Saturday, August 29, 2009

Petrol Taxation Around the World

Need I say more? It is really any wonder why we can't even afford to keep up with road maintenance? And it's no wonder we continue to consume it at a far larger rate than any other country. Ignorance IS bliss. (source)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Park(ing) Day - September 18. Get involved!

Photo by Flickr user plaid_iguana

There is an annual event that occurs around the world called Park(ing) Day.

Straight from the organization's website: "The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate regarding how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!"

A short video on the event in San Francisco in 2007:

On this day, groups take over a parking space in the city and create pocket parks. Typically, groups will print up flyers that provide information about the purpose of this event. I wish I could be in Albuquerque for this event, but ironically, yours truly will be in Copenhagen learning about such urban public spaces and the much lauded Scandinavian street design.

There are groups getting involved with this (see this and this) and I hope others decide to enter to be a part of the event.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Breaking Bad - Habits

Our codepedency on oil is not a healthy one. I know, you've heard it before and yes, I might sound like a crazy hippy but more and more those hippies are sounding a lot more informed than some originally thought and also more informed than a majority of our political leaders. A study that was conducted a little while back concluded what we already knew but is now presented in a nifty chart: we spend far too much time in our vehicles for a city our size and for such a rural state. These figures only show money spent on gas. It doesn't factor in the cost of owning and maintaining an automobile! The chart:

We're right behind Texas. That's right, Texas. I'm of the opinion that we shouldn't be anywhere near Texas on any lists after living there for 14 months. Their low taxation, cheap land, minimal planning, and explosive growth is rapidly catching up with them in a very negative way (see healthcare, education, transportation infrastructure, etc.). Anyway, enough of that place.

Again, our land use and low density form of development has us driving further and spending less time doing the things we enjoy. In exchange, we're polluting our air and spending hordes of money developing and maintaining an unsustainable form of infrastructure. Perhaps if we all saw the figures for how much of our income goes to roads, then maybe the alternatives wouldn't look so "outlandish."

Now, you all probably think that I want the whole city razed and replaced with high rises for everyone but it's not true. I believe low density, single-family homes are here to stay. Not everyone wants to live in an urban environment for a plethora of reasons. But our city doesn't currently provide options. Furthermore, density doesn't mean high rises. There are many building typologies that actually create densities near those associated with high rises. There are neighborhoods in our city that would adapt well to increased density.

Globalization and global warming are two looming issues that will force us to change our ways whether we want to recognize them or not. The water will dry up on all those lawns they continue to grow for every new house constructed on the west mesa. Concrete and steel prices will continue to rise as China, India, and other countries develop at an exceedingly rapid pace. High oil prices are here to stay and will only get worse. Electricity generation is required to heat and cool each and every single, unnecessarily large family home. These small facts of life are taken for granted in our country but we'll all soon be faced with crisis as we are forced to compete. It's like a business during tough economic times, you either create a leaner operating budget or send everyone home and file for bankruptcy. Right now, we're on our way to bankruptcy and we act like we don't know it.

In a poor state such as ours, we are also negatively affecting those with low incomes by forcing them to invest in automobiles so that they may 'git things done. It's asinine! I could go on all day about this but I'll stop here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Urban Form and Zoning

After a two week excursion to my beloved Duke City, I am armed with more ammunition to produce more blogs. Well, that and I also have a week of downtime before embarking on another adventure in urban design and planning.

I had the opportunity to ride the Rail Runner to Santa Fe, visit family on the northwest mesa, bike ride along Tramway, ride the new Rapid Ride 777 bus as well as the 66 along all of East Central, and walk around downtown, Nob Hill, and Uptown. My observations reveal a growing distaste for the attention to form around our city, unfortunately. I want to note that I see positive signs for the future, particularly through UNM's design studios and various citizen groups.

