Some cities want fewer roadways, not more


Wider roads and new freeways and highways are a big part of the President Obama's stimulus plan, except many urban areas want to tear down highways and freeways, not build them.

: RYSSDALKAI  
Vice President Joe Biden took the wraps off the administration’s most recent report card on the economic stimulus package today. The White House says — and this number is probably subject to political interpretation — that it has created roughly three million jobs in the past year or so. A lot of that work is being done on infrastructure, building and fixing bridges and highways. Dozens of cities around the country have just the opposite in mind though. They want to tear down parts of some freeways. 
From WNYC in New York City, Andrea Bernstein reports. 
: BERNSTEIN ANDREA 
Near the lower tip of Manhattan, Michael Sorkin is standing just yards from the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, but you can barely see them. So he looks up. 
MICHAEL SORKIN:  
We see traffic that is in at least three different levels. There’s the FDR Drive. There’s an interchange to get people onto the Brooklyn Bridge that’s flying over the FDR Drive, and then flying over that is the Brooklyn Bridge. 
Sorkin is an architect and head of urban design at City College of New York. He’s drawn up a different blueprint for this patch of Manhattan. Tear down a section of the elevated highway, the on-ramps and cloverleafs. 
SORKIN:  
You would see one of the most beautiful architectural achievements in the history of consciousness, the Brooklyn Bridge. 
There would be parks, plazas, restaurants. 
SORKIN:  
You would see boats cruising by. 
Sorkin drew up these designs as part of an international exhibition by the group Institute for Transportation Development Policy. As crazy as it sounds, the idea of tearing down highways in dense urban areas is ricocheting around the country. 
Cleveland is planning to convert a lake-front expressway to a boulevard by 2012, and Seattle is moving to tear down adouble deck highway by that same year. 
CARMEN GAND:  
I think it’s ridiculous. 
Back in New York, teacher Carmen Gand was walking her dogs near the FDR Drive. Her reaction to a proposed teardown is typical. 
GAND:  
People are going to drive into Manhattan regardless, so why not make as many roads or possibilities to get into Manhattan as possible? 
It turns out that New York actually tore down an elevated highway in the 1970s. Sam Schwartz was the chief engineer for the NYC Department of Transportation then. 
SAM SCHWARTZ:  
And people panicked. They thought that was Armageddon. 
The highway had begun to crumble, so the city dismantled 60 blocks and replaced it with a regular street. 
SCHWARTZ:  
After that, we had trouble tracing about one-third of the people. Transit went up. We had the same number of people coming in, but they weren’t coming in by cars. 
San Francisco also lost freeways in the 1989 earthquake. Some years later, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a story about it. The headline: “Traffic Planners Baffled by Success: No Central Freeway, No Gridlock, and No Explanation.” Engineers found that traffic volume had dropped from 93,000 cars a day to 45,000. But what happens in city where there isn’t a lot of public transit? 
JOHN NORQUIST:  
“You want to do what? Tear down a freeway?” Oh, they thought I was nuts. 
John Norquist was mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2004. He wanted to take down the Park East Freeway, which ran through downtown. 
NORQUIST:  
A lot of people realized it was ugly and all that, but they said what would you do with the 40,000 cars a day that use it? 
Norquist is now the president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a group that promotes denser communities. He says in 2002, when he tore down the highway, downtown congestion didn’t jump. Instead, it dispersed all around city streets and business activity in the area went up. 
NORQUIST:  
I’d don’t there’d be many people who say, “Milwaukee was a great place till that freeway got torn down.” 
Skeptics remain, like Robert “Buzz” Paaswell. He says goods and services must be able to move through cities. 
ROBERT “BUZZ” PAASWELL:  
You just can’t take out a link in a highway and expect nothing to happen. 
Paaswell is an engineer who’s interim president of City College of New York. He says without city highways, some people will find it harder to get around. New York officials haven’t endorsed any plans to dismantle the southern tip of the FDR Drive. But around the country, mayors and governors are eying urban highway teardowns as the road to development, not congestion. 
In New York, I’m Andrea Bernstein, for Marketplace. 
KAI RYSSDAL:  
The report is part of the public radio Transportation Nation project. For photos and links to some of the traffic studies, go to Marketplace.org. 
 

