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition sells San Francisco cycling maps, with main bicycle routes and elevation changes marked for those cyclists who prefer a low-tech equivalent. Either way, knowing what to expect on a route will definitely make it easier for riders to feel confident about opting to cycle instead of drive.
- March 3, 2010BY JULIE KIM
[Despite historic shortfalls, SPUR believes the SFMTA can balance its budget without further service
cuts and fare hikes.]
Looks like SPUR's 28-point proposal to balance the Muni budget's been catching on. (We're glad, because we think it makes a lot of sense, too!)
In last Sunday's Chronicle, Rachel Gordon put current events in context by noting other significant Muni reform efforts (including SPUR campaigns in 1993, 1999 and 2007) over the last two decades. On Tuesday, the paper ran an op-ed citing SPUR's "good faith effort to advance the discussion."
In his round-up of the backlash to the MTA's proposed service cuts and fare hikes, Steve Jones of the San Francisco Bay Guardian cited SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf's call for an end to the "gamesmanship" around eliminating millions of dollars in SFPD work orders for "unspecified services." (The $12.2 million gain that could result from these cuts were the largest of any single line item in SPUR's proposal.)
By way of background: the SFMTA is projecting deficits in the $45-$56 million range for the next two fiscal years (the periods between July 1 and June 30 in 2010-11 and 2011-12). Across-the-board service cuts and fare increases (to certain categories of monthly fast passes and transfers) were on the table as cost-saving measures. Last Friday, the MTA board approved a 10 percent cut to service. At yesterday's hearing, however, no additional cuts or fare hikes were approved.
Check Streetsblog SF for the most frequent (and insightful) updates. Their team of intrepid transit reporters will undoubtedly follow this issue through to its bitter end on March 30, when the MTA board votes on whether to declare a fiscal emergency to enact the cuts.
- March 1, 2010BY ELIZABETH HOLDEN
After learning about new plans for San Francisco's public realm—widened sidewalks and bike lanes on Cesar Chavez Street and throughout the Mission District, a complete makeover of Fisherman’s Wharf—it was time to tackle a public space issue ourselves: Market Street.
SPUR teamed up with Next American City and the AIA to host an interactive charrette. Building on the Better Market Street Project, we brainstormed the transformation of Market into our city's grand boulevard and anchor.
[Image: Nelson Nygaard]
Jeff Tumlin of Nelson Nygaard kicked things off with an outline of what makes a great street: it invites participation, teems with people and offers transparency. It challenges our assumptions, inspires and surprises, plays with light and shadow and makes us feel sexy.
Brimming with sexy ideas, focus groups scattered to various corners of the urban center. Kim Havens of Wilson Meany Sullivan led the Commerce (Planning and Development) discussion and Karin Flood Eklund of MJM Management led Commerce (Shopping). Tim Papandreou of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency and Neal Patel (pictured) of the SF Bike Coalition facilitated the transit and bike conversations, and Jill Manton of the Public Arts Commission and Kit Hodge of the Great Streets Project took on public art and public space.
[Image: Colleen McHugh]
An interesting theme emerged: to achieve our goals, groups needed to work together. Sure, there were some specific requests, such as dedicated bus lanes and stop consolidation (transit) and regular exhibitions (public art). But the majority of ideas required a partnership. Commerce and public space needed help from public art programming to draw in crowds. Public art needed help from public space and transit for fresh new locations for work. Obviously successful transit and bike systems required cooperation. And the list went on.
So can we make Market Street an avenue of constant activity, our own Champs-Elysées? According to this charrette, if we work together, then yes.
- February 27, 2010BY BEN LOWE
In response to the looming budget deficits faced by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf today sent a letter to the MTA outlining a set of measures that could balance the budget this year and next, while avoiding service cuts and fare hikes. The twenty-eight proposals include a diverse range of ideas including hiring part-time operators ($6 million in savings), routing 311 information calls to 511 ($5.5 million), and enforcing existing parking regulations around city facilities ($1.3 million). The proposals, if adopted, would save MTA more than $104 million over the next two years.
[Image: flickr user cbcastro]
These 28 proposals are not the only methods that could be implemented to immediately close the MTA budget deficit. Metcalf also has noted the changes that must be made to the work rules under which Muni drivers currently operate, most recently in an open letter to the Transit Workers Union:
“[Problematic work rules] include: drivers not having to let their managers know how long they will be absent from work, making it impossible to set schedules; drivers earning overtime pay before actually working 40 hours a week; and perhaps most significantly, a set of rules that makes it virtually impossible to hire part time drivers. Currently, Muni is forced by the work rules to pay drivers at full hourly rates to sit around between the morning and afternoon peaks. That rule costs MTA about $11 million each year.”
