Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bike Boxes in Action

Boston has bike boxes!

These boxes allow cyclists to pass up and get in from of automobiles when stopped at intersections.  It helps prevent cars from making turns unaware a cyclist is to the side and clipping them.  Cyclists pull to the front of the line of stopped cars so they are visible and get a head start once the light becomes green.  They also allow cyclists to make turns easier without having to maneuver across traffic lanes.  They pull into the box and move across in front of stopped vehicles to make a safer turn.

The picture is from Comm Ave in the Back Bay part of Boston near where the APA Conference was being held last weekend.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Planners take Boston

I returned yesterday from the American Planning Association National Planning Conference in Boston.  It was a great time hanging out with fellow students and professionals learning about what is going on in planning.  My tweets cover some of the highlights, but a rundown of the sessions I went to are as follows:

  • "City Planning 360: GIS for Intelligent Cities" showed some of the power of the new ArcGIS 10 platform.
  • Adapting and using Dedicated Port Areas
  • An opening keynote from Michael J. Sandel
  • How to evaluate "authentic" features of suburbs and how they can be used during suburban retrofits
  • Turning a small town train station into a transit village
  • "LEED Guidance for Neighborhood Development" where speakers called out Grand Rapids as an excellent example and case study for writing 'green' standards into a comprehensive plan.
  • Green preservation and economic growth in the North Loop area of Minneapolis
  • Transportation and climate change
  • Using social media as a means of public participation
  • Regional food systems planning
  • "Leveraging the Value of Older Buildings"
I can talk in greater detail in person.

I also went to a Boston Red Sox game against the Tampa Bay Rays, which was pretty cool.  Fenway Park was neat and being able to sit up on the green monster because the game turned into a 16-5 blowout by the Rays was awesome.

Fenway Park
From the Green Monster

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Faux Urbanism?

New Urbanist principles are great things, but what happens when you build away from normal areas and start anew?  Places like Celebration, Florida are knocked because they are built in places without previous development and are essentially suburbs.  I guess a New Urbanist suburb is better than a regular suburb, but it's something to think about.  When I was in Boulder, Colorado for spring break I ventured to North Boulder.  North Boulder is a rapidly developing part of town, and there is quite the New Urbanist style to it.  I really like the architecture and it's not as far away as normal suburbs, but the public space seemed unused and more of a ruse than anything.  It is also expensive.  A 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath condo was for sale and advertised at $174,338 - a lot for something similarly sized to an apartment I lived in for a couple years.  Then again, it's Boulder.  More integration with downtown is probably needed, but I could see myself living here if the opportunity presented itself.  What do you think?
Unique Architectural Styling
Homes oriented to shared space.
Garages and parking behind the buildings.
Eyes on the street.
Looking toward the Flatirons.
Barren Public Space.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sunday Drive takes on Michigan Avenue - Detroit

This past Sunday afternoon I decided to take a drive and ended up driving from Ypsilanti to Detroit along Michigan Avenue.  I took some pictures along the way.
Wayne and Inkser - a fairly desolate landscape.
Entering Dearborn.  Road narrows. Not too shabby.
Road re-widens - the typical Detroit area 4-lane.
 These wide roads have always confused me.  Detroit was built on the automobile, I get that, but these roads still suck.  I don't think they are really even hospitable for driving on with the width, speed and intersection design, let alone anything else.
Ford Taurus driving by a Ford building.
Some vacant land and whatnot.
Skyline - and yes, that is a bike lane to the right.
Michigan Central Station - abandoned and iconic.
It is really interesting to drive from the suburbs into the city and see changes along the way.  This one was different coming from the west instead of previous trips coming in from the north.  Going through the industry in Wayne and Inkster is a lot different than rolling through Pontiac, Bloomfield Hills, and Royal Oak.

I think this was a good engagement of the region for me, and hopefully I can get out to see places in the future.  Maybe even stopping for more interaction.  In any case, I think I might try to continue making "Sunday Drive" posts just as incentive and to share what I see.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Break Connections

I survived the first week back from break! It ended yesterday with an assignment that had a due date of 5pm on a Saturday.  Ridiculous, but I survived.  Now, to recall what I spent my time doing over break with Boulder County.

I have already explained the first day, but on the second day I attended a meeting for the EnergySmart program in the morning. It is an energy efficiency program that was recently awarded some federal money to help homeowners and businesses to increase efficiency by providing rebates on certain things.  The simple parts are replacing light bulbs, but it moves up from there to tune up HVAC systems, insulation, roofs, and appliances such as industrial refrigerators.  Check out a press release here.

Later in the day, I met one of the county land use planners and talked about land use planning and things like the urban growth boundary system the county and municipalities have set up, and site plan review.  Boulder also has a transfer of development credits (TDC) program that is pretty neat.  In the county, a home cannot be larger than 6,000 sq ft, which is a decent size, but with development in recent years (pre-housing crash) it was normal to see larger than 10,000 sq ft homes in rural areas.  The TDC program allows owners of smaller homes give up the ability to expand their homes up to a certain amount in exchange for money and the footage given up can be used by the purchaser to build a larger home that would normally not be allowed.

