Dec 212016
 

The Imperial Building is part of a community-wide commitment to the revitalization of the downtown urban core and provides the neighborhood with affordable housing, retail and restaurants, underground parking, a rooftop garden, and a new grocery store. For more information about this project, visit www.dpsdesign.org/what-we-create/imperial-building.

May 202016
 

If we’re going to curb climate change, urbanism — developing sustainable cities and metro regions — will have to lead the way.

So says Peter Calthorpe, an architect, urban planner, and one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

In his latest book, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change, he argues that green technology and alternative energy alone won’t mitigate climate change, but that they will need to integrate with smart urban planning and development to really make a difference. I talked with Calthorpe about what that looks like in practical terms, how urbanism is the cutting edge of environmentalism, why sustainable cities are more than just a fad, and more.

SmartPlanet: You say in your book that Americans must reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to 12 percent of their current output. Briefly paint the picture of a city that is designed to reach that goal?

Peter Calthorpe: It’s not a simple – either you live in the suburbs or you live in the city. We used to have things called streetcar suburbs that were very walkable, in California they were built around bungalows, and people walked more and they biked more and they used transit more in those areas.

You basically have to get to a situation where you reduced your dependence on the automobile, and your car is very efficient – 55 mpg. But perhaps more important, you’re only driving it 5,000 miles a year instead of 30,000.

You’re getting around otherwise by walking to local destinations, using you bike, and using local transit networks. You’re probably also living in a townhouse or an apartment where the building is very efficiently built, and demands very small amounts of energy. There’s not a lot of water being used because you don’t have a big yard, but there’s a really cool park nearby. And you tend to eat a little more organic, a little more local, and a little less meat. And the power grid for your region is based at least 60 percent on renewables.

It’s a combination of all those things. But at its foundation is the more compact, walkable, urban environment, because it is what reduces demand. It reduces demand so much that you then begin to satisfy the demand with renewables.

SP: You’re saying that the question shouldn’t be, “do you live in a city or not?” but if you live in a community with these qualities?

PC: Right. And we almost had a perfect system before World War II in the U.S. We had great cities, people loved to live in them, and they were very walkable and transit oriented.

But we had suburbs that were also walkable and transit oriented, they were called streetcar suburbs. There were massive streetcar systems all around the United States. They were torn up after WWII by a consortium of GM, Standard Oil, and Firestone, and they were all replaced with buses, which became less and less desirable as they got stuck in the same traffic as cars. We transitioned away from a pattern that was pretty healthy.

The two compliment each other: the city center, in its higher urban forms, and the streetcar suburbs – what we now call transit-oriented development – really help each other.

Part of the mistake that the right-wing makes here is that they think in order to be ecological, everybody has to be forced into the same lifestyle, and that’s just not true.

More and more we live a regional life. Not just a life in a city or a town. Our economic opportunities, our social and cultural lives are regional and almost all of our environmental issues are regional: air quality, water quality, transportation. All these things are regional issues that can’t be dealt with by a single city or town.

SP: Is the urbanism that you described — sustainable cities — is the most plausible solution to climate change?

PC: I call it the foundation. If you don’t get the lifestyles to a healthier place, the amount of technology that you’re going to have to deploy is going to be really problematic. It’s conservation first. Reducing demands before you start talking about supplies. Too much of the discussion around climate change and carbon seems to focus on technology before it even begins to think about how people’s lifestyles can change.

Of course a more urban lifestyle, whether it’s a streetcar suburb or city, is just healthier and more affordable. It’s a win in many dimensions.

For example, we have an obesity crisis in the United States. Part of that is driven by the fact that we’re too sedentary, we don’t walk. Our communities have less of that natural policing that happens when people live more in the public domain. And more time in the streets and cafes, and less time in their cars. Safety gets in there, air quality is impacted, the household economics.

You can forget about saving the environment, what about just living affordable lifestyles? In America today it costs $5,600 a year to own a car. If you want to own a new one it’s like $8,000. So in American where the median household makes $50,000, and half of that is spent on transportation and housing, you can see how two cars immediately eats into a pretty big chunk of the household budget.

We’ve been able to demonstrate, here in California, as part of our implementation of AB 32, that you not only save the environment, but you save your pocketbook, and you create healthier people and stronger communities.

SP: You make a convincing argument that urbanism has a positive impact on health, economics, safety, and has other co-benefits. Are you saying you can be an urbanist without necessarily being an environmentalist?

PC: People like to live in cities not just because they’re environmentalists, but by living in cities and walkable towns they’re at the cutting edge of environmentalism. That’s the good news.

It should never be a single issue movement. Trying to design healthy sustainable communities impacts so many dimensions of our society that you should never just look at carbon or oil or even land consumption. But it succeeds on all those levels.

In California we looked at a more compact future that only had 30 percent of the new housing in apartments and 55 percent in townhouses and bungalows, with the end result still being over 50 percent of the housing in California being single family. Yet, the difference in land consumption was monumental. It went from something like 5,000 square miles down to 1,800 square miles.

That huge urban footprint, that savings there of 3,500 square miles of building over farmland, and habitats, that’s a very important component to many people, not just environmentalists.

SP: You talk about the history of urbanism with the rise of the suburbs in the 1950s and now a return to the city in the 2000s. Is urbanism and talk of sustainable cities just a fad or do you think there is a paradigm shift taking place?

PC: It’s a fundamental fact of demographics. When we gave birth to the suburbs we were pushing towards 50 percent of households were a married couple with kids. Now only 23 percent of households are married with kids. The other 75 percent have other needs, other priorities other than a big yard on a cul-de-sac. Whether it’s young single people or older empty-nesters or single moms struggling to make ends meet, there’s a whole different set of needs that revolve more around costs and a lot of issues.

When you get to a point where you either don’t want to drive a lot because you’re older and/or you can’t afford to drive a lot, you need places that work for those parts of the population. So this change isn’t just about a fad or a sentiment, it’s fundamental demographics and economics.

And the good news is that it helps us with our environmental challenge.

SP: In the book you say that we need more interconnected whole system fixes, where engineers are working with urban planners, and vice versa, to design a successful communities. What are some examples of this that you have seen successfully play out?

PC: Well, urbanism came along in the early 90s and has now demonstrated a huge number of successes in trying to think holistically about the design of neighborhoods and communities. They range from really large projects — like we did the reuse of the old airport in Denver, Stapleton. There are 10,000 units of housing there; it’s walkable, it’s mixed-use, and it’s very mixed-income.

One of the most radical things that happened there is that we ended up being able to put in one neighborhood the very high-end housing and the most affordable housing a block and a half apart. Whereas the development community had been operating for decades on the notion that you have to segregate income groups.

I think that there’s a lot [of benefits] for the society, for the strength and coherence and the basic sensibility and investment we have in each other to not live in isolated enclaves.

At the other end of the spectrum, the New Urbanists helped Henry Cisneros, when he was head of HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to execute the Hope VI program, which was to tear down the worst of the public housing projects and build in their place mixed-use, mixed-income communities that really fit with their surroundings. They were no longer a stigma dragging huge sections of the city down.

There are a lot of success stories out there and a lot of good examples. So much so that the development community, and its leadership – for example the Urban Land Institute – has completely signed on to all of these precepts.

The models, the paradigms are there and once we come out of this great recession I think we’re going to be able to move in a much healthier direction.

SP: Do you think when we come out of the recession that there will be less single family home development and sprawl?

PC: The interesting thing is that the development community understands that the marketplace that’s going to come next is much more compact, walkable communities. The question is: are they going to be allowed to build it? Therein lies the big problem.

