Tuesday, August 04, 2009

WI-FI UBIQUITY

The double-deck Megabus to Hartford had reliable wifi (probably because the bus was only a third full). Now I'm sitting downtown in New England's Rising Star, which is still as segregated as ever. The insurance people are in the glass and concrete towers; the help is on the street transferring between city buses.

I am at once the only white person on the street *and* the only person using the city's wireless internet (also reliable, at the moment). The city's website claims that "two thirds of households lack a functioning computer and access to the Internet."

So, two questions:

1. If I can open up my laptop anywhere, and it can connect to the internet, why do I need to buy a USB wifi device?

2. Is it possible to fix the racial and economic divide in Hartford?

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Friday, March 27, 2009

On Land Planning in Phoenix

ROW 5 OF AN A320, BANKING SHARPLY RIGHT FOR FINAL APPROACH TO PHOENIX SKY HARBOR. AS THE PLANE LEVELS ITSELF, THE PICTURE OF SPRAWL VIEWED THROUGH ITS WINDOWS APPEARS TO CONTINUE INFINITELY, UNTIL FINALLY THE HORIZON IS SEEN.

RB: (to female Harvard Law grad student seated at his right) Non-optimized land usage.

ONE-L FROM YUMA: Totally optimized land usage! There are no stairs anywhere!

FIN.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whenever any American newspaper publishes an online article about commuter or intercity trains,

half the comments are from people who decry the use of taxpayer money to subsidize transit.

Be it known henceforth that all roads are also subsidized--er, completely paid for--by taxpayer money.

Posting from Salt Lake City.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Next Round of Suburban Thought versus Boston

Downtown Crossing, Boston's once-vibrant central shopping district, is a resounding failure. Long-vacant storefronts line the sidewalks, and new stores seem to fail regularly. Lonely pushcart vendors never appear to sell anything. There is always a disturbingly high police presence. And by seven p.m., seven nights a week, twelve months a year, the heart of Downtown Boston is totally abandoned, a lonely and uninviting concrete tomb.

But the Globe has a solution: in the words of Universal Hub's Adam Gaffin, "turn Downtown Crossing into a parking lot."

That's right. Who needs a pedestrian mall to serve the shopping needs of city residents, when we can create a vehicular pipeline for suburbanites? We can safely assume that many city residents don't have cars--and the ones who do own cars are already using them to shop in the suburbs. The people who visit Downtown Crossing today are that strange breed of transit-using citizen, the uncanny mix of the working poor and the car-free by choice (the latter group includes me). The Globe seems to suggest that replacing these people with, yes, suburbanites, would make it all better. Never mind the tens of thousands of suburbanites who work blocks away but avoid the shops of Downtown Crossing at all costs, lured away by the malls of home.

Let's go ahead and reopen Downtown Crossing to vehicular traffic. We can then judge Downtown Crossing's success not by the tax revenue it generates or the quality of life offered there but by the number of suburbanites parking on the streets, dooring bikers, and standing in the middle of the sidewalks in large numbers. Or, once it's reopened to auto traffic, we can pretend that Washington Street is just another silent downtown street and put the failure of Downtown Crossing behind us.

I think the blight of Downtown Crossing is a real problem. After staying in the neighborhood during a conference, several of my colleagues vowed never to return to Boston again. Downtown Crossing has to do better, but the bottom line is that trying to compete with or emulate the suburbs is not going to make the city center work better. We need less suburban thought, and fewer bad ideas, from our elected officials and our newspapers.
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Now, here's a good idea. Back in 2005, I wrote about a Globe article comparing the number of Business Improvement Districts in Boston (zero) to the number in New York (over 50). In New York, these ideas really work, by helping local businesses invest in everything from neighborhood beautification to hiring the employees who beautify, maintain, and provide security on the streets. BIDs turn neighborhoods like Downtown Flushing in Queens and Fordham Road in the Bronx into tremendously successful shopping districts. Amazingly, Boston can't pull this off in the middle of downtown. But it's not like anyone's trying. It's all talk and millions of dollars spent on consultants.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Charlotte

From the looks of this town, people must live in their cars and sleep in their homes. I got lost on a dead end street that ran behind some strip malls and found a crumbling, white, plantation-looking house at the end of the road. Weird. I don't think I will meet any nice girls here, unless they are downstairs at the Holiday Inn bar (closes at 10).