Creating crosswalks that protect pedestrians

 

Maria Saporta
Crosswalks. Some would rather watch paint dry than talk about crosswalks.
But well-designed crosswalks can make all the difference in the world when it comes to developing a city that welcomes pedestrians.
Atlanta’s crosswalks — or lack there of — is one of my pet peeves. There’s probably no better barometer about how pedestrian-friendly a city is than the way it designs and maintains its crosswalks.
Friends of mine roll their eyes when I start talking about the beauty of painted piano keys that safely outline the space reserved for those walking from one side of the street to the other.
Those wide white-painted stripes command respect for pedestrians and clearly communicate to cars their boundaries.
To reinforce the message, some cities change the pavement
Read more…

Atlanta leaders hope streetcar proposal will win in second round of U.S. TIGER grants

Maria Saporta

Maybe the second time will be the charm.
The City of Atlanta hopes the federal government will give its streetcar plan a green light during the second round of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants.
City leaders are presenting their revised streetcar proposal to the Atlanta City Council this week and need the full council’s approval before July 16 when pre-applications are to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Atlanta and Georgia did not fare well during the first round of TIGER grants — when $1.5 billion were distributed to transportation projects across the nation. In the first round, the federal government was offering 100 percent of the funding.
This round is not quite as generous. Only $600 million will be
Read more…

Opportunity exists to create a regional transit system; new leaders at the helm

— from www.saportareport.com – Maria Saporta
A transit evolution is underway in metro Atlanta.
But what form it will take is still a mystery.
What key regional leaders do know — the status quo is no longer acceptable.
The incremental progress for transit is literally running on parallel tracks.
On one track is the state legislature and the state government. After several years of inaction, the state legislature passed a transportation bill that will permit regions to vote on a penny sales tax two years from now.
The bill was flawed, however, because it singled out MARTA — stipulating that none of those sales tax revenues could go to existing MARTA operations. The bill also mandated a new governance structure for the MARTA board and established a transit subcommittee to review how the region will invest in transit and who will make those decisions.
On the second track is the multi-year effort to create a regional transit plan and governance body — a process driven by leaders from the Atlanta region.
That effort, currently known as the Regional Transit Committee of the Atlanta Regional Commission, held a daylong retreat on June 2 when several ground-breaking developments occurred that could have a major impact on where we go as a region.
The goal for the retreat was to come up with a governance structure for transit in the region and to elect a chairman and vice chairman.
But perhaps the most significant development that occurred at the retreat was when MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott and Kirk Fjelstul, interim director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority urged the group to be bold.
Up until now, the consensus has been to create a new regional transit oversight committee enabling each of the operators — MARTA, Cobb County Transit, GRTA Xpress buses and others — to keep their autonomy.
In short, under this model, there would be no consolidation of individual transit operations and therefore limited opportunities for operational cost savings. That means each entity would continue to have its own human resources, legal, finance, security departments.
“We have got a real opportunity and a platform to really consider transit governance,” Fjelstul said. “We want to make sure that with the transit funding we have, the public needs to have confidence that we will spend it well.”
Scott said this was an opportunity to truly integrate regional transit.
Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, admitted that the reason the umbrella model had been proposed was because there was “a certain amount of comfort” to keep each entity intact.
But with GRTA and MARTA leaders urging for greater consolidation, Leithead said it was time to revisit the issue.
“If those two most significant agencies would like to do something more bold, more aggressive and more significant, we can do that in this room,” Leithead said at the retreat.
Although proposing a consolidated metro transit agency wasn’t on the agenda of the Regional Transit Committee work session, the idea and the opportunity is real.
And now the metro leadership to help mold the future for transit in the region is in place.
At the retreat, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was elected chairman of the transit effort, and Gwinnett County Chairman Charles Bannister was elected vice chairman. The balance was both symbolic and significant. A mayor and a county chairman. A MARTA jurisdiction and a suburban county. Two localities that have transit and need more.
And both Reed and Bannister, who served together in the legislature, acknowledge that the transportation bill just signed by the governor did not do enough for MARTA and transit.
In an earlier conversation before he was elected chairman, Reed was asked whether he agreed with critics who believe MARTA was shortchanged in the transportation bill.
“I think the criticism is fair,” Reed said, adding that the bill is helping MARTA in the near-term by removing the restriction that half of its sales tax revenue must go to capital and half to operating for three years.
“We now have the opportunity to move the conversation around MARTA, and in subsequent years improve the legislation,” Reed said. “In another legislative session, you will continue to improve the bill.”
After the retreat, Reed said: “I’m just ready to go to work. I think this is a strong partnership, and I want to be a strong partner to the region.”
Bannister said it was “time to get something done.” The region has spent years talking about transit, and Bannister said that “I would like to pick it up a notch and move forward.”
Specifically, Bannister said the transportation bill needed to be improved. “Certainly we’ve got to do more for transit in another bill,” he said.
The retreat also agreed on a governance structure for a new transit agency — even though this proposal did not take into account what a consolidated transit system could look like.
The group agreed that the 20 counties that are included in the “Concept 3” regional transit plan would be eligible to be part of the new governance structure.
But to have voting rights, all representatives on the new board would have to have to meet some “pay to play” standard For example, a county would have to have put in place some kind of funding for transit to have a vote on the board.
The group also decided that each participating county would select a mayor from that county to serve on the board. Plus, the mayor of Atlanta automatically would be on that board.
Lastly, the board would include an appointee by the governor, the lt. governor and the speaker of the house. There was some discussion about whether the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation would have a seat on the board.
The sensitivity on this issue is that the State of Georgia, with the exception of GRTA buses, has not provided regular financial support to the region’s transit operations, particularly MARTA.
The RTC group also is studying how to design a weighted voting system so that the more populated counties that contribute the most to transit will have a proportional voice on the board.
At the same time this work is going on, the legislature also has its transit governance subcommittee, and it is unknown how much coordination there will be between the legislative efforts and the Atlanta region’s efforts.
But Leithead he sees both efforts melding into one rather than ending up in a head-on collision.
“The Regional Transit Committee and the legislative Transit Subcommittee will collaborate because there’s so much overlap,” Leithead said.
But the real opportunity that is unfolding is that the Atlanta region is starting to think about consolidating all our disparate transit agencies into one integrated system — fulfilling the original vision of four decades ago when MARTA was supposed to be a five-county transit agency.
“I think there will be a commitment to have a fully integrated transit system,” Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said after the work session. “I think there will be a commitment to do this, but there will need to be a transition plan.”
At least now we have a courageous goal to work on — creating a regional Atlanta transit system once and for all.