All of our zoning codes are still focused back into the hindsight, into single-use homes and low density. So all zoning needs to change, which of course is a huge political hurdle.

Then you have the problem of NIMBYs [not in my backyard], and a bunch of them actually use environmental alibis. They’re people who just don’t want infill, they don’t want density, they don’t want townhouses near their large lot, they don’t want commercial in the neighborhood, even if they could walk to it. Because fundamentally they don’t want change.

That creates a very perverse situation where even when the developers want to build the right thing, they don’t get the chance.

SP: Is that the biggest hurdle for building more walkable, dense communities?

PC: Absolutely. NIMBYs – it’s interesting to watch how many of them use environmental issues as alibis – are the biggest problem. Of course there’s infill parcel-by-parcel along an arterial, and there are also big infill sites which really scare people: old army bases, large industrial areas, and things like that that can be converted. People are frightened by the scale of change. But what they have to realize is that the end result is that development gets pushed farther and farther to the regional periphery where there’s less transit and fewer jobs.

[Along with zoning codes] there’s a third leg here, and that’s that our departments of transportation have a real strong addiction to building roads rather than transit. There are really three shifts [that need to take place]. We have to reframe the infrastructure and put more money into transit than roads, we need to redo the zoning codes, and we need to find a way to overcome local opposition to infill.

The problem is always that infill does cause local impacts, there’s no question. But when you’re looking at it holistically, it’s a much more environmentally benign way to grow. But on someone’s block it doesn’t look that way.

I live here in Berkeley, California. And I think downtown Berkeley is a prime example of this. We have BART, we have the university, we have jobs, we should be building high-rise residential right there, right at a transit node, right at the doorstep of a great university. But there are a lot of environmentalists here who just say, “no that’s not the right thing to do.” In the end what it means is people get pushed farther and farther out to the suburbs and commute greater and greater distances because there just isn’t enough housing close to the jobs.

SP: Most of your book is from a US perspective. But climate change is a global problem. Are there places around the world that are getting urban design right? Is the rest of the world going in the right direction?

PC: There are many northern European countries that are really getting it right. The Scandinavian countries are doing a fabulous job of putting the brakes on autos and really orienting towards biking and walking. Copenhagen is a great example of that. And in Sweden over 50 percent of all trips are on foot or bike, and it is a cold, wet climate. And they have, on a per-capita basis, higher incomes than we do. They could afford to drive everywhere, but they don’t. It’s the cityscape and it’s the culture. Those are good models.

I’m doing a lot of work now in China where they’ve got three of the four things you need to make good urbanism. They have density, traditionally they have very mixed-use environments – they have small shops everywhere. And they invest heavily in transit.

But they’re getting their street network all wrong, and they’re building super blocks that really defy the pedestrian and the biker. So you find these huge drop offs in pedestrian and bike mobility in China. What they need to do is reconfigure the way they design their street networks back to small blocks and human-scale streets. And if they do that they’ll really be a model.

Original article.

Apr 232016
 

22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees by Dan Burden

U.S Forest Service facts and figures and new traffic safety studies detail many urban street tree benefits. Once seen as highly problematic for many reasons, street trees are proving to be a great value to people living, working, shopping, sharing, walking and motoring in and through urban places.

For a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree. Street trees (generally planted from 4 feet to 8 feet from curbs) provide many benefits to those streets they occupy. These trees provide so many benefits that they should always be considered as an urban area default street making feature.

With new attentions being paid to global warming causes and impacts more is becoming known about negative environmental impacts of treeless urban streets. We are well on the way to recognizing the need for urban street trees to be preferred urban design, rather than luxury items tolerated by traffic engineering and budget conscious city administrators.

The many identified problems of street trees are overcome with care by designers. Generally street trees are placed each 15- 30 feet. These trees are carefully positioned to allow adequate sight triangles at intersections and driveways, to not block street luminaries, not impact utility lines above or below ground. Street trees of various varieties are used in all climates, including high altitude, semi-arid and even arid urban places.

The science of street tree placement and maintenance is well known and observed in a growing number of communities (i.e. Chicago, Illinois; Sacramento, Davis, California; Eugene, Oregon; Seattle, Redmond, Olympia and Issaquah, Washington; Charlotte, N.C.; Keene, New Hampshire and Cambridge, Mass). Although care and maintenance of trees in urban places is a costly task, the value in returned benefits is so great that a sustainable community cannot be imagined without these important green features.

Properly placed and spaced urban street trees provide these benefits:

Increased motorized traffic and pedestrian safety (contrary to engineering myths). See below article for details on mode safety enhancements. See especially the compilation of safety benefits detailed in, Safe Streets, Livable Streets, by Eric Dumbaugh Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 71, No. 3, Summer 2005. One such indication of increased safety with urban street trees is quoted from this document:

“…Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the inclusion of trees and other streetscape features in the roadside environment may actually reduce crashes and injuries on urban roadways. Naderi (2003) examined the safety impacts of aesthetic streetscape enhancements placed along the roadside and medians of five arterial roadways in downtown Toronto. Using a quasiexperimental design, the author found that the inclusion of features such as trees and concrete planters along the roadside resulted in statistically significant reductions in the number of mid-block crashes along all five roadways, with the number of crashes decreasing from between 5 and 20% as a result of the streetscape improvements. While the cause for these reductions is not clear, the author suggests that the presence of a well defined roadside edge may be leading drivers to exercise greater caution.”

22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees by Dan Burden

Mar 262016
 

US DOT and FHA website on roundabouts:
Roundabouts and Mini Roundabouts
http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/innovative/roundabouts/

Roundabouts: An Informational Guide
http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_672.pdf

Caltrans Mission Statement

  • Old: Caltrans improves mobility across California
  • New: Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability

From Wikipedia

Capacity and delays

Traffic approaching Chiverton Cross roundabout in Cornwall, UK

The capacity of a roundabout varies based on entry angle, lane width, and the number of entry and circulating lanes. As with other types of junctions, operational performance depends heavily on the flow volumes from various approaches. A single-lane roundabout can handle approximately 20,000–26,000 vehicles per day, while a two-lane design supports 40,000 to 50,000.

Under many traffic conditions, a roundabout operates with less delay than signalised or all-way stop approaches. Roundabouts do not stop all entering vehicles, reducing both individual and queuing delays. Throughput further improves because drivers proceed when traffic is clear without waiting for a signal to change.

Roundabouts can increase delays in locations where traffic would otherwise often not be required to stop. For example, at the junction of a high-volume and a low-volume road, traffic on the busier road would stop only when cross traffic was present, otherwise not having to slow for the roundabout. When the volumes on the crossing roadways are relatively even, a roundabout can reduce delays, because half of the time a full stop would be required. Dedicated left turn signals further reduce throughput.

Roundabouts can reduce delays for pedestrians compared to traffic signals, because pedestrians are able to cross during any safe gap rather than waiting for a signal. During peak flows when large gaps are infrequent, the slower speed of traffic entering and exiting can still allow crossing, despite the smaller gaps.

Studies of roundabouts that replaced stop signs and/or traffic signals found that vehicle delays were reduced 13–89 percent and the proportion of vehicles that stopped was reduced 14–56 percent. Delays on major approaches increased as vehicles slowed to enter the roundabouts.

Roundabouts have been found to reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 15–45 percent, nitrous oxideemissions by 21–44 percent, carbon dioxide emissions by 23–37 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by 0–42 percent. Fuel consumption was reduced by an estimated 23–34 percent.

