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Posts from the "Urban Design" Category

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Talking Headways Podcast: Knight Rider Rides Again

It was a dark and stormy day in San Francisco and Jeff Wood stayed dry in Woonerf studios, recording the Talking Headways podcast with co-host Tanya Snyder, who was bitter that days after the spring equinox, Washington, DC, was getting hit with another snowstorm.

But more importantly — what does the future hold after a tumultuous news cycle for New York’s Citi Bike? What can Chicago (and, oh, every other American city) do to create more affordable housing in the neighborhoods everyone wants to live in? And is the self-driving car seriously going to become a reality by the end of this decade? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jeff and Tanya take on all that and more. Or really, pretty much just that.

Enjoy our sweet 16th episode of the Talking Headways podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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Talking Headways Podcast: From the Free Market to the Flea Market

You think the conflict between Uber and regular taxi drivers — and cities like Seattle — is bad? Check out how new taxi apps in China are upending the transportation system and central economic planning. Meanwhile, in Houston, a flea market has brought revitalization without gentrification to a depressed area near the airport, and now an urban design firm is bringing in pop-up infrastructure like mobile libraries and grocery stores, along with sidewalks and bikeways. And Californians are proving that the culture shift away from the automobile and toward other modes of transportation is happening — maybe even faster than we’d thought.

And for a real downer, check out U.S. DOT’s big idea about how to hold states accountable for better safety outcomes — by not holding them accountable at all.

Enjoy this week’s podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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Friday Afternoon Cartoon: T-Rex Nails It on Auto-Centric Urban Design

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Thank you, Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics, for this righteous and oddly poignant look at the dangers — and drudgery — caused by auto-centric urban design. Bravo, sir. You should get an honorary urban planning degree for this.

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Talking Headways Podcast: How Does This Podcast Make You Feel?

This week, Jeff Wood and I get indignant about Miami-Dade County’s misuse of transit funds for roads, and we speculate about why — with the current success of pedestrian projects like Times Square — old-style pedestrian malls are still going belly-up. And then we peek behind the curtain at an exciting new frontier for urban planning: connecting urban form with the feelings they inspire.

And then, just for you: a bonus Valentine’s Day outtake at the end. How could you not listen to the whole thing?

You can subscribe to this podcast’s RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it.

Leave your comments — and your Valentines and pickup lines — below.

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TED Talk: OKC Mayor Mick Cornett on Designing a City for Fitness

I got to know Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett last year, when I interviewed him at the annual meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors. We talked about his realization that he and his constituents (generally speaking) were obese, and how he stood in front of the elephants at the zoo on New Year’s Eve six years ago and announced that the city was going on a diet. He set out to have the residents of Oklahoma City lose a million pounds — and the city achieved it.

In a TED talk taped in April and posted online last week, Cornett tells the story of how OKC went from being ranked by Men’s Fitness magazine among America’s fattest cities to being ranked as one of the fittest.

“I started examining my city — its culture, its infrastructure — trying to figure out why our city seemed to have a problem with obesity,” Cornett says. “And I came to the conclusion that we had built an incredible quality of life if you happened to be a car. But if you happened to be a person, you were combating the car seemingly at every turn.”

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Talking Headways Podcast: Get Off My Lawn

Jeff Wood and I talk about the news of the week that most tickled us or burned us — the BBC’s exposé of anti-social urban design features intended to repel people, San Francisco’s social tensions over the Google bus, and the decision by Cincinnati’s new mayor and City Council to “pause” construction of the streetcar. (Update: The streetcar might be salvaged!)

Meanwhile, I wax nostalgic for public space in Havana and Jeff laments slow progress on San Francisco’s Geary Boulevard BRT.

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes. And participate in the conversation by commenting here.

This will be our last podcast of 2013. Have a Happy New Year and we’ll see you in January!

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Talking Headways: A Streetsblog Podcast, Episode 3

This week, Jeff and Tanya take on the Atlanta Braves’ terrible, no-good, very bad decision to move their stadium to Cobb County, Georgia. We discuss cities that are (and are not) shaped like wedding cakes, and whether that means you need to smoosh your spouse’s face in it. Tanya makes a pedestrian-rights argument against high-heeled shoes (and Jeff abstains from taking sides). We parse the differences between “shared streets” — without marked-out space for cars, bikes, and people on foot — and vehicular cycling.

In between, we speculate on what DC would look like without height limits, make fun of neighborhood parking bullies, pity the mega-commuters, and most importantly, shame the transit riders who fail to cede their seats to those who need them because they have their heads stuck in Angry Birds.

By the way, if you don’t subscribe yet to Jeff’s daily headline roundup, The Other Side of the Tracks (also known as The Direct Transfer), you’re missing a lot. Sign up here.

And PS — I promised we would have an iTunes RSS feed available for you by now and we are this close. Soon, I promise.

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The Secret to a Happy City? Author Charles Montgomery Explains

The premise behind journalist Charles Montgomery’s new book — Happy City — is a bold one: That the way we design cities can have a profound impact on well-being and mood — in essence, personal happiness.Happy_City

For Happy City, Montgomery worked with experts in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics to understand the relationship between our environments and our mood. We caught up with him recently to talk about his findings and the mysterious ways in which public spaces interact with human emotion.

Angie Schmitt: What inspired you to write this book?