P.S. I hit up Carolina Bar-B-Q in Statesville and would post photos if I had a USB cable. I need a break from the Michigan stuff.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Economic Punishment for Inefficient Cabbies

NY Taxi drivers are complaining about gas prices and demanding a fuel surcharge. But more than 90% of them drive the Ford Crown Victoria, basically a V8, rear wheel drive tractor with seats. Let's take a look at the Crown Victoria's fuel efficiency at fueleconomy.gov:

2008 Ford Crown Victoria FFV 8 cyl, 4.6 L, Automatic 4-spd
15 mpg city; 23 mpg highway

Not very good. Not very good at all. What about the Hybrid Escape, also by Ford, that has become popular in NY and is starting to pop up in Boston?

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD
34 mpg city; 30 highway

The 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid is also up there: 34 city/33 highway.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance is quoted in the linked NY1 article above stating that the average cab burns 20 gallons of gasoline per shift. Maybe it's time to invest in some more efficient vehicles.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Economic Punishment for the Ignorant

*[Tulsa] Guy comments that he never takes the bus because he isn't poor. I tell him his attitude is emblematic of a third-rate city and needs rethinking.
--From the Bulleted Summary of the KC Siege.

And, nearly a year later, CNN carries a story on how Tulsa and Oklahoma City were rated second-to-last and last in a survey by NGO Common Current of "Major U.S. City Preparedness for an Oil Crisis."

And now the researchers and the transit authority and the citizens are shocked that "urban professionals" are entering mass transit vehicles of their own free will. I wonder if buses in Oklahoma even have air conditioning yet.

In the article, OK City Manager Jim Couch points out that his hometown has 627 square miles. That's more than twice the land mass of New York City. Wikipedia puts the population of OKC at 1.2 million (bigger than I thought) and NYC at 8.2 million. What's wrong with this picture?

Unless we develop better ways to power these overprivileged sprawl cities, they're going to become the ghost towns of the 21st century. One plus may be that their low population densities will help them be reclaimed by nature, while the New Yorks and San Franciscos of the country continue to thrive.

These cities can't say they didn't see it coming, and they did nothing to equip themselves for the reality they were doomed to face.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

White Flight:

LET'S RUIN CITIES AND THEN NOT LIVE IN THEM
AND THEN TELL OUR CHILDREN NOT TO LIVE IN THEM EITHER

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Autocentrism Visualized

A link from Rob Lott: how construction of I-295 has destroyed neighborhoods and cut part of Southeast Washington DC off from the rest of the city. (We took some photos there a few weeks ago).

Google map showing intersection location.

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Forbes.com on 21st century planning

Check out their series on 21st Century Cities, including this piece on Ghost Cities by former stripper Elisabeth Eaves.*

*NOTE: The sentence above carries no political (read: sexist) weight; rather it represents nearly chronologically a series of Google searches that resulted from discovering this Forbes series via Gmail Web Clip. Thank you.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Big Dig adds new layer of coddling for suburban commuters.

As if the $15b price tag, increased carbon emissions, and huge encouragement of driving to work alone were not enough, the Big Dig will now pander to drivers who use cell phones--by allowing all cell phone customers to pay $7.6m to add reception-providing cables to the tunnel walls. The Globe reports that many drivers who "multitask" may now "be able to chat on their cell phones uninterrupted." Massachusetts Turnpike officials, who stand to gain a lot of rent from this development, claim that cell phones in the winding tunnels won't create threats to safety. But the Globe reported on an activist's investigation into the tunnels' high crash rate on July 24 and published a reader's letter supporting the activist's work on July 25.

We need to get people out of their cars. We need to cut down emissions in Urban Boston. We need to encourage safer driving through a statewide headset-only law. This development makes accomplishing any of those goals seem a little less possible.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Large Northeastern City Takes Valuable Harborfront Property and Uses it to Expand Port

And it's Boston. This is awesome!

In the Northeast, we never get new industrial stuff to photograph. But as usual, the private development on public land is being run by at least one ex-state official, just like the MBTA commuter rail. And the Globe illogically uses the words "cement" and "concrete" interchangeably in its article.

I know that's why you come to my blog. To read about the difference between cement and concrete.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Full Circle in Flushing

I've been blogging about Downtown Flushing becoming New York's next downtown for years. Now, a great article in a nonprofit magazine called The Next American City has done a great job of summarizing the goals and challenges that will need to be met for that to happen.