Safety

A comparison of possible collision points on a roundabout versus a traditional intersection

Small modern roundabout in the United States, where vehicles are driven on the right

Roundabout in the United States with separated side lanes. Vehicles entering the roundabout give way to vehicles in the roundabout. As of March 2009 the road at upper left carries 10,400 vehicles per weekday.

A typical trunk road roundabout in the UK at Carland Cross on the A30 in Cornwall

Statistically, modern roundabouts are safer for drivers and pedestrians than both traffic circles and traditional intersections. Roundabouts are safer than both traffic circles and junctions—experiencing 39% fewer vehicle collisions, 76% fewer injuries and 90% fewer serious injuries and fatalities (according to a study of a sampling of roundabouts in the United States, when compared with the junctions they replaced). (Though, a more ideal metric would be a comparison to nearby similar intersections, since a need for replacement may be a confounding factor.) Some larger roundabouts take foot and bicycle traffic through underpasses or alternate routes. Clearwater Beach, Florida’s multi-lane roundabout has reduced its previously high cyclist death rate to zero since its construction.

At junctions with stop signs or traffic lights, the most serious accidents are right-angle, left-turn or head-on collisions where vehicles move fast and collide at high impact angles, e.g. head-on. Roundabouts virtually eliminate those types of crashes. Instead, most crashes are glancing blows at low angles of impact.

An analysis of the New Zealand national crash database for the period 1996–2000 shows that 26% of cyclists reported injury crashes happened at roundabouts, compared to 6% at traffic signals and 13% at priority controlled junctions. The New Zealand researchers propose that low vehicle speeds, circulatory lane markings and mountable centre aprons for trucks can reduce the problem.

The most common roundabout crash type for cyclists, according to the New Zealand study, involves a motor vehicle entering the roundabout and colliding with a cyclist who already is travelling around the roundabout (50%+ of cyclist/roundabout crashes in New Zealand fall into this category). The next most common crash type involves motorists leaving the roundabout colliding with cyclists who are continuing farther around the perimeter. Designs that have marked perimeter cycle lanes were found to be even less safe, suggesting that in roundabouts, cyclists should occupy a vehicle lane rather than a special lane. The researchers advised that drivers be forbidden from overtaking cyclists (as well as other vehicles) while in the circle.

Mar 242016
 

 

ITDP Eight Principles Vertical Building Blocks

The 8 Principles for Better Streets and Better Cities

  1. WALK | Develop neighborhoods that promote walking
  2. CYCLE | Prioritize non-motorized transport networks
  3. CONNECT | Create dense networks of streets and paths
  4. TRANSIT | Locate development near high-quality public transport
  5. MIX | Plan for mixed use
  6. DENSIFY | Optimize density and transit capacity
  7. COMPACT | Create regions with short commutes
  8. SHIFT | Increase mobility by regulating parking and road use

ITDP aims to deliver a higher standard of living and quality of life for citizens of cities around the world. Through our transportation projects, we work to reduce human impact on natural resources and ecosystems, and to ensure that we develop in a way that benefits us all, both today and in the future.

Our vision of sustainable cities is one in which there is a high concentration of people living in an environment that is pleasant and provides good social infrastructure through good physical infrastructure. Cities where people are put before cars, and residents, workers and visitors young and old, can safely walk or cycle to their daily activities. Cities where jobs and services are a bus ride away, and the time and money spent driving can be used productively elsewhere. These are the kinds of cities that are attractive to us today – cities with less congestion, less pollution, fewer accidents, and healthier, safer, more productive communities. To achieve this, there are 8 principles which guide our approach to sustainable transport and development. These principles inform the TOD Standard, a guide and tool to help shape and assess urban developments.

Mar 242016
 
How will the shifting mobility landscape impact the design of sustainable cities?

If you’re an automaker, now might be the time to drastically rethink not only your target audience, but also the fundamentals of how vehicles are designed, manufactured and marketed.

Forces like global urbanization, the growth of electric vehicle infrastructure and shared mobility services — ridesharing, carsharing, bikesharing, etc. — are dramatically changing the sustainable transportation landscape.

To help make sense of it all, GreenBiz spoke last week with mobility designer Dan Sturges about the outlook for personal cars and the market forces reshaping the suto industry.

This week, in and interview edited for length and clarity, Sturges shared his thoughts on what our future cars might look like, and how all of these factors might combine to reshape our sense of place.

GreenBiz: What might the new constellation of vehicle options for businesses and consumers mean for the future?

Dan Sturges: To me, both Silicon Valley and Big Auto are not very focused on the massive opportunity that comes with a broader selection of optimized vehicle designs in the future of shared mobility. Today, we generally use two classes of mobility.

One, mainly, is our cars and light trucks to drive us each day around our cities and metropolitan regions. The second is the airplane that we fly to far-away cities and countries. What has been missing is a third tier — one focused on local transportation. That would be a travel environment for walking, bicycles and a wide range of upcoming micro-mobility (powered) vehicles.

GreenBiz: So you’re saying our current local transportation patterns are unsustainable?

Sturges: Let me be very clear. We currently have an automobile monoculture on this planet, and it’s not good for us.Today, the billion cars and light trucks we have on the planet look virtually the same when looking down on them. They are rectangles with four wheels in the corners and roughly the same size. They are constructed out of 25,000 parts and cost $32,000, on average, in the US. Why would anyone need all that to travel a mile or two for a meeting at a coffee shop?

GreenBiz: And you see an opportunity to simplify?

Sturges: Nearly 50 percent of our trips in urban areas are less than three miles, and 28 percent are one mile or less. Our cars are over-engineered for nearly every trip we take in them. It’s overkill. It’s like killing a roach with a shotgun. We could not do anything about this before the auto tech revolution, but now we can.

The centerpiece of the local mobility future is the bicycle. While auto mobility develops in the future with the cars we drive, autonomous vehicles or other inventions, we will be redesigning our cities to offer amazing pedestrian, bicycle and active mode facilities first and foremost.

GreenBiz: What if you’re not into biking or walking all the time?

Sturges: For those of us that want more than a bicycle for a nearby trip, we will choose from a growing array of local vehicles. This will include electric bikes, e-scooters, senior mobility scooters, golf cars, Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEVs), and a likely wide array of new types of near cars.

All of these vehicles require far less land and energy than a car, and cost far less to own, share, or operate than our cars of today. They are optimal vehicles for a short trip.

GreenBiz: What about longer trips?

Sturges: Think about a metropolitan area divided into two vehicle categories: the local vehicles I am talking about, and the far cars – the conventional vehicles we know and use already today by the billion.

A Nissan Land Glider concept car.

It’s helps to think of the neighborhood you live in as a small island, maybe two square miles. Let’s say you live in Palo Alto, California and you are a telecommuter, so your needs for an automobile are already really reduced. You might use a new-type of local shuttle service, ridesharing, carsharing, bike or walk to get around Palo Alto.If you’re a commuter, there will be another option: a narrow car. The Nissan Land Glider concept vehicle paints a picture of a new type of car to drive around your region. Cities encouraging the right-sizing of personal vehicles will benefit by reducing traffic congestion, along with reducing the amount of land needing for parking.

GreenBiz: Are there existing templates for how all of this might come together in real cities?

Sturges: In European cities moving toward a car-free model, like Madrid, new urban shuttles — a mix of autnomous and driver-controlled — will offer frictionless use for consumers.

GreenBiz: But retrofitting entire cities at scale would be a massive challenge.

