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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

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

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

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,...

The Future of Redevelopment Debate

Untitled from SPUR on Vimeo . Early this year Governor Jerry Brown shocked state and local leaders with his proposal to eliminate all of California’s 425 redevelopment agencies. Since then, debate has raged in the press over the ramifications of shuttering these agencies. While the future of San Francisco’s own redevelopment areas is in question (Transbay, Treasure Island, Hunters Point), similar questions arise across the state. On Thursday, March 3, SPUR and the Bay Citizen brought together Fred Blackwell of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Karen Chapple of UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning to argue the merits and liabilities of eliminating redevelopment agencies. Fred Blackwell began by acknowledging redevelopment’s contentious history and mixed-record of achievement, but he insisted that well-functioning redevelopment agencies are essential to economic growth, sustainable development and social justice, pointing to successful projects in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, Yerba Buena and Hunter’s Point...

Initial Vision Scenario Released for the Bay Area

March 11, 2011 By Egon Terplan
The Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission released their Initial Vision Scenario for growth in the Bay Area at a meeting in Oakland today. The scenario is the first major milestone in the development of the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy, a plan designed to accommodate growth while reducing greenhouse gases from driving,

Weekly Snapshot

Largest Mall in the World is a Chinese Ghost Town The world's largest mall, located in Southern China, is a vast ghost land with occupancy rates that hover at 1%. The mall, built to serve what may someday become a Chinese mega-city, is a glimpse at what can occur when development precedes growth. http://i.gadling.com/2011/03/ 02/largest-mall-in-the-world- is-a-chinese-ghost-town/?ncid= &a_dgi=aolshare_twitter A Place-Based Approach to Food Access: Creating a Healthier Future for Birmingham Birmingham, Alabama, the country's second most obese city, is creating a new system of outdoor markets to increase resident's accessibility to fresh, healthy food as well as to create vibrant neighborhood hubs in a city where public space is lacking. http://www.pps.org/blog/ creating-a-healthier-future- for-birmingham/ Greenest Homes Are Those Near Public Transportation A new study by the Environmental Protection Agency finds that homes located near public transportation use less energy than homes specifically designed to be "energy efficient," such as ones with Energy...

2011 Piero N. Patri Fellowship

March 10, 2011
Call for Applicants SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, is pleased to issue a call for applicants for a twelve-week fellowship in the summer of 2011. The Piero N. Patri Fellowship in Urban Design is a hands-on position for a graduate student or 2011 graduate in landscape architecture, urban design, or architecture. The fellowship provides the opportunity for the Fellow to gain firsthand experience working in the urban design and planning field on a project that will have a positive impact on the city of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Projects are intended to provide career-related work experiences that will challenge graduate-level students, contribute to San Francisco, contribute to SPUR's mission, and reflect the values of Piero N. Patri. SPUR will cooperate with the Fellow in obtaining academic credit, if his or her institution allows. The selected Fellow will be based in the San Francisco office...

SFCTA's Long Range Transportation Plan Explores Future Transportation Patterns

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is working on an update to the city’s Long Range Transportation Plan. As part of the update, the authority has been conducting analysis of transportation patterns in the city, and looking at projected growth, and its implications. Some of the results have already been released (pdf), and the findings should provide advocates and governments in the Bay Area some food for thought: 1. The growth in traffic across the city’s southern border isn’t going to stop. The region is expecting some improvement in the jobs-housing balance in the South Bay, but it won’t be enough to stop increases in trips across the SF-San Mateo boundary. This makes the search for steady funding for Caltrain even more urgent, and also raises the question of whether we need to think about road pricing on I-280 and US-101. 2. San Francisco will need to address transit time...

Thoughts on GOOD Design (and Good Design) and Social Responsibility

GOOD Design Bay Area: Challenge #6 from SPUR on Vimeo . In the spring of 2004, I was a grad student at UC Berkeley, and about half way toward a master's degree in architecture. I'd already been having doubts about the program, and my future as an architect, when I didn't get my first pick for a class and ended up in a blobitecture studio with a visiting professor from Columbia who had made a name for herself designing, uh, plastic-looking blobs based on forms supposedly found in nature. The design studios at Berkeley were on the top floor of a Brutalist nine-story tower that hovered above the rest of campus. Looking out the window, the world seemed far away, and people looked small and insignificant. Humans are hard to draw, and even harder to Photoshop, and so we often left them out of drawings. Luckily my assignment at the...

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