Workforce Housing: Rules Have Changed, Game Remains the Same

— from the Livable Communities Coalition

Jobs are scarce.  Houses are empty.  Why are we talking about workforce housing again?
Fair enough question–one the Livable Communities Coalition anticipated as it presented its study of workforce housing in DeKalb County to the public on May 24th.  After all, the plummet in housing values and scores of partially developed lots around the County suggests that housing affordability is no longer an issue for everyday working households.
So to get things started, the Coalition presented its point of view:  the lull in a once-frenzied housing market is actually the perfect chance to step back, assess, and plan ahead to accommodate housing for the people needed to make DeKalb (or any major urban county) hum–firefighters, teachers, police officers, recent graduates, young professionals, nurses, airline agents, even  seniors.
Turns out that was a no-brainer for the people in the audience, who understood a lack of workforce housing affects people of all incomes–especially by way of traffic congestion.  Workforce households generally  earn $33,000 to $66,000 a year in DeKalb–enough to own a reasonable home, or rent a decent apartment.  But DeKalb’s rather limited housing options for those working in such jobs often prevent them from benefitting as residents themselves, particularly without the high-cost barrier of long commutes.
So what is DeKalb to do?   The answer sounds more appropriate for environmental problems, but it applies just the same:  Recycle!
Considering today’s limited resources, A New Roadmap for Workforce Housing in DeKalb County‘s main message is clear:  Use what you already have! Comparing DeKalb’s existing issues against its desire to decrease traffic, attract business, and adapt to changing socio-economic realities (such as an aging housing stock, retiring baby boomers, tighter credit, and higher gasoline prices) some of the report’s recommendations include: 
·       Invest in housing rehabilitation programs that educate and support homeowners and landlords on home maintenance and repair, so workforce units are not lost to decline.
·       Incentivize workforce housing construction around some of DeKalb’s most valuable but under-utilized assets:  its MARTA stations.
·       Provide down-payment and home rehabilitation assistance programs for qualified workforce families but require this assistance to be repaid for re-use by others.
·       Establish a land bank so that abandoned properties can be revitalized for workforce households.
The report, numbering over 100 pages, contains many other recommended strategies, and will be presented to the DeKalb Coutny commissioners on June 15.  Look out for it on the Coalition’s website in the coming weeks.