Sturges: It’s difficult to get a city saturated with big cars and trucks to clear an appropriate amount of space for a healthy local mobility zone. The car is still considered king, and cities like LA are having big fights with citizens about removing even a few car parking spaces for bike lanes.

This drives me crazy — LA plans to fund its much-needed biking infrastructure over a 20-plus year period. I think that’s absurd, given the climate crisis, economic challenges, terrible traffic and so on. Many people like little e-scooters and NEVs, but they don’t feel safe operating them around a sea of giant SUVs.

I don’t blame them. In addition, hardly any citizens have been introduced to this type of new vision for a shared-use and right-sized metropolitan mobility future. If you don’t know something is available, how are you going to even want it, and seek government to support it?

GreenBiz: Long term, how do you see this potential convergence influencing the way we build our cities?

Sturges: Did you ever see Otis Elevator’s dual-dimensional elevator concept from the early 1970’s? It was super cool. The elevator not only went up and down, it could travel horizontally as well.

Small electric vehicles are about the same size of some elevator cars. They have zero emissions and will actually be able to drive into a building and right into one’s condo in the future. The design opportunity of this convergence of architecture, local mobility, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is very exciting to me.

GreenBiz: What sorts of applications do you think about for urban settings?

Amazon-owned Kiva, a pioneer in mobility robotics.

Sturges: Upcoming automated, local mobility technologies will enable all new types of futuristic smart communities and cities to be created, as well as informing the retrofit process of our existing cities.Have a look at Kiva Systems. Their remarkable warehouse movement robots can now be applied to a number of important new urban living applications.

This technology enables new types of cities and futuristic smart communities to be built, that park cars on the edge and offer large non-motorized zones for people, as well as a secondary micro-sized, high-tech automated movement systems for both people and goods.

Original article.

Mar 182016
 

A new report from Obama’s science and tech advisors outlines the case for an urban-focused technology policy.

Image Yuya Shino / REUTERS
Yuya Shino / REUTERS

I’ve long complained that U.S. cities are not getting the attention they deserve from the federal government, even though they are the nation’s fundamental engines of innovation and economic progress. But that may be starting to change, thanks to a new report from President Obama’s high-level Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

In the report, titled Cities and the Future of Technology, PCAST makes the case for putting cities at the very center of America’s innovation strategy and technology policy. The report is the product of a blue-ribbon panel of the nation’s leading scientists, technologists, and urbanists such as John P. Holdren (the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology), Alphabet’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs.

Ultimately, PCAST argues in favor of a “place-based” policy that uses investments to embed the most advanced technology in urban infrastructure. It maintains that the U.S. needs a bold new approach that goes beyond the current emphasis on smart cities. In other words, the nation and its cities should use technology not only to upgrade and transform aging infrastructure, but to reshape the way cities operate from top to bottom. Doing so will save energy, reduce traffic and congestion, create more sustainable and competitive cities, and bolster the innovation and competitiveness of the U.S. more broadly, according to the report.

In advancing its findings, the report focuses on several dimensions of cities and technology.

Transportation: The report highlights efforts to develop driverless vehicles, or CAVs. These kinds of developments, the report argues, not only pose significant money-saving opportunities, but are also responsible for placing the nation “on the verge of large-scale transformation.” Considering the cost of traffic collisions ($300 billion per year), vehicular congestion ($124 billion per year), and related health-care incidents ($50-80 billion per year) in the U.S., the report finds that the nation could save around $1.2 trillion per year if people refrained from driving.

Energy: From electric energy systems to electric vehicles, the increasing “electrification” of our cities is helping to protect our environment and benefit our economy in the long run, the report argues. The report also focuses on the concept of “District Energy,” which uses technology to coordinate the local production of energy with its local uses. In 2015, three cities—Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; and Aspen, Colorado—already declared themselves 100 percent renewable, the report finds.

Buildings and Housing:  While nearly 67 percent of cities worldwide have committed to green-building codes, only 12 U.S. cities rank among the leading cities for environmental design. To fix this, the report recommends a number of changes, including the integration of sensory technology that understands and responds to changes in the environment.

Storm runoff floods an L.A. freeway back in 2013. (David McNew/REUTERS)

Water: With regard to our world’s most precious resource, the report focuses on storm water systems as a means of improving water infrastructure at the local level. Over in Los Angeles, for instance, the report finds that the city could triple or even quadruple its storm-water capture by 2099 by adding these systems in households and neighborhood districts.

Factories and Farms: Technology is not only transforming high-end knowledge fields, but labor-intensive fields like manufacturing and farming as well. When it comes to manufacturing, the report focuses on the need to take advantage of the growth of high-tech industries by creating jobs for low-income residents. When it comes to urban farming, the report emphasizes the need for soil-less agriculture systems and praises the work of rooftop greenhouses in places like Brooklyn, Queens, and Chicago.

Most of all, the report makes the case for stronger involvement of the federal government in the crucial nexus of cities and technology. Many have argued that cities can solve their own problems, or even that mayors should rule the world, but the report smartly recognizes that such massive investments in infrastructure need the support of the federal government.

To that end, the report makes four specific recommendations.

Invest in and experiment with technology: First, the report recommends the creation of a new Cities Innovation Technology Investment Initiative, or CITII, to coordinate city-by-city efforts and enhance urban innovation across the nation. At the outset, this initiative would select five districts—at least two of which are low-income communities—to receive $30-40 million for technology advancements. The initiative would also designate certain federal agencies as “districts of experimentation” to test out new technologies. Finally, the report recommends that the CITII develop training and certification programs to turn new innovation into a means of job production.

Set up innovation laboratories: Next, the report recommends creating new “innovation laboratories” within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assemble the same technological resources that many governmental agencies have already.

A Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing project in National City, California. (Mike Blake/REUTERS)

Focus on infrastructure and low-income communities: The report recommends that cities develop “Urban Development Districts,” which would receive funding from the Treasury to generate innovation in low-income districts. Along these same lines, the authors support the approval of public infrastructure bonds that would incentivize private investment in tech-based urban innovation.

Coordinate research: Finally, a new Urban Science Technology Initiative should be created within the National Science and Technology Council to coordinate federally funded research (both short- and long-term) across these agencies.

The report recognizes that cities are the key to both developing and deploying new technology. Just as technology led to massive advances in manufacturing—from automation and robotics to more efficient supply chains and deliveries—so too does it promise to improve the productivity of cities and urban infrastructure.

The big problem, of course, lies in our increasingly polarized and dysfunctional political system that will make it hard, if not impossible, to do the kinds of things the report outlines. Still, the report does much to show why we need to put cities at the center of our strategy for innovation and economic competitiveness.

Original article.

Dec 062015
 

Mission 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group advocates for visionary practices in planning, design, and development that will lead to a more livable and prosperous city.

Vision 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group envisions a city that grows wisely, preserves farmland and open space, drives smart economic development, welcomes vertical density, cherishes our past, and boldly anticipates our future.

Core Values 

The Oxnard Community Planning Group believes in a city that works to meet the needs of all our residents: young, old, people with disabilities, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists; even people who don’t go anywhere. We strive to be open-minded, welcome thoughtful discussion, and are willing to invest our time and efforts towards bringing these beliefs into being.

Nov 072015
 
 November 7, 2015  Auto Use, Energy, Placemaking, Smart Growth
Steven Strauss

In 1898, just before the dawn of the automobile age, delegates from around the world came to New York for the world’s first international urban planning conference. One topic dominated the discussion. It wasn’t the effects of the coming car revolution on urban land use, the need for gasoline stations or the implications for economic development. It was horse manure. At that time, Americans used roughly 20 million horses for transport, and cities were drowning in their muck.