I found out about this via Outerb.com, a real estate blog that asked to use my aerial photo in its own post about the Next American City article.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

New York is CHAOS

Fuck Manhattan; I'm talking about Main Street, Flushing. Try standing anywhere without getting knocked over by a human or vehicle. Try counting how many languages you can spot on a block's worth of signs, or how many individual types of object you can smell rotting. I wish there were a little more order, a little more planning. Main Street would make so much more sense as a pedestrian/bus way. Take out the livery and yellow cabs. Install bricks or cobblestones, drive the patternless, gridlocking vehicular traffic away from the business center.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Sun Belt.

I have this huge curiosity about the Sun Belt. A few weeks ago, my hotel USA Today reported that seven of our ten biggest U.S. cities were now within 500 miles of Mexico.

I've heard of skilled workers (like nurses and cops) heading out there to ply their trades under the sun. Hundreds of thousands of suburbanites from the north have moved their unsustainable standard of living south and southwest. But if good city planning hasn't followed all the northerners south--just think, there are over 4 million people in metropolitan Phoenix and not a single passenger train line--has "culture" itself?

Not gaudy ranches and golf courses, but a decent music scene? Not condos and expensive steakhouses, but cool taquerias dotting the landscape? Are these cities efficient, or do they require constant air conditioning? Didn't Henry Miller write about this shit 60 years ago? What has changed since to convince the masses to move?

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Complete Transit Insanity

The Mass. Convention Center Authority earlier this week announced its proposal to double the size of its parking lot under Boston Common. James Rooney, MCCA executive Director, claims that this could serve as the parking lot for the as-yet-unbuilt Silver Line bus rapid transit tunnel through Downtown Boston.

I guess they assumed that tons of people drive into downtown, only to get on the subway or bus there. Have they not noticed that none of the existing transit stations in the city have parking lots?

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Willets Point

Via metsblog, of all places, comes news that the Bloomburg administration has announced its mammoth plan for the eradication/gentrification of scrapyards in Corona/Flushing, Queens.

Remember, in ten years, when all the public-private development in Flushing is done, it will be the city's fourth (maybe fifth) downtown. Awesome.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Urban Filth in the Sunday Times

This week, the City section takes the "road not taken, much" for a tour of "the antithesis of ultrahip New York." A food writer walks Jamaica Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens and reports on the human and architectural oddities that make up 80% of New York City.

There is also a real news article on the slow-going approval process for Flushing Commons, the massive development project about to happen in the Downtown Flushing neighborhood of Queens.

Here's an image of that plan that I linked to the blog in July of 2005:

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

The number of potential fatalities is directly proportional to the amount of walking done.


So far today, I've walked about three miles around Somerville. So far today, I've almost been run over twice.

These orange flags, in desolate downtown Salt Lake City, are there to help innocent pedestrians not be mowed down. Can you think of any other downtowns that would need to resort to this?

While you're at it, check out my Utah set on Flickr.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Major realization achieved through business travel no. 1: some cities aren't real.

Many Americans and Canadians who think that they live in cities actually live in large, suburban agglomerations ringed by highways, with little or no public transportation and nonfunctioning downtowns. This is bad for all involved.

If I had spent all my time in New York and Boston, I would have continued thinking that everyone thinks that a city is a city. Not so: geography usually doesn't lie. I currently rank Indianapolis, Houston, Dallas, and Calgary as pretend cities.

Why does it matter? It seems that people raised in suburbs and fake cities have an unrealistic perception of how the other half (actually, way more than half) lives. Bostonians frequently complain that the city's 200,000+ college students, many of them suburb-raised, lack street smarts, common sense, and understanding of how a/the city works. (They sound like farm-raised salmon.) I'm noticing that many members of our federal governments and their corporate overlords lack the same necessary education.


Cities visited since January 1: Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans (twice), Miami, Greensboro/Winston-Salem, Dallas, Houston.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Mainstream media on the destruction of Williamsburg: at Verb Cafe, "It's like lunchtime at Oberlin College."

Matt sends us a link to this incredibly solid article on the death of Williamsburg--from the Washington Post. When I got out of B-burg three years ago, it was like the glowing embers of condoization had just reached new supplies of air and fuel. What the article doesn't point out is that the condo boom was fueled by (if not started by) Hasidim and Poles (etc) trying to make a buck off the newfound hipness of their ghetto.