City needs parking policy that promotes people-friendly streets

Filed under: Guest Columns — Maria Saporta @ 6:20 am
 
By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS: a Georgia Tech professor of architecture and planning who also served as the city of Atlanta’s commissioner of planning, development and neighborhood conservation from 1996 to 2002. Dobbins also is author of a new book: ‘Urban Design and People.’
 
Parking is about a lot more than storing cars and generating revenue.
Parking, and in the current situation on-street parking, is about access and walkability, retail, restaurant and residential viability, and altogether the character – the attractiveness and functionality – of the more intense parts of town.
Various studies have confirmed the common sense that cars parked at on-street parking spaces provide a positive frame for a good quality pedestrian environment. They enable not just real and perceived access for car passengers but they also protect pedestrians, streetlights, trees, and sitting places from the rush of curbside traffic.

For retailers, restaurateurs, and other businesses, they provide the promise and often the reality of more convenient access from which their businesses benefit. For urban dwellers, they provide parking for residents and their visitors, conveniences that complement other amenities for those choosing to live in urban scale communities.
For those businesses, residents, and visitors who choose to imbibe in urban life, then, supporting that choice becomes an important policy matter for local government. Leading up to the Olympics and for the most part ever since Atlanta has retooled its policy mix to support and encourage those who want to make the urban choice, whether for locating the workplace or the home or for shopping, entertainment, or cultural and sporting events.
Zoning overhauls, development incentives, streetscape and wayfinding improvements, locating venues for broad audiences, and other initiatives have provided the base from which the city has stimulated its ongoing turnaround. It has attracted to its diversity of places the people, employers, and attractions that have lifted it out of its suburban-driven, white flight decades of decline.
To now make parking policy choices that reverse this progress, very likely for lack of understanding the larger implications, would be a significant setback. It would fly in the face of the policies that have made the city an ever-improving environment to attract the growing markets of seniors, empty-nesters, jaded suburbanites, and people moving from other places who are finding positive choices in the city.
Even so, the government — our representatives in our collective ownership of the city’s streets — is responsible for their management and collecting the revenue generated by the use of the streets for parking.
As many businesses have correctly pointed out, however, the current parking arrangement directly threatens their prospect for generating revenue, much of it taxable at one level or another.
The city has responded, wisely, by declaring a moratorium on the privatization agreement that they entered into last year, with a view toward reviewing and hopefully reworking that agreement.
At least two tracks should be taken in this review: 1) how to establish a parking policy that will reinforce, instead of threaten, its urban-friendly policies that have been successful from the mid-nineties; 2) generate a cost-benefit analysis of the current parking contract that takes into account not just the narrowly conceived parking revenue/enforcement arrangement but also estimates the certain declines in overall revenues that maintaining the current contract would cause.
It would appear that what happened is that the deal struck took into account neither of these lines of analysis. Instead, the machines and their two hour limit and 24/7 enforcement seem the simplest and most remunerative for the private partner. One size fits all, even though the streets and their use for parking are widely variable.
The city must see the people, the owners of its streets, as customers with varying needs and in the context of attracting ever more customers instead of closing the gate to them. Such a comprehensive analysis might lead to a whole different approach to the more complex problem.
For example, areas with substantial retail, restaurants, in-and-out businesses, and residential densities could use more on-street parking not less. This could be accomplished by opening up and metering “no parking” streets for parking during the off-peak hours that presently bar parking – even Peachtree Street.
Except during the peaks, there are few if any streets in the higher intensity parts of the city that have traffic congestion problems. Yet because of their very densities and diversity of activities, such streets could generate considerable parking revenue. To compensate for the heightened enforcement required during the peaks, the penalties could be more severe, using high fines and towing to cover the costs.
Regardless of the outcome of that idea, the 24/7 enforcement is a killer — the City should get rid of it, unequivocally. No one will come to eat, entertain, take in events, or even choose to live in an environment so draconian. It is killing the very street life that makes a city a city.
Surely the fancy new toll machines are sophisticated enough to program much more time-sensitive collection and recording apparatus to turn the whole of the parking enterprise into one that is sensible and welcoming, while still generating greater parking revenues than in the past.
The enforcement period should vary, like for peak hours, and its baseline should allow parking without fees from something like between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. For a city that wants to attract people, the goal should be to balance people’s access needs with legitimate and appropriate penalties for abuse of the access system.
Parking policy is vital to Atlanta’s future as a place of urban excellence.