Charles Montgomery: I was in Mexico City, there seemed to be as much magic and mystery in the heart of the city than I ever felt on a remote island. I attended a conference and got to spend some time with [former Bogota Mayor] Enrique Penalosa. He’s been making these points about happiness in cities for years. I was inspired, but also as a journalist skeptical about this notion that design could inspire happiness.

I started out with this question: What do I mean by happiness? What do any of us mean by happiness? I came to the same conclusion people have been coming to for thousands of years. Each of us defines our happiness differently.

We all agree that it helps to be rich, and successful, and have a big house and a great spouse, but it’s not enough. You need to be engaged with the community.

AS: Did your research compare rural living versus urban living? Or city to city?

CM: I didn’t set up a comparison between cities. I did try to look at how different aspects of cities can make or break happiness by fulfilling our needs. What I did learn is that people report being happiest in cities where social trust is highest. The more you trust strangers, the police, your neighbors, the happier your city.

If you lose your wallet, what are the chances it will be returned to you? It turns out, that is a really good proxy for social trust. Canada’s largest cities tend to be lower trust and so less happy. It was the mid-sized cities — St. John and St. Johns, those are different cities — that had the highest levels of trust.

The message is hopeful. What it tells us is if we make changes to our cities, make them more convivial, more connected, we can build happiness into our cities, even if we don’t get rich.

AS: So how does all this relate to design?

CM: There’s a direct relationship with design. We know that people that live on the exurban edge report lower levels of trust. They’re less likely to have dinner with their families, less likely to read newspapers, and even vote, than people who live in mixed-use communities, or old-fashioned communities.

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Arlington Strikes Walking Gold in a River of Highways and Pentagon Sprawl

Urbanists have long told tales of the success story of Arlington, Virginia. Named a gold-level walk-friendly community by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, this Washington, DC suburb made the smart decision in the 70s to develop along the metrorail line. Because of that, Arlington workers drive alone at a rate 25 percent lower than the region as a whole and take transit more than twice as much. With 11 Metro stations in its jurisdiction, Arlington has more transit ridership than the rest of Virginia combined. Five percent walk or bike to work and carpooling is at three times the regional rate [PDF].

Wikipedia uses this picture of Ballston to illustrate its entry on transit-oriented development. But the Pentagon City neighborhood presents more challenges to walkability.

But it wasn’t written on the clouds that Arlington would develop this way. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a community with more obstacles to overcome on its way to smart growth — and yet, it’s doing it.

Arlington County, at just 26 square miles, is the smallest and densest county in the nation. But it’s far from homogenous. The main-street-style Arlington with wide brick sidewalks, cute cafes and indie bars — the part people are usually thinking of when they’re lauding the city for its smart development — exists along the orange line in the dense, mixed-use neighborhoods of Rosslyn, Clarendon, and Ballston. These neighborhoods have taller apartment and office buildings than are allowed in DC, creating a lot of density and a semi-urban feel — even though those tall buildings line wide arterial streets with lots of fast-moving traffic.

The parts of Arlington just south of the Pentagon, on the blue and yellow Metro lines, don’t get as much “walking-gold” spotlight. The Pentagon is the country’s largest office building, and it’s a fortress, disconnected from the community by a mess of highways. The “community” on the other side of those highways is a constellation of shopping malls on either side of a wide arterial road. Still, Arlington’s Director of Transportation Dennis Leach said this area has the best mode split in the county, with 20 percent car-free households, and is making more major infrastructure changes than any other part of the county — against all odds.

I was there last week on a walking tour as part of the National Walking Summit. Several Arlington planners were on hand to tell us about the streetcars, green bike lanes and café seating we’d soon be seeing along Hayes Street, but for now, it’s a car-centric hellscape. We stood outside a metro station with covered bike parking, yelling over the engine noise of an idling charter bus sitting outside the Fashion Centre shopping mall. Planner Kate Youngbluth admitted the multimodal project in Pentagon City is still in its “ugly duckling phase.”

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NACTO Urban Street Design Guide Sets Out to Change the DNA of Our Cities

Innovative street designs like this low-cost pedestrian plaza in lower Manhattan can provide more space for people and protect them from vehicle traffic. Photo: NACTO

In a direct challenge to the long-standing authority of state DOTs to determine how transportation infrastructure gets designed, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) yesterday launched its Urban Street Design Guide.

NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide has already empowered cities around the country to embrace protected bike lanes and other innovative designs that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has shied away from in its engineering bible, known as the “green book.” The Federal Highway Administration has even endorsed NACTO’s guide, and the agency is currently drafting its own bicycle facilities guidance, which will likely fall somewhere in between.

The Street Design Guide goes much further, giving engineering guidance on everything from crosswalks (zebra-striped, please, for greater visibility) to parklets (go ahead, usurp a few parking spots!) and from contra-flow bus lanes (bicycles optional) to slow zones (speed humps, tables, and cushions). As NYC DOT Commissioner and NACTO President Janette Sadik-Khan said, it’s a new DNA for city streets.

Those are treatments you won’t find in AASHTO’s green book. “Most of the design guidance that we work with on the city side is really targeted toward suburban areas and rural areas and is not really designed to meet the challenges of our streets,” Sadik-Khan told a standing-room-only crowd last night at the Newseum in Washington, DC. “So many things have changed in 50 years, but our streets haven’t, and our design guidance certainly hasn’t.”

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