But we shouldn’t mock our forebears because our current planning debates are just as rooted in the present, just as ignorant of the oncoming avalanche of changes. As the delegates in New York obsessed over horses when they should have been thinking about cars, our policy wonks obsess over cars when they should be thinking about autonomous vehicles.

Consider that the first semi-autonomous vehicles are already on the roads. Fully autonomous cars could be available for purchase as soon as 2020.

It’s widely expected that AVs will be cheaper to operate and travel faster than cars; be fleet-owned (individual ownership won’t be worthwhile if AVs are both affordable and guaranteed to arrive promptly); and mostly use electric and/or hybrid power.

Given these assumptions, let me sketch out a few high-level implications.

Fleet ownership of AVs could reduce the number of cars on the road by 60% to 90% due to more efficient usage and, consequently, reduce car sales by an equivalent percentage. Many of the 1 million jobs in U.S. auto manufacturing will probably disappear.

More than 2.5 million driving jobs (there are 1.7 million truck drivers, 650,000 bus drivers and 230,000 taxi drivers — about 2% of the U.S. workforce) will also be eliminated or transformed. In terms of the resulting human disruption, remember that all of these workers are part of families and communities; the loss of their jobs will produce a ripple effect.

On a positive note, AVs will make our roads safer and bring major savings in healthcare and auto repair. About 33,000 people die each year in auto accidents. In 80% of the cases, the cause is alcohol consumption, driving in excess of the speed limit or a distracted driver. Computers should have none of these problems. Highway accidents have direct costs of about $240 billion a year and more than $800 billion a year if quality-of-life issues are included. AVs have the potential to eliminate most of these deaths and costs.

Relatedly, the automobile insurance industry (which now has revenue of about $200 billion) will shrink dramatically. Fewer accidents will mean fewer claims and lower premiums. The benefit to the economy from these savings could be $400 billion to $1 trillion a year, and should be reflected in lower transportation costs.

More good news is that land currently tied up for parking can be repurposed for other uses. Again, assuming expanded fleet ownership and less individual ownership, AVs won’t need to park in city centers. Of course, changes in land use won’t benefit everyone equally. AVs could facilitate a significant shift to housing away from city centers, thereby reducing central urban property values and increasing values in outlying areas. For example, New York has several neighborhoods not accessible to mass transit, but AVs may open these areas to development.

In 1898, the U.S. population was about 74 million, and there were only 800 registered cars. By 1927 — less than 30 years — the U.S. had more than 19 million cars on the road, and more than 55% of American families owned one. The 20th century shift to automobiles, within the span of a normal human life, destroyed many existing sectors (anything to do with maintaining 20 million horses, for example). Entirely new laws, regulations and infrastructure (roads, tunnels and bridges suitable for motor vehicles, gasoline distribution and much else) had to be created.

The delegates to the 1898 urban planning conference failed to recognize the developments that would transform their world. Today’s transportation infrastructure discussions — about building a $10-billion bus terminal in New York, or a $70-billion high-speed rail system in California — may prove similarly shortsighted. These transportation mega-projects don’t seem to take AVs into account. Yet by the time these initiatives are completed, AVs will be a major part of the transportation landscape. AV minibuses, providing home to office direct service, may completely replace traditional buses. And there’s little doubt that AVs will radically change the economic calculations and assumptions that make high-speed rail projects seem worthwhile (i.e. the speed and cost of travel by conventional car).

Policy leaders need to seriously consider winding down vocational schools that teach bus and truck driving as a career. Cities need to start rethinking their housing policies. And that’s not all. As AVs facilitate a shift to electric and hybrid vehicles, highway trust fund revenue, which comes from the gasoline sales tax and pays for most federal road work, will collapse. How will road repair be funded going forward?

All sorts of technological, legal and regulatory barriers must be addressed for AVs to deliver their full potential. But these barriers aren’t higher than those encountered in the shift from horses to conventional cars. Autonomous vehicles are coming. We need to stop thinking within the limitations of the past and focus instead on the tectonic shifts of the future.

Steven Strauss is a visiting professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He has advised senior public sector leaders in Europe, the Middle East and the United States.

Original article.

Sep 272015
 

We have many NEW resources on our Resources Page.

For instance we recently added four links about infill housing, with several great Myths vs Facts articles plus a Infill Design Tool Kit.

There are several new articles about Economic Development and City Planning and Urban Design.

This website is becoming the go-to venue for planning issues and education in Oxnard, CA.

Aug 052015
 

A huge amount of urban traffic comes from cars circling for available parking. Robot fleets could change all that.

Image Amr Dalsh / REUTERS
Amr Dalsh / REUTERS

Traffic jams aren’t exactly Zen. People are anxious about getting somewhere else instead of being happy about where they are.

To make matters more frustrating: In many cases, the cars clogging roadways are often already at their destination—and just circling the blocks looking for parking. There’s plenty of research showing that a surprisingly large number of people are driving, trying to find a place to leave their car. A group called Transportation Alternatives studied the flow of cars around one Brooklyn neighborhood, Park Slope, and found that 64 percent of the local cars were searching for a place to park. It’s not just the inner core of cities either. Many cars in suburban downtowns and shopping-mall parking lots do the same thing.

Robot cars could change all that. The unsticking of the urban roads is one of the side effects of autonomous cars that will, in turn, change the landscape of cities—essentially eliminating one of the enduring symbols of urban life, the traffic jam full of honking cars and fuming passengers. It will also redefine how we use land in the city, unleashing trillions of dollars of real estate to be used for more than storing cars. Autonomous cars are poised to save us uncountable hours of time, not just by letting us sleep as the car drives, but by unblocking the roads so they flow faster.

Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote a book called The High Cost of Free Parking, about how low-cost parking ruins cities. He estimates that cities that underprice their parking encourage circling, resulting in roads where up to 45 percent of the traffic is people looking for a place to park. His solution is for cities to boost the cost of street parking until there are usually a few free spots on each block.

Robot cabs don’t need to park. They just move on and pick up the next fare. Human-guided cabs don’t need to park much during the day either, but even in the densest cities there aren’t enough of them. In Manhattan, there are 100,000 off-street parking spots alone below 60th Street and even more on the streets. New York City brags that there are 500 metered spots that accept credit cards in the Broadway theater district. But there are only 13,150 Yellow Cab Medallions for the entire city. In the future, when demand ebbs at the end of the day, robot cabs can simply move to the edges of the city for rest, refueling, and repair—all out of the way.

To study this effect for myself, I built a simulator with rows and rows of city blocks filled with little cars headed for random destinations. The cars aren’t drawn to scale and there is no effort to simulate stop lights or collisions, but even in this simple model, the streets quickly clog up. If a car reaches its destination and there are no more parking spaces, it chooses a new destination at random, turns grey, and starts circling.

Here’s a video showing how the simulator works:

What’s striking is that the streets start clogging up when 15 percent to 25 percent of the blocks are full. If the cars can’t find a place to park in one section, they start bouncing around looking for another and jamming the streets. And because finding another spot takes almost as much time as getting to the destination, they start to fill up the streets quickly.

Here’s one video showing the simulator just after the first few blocks are full. The percentage of cars searching for parking starts to soar.

This next video is taken later in the simulation when more than 60 percent of the blocks are full. Most of the cars on the streets are on a quest for one of the open parking spots.