Yahoo! displayed Albuquerque as the travel destination on my homepage. Taken from Rough Guides, "Like Phoenix, it's grown a bit too fast for comfort in the last fifty years, but the original Hispanic settlement is still discernible at its core, and its diverse, cosmopolitan population gives it a rare cultural vibrancy. Even if its architecture is often uninspired, the setting is magnificent, sandwiched between the Rio Grande – lined by stately cottonwoods – and the dramatic, glowing Sandia Mountains."

As a resident, the cultural vibrancy becomes apparent and the built environment becomes less important, I think. My two year absence, however, has somehow allowed these details to amplify.

I have seen the sector plans which call for density along "Centers and Corridors," per the Comprehensive Plan. But what centers and corridors are they referring to? A UNM design studio just completed some design work for the International District on East Central. But there is a new sign and construction for a suburban style CVS at the intersection with Louisiana. The downtown 2010 plan adopted nearly a decade ago calls for form-based codes which dictates that no buildings within the boundary shall be designed with such set backs and parking lots. However, just over the boundary along Broadway, they have built a drive-thru Starbucks and Carl's Jr. The city took it to a whole new level and created a giant retention pond at the gateway to downtown complete with chainlink fencing. Does no one at the city see this? The head planner, the architects, engineers.....anybody?

I've slowly begun to understand the connection (or lack thereof) between the entities involved in the making of these decisions. The fact is, there is no connection, or communication, between the entities. In an effort to reduce traffic congestion, traffic engineers have been given the green light to run the show. Clearly, these engineers have little to no understanding of their influence on the way we live. They live within the boundaries of their code books and traffic analysis which, till recently, was the full extent of their duty. However, the times are changing as they say. Universities are beginning to realize the error in this approach by teaching young professionals to reach consensus across disciplines. This technique has begun to save the construction industry huge sums of money by eliminating the extraneous coordination efforts required after construction has begun. Clearly our city's planning department has not heard of such methods. Ironically, today there was a post at Duke City Fix which touches on this topic with discussion about the much-needed pedestrian crosswalks in Nob Hill. Mike Riordan's apparent arrogance regarding his knowledge of the "criteria" to achieve such ends is emblematic of the attitude at city hall and the planning department.

Meanwhile, Denver continues to pave the way in progressive development practices. They have been the posterchild for urban revitalization for nearly two decades now as well as for mass transit (light rail AND streetcars). Architectural Record featured them in an article about their latest approach to zoning and the urban form. They are in the process of implementing form-based codes citywide. Albuquerqueans are adamant about blazing their unique path and being unique, but other cities are actually taking action in proactively planning and coordinating their futures. These can provide wonderful lessons and ideas that can aid in shaping the way we plan. It's our duty to make sure our leaders are getting the message...and if they're not, we need individuals in charge who will.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Choo Choo to the City Different

I finally had the chance to catch the bird to Santa Fe. My trip began with a bus ride down Central on the 66 bus. I boarded the bus at 9:20am at the Juan Tabo stop with my destination being 1st and Central across from the ATC. I want to note that I am still stunned by how busy this bus route was in the middle of the morning. It was approximately half full when I boarded but it was essentially full once we picked up passengers at Wyoming.

When I reached my stop and deboarded, I was again surprised by the rather large crowd awaiting the RailRunner 30 minutes before departure. Impressive!

An hour and a half (or so) later, we finally arrived at the Santa Fe Depot. I'm so impressed by the transformation that has taken place in the area. REI, Flying Star, 2nd Street Brewery, a new park, and various small businesses have all invested in the area which has resulted in quite a vital area. I even noticed some very attractive and surprisingly modern (modern in Santa Fe?!) lofts under construction in the development area. Truly mixed-use at an appropriate scale.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Seattle's Mayor On Seattle...

"Seattle, he says, is "competing with great metropolitan areas all over the world who are very deliberately laying out their future. And if we don't learn how to make decisions and move forward, rather than debating the same issues over and over and over again, we're going to have our lunch eaten."" - Mayor Nickels in the Seattle Times

Light-rail, arena, etc., etc. Sound familiar?

This is the eve of my return trip to the 505. I can't wait!