Finally, I ended my Tuesday by meeting with a couple of county transportation planners.  We briefly talked about the push for alternative modes of transportation in the county, and then onto a specific project - the Eco Pass.  The Eco Pass is a bus pass that a business or neighborhood can purchase for employees or residents.  What we talked about more was the community Eco Pass.  The county has done this with Lyons where the county pays RTD the projected cost of the route that runs into town, and every resident gets a pass to use.  As ridership increases the cost would presumably increase, but it allows every person in the small town to get on a bus and not drive into Boulder or wherever else they go.  The county was working on setting this up for Nederland as well, and this is where I come in.  In order to figure out how much money they owed RTD, they needed some data about how people paid for their bus fare, so they were not paying double for those people who already had a free fare.  So, I rode the bus up and back 3 times over the rest of the week to get some preliminary data, talk to some drivers to maybe get them interested in helping out, and just to see the beauty of Boulder Canyon.

On Wednesday I had a meeting with another person in land use talking about the response to the Four Mile Fire and what is being done to help affected homeowners and some more about Boulder, like the 50ft building height limit in the city, rising property values, and what is "sustainable" in the different municipalities.

On Thursday I had yet another meeting in land use with a forestry person, again talking about the fire.  We discussed how if progressed, what actions were taken, and how better control of trees could have prevented much of the damage.  Growth was allowed so the forest was all trees instead of a more natural grouping of trees with open grass spaces between that could have allowed the fire to burn itself out easier.

I also attended a transportation master plan meeting.  Finally, on Friday morning I was a part of a meeting to revise a set of maps showing different social welfare programs across the county.

It was a great week, and I learned some valuable things about planning from it.  Maybe I need to move there next...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trains Down the Middle

I am back from Colorado, but providing an update on what I did for most of the week is on hold while I work on settling back in and reorienting myself to "school."

I managed to buy a crazy amount of groceries, unpack, and clean up my room today, so hopefully the update will be sooner rather than later. For now, I leave you with a video a few of my classmates made to promote center-running light rail along the Woodward Avenue corridor in Detroit:

Detroit needs better transit options. You should submit some comments about it. More information at Transport Michigan.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring Break in Boulder

If you have seen my Twitter or Facebook recently, you might know that I am on Spring Break.  For break, I am participating in a job placement program that the architecture and urban planning programs put on.  I requested a placement in the Denver/Boulder area of Colorado and ended up with a placement at Boulder County Public Health working with a University of Michigan urban planning alum in the environmental health department.

I started there today.  I got to work on some computer mapping and began reading through a study of different communities and how they go about using planning of the physical environment to benefit public health.  Later in the week it looks like I will get to meet with some people doing land use and transportation planning too.

The benefit of being placed in Boulder (beyond the weather, mountains, and beer) is being able to stay and catch up with my buddy Jon who is going to school out here now.  It has been a great time!

I'll try to write more when the week is finished.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Future of Planning

Last Friday, the University of Michigan played host for the Michigan Association of Planning Student Conference.  There were also students from Michigan State, Western, Eastern, Central, Wayne State, and Lawrence Tech who attended the day-long event.  Unfortunately, because of work, I missed the afternoon session, but I did manage to catch some morning presentations, enjoy lunch, and make it back in time for the social gathering at Grizzly Peak, a local watering hole.

An opening talk was given by the Dean from LTU, on the topic of "Tales of Detroit & New Orleans Climate Change."  There are some interesting parallels between the two cities even though the problems of one occurred by natural disaster and the other by much more human oriented reasons.  Detroit can also look at New Orleans to see how it might be able to do some of its rebuilding.  However, the most intriguing part of the presentation was the suggestion that, because of climate change, Detroit and the rest of the Midwestern rust belt can rebound.

Most booming cities of the last few decades have been in the south and the west, or what is often called the Sun Belt because those regions have a much warmer climate, not to mention natural resources, space, and people.  People want to be where its nicer, but with climate change increasing temperatures these places may become unbearable for certain periods of time.  The Sun Belt is also prone to greater numbers of natural disasters than Michigan is, and those may increase in magnitude or happen more often.  So, it was suggested that if Michigan and the upper Midwest can maintain a minimal amount of diversity and create a decent economic climate, people will return once again.  There will be another shift from the Sun Belt back to the "Great Midwestern Greenbelt" where our summers will be like northern Arkansas and our winters like southern Ohio.

Beyond this presentation, I went to a session of student presentations on data visualization, urban agriculture in Detroit, light rail on the Woodward Avenue corridor in Detroit, and the concept of a "Recovery Park" for a Detroit neighborhood.  These were all good presentations and showed some of the diversity of what planning students from around the state are working on.  Unfortunately, by missing the afternoon session, I was a bad peer and missed all of the presentations given by my Michigan classmates.