Notice that most of the empty spots are toward the bottom. The procedure for choosing a random location does not pick initial destinations uniformly, effectively simulating cities where some blocks are more desirable. Once the major destinations start to fill up, it takes some time for the cars to find the empty locations. They don’t have access to any central database of empty spots so they circle mindlessly until they happen upon an empty spot. (The simulator is very basic and full of poor approximations of the way that humans look for spaces. One researcher, for instance, suggests that people circling for parking often take right turns at red lights because they don’t want to wait. The simulator doesn’t try to be that smart: It just chooses a new destination nearby at random. The source code for the simulator is written in a game platform called Construct 2 and is available to anyone who wants to play with it and make it better. You can play with the simulator yourself here.)

Some parking garages have installed sensors that count the number of empty spaces, and signs to share this information to keep people from driving down full aisles. When autonomous fleets take over, they’ll have access to similar databases. The cities will probably keep a few parking spaces around for cars that need to pause but most will probably be repurposed as parks or retail locations.

Even though the simulator I used is just an approximation, it supports researchers’ findings about just how many cars in urban environments are looking for parking at any given time.

The results also show that autonomous cars have the potential to change urban life dramatically. If replacing the human drivers and their need to park will reduce the demand for the roads and eliminate the stressful traffic jams, it will make city life that much more peaceful. Maybe not Zen, exactly, but more like it.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

Original article.

Travel Times to/from South Oxnard and Points North [2]

 

The chart below shows approximate travel times from Ventura, Camarillo and Saticoy to various South Oxnard locations.

The times and distances are from Google Maps and are thus approximations. However, they are representative of real times from point A to point B.

Note that in almost all simulations the travel times to South Oxnard from nearby locations using Oxnard Boulevard are longer than when other routes are taken. It’s clear that in almost all cases there are other faster routes into and out of South Oxnard than Oxnard Boulevard.

When the Oxnard Boulevard time is bold red there are other routes that will get one to the destination faster than Oxnard Boulevard.

(Because the data indicated below is from a dynamic source, Google Maps, which indicates different travel times depending on time of day and actual traffic conditions, the times you get may be different from those noted below. However, it is all relative and travel times will be consistent across different routes compared to different times of the day.)

Collection to Elm Park

Time-to-Oxnard5

There is a post with the same content.

 

May 012015
 
It may take longer than 10 years, but the editor does not think by much. We can no longer mandate excessive parking for new development.
“PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%, estimating that the fleet will fall from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles.”
(Website editor)

 

google-uber

How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs and Reshape the Economy by 2025.

I have spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about autonomous cars, and I wanted to summarize my current thoughts and predictions. Most people – experts included – seem to think that the transition to driverless vehicles will come slowly over the coming few decades, and that large hurdles exist for widespread adoption. I believe that this is significant underestimation. Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced. They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.

The transition is already beginning to happen. Elon Musk, Tesla Motor’s CEO, says that their 2015 models will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time.1 And the major automakers aren’t far behind – according to Bloomberg News, GM’s 2017 models will feature “technology that takes control of steering, acceleration and braking at highway speeds of 70 miles per hour or in stop-and-go congested traffic.”2 Both Google3 and Tesla4 predict that fully-autonomous cars – what Musk describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination” – will be available to the public by 2020.

How it will unfold

Industry experts think that consumers will be slow to purchase autonomous cars – while this may be true, it is a mistake to assume that this will impede the transition. Morgan Stanley’s research shows that cars are driven just 4% of the time,5 which is an astonishing waste considering that the average cost of car ownership is nearly $9,000 per year.6 Next to a house, an automobile is the second most expensive asset that most people will ever buy – it is no surprise that ride sharing services like Uber and car sharing services like Zipcar are quickly gaining popularity as an alternative to car ownership. It is now more economical to use a ride sharing service if you live in a city and drive less than 10,000 miles per year.7 The impact on private car ownership is enormous: a UC-Berkeley study showed that vehicle ownership among car sharing users was cut in half.8 The car purchasers of the future will not be you and me – cars will be purchased and operated by ride sharing and car sharing companies.

And current research confirms that we would be eager to use autonomous cars if they were available. A full 60% of US adults surveyed stated that they would ride in an autonomous car9 , and nearly 32% said they would not continue to drive once an autonomous car was available instead.  But no one is more excited than Uber – drivers take home at least 75% of every fare.11 It came as no surprise when CEO Travis Kalanick recently stated that Uber will eventually replace all of its drivers with self-driving cars.12

A Columbia University study suggested that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City13 – passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile.14 Such convenience and low cost will make car ownership inconceivable, and autonomous, on-demand taxis – the ‘transportation cloud’ – will quickly become dominant form of transportation – displacing far more than just car ownership, it will take the majority of users away from public transportation as well. With their $41 billion valuation,15 replacing all 171,000 taxis16  in the United States is well within the realm of feasibility – at a cost of $25,000 per car, the rollout would cost a mere $4.3 billion.

Fallout

The effects of the autonomous car movement will be staggering. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%, estimating that the fleet will fall from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles.17

Disruptive innovation does not take kindly to entrenched competitors – like Blockbuster, Barnes and Noble, Polaroid, and dozens more like them, it is unlikely that major automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Toyota will survive the leap. They are geared to produce millions of cars in dozens of different varieties to cater to individual taste and have far too much overhead to sustain such a dramatic decrease in sales. I think that most will be bankrupt by 2030, while startup automakers like Tesla will thrive on a smaller number of fleet sales to operators like Uber by offering standardized models with fewer options.

Ancillary industries such as the $198 billion automobile insurance market,18 $98 billion automotive finance market,19 $100 billion parking industry,20 and the $300 billion automotive aftermarket21 will collapse as demand for their services evaporates. We will see the obsolescence of rental car companies, public transportation systems, and, good riddance, parking and speeding tickets. But we will see the transformation of far more than just consumer transportation: self-driving semis, buses, earth movers, and delivery trucks will obviate the need for professional drivers and the support industries that surround them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists that 884,000 people are employed in motor vehicles and parts manufacturing, and an additional 3.02 million in the dealer and maintenance network.22 Truck, bus, delivery, and taxi drivers account for nearly 6 million professional driving jobs. Virtually all of these 10 million jobs will be eliminated within 10-15 years, and this list is by no means exhaustive.

But despite the job loss and wholesale destruction of industries, eliminating the needs for car ownership will yield over $1 trillion in additional disposable income – and that is going to usher in an era of unprecedented efficiency, innovation, and job creation.

A view of the future

Morgan Stanley estimates that a 90% reduction in crashes would save nearly 30,000 lives and prevent 2.12 million injuries annually.23 Driverless cars do not need to park – vehicles cruising the street looking for parking spots account for an astounding 30% of city traffic,24 not to mention that eliminating curbside parking adds two extra lanes of capacity to many city streets. Traffic will become nonexistent, saving each US commuter 38 hours every year – nearly a full work week.25 As parking lots and garages, car dealerships, and bus stations become obsolete, tens of millions of square feet of available prime real estate will spur explosive metropolitan development.

The environmental impact of autonomous cars has the potential to reverse the trend of global warming and drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans account for 17.6% of greenhouse gas emissions26 – a 90% reduction of vehicles in operation would reduce our overall emissions by 15.9%. As most autonomous cars are likely to be electric, we would virtually eliminate the 134 billion of gasoline used each year in the US alone.27 And while recycling 242 million vehicles will certainly require substantial resources, the surplus of raw materials will decrease the need for mining.

But perhaps most exciting for me are the coming inventions, discoveries, and creation of entire new industries that we cannot yet imagine.

