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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

Saltworks Debate: the Pros and Cons of Bayfront Development

April 11, 2011
California’s continued population growth was not up for debate at the SPUR Urban Center on March 29, but the Saltworks development project in Redwood City certainly was. At the latest event in our Debates Worth Having series, co-sponsored by The Bay Citizen, architect and urban planner Peter Calthorpe, the chief designer of Saltworks, and David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, presented their pointed arguments for and against the proposed project, which would occupy 1,400 acres of bayfront property adjacent to the Port of Redwood City. The plan would remediate the site, a former salt-harvesting operation, as a combination of housing, schools, parks, ball fields and restored wetlands. Calthorpe argued that the development would place affordable housing near existing jobs and integrate with transit, making it among the most environmentally sound options for the Bay Area — a region, he pointed out, that has been exporting housing to outlying...

Behind the Scenes at SFO's New Terminal 2

April 8, 2011 By Jordan Salinger
After lying dormant for a decade, San Francisco International Airport's Terminal 2 will be re-opening this month. Last week, 45 SPUR members had the unique opportunity to tour the final stages of construction on the $383 million renovation project. The 640,000 square foot building has 14 gates and will serve 5.5 million visitors per year. American Airlines, a tenant of the original terminal when it opened in 1954 , will be joined by Virgin Airlines in this revamped space. Here are a few highlights that stood out during the tour: Technology - Free wi-fi will be available throughout the terminal. - Flat-panel screens display arrival/departure information, a "visual paging" system, and informative notes, such as nearby pet-waste facilities and medic stations. Photo by Noah Christman Design - According to project manager Ray Quesada, the space has been designed to create a "club" like atmosphere. Travelers familiar with Virgin America's cabins...

Weekly Snapshot: Rethinking Minnesota's Zombie Skyways

April 8, 2011 BY ANIKA JESI
MinnPost.com photo by Steve Berg Skyways -- enclosed, elevated sidewalks -- have protected pedestrians from the brutal weather in Minneapolis and St. Paul for decades. But these 1970s relics have also been accused of killing pedestrian activity on city streets. To start a public conversation about alternatives, Architecture Minnesota magazine held a video competition and screened the hilarious results at a lively public event. The six finalists included a rap comparing Twin Cities pedestrians to hamsters and a haunting clip of zombie pedestrians piling up in a dead-end skyway to nowhere. Read full story at MinnPost More from the week in urbanism: How Mountain View Revived Its Downtown Bruce Liedstrand, the former city manager and redevelopment director for Mountain View, CA, explains how the city revitalized its core and changed its image from sleepy dormitory community to lively, vibrant downtown. Read full story at New Urban Network Places That Work:...

Caltrain Scores Short-Term Funding -- Now We Need a Long-Term Plan

April 6, 2011 BY STEPHEN TU
After threats to reduce service by nearly half, Caltrain officials last night agreed to scale back their drastic proposed cuts. The rail system’s governing agencies have brokered a deal to avoid the worst-case scenario, which would have run only 48 trains on weekdays, a dramatic drop from the current 86. Through a patchwork of solutions — including a 25-cent fare hike and eliminating some trains and stations — Caltrain will preserve most of its current level of service. In July, Caltrain will reduce the number of trains to 76 on weekdays and close the Hayward Park station in San Mateo, the Capitol station in San Jose and the Bayshore station in Brisbane. But this short-term solution, which if approved would extend only through fiscal year 2012, doesn’t solve Caltrain’s deeper problem: it’s managed by a coalition of three different counties and lacks a dedicated funding source. Meanwhile, Bay Area commuters...

SPUR to SF Supervisors: Don't Let the Next Google Get Away

April 4, 2011 BY GABRIEL METCALF AND JENNIFER WARBURG
While the Bay Area is still climbing out of the great recession, we’re simultaneously experiencing the makings of a second dot-com boom. The Chronicle reports that tech jobs have climbed near to their year 2000 peak of 34,116. Silicon Valley is hiring again. And so is San Francisco. Between Twitter, Zynga, Yelp, Salesforce and others in social media, gaming and cloud computing, a growing sector of the economy is based right here in the city. We can’t predict in advance which companies will succeed: Google launched during the last boom, but so did Webvan, whose only traces today are the eponymous cup holders at AT&T Park. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging for all of us who promote economic development to see this kind of growth and investment in a niche well-suited to our city. The question is, will San Francisco be able to retain the successful companies as they grow and begin...