The conference was pretty good for what I made it for, including a delicious lunch and drinks afterwards.  It was nice to take a break from the normal schedule of classes for this, and seeing what other students are doing was cool instead of always seeing professors and professionals talk about their stuff.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Detroit Works

On Wednesday, another planner and I decided to attend a community meeting for the Detroit Works Project.  As everyone knows, the city of Detroit is struggling and has lost over half its population during the past 50 years.  Now, the city is trying to figure out ways to provide essential services like water and garbage pick-up, improve public transportation options, position the school system for success, and fix the problems of blight and vacant land.  Part of the solution may be creating incentives for people who move to different neighborhoods and increase density.  The list goes on.

This past fall, the city held a first round of large meetings that were overcapacity and resulted in yelling (or so I'm told because I didn't make it to any).  So, now the city is in the middle of providing 30+ meetings in various neighborhoods throughout the city in order to get feedback and hear about specific issues from those areas.

The meeting I went to was on the west side of the city, just north of Dearborn.  Information about some of the ideas that have been talked about was given, and a lot of questions were asked of the audience about these ideas.  Real-time answers were given on the screen by use of keypads that were located on each seat.  Following this was an extensive question and answer session, and members of various departments in the City of Detroit were present to provide the answers.

Nothing truly groundbreaking occurred, but it was awesome to see and be involved with the public process and see how citizens are being included with this monumental plan Detroit is trying to piece together.  The city will use the feedback from the questions to help gauge what needs to happen first or where to focus its investments.  Hopefully, in the end, this plan can help Detroit get back on track for greatness.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sidewalks in the Kingdom

This is a month overdue, but over Christmas Break I had the time to read the book Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faithwhich I finally got to after a year of owning it.  Being an urban planning student, this topic is something I find extremely fascinating and I thought I could benefit from having a greater Christian perspective on it.

Overall, the book is very straightforward and covers the issues as a New Urbanist would look at them, but adds a good Christian emphasis.  At times I found the book simplistic, but I think I may be beyond the intended audience a little bit.  As an introduction to urban issues, it does an excellent job at getting the basics and their importance across.  It could be infinitely helpful to people who have not thought about these things as much as I have.  In the end, I didn't so much learn anything new about New Urbanism, but I was impressed by the Christian emphasis it did give.  It definitely helped refocus my thinking about things and why I'm going to school for what I am.

I would recommend reading this book if you are interested in these kind of things, especially reasons why Christians should care about our cities.  It is a pretty easy read.  If you want to borrow it from me, just let me know.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

GR: City with a Bleak Future?

Newsweek published something on America's Dying Cities last week using the most recent census data on population loss to examine those cities with the most total population loss and loss of those younger than age 18.

On this list is Grand Rapids, which happened to upset a bunch of people, prompted the mayor to write a response, and created a mini-firestorm on my Facebook homepage... I get it. Being from the Grand Rapids area helps me understand those angry people and the fault of Newsweek.  By simply using the census data, they only see a total population loss over a ten year period, but they fail to notice the low point was four years ago and the city is now rebounding.

Pittsburgh is on the list too in a similar situation, and I think what is written for it gives better insight that could be used for GR than the general stuff about Michigan that was actually given.  Since the populations have gone down, especially in the younger age groups, these cities will have a harder time moving forward than others like San Francisco or Portland that are attractive simply by existing...

I really like that Grand Rapids and Mayor Heartwell stepped up and pointed out Newsweek's flaws and the strengths of the city.  It needs to be done.  Negative media portrayal leads to situations like Detroit's where the good gets totally overshadowed by the bad.

However, we shouldn't just say Newsweek got it totally wrong and stop there.  We did lose population, and we have not gotten back to where we were before.  In terms of income on the metro level (suburbs included) taking a class in economic development last semester informed me the median income in Metro Grand Rapids is lower than the median for Metro Detroit. Yes. Worse than Detroit.

Obviously, Detroit is skewed upward by Oakland County, but Grand Rapids is probably affected in a similar way by EGR, Ada, etc.  Plus, we should also look at the low end of the spectrum where Detroit probably (extrapolating from its larger population) has a higher number of individuals and families with lower incomes.  Therefore, some kind of balance may be expected between the two.  In total dollars and wages for employees, our region is not anywhere near the economic power we may think.

ArtPrize"green" building, and sustainability are great (I love them all), but they are just a start.  Success includes so much more than that.  In some ways we may be "thriving," but the opposite still exists too, and we need to continue working hard on making Grand Rapids the best city it can be.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Music Folder 2010

Here is the music I listened to most from last year:

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Caribou - Swim
Girl Talk - All Day
Hot Chip - One Life Stand
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
New Pornographers - Together