I dream of the transportation cloud: near-instantly available, point-to-point travel. Ambulances that arrive to the scene within seconds. A vehicle-to-grid distributed power system. A merging of city and suburb as commuting becomes fast and painless. Dramatically improved mobility for the disabled. On-demand rental of nearly anything you can imagine. The end of the DMV!

It is exciting to be alive, isn’t it?

Original article.

If you are still with us. Click to view a good TED talk about how driverless cars work.
Added on July 1, 2015

Apr 132015
 

In many areas, trees are under siege. But our cities need them, for all sorts of reasons.

Image LeahI00/Flickr
LeahI00/Flickr

I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with many large, mature trees. Our bit of urban forest is one of our community’s greatest assets, if you ask me. But, loved though they are, trees are getting to be a little controversial in and around D.C., and that worries me. I’ll get to that a bit later in the post, but first I want to share some of things I have learned about city trees in the last few days.

In particular, last week I spoke at a forum hosted by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, and after the program I was approached by someone from an initiative called San Diego County Trees. The initiative is the urban forestry project of the Energy Center, and they have all sorts of information extolling the benefits of urban trees along with a crowd-sourced inventory of street trees in San Diego.

I just spent time on the website, where the coolest feature is an interactive map of the whole county showing very specific tree locations and information, including quantified benefits to the region stemming (pun unintended but acknowledged) from its trees. As you can see in the image, these include carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved, and air pollutants reduced.

You can even click on a specific tree and get detailed information on its species, size, and annual economic benefit to the community. San Diego County Trees invites its readers to add to the inventory with information on additional trees not presently counted.

If you’re interested in the subject of the community benefits of trees, you can get additional information from the websites of the National Arbor Day Foundation and the US Forest Service. Among the tidbits I learned on one or the other of those two sites are these:

  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3 percent less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12 percent.
  • One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen.
  • A number of studies have shown that real estate agents and home buyers assign between 10 and 23 percent of the value of a residence to the trees on the property.
  • Surgery patients who could see a grove of deciduous trees recuperated faster and required less pain-killing medicine than matched patients who viewed only brick walls.
  • In one study, stands of trees reduced particulates by 9 to 13 percent, and the amount of dust reaching the ground was 27 to 42 percent less under a stand of trees than in an open area.
Photo by Kaid Benfield

Several years ago, walkability guru Dan Burden wrote a detailed monograph titled 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees. Among other things, he calculated that “for a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree.” Burden cites data finding that street trees create slower and more appropriate urban traffic speeds, increase customer traffic to businesses, and obviate increments of costly drainage infrastructure. In at least one recent study (reported after Burden’s analysis), trees were even found to be associated with reduced crime.

I think some of the most important benefits, though, are felt emotionally. Burden puts it this way:

Urban street trees provide a canopy, root structure and setting for important insect and bacterial life below the surface; at grade for pets and romantic people to pause for what pets and romantic people pause for; they act as essential lofty environments for song birds, seeds, nuts, squirrels and other urban life. Indeed, street trees so well establish natural and comfortable urban life it is unlikely we will ever see any advertisement for any marketed urban product, including cars, to be featured without street trees making the ultimate dominant, bold visual statement about place.

That is extremely well said.

The DC area also has an extensive tree inventory hosted by the nonprofit Casey Trees, which has done much praiseworthy work to increase both plantings and awareness in our area. Among the several informative maps on the organization’s website is one marking trees recently planted in the city directly by the foundation. There’s also a map showing trees recently planted by the city. As with the San Diego maps, you can zoom in and click on a particular tree and bring up a popup window (see below) of tree characteristics.

Casey also publishes an annual Tree Report Card evaluating how the area is doing with respect to such performance measures as tree coverage, health, planting and protection. For 2011, for example, the organization found that tree planting has been robust and that the health of the city’s forest is strong. But the organization expressed concern about weak enforcement of the city’s tree protection law and urged both legislative and administrative changes to strengthen the city’s aggregate tree canopy, which has remained constant for several years at 35 percent coverage of the city, short of the goal of 40 percent.

Which brings me to the controversy. The Washington region, like many others in the U.S., has many neighborhoods (including my own) with above-ground utility lines strung overhead along our streets. We also have a lot of thunderstorms, which in some years cause significant treefall and power interruptions, most recently for the better part of a week during a severe heat wave. Utility workers strive heroically to restore service, but there are not-entirely-unfounded complaints that some of the local utilities lack sufficient preparation and have cut budgets in the wrong divisions of the company. This became a major news story, as some electricity providers performed significantly better than others in restoring electricity.

To try to shorten what could become a long story, some defensive utility executives have pointed to the trees when customers complain (“At the hearing, Pepco officials blamed trees for much of the damage to about 2,400 Pepco power lines, 200 transformers and 240 utility poles that fell during the storm”). This has been refuted by analysis, however (“By far, Pepco equipment failures, not trees, caused the most sustained power interruptions last year, records show”).

But it’s not just utilities, unfortunately. As reported by Justin Jouvenal in The Washington Post, a “massive and iconic oak that stood in the heart” of a northern Virginia suburb fell two weeks ago and crushed a car and driver underneath, killing the driver. This has prompted at least one local businessman to ask the authorities to immediately take down two nearby large, mature trees and to “deal more aggressively with aging trees” in the community. Some community members are now claiming that tree lovers “have blood on their hands,” while others believe that some of the area’s grandest trees could be casualties of an emotional rush to judgment in the wake of a tragic accident.

Photo courtesy of Junichi Ishito/Flickr

Personally, I am unqualified to evaluate risks and benefits in these situations. But one resident quoted in the article appears to be a voice of reason, asserting that it is important that trees be evaluated but that weight should be given to professional arborists as to their health and safety. If a tree is healthy and not posing a hazard, it should stay. I would add that, if some should indeed come down, the affected property should be replanted as soon as possible. And, as for the power lines, let’s put them underground where they belong.

Original Article

editor: Urban Street Trees – 22 Benefits

Mar 242015
 

More than $1 trillion, according to a new report.

Image Flickr/lindenbaum
Flickr/lindenbaum

More and more young people are moving to urban centers because they prefer to live in walkable areas with lots of public transportation options. Still, developers are reluctant to build compact housing using this smart growth approach. But perhaps a new economic case against sprawl can convince these developers to think twice.

Sprawl costs America over $1 trillion a year, according to a new report by LSE Cities and the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, because it can increase per capita land consumption up to 80 percent and car use by up to 60 percent. Together these outcomes create social costs that amount to $626 billion a year for people living in sprawling areas and $400 billion for those outside of them, the report estimates.

Economic outcomes from increased land development and automobile use. (LSE Cities/Victoria Transport Policy Institute)

The report argues that sprawl-related land consumption displaces economically-beneficial agricultural lands, and therefore, reduces local agriculture-based business activity. Because people are spread out, governments spend more money to construct longer roads, as well as sewage and power lines, to make sure all residents are covered.

Sprawl also tends to require more driving, and more people in cars means more people spending thousands of dollars on maintenance and gas (first chart below). Obviously, more cars on the road also means more traffic accidents (second chart) and pollution (third):

Internal fixed costs are costs of ownership, internal variable costs are operating costs, and external costs are the costs imposed on other people. Together, they can amount anywhere between $2,000-$4,000 per vehicle annually.  (LSE Cities/Victoria Transport Policy Institute).

That’s not to say sprawl has no benefits. Big single-family home in the suburbs definitely provide more space, more privacy, and less noise and air pollution. These areas tend to have less crime and better schools. Developers know this well, as Alana Samuels recently wrote:

Americans want space, they say, and they want backyards and private patios and big closets and places to park their big cars.