As reported by Streetsblog, SPUR is working with SF Supervisor Sean Elsbernd to draft a measure that would revise the City Charter to have Muni drivers collectively bargain for pay and benefits, giving the City stronger footing to address these work rules.
As Metcalf said in his letter to the MTA, “none of these budget solutions will be easy, but we believe all of them are realistic. They would begin to set up the MTA for growth rather than contraction in providing transit service to San Francisco.”
- February 25, 2010BY TESSA
Climate change is a global problem, and the San Francisco Bay Area is especially threatened. Around one thousand miles of shoreline frame the region, so we will be greatly affected by sea level rise and intensified storm activity.
Given our particularly risky situation, the Bay Area is on the forefront of climate change action. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Institute for Local Government have collaborated to release the San Francisco Bay Area Climate Action Portal, a web based tool designed to provide local governments with the resources they need to take action on climate change.
The site provides access to a wide variety of information including climate change policy, science and current news, inventory and statistical information, project examples throughout the Bay Area, and goals already accomplished. The portal also has an interface for climate change communication, linking people together for meetings, events, online discussion forums, list-serves, and blogs.
While attacking climate change may often require extremely site-specific strategies, there are many issues such as transportation that we need to approach as a megaregion. The Climate Web Portal allows Bay Area cities to learn from one another, while also helping local governments discover their own unique needs.
- February 19, 2010BY BEN LOWE
Public transportation gets millions of Americans to and from their jobs every day. Transportation for America, a national public-transit and smart-growth advocacy organization, thinks investing in our transportation sector can create jobs as well. In response to the jobs bill now working its way through the Senate, which would largely offer tax cuts to small businesses, T4A has proposed instead that funding be put toward projects such as:
- $16 billion for transit
- $8.1 billion for the Surface Transportation Program (highways)
- $9.8 billion for competitive grants, such as TIGER grants
- $1.5 billion for bike and pedestrian facilities to make walking and biking safer and more attractive.
The non-partisan Economic Policy Institute agrees that the T4A plan would be effective. EPI has stated that such projects would spur significant job creation, particularly among the economically disadvantaged and those without higher education.
As Bay Area transit-and-smart-growth advocate TransForm recently reported, areas well-served by good transportation options, specifically public transit, help to significantly reduce transportation costs for their residents. If funding is used wisely, a transportation-focused jobs bill could therefore create and save jobs while repairing crumbling infrastructure and keeping money out of gas tanks and in our local economy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is reportedly working on a range of jobs-stimulus legislation, and may yet see the connection between getting the job market moving, and getting Americans where they want to go on America’s sidewalks, bike paths, and roads.
- February 5, 2010BY JULIE KIM
[Image: flickr user VancityAllie]
Slow buses. Skyrocketing housing costs. Preventable budget deficits. It's easy to rattle off the myriad things wrong with our city. In many ways, SPUR's very existence and mission are rooted in a practice of taking a hard look at our bad decisions, and accepting responsibility for them as a first step toward changing the city for the better.
But we are a little too good at being honest with ourselves, a little too quick to look elsewhere for answers: why can't we emulate New York's separated bike lanes, Shanghai's cosmopolitanism, Vancouver's high-rise housing and, basically, all of Europe?
When it comes to urban planning, why do we suffer from a collective "intellectual and imaginative constipation" (in the famous words of SPUR Deputy Director Sarah Karlinsky)? Live and work here too long and trying to answer these questions all the time can get to be a real downer.
But in this month's Urbanist, we chinny-chinned up. We flipped the lens 180 degrees, tapped into all the reasons we choose to live here (after all, most of us are transplants) and asked: what do we do well? What makes this city great? What's right with us?
The room was not silent. Quite the chatter session, in fact: it turns out we're damn good at a damn lot of things!
Cases in point: we have a public health care program, Healthy San Francisco, that provides low- and moderate-income households with access to affordable health care. Residents and businesses recycle a whopping 72 percent of their solid waste--the highest in the nation. We have a thriving downtown, amazing neighborhood shopping streets and a burgeoning movement of grassroots urbanists. We tore down freeways after Loma Prieta and, on the whole, made some pretty good decisions in shaping growth in the region. And come to think of it, even Muni has some best practices to boast of.
The fact of the matter is: San Francisco is an amazing place, much due to all of the amazing people who live and work here. "Learning from San Francisco" is a chance to showcase what we do best. We ought to feel proud.
(Now give yourself a little pat on the back, and get back to work!)