Good neighborhoods have lots of intersections

Grist admin avatar badge avatar for Jonathan Hiskes by Jonathan Hiskes
It’s a little counterintuitive, but it turns out that having lots intersections is really important for neighborhood walkability and transit use. A new study on Travel and the Built Environment by planning scholars Reid Ewing and Robert Cervero finds that “intersection density” is the single most important measurement for understanding what keeps folks out of cars.
Pedshed summarizes:

Of all the built environment measurements, intersection density has the largest effect on walking – more than population density, distance to a store, distance to a transit stop, or jobs within one mile. Intersection density also has large effects on transit use and the amount of driving.

Visually:maps(Larger version)

 
These images represent the same total area, yet differ vastly in how well streets connect to each other. More connections=more walkable. This is why Dave wants fewer dead ends in his own neighborhood when he puts on his city planner hat.
More good summary, with a slightly different focus, from Kaid Benfield, an influential Smart Growth blogger at NRDC:

The study’s key conclusion is that destination accessibility is by far the most important land use factor in determining a household or person’s amount of driving.  To explain, ‘destination accessibility’ is a technical term that describes a given location’s distance from common trip destinations (and origins).  It almost always favors central locations within a region; the closer a house, neighborhood or office is to downtown, the better its accessibility and the lower its rate of driving.  The authors found that such locations can be almost as significant in reducing driving rates as other significant factors (e.g., neighborhood density, mixed land use, street design) combined.
The clear implication is that, to enable lifestyles with reduced driving, oil consumption and associated emissions, environmentalists should continue to stress opportunities for revitalization and redevelopment in centrally located neighborhoods.  As Ewing and Cervero put it:  ‘Almost any development in a central location is likely to generate less automobile travel than the best-designed, compact, mixed-use development in a remote location.

Benfield mentions a point I’ve been trying to address: “It also makes me wonder why more environmental groups, clearly incensed at BP and the Gulf oil spill, aren’t paying more attention to land use.” He’s right — transportation and land use are what climate policy looks like outside our front doors.

American Makeover: Sprawlanta

American Makeover is a six-part web series on new urbanism, the antidote to sprawl.
Episode 1 was filmed on location in Atlanta, Georgia and Glenwood Park, a new urbanist influenced neighborhood near downtown Atlanta.
Watch Video

New Transportation Enhancements Report Published

The National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse (NTEC) has published the 2010 report “Transportation Enhancements: Summary of Nationwide Spending as of Fiscal Year 2009”. The full-color, 40-page report is available as a free PDF download at: http://enhancements.org/download/Spending_Report/TE_Spending_Report_FY09.pdf

What are the country’s transportation funding priorities? What are transportation enhancements? How does your state compare with other states when it comes to spending federal Transportation Enhancements program funds? This report provides a view into this popular federal transportation funding program for transparency and valuable comparisons.
NTEC has made significant database improvements over the past year. The newly issued report is a complete update. It features a new explanation of the federal transportation financing life-cycle, a funding report on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and more. 
NTEC is a valuable resource with tools and a web-accessible database on national and state-by-state funding and expenditures. NTEC makes the Transportation Enhancements program the most accountable and transparent transportation funding program in the United States.
Visit http://www.enhancements.org/ to access numerous tools and publications. For more information, or for technical assistance with respect to NTEC resources, contact Tracy Hadden Loh, NTEC Program Coordinator, 2121 Ward Ct NW, 5th Floor, Washington DC 20037, 202-974-5155, tracy@enhancements.org.
The National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse is operated by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (www.railstotrails.org) under cooperative agreement with the Federal Highway Administration.