But compact urban development doesn’t necessarily exclude the construction of single-family homes. The report makes clear that single-family homes and spacious townhouses fit within the confines of a city smart growth plan, too. And although these single-family homes can be expensive to buy, the report also argues that “smart growth” offers a variety of affordable housing types overall, and cuts down on infrastructure and transportation costs.

Developers, are you listening?

Original article.

Mar 092015
 

With its superfast broadband, the city has reinvented itself. Now it must safeguard its future by building to sustain that growth.

Image Flickr/Andrew Steele
Flickr/Andrew Steele

Chattanooga gets a lot of press thanks to its smart-grid Internet. Both The New York Times and The Guardian ran affectionate spreads of “Gig City” this past year. Both mentioned that Chattanooga residents can download a two-hour movie in under a minute. And both mentioned that the city’s economy has been revolutionized as Chattanooga emerges as a destination for tech-driven innovation.

But there are other valuable infrastructure lessons being hashed out in Tennessee’s fourth-largest city. Chattanooga is aiming to build on the reputation it’s earned from its world-class broadband service. The goal is to make the city a sustainable innovation hub, showing that it’s a well-rounded city rather than a one-trick pony. Evidence of this forward-thinking strategy can be seen in an ambitious expansion of housing downtown—known locally as the City Center—which is aimed at attracting young professionals that value walkable urban cores.

The latest downtown housing effort began in 2013, three years after the city’s gigabit Internet was first introduced. The community was of course enthused by the changes they were seeing in the city. But to local policymakers, the level of housing density in downtown Chattanooga was far from ideal. Over 50,000 people showed up to work there each day, but a dearth of adequate housing prevented many of them from moving there. Over the course of several months, more than 70 local stakeholders came together to identify 22 downtown buildings that needed to be remodeled (some razed) to make room for new housing.

The downtown structures being transformed into modern housing in downtown Chattanooga. (Courtesy of River City Company)

“We knew we had to get some things together to really catalyze development in this area,” says Amy Donahue of River City Company, a nonprofit development group that led the effort. Most of the properties they targeted were vacant and antiquated. Still, their value was clear: Most were within walkable distance to the local public university and surrounding restaurants and coffee shops. And the picturesque Tennessee River was right around the corner. Also, many were revered hotels and office buildings that told the history of the city—relics from an industrial-boom after WWII. In total, 1,260 new housing units were planned to occupy the fallow buildings. A year and a half later, Chattanooga’s urban core is showing signs of a more vibrant residential area.

Already, 11 out of 22 buildings have been redeveloped or are in the process of being redeveloped, according to Donahue. Why have the structures flipped so quickly? One reason is that tech-focused venture capital firms have been getting into the mix—recognizing that downtown housing goes hand in hand with start-up activity.

Of the most recent proposals is a 43-unit microhousing project. The units will be built in a former hotel dating back to 1888, and will feature 300-400 square foot co-living spaces that are expected to cost roughly $850 per month to rent. Named the Tomorrow Building, the project is led by the Lamp Post Group, a well-known local venture capital firm that finances a number of Chattanooga-based startups. Joda Thongnopnua, Lamp Post’s communications director, says he sees the project bringing a variety of changes to downtown. Best case scenario: Entrepreneurs from other tech hubs relocate to Chattanooga. In turn, more and better start-up activity takes off. But equally importantly will be the project’s sidewalk-level retail. These types of social spots that accompany new housing, Thongnopnua says, is what will densify the city.

The exterior of the future Tomorrow Building (Courtesy of the Lamp Post Group)
An area in the microhousing project will feature an innovation room, where entrepreneurs can collaborate on projects. (Courtesy of the Lamp Post Group)
Located downtown, the units will likely generate foot traffic to neighboring coffee shops and retail stores. (Courtesy of the Lamp Post Group)

A denser downtown may prove to be more important to Chattanooga’s tech scene than the speed of its Internet. A 2014 study by Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program concluded that density “enhances innovation.” Yet, compared to rival and aspirational start-up cities, Chattanooga lags behind in urban density.

The demand for downtown housing is clearly there, however. And the need to diversify the attractiveness of Chattanooga beyond its Internet-centric image is increasingly apparent. “Chattanooga can’t keep relying on the ‘Gig-City’ thing,” Carson Kahn, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur, says. Kahn was selected to participate in an innovation delegation held in Chattanooga in 2014, and is enthusiastic about the city’s downtown area. He told me the aesthetics were “incredible.” But Kahn expressed concern about Chattanooga’s viability unless the city can offer a wider basket of resources to entrepreneurs. “[The fiber Internet] makes for a great nickname,” but, “past that, Chattanooga’s going to have to find out what its real advantages are.”

That was made even clearer by a Federal Communications Commission ruling last week. The decision struck down regulations—in Tennessee and North Carolina—that largely prevent publicly owned broadband services from expanding. That’s not entirely bad news for Chattanooga—for now. If the FCC ruling isn’t shot down by an appellate court, according to reports, Chattanooga will have the right to offer its fiber Internet to new municipalities. But if Chattanooga-style Internet sweeps across the country, implies David Dayen of The New Republic, Chattanooga will look a lot less special. “The ruling has major implications for promoting competition, increasing broadband speeds, and perhaps even making broadband speeds look more like electricity,” he writes.

But a city smart enough to build America’s best Internet infrastructure is smart enough to know that can’t be the end of its urban planning. Chattanooga essentially won a second shot at life with its revolutionary Internet service. And it hasn’t simply sat on its winnings. Chattanooga’s future will hinge on a broad range of infrastructure investment rather than simply its Internet—and that’s a sustainable future.

Original article.

Jan 102015
 

“Strategic disturbance … is the key to … environmental innovation.”

“We are not anti-techmology … what we like … is technology that allows us to better … bio-mimic the patterns.”

Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms

“For the last 3 years we have been filming a documentary on the renowned Polyface Farm & it’s broad community of 5000 families within a 3 hour ‘Foodshed’ of this unique operation in Swoope, Virginia. This farm is a wonderful example of how to feed people & produce food without the use of harmful chemicals, whilst regenerating landscapes & soils, respecting animals & re-invigorating local communities.”

Future of Food – Joel Salatin – Polyface Farms

Future of Food – Darren Doherty – Permaculture Master

Jan 082015
 

DOT_forecasts

“The new vision of the future suggests that driving per capita will essentially remain flat in the future. The benchmark is important because excessively high estimates of future driving volume get used to justify wasteful spending on new and wider highways. In the face of scarce transportation funds, overestimates of future driving translate into too little attention paid to repairing the roads we already have and too little investment in other modes of travel.”

“For U.S. DOT to embrace a future less dominated by driving, it first must recognize when change has occurred and that a different trajectory is possible. Quiet and incremental as the current changes may be, they represent a profound step in the right direction.”

Original Article

Jul 242013
 

The City of Oxnard (Cit y) commits to reducing energy consumption and increasing renewable energy production within City Government and the community (residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial) relative to planned growth by 2030. The purpose of this Energy Action Plan (EAP) is to establish an overall realistic net energy consumption reduction target and identify and scope programs to achieve t he target over time. The EAP builds upon existing energy conservation efforts and identifies energy conservation and production programs consistent with 2030 General Plan goals and policies, utility company programs, and State and Federal legislation and initiatives.

View the City of Oxnard – Energy Action Plan – A Component of the Oxnard Climate Action and Adaptation Plan

An early Energy Action Plan:

Kinsale 2021 An Energy Descent Action Plan – Version.1. 2005