Seattle Planning Director Marshall Foster at SPUR

April 4, 2011 POSTED BY JENNIFER WARBURG
Known for its quality of life and access to nature, Seattle has long prided itself on refusing to be “world class.” But rapid growth and a diversifying population mean Seattle is changing — whether it wants to or not. Booming biotech, software and gaming sectors are transforming the economy, new light rail and streetcar lines are expanding, and the city is about to reclaim its downtown waterfront from the shadows of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. On Friday, April 8, SPUR will host a lunchtime forum with Seattle City Planning Director Marshall Foster on the big issues facing the Emerald City as it continues to grow. A longtime friend of SPUR, Foster is a former Bay Area planner known for his work on projects large and small for the San Francisco City Planning Department. SF’s director of City Greening Initiatives until 2006, Foster was instrumental in the Better Neighborhoods plans, the...

How Leftover Urban Spaces Can Fix Big Problems for San Francisco

March 31, 2011 BY KAREN STEEN
The City of San Francisco owns 1,625 parcels of unmaintained paved land, odd alley-like spaces behind industrial buildings and beneath overpasses. Most are no wider than a city street, but together they have a combined surface area half the size of Golden Gate Park. That’s a lot of city-owned land just sitting there collecting plastic bags. Their shape, size and location — often alongside highways or near industry — make these leftover lots unusable for traditional development. But what if there was a way to reclaim them for public use? That’s the question UC Berkeley architecture professor Nicholas de Monchaux asks with his project “ Local Code: Real Estates ,” on view at the SPUR Urban Center gallery through April 20. Inspired by the artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Fake Estates” project from the 1970s, de Monchaux has proposed a reinvention of these spaces as a hybrid of public park and public...

Bay Area Work Trends Lead to Increased Density

March 30, 2011 BY ED PARILLON
Co-working studio [Photo by flickr user ahopsi] According to a piece in Sunday’s Chronicle, tech employment in San Francisco is approaching its dot-com peak : "The city had an estimated 32,180 tech jobs last year, compared with 34,116 in 2000, according to an analysis of state employment data by real estate consultant Jones Lang LaSalle. In 2004, the number of tech jobs had fallen to 18,210." The most interesting thing about the growth in jobs is that it hasn’t been accompanied by proportionate growth in office space; while dot-com companies occupied 325 square feet per worker in 2000, today they occupy about 175, and that number has been falling each year . The Chronicle speculates that this is driven by the relative frugality among today’s dot-coms, which is certainly possible. While there are lots of companies out there, venture capital firms have generally been making smaller investments during this cycle...

Budget Update--High Speed Rail Funding In Jeopardy

March 16, 2011 POSTED BY JENNIFER WARBURG
If the Fiscal Year 2011 budget debate in Washington has been dramatic, it has also unfolded utterly predictably. But though threats to HSR funding were foreseeable, their ultimate effect is still highly uncertain. The GOP-controlled House proposes cuts to HSR that do three things: 1. Eliminate all 2011 funding for high speed rail projects 2. Rescind unobligated funds for high speed rail appropriated in 2010 and 2009 3. Bar other states from using the $2.4 billion in high speed rail funds rejected by Florida, as well as the $614 million passed up by Wisconsin and Ohio. According to Californians For High Speed Rail, if these cuts pass, they could jeopardize “$2.3 – $3 billion in expected federal funds” for California’s HSR project alone. But can the unobligated funds be rescinded? The answer is unclear. Most reside in a legal grey area were they have been “committed” but not “obligated.” And...

An Update on Van Ness BRT

March 15, 2011 POSTED BY STEPHEN TU
Several weeks ago, I attended a briefing at the SFCTA on the progress of the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project. BRT along Van Ness is currently in the midst of final environmental studies and preliminary engineering. Public comment will be solicited this spring on the Environmental Impact Report, after which the project team will recommend a preferred alternative for adoption by the Authority and SFMTA boards. The Van Ness BRT project is true Bus Rapid Transit – it is not a simple rebranding of an existing line with a new paint scheme and logo. Van Ness BRT calls for the conversion of one lane in each direction to a dedicated bus lane, with overhead wire to power clean electric buses. The project will feature all-door, level boarding and proof of payment to speed up passenger boarding and drop-off. Buses will get transit signal priority for green lights at intersections,...

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