The Architecture of Fear

05.26.10: The Architecture of Fear – David Byrne’s Journal
http://journal.davidbyrne.com/2010/05/052610-the-architecture-of-fear.html
Went to Atlanta for a bikes and cities panel that was different than the others I’ve done. This one was part of a New Urbanism conference. New Urbanism is a movement that developed at least a decade ago, and the goal is to advocate for less sprawl and a return to cities where pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and the rest all interact — where there is vibrant urban life, rather than the dead zones that many of the US downtowns have become. One branch has become associated with purpose-built towns, the most famous being Celebration, the Disney version of a small town — in all senses of the phrase.
05_26_10_a_celebration
[Source]
It’s fakey in a way that makes me squirm, but it can’t be denied that it’s a valid alternative to the sprawl that has proliferated everywhere. My parents moved to one of these places — Columbia, Maryland — when I left for college, and it smelled of a managed tastefulness that was simply lifelessness to me. The town decides what colors you can paint your door, or your house, for example. However, there were little town centers within walking distance of most residents, so that was a big change from the typical suburban developments and malls that were taking over the farmland. There was no realistic public transport in and out of Columbia, so it was an island, and without (being able to drive) a car my parents are trapped there.
Not all the New Urbanists are about Disney towns; their interests range from retrofitting dead suburban malls to bike lanes, which is sort of where I come in.
As the taxi pulled up to the Atlanta Hilton, I was surrounded by smiling, handsome black men in a variety of doorman outfits. All charming, and all welcoming me effusively to Atlanta. Southern hospitality — what a change from New York! As I passed through the double doors into the massive lobby, suddenly all the people around me were white. Or at least that was the initial impression. It was like I’d gone through some magical portal — with one group left outside, and another inside. The black people of Atlanta have all the social service jobs and are largely kept separate — outside, if possible — from the white masters. I’m exaggerating, but this is the first impression one gets.
It’s horribly insulting, but it’s as if the masters have created live lawn jockeys, welcoming visitors to their property. Now, to be fair, Atlanta had Andrew Young as a mayor and has a whole slew of black universities, as well as quite a few major music artists of note; but, well, this was my perception.
Atlanta has the worst sprawl of almost anywhere in the country — the amount of time people spend commuting and driving (stuck in traffic actually) and parking is beyond belief. So having a conference here about more sustainable towns that foster a sense of urban life is a bit of a poke in the eye to this city.
In Atlanta, as in many other US cities, in the ’60s, white flight accelerated — fear of a black planet, as the Public Enemy record is titled, had taken hold in a big way. The cities were where you lived if you couldn’t afford to get out. John Portman, the architect and developer, began building massive, futuristic hotel complexes in the center of town. They were so big that once inside, one never had to leave. A fellow conference attendee compared the Marriott Hotel, one of Portman’s projects, to the extraordinary sets for the old sci-fi movie Things To Come, a film directed by William Cameron Menzies.
05_26_10_b_things
[Source]
05_26_10_c_marriott
This shit is real! The future is here… and it’s white! (This is the interior of the Marriott that he built.)
The exteriors of these complexes are awe-inspiring and forbidding; they don’t relate to the street at all — no surprise there — but rather present from the outside a gleaming tower with “fortifications” at street level.
05_26_10_d_atlanta
So the street life surrounding these complexes gets killed, as there are no stores, businesses or anything feeling out to the sidewalks. Everything takes place indoors, and it’s all self-sufficient, depending on what you call living. In subsequent decades what are now referred to as gerbil tubes were added to link adjacent complexes. These second floor aerial walkways connect the mega complexes, so that one doesn’t have to come in contact with the dreaded street — or the black people that might be lurking out there — even if one had to, for some strange reason, leave one mega building to enter another across the way. Stores then sprung up on the second floors to cater to these gerbils who never venture onto the streets. Obviously any folks who might have been on the streets, walking or strolling from here to there, were once excluded from those establishments. In fact, to them, those establishments were invisible.
