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.