I loved the Verb Cafe comment; when I doodled there I could always find a seat. But my dad would liken any neighborhood where people go out of the loft in pajamas all weekend to the "fake world" of college. I would have to agree with him there.

The Village and Williamsburg have proven that New York is not invincible. When the coolest neighborhoods are sanitized and turned into playgrounds for the super-rich, I fear for my home. I fear even more for the talented and intelligent youth who now have nowhere cool to hang out--the village lasted decades before being turned into condos. Billyburg only lasted five years.

We gave what Dan Meade calls the "Upper Frat Side" the cold shoulder for decades (even while he and I went to high school there). But now the rich frat boys are coming down from their towers and colonizing more of the city. What neighborhood will they price us out of next? How will a smart kid who's not rich experience the city if there's nothing to experience?

And when and if I return from exile, how will I go about living in a real neighborhood? College Point just started looking really good.

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I'll continue to ponder the role of the artist in reviving and ruining cities. This article makes that process seem even more obvious.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The MBTA's "service optional" service strikes again.

It was Saturday night, and I was having a hard time mashing potatoes with a meat tenderizer. So I decided to go to the shiny Kmart in Assembly Sqaure and get a real masher.

Now, I work from home and choose not to to own a car. That shouldn't be a problem, because the MBTA's No. 90 bus literally runs door to door, from my home to the shops at Assembly Square. The beleaguered agency's $466,000 new website announce that on this Saturday evening, the 90 bus would pick me up outside my home at about 7:35pm and then retrieve me from Kmart at about 9:05.

Nope. Even though the 90 runs across Somerville (the most densely populated city in New England, with almost 80,000 residents on four square miles), to the Sullivan Square transit hub, to the shops at Assembly Sqaure, to the Wellington transit hub, it only runs once an hour on Saturdays. It doesn't run at all on Sunday. And even when it's supposed to run, it doesn't run. So whether you're one of the hundreds who work in the big boxes or a normal person who works on weekdays and shops on weekends, you can't get there from here. Sorry, buy a car.

When I saw the schedule last night, I thought I was experiencing a rare case of luck. I went outside at 7:30. The bus came by, at 7:43, going the wrong direction. I waited another twelve minutes for the bus to go to Davis Square, turn around, and come back. It was about 20 minutes late, but I could live with that. Sure, it was 30 degrees out, but like a first-class citizen of America, I was basking in the glow from a Dunkin Donuts and reading American Psycho.

The bus driver was a friendly, young woman who admitted she was running really late. Since there were only a half-dozen patrons for the time I was on board, I got to the store quickly. I found all the junk I needed at Kmart. Bike pump, sheets, picture frames, and even a potato masher. I went outside at 9:10, just in time to see the bus going by in the other direction. By the bus driver's own admission, the bus should have been back through in ten minutes--after turning at Wellington. The temperature was dropping fast, and naturally, I was the only person at the bus stop.

After a half-hour of waiting for the bus to come back, I called a cab. The bus should have been there at 9:05. The cab came at 9:45. Just before it arrived, the parking lot security guy who had passed me a half-dozen times stopped his SUV to tell me that he didn't think any more buses would be coming.

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The MBTA likes to suggest that low demand is the reason why buses run so infrequently on weekends. However, in my home neighborhood in New York City, the MTA proved the opposite case: if you build it, they will come. Retailers learned this decades ago, but the MBTA can't understand it.

When the College Point Retail Complex opened in eastern Queens, there were no nearby bus routes, just parking lots. The MTA created a new bus route, the Q20A, offering service every 10-20 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays as well as a direct connection to the Number 7 train. For those not living on the subway, the MTA also extended the extant Q76 bus to terminate at the retail center. Now, two buses provide seven-day service to both workers and shoppers. They are always packed to the gills, providing the MTA with even more operating revenue.

By comparison, Somerville's shops at Assembly Square have hourly bus service from 7a-10p on Saturdays (theoretically), but no service at all on Sundays.

Just about a mile away in Everett, the Gateway Center, which closely resembles the College Point development, receives hourly service from the No. 97 bus from 10a-7p on weekends. How could any working stiff depend on that?

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The MBTA doesn't even claim to offer frequent or sufficient weekend service. But the truly sad part is that it can't even deliver the paltry services it promises. There is plenty of evidence about weekend bus problems plaguing shoppers south of downtown Boston, too.

It really bothers me how much a potentially great city (or collection of cities) is held back by its inferior transit system. I can buy a car or get out, and I think I'm going to get out.

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