Is Parking What’s Stopping Atlanta From Becoming a Sustainable City?

opinion_park1-1_16It’s time for an intervention if we want Atlanta to become a walkable and transit-connected city. 

Following up on “Atlanta’s Parking Addiction,” a recent column in the alt-weekly Creative Loafing, Darin at ATL Urbanist points out that much of the city’s new downtown streetcar route is lined with vehicle storage, rather than housing and businesses.

Creative Loafing reported that over the last 30 years, “the availability of low-cost parking” was “the second strongest indicator of the lack of success ” of urban rail in the U.S. Darin says local leaders must recognize that giving streetcar riders fewer places to go hampers ridership and hurts the system’s chances for growth.

The image above shows a section of the streetcar line on Luckie Street in Downtown Atlanta. Everything that isn’t shaded in red is either a parking lot or a parking deck.

This is important. We have a $100 million starter line for modern streetcars in Atlanta and much of the track runs beside properties that contain facilities devoted to car parking instead of destinations for pedestrians. If this seed is going to grow into a larger, successful system of street rail — and there are proposals for that — city leadership needs to get off its collective ass and give the line a chance to work as it should.

I am in general very excited to have a streetcar here and hopeful that it will end up, some day in the future, serving a thriving neighborhood of new residential and commercial structures that replace our downtown parking blight. But there are also days when I walk these streets, where I live, and cynically think: “In Atlanta, we love parking so much that we built a $100 million streetcar line to show off our parking facilities to tourists.”

Origanal article can be found here.

Public Spaces Are a Bellwether and A Bridge For Difference in the Communitie

Author:

Placemaking can bring people together and create a sense of shared ownership of a city and its public spaces. Through Placemaking, community places not only become more active and useful for the people who help to create them, they can become more welcoming to people of all ages, abilities, income levels