As in LA, many of the entrances to shops and businesses are primarily through the parking lot. The entrances and facades turned away from the streets, and towards either an interior atrium or a parking structure. In Atlanta you can walk for blocks in the center of downtown and find no shops — not any visible ones anyway. There are some restaurants and bars, but no other establishments. There might be interior courts with drug stores, stationary stores, copy shops, newsstands or clothing stores, but access to these from the street isn’t possible.
Now one might say that this inward turning could be viewed in a less skeptical manner; that there might be a kind of civic life that could arise in the food courts and gerbil tubes — a kind of street equivalent — and that I am just being old school and prejudiced. However, it sure doesn’t seem like that is what has happened. People do get supplies at the drug store or gift shop, but the life has been drained out. Any risk of randomness has been eliminated. The reference to gerbils by the locals isn’t that accidental. It seems like an architecture of racism to me… everything is designed to facilitate avoidance of contact with the other.
Here is an early similar structure — the great walled city of Carcassonne in France. Within its walls only those vetted to be appropriate to that town were allowed in.
05_26_10_e_carcassonne
[Source]
It’s claimed that when Napoleon III widened the streets of Paris with the help of Baron Haussmann, it was to enable troop movements and to make the avenues sufficiently wide that they couldn’t be barricaded as they were during the revolution. The straightening of these boulevards, it is also claimed, was to allow the troops a straight line of fire on any insurrectionists.
05_26_10_f_paris
[Source]
Before the renovation, various social classes lived on different floors of Parisian buildings, so there was a fair amount of mixing, though limited. Afterwards one result of the changes was that rents went up, and the poor were driven to live on the outskirts of town, where they still are today. In a sense segregation was effected that has been partially maintained ever since.
There were quite a few benefits to this urban renewal project too — benefits that significantly improved the lives of the poor — and in this respect, the project was surprisingly enlightened. Sewers were added and access to fresh drinking water (the Seine was long since too polluted to drink) was installed. The right of eminent domain was claimed as many large houses had to be eliminated in order to widen and straighten the boulevards.
There were aesthetic “improvements” as well — buildings next to one another had to have their floors the same height, and it was a rule that quarry stone had to be used on the facades, giving the center of Paris the uniform look we know it by today.
The wide sidewalks and ample air and light on these wide boulevards made sitting in the sidewalk cafes and restaurants pleasurable — and they proliferated, adding to the life of the city.
So, though there may have been some military principles behind the plan, it had its human side too.
Not so for a lot of contemporary government buildings and condos. I’d propose that almost all government buildings have a slight fuck you attitude — they’re meant to be inspiring, but that often comes off as imposing and intimidating. That attitude seems to carry over to luxury condos — maybe it’s the testosterone.
Here are some new condos in my neighborhood:
05_26_10_g_midtown
Here is what could be a dinky condo, but is actually the Chinese Embassy in NY. It used to be a Holiday Inn, with a revolving restaurant and a view of… the Circle Line.
05_26_10_h_china
Here is the proposal for new US embassy in London — a modern version of Carcassonne, complete with a moat! We’re back where we started. Every sort of direct approach from the street is blocked, and of course the relationship to the street, where people meet and mingle, is distant and suspicious.
05_26_10_i_london
[Source]
I live in New York, and Manhattan in particular over the last decade or so has sadly moved further in this direction. Though thankfully there is still plenty of life left on most streets, it’s being chipped away at. How can places like Atlanta bring some life into their urban center? I think it’s a long haul, and they should…umm…think small. When I was there, I asked if there were some neighborhoods and communities that might become less car dependent and more people friendly. A couple, maybe, was the reply. I don’t know where they are, but in the center they are not. One could imagine that if there were little town centers outside of the towering urban hospitality zone that one might bike or walk from one’s home to a transportation hub that would then get you to a place of concentrated offices. You’d leave your bike at a parking shelter, like they have at Millennium Park in Chicago. Park and ride, only without the massive car parking. One could also take public transport in, and pick up your bike at a parking/storage place in town and ride to work from there. Or maybe even walk from that drop off point.
If those options or others aren’t available soon, I would suggest that Atlanta residents move to nearby Athens or Savannah if they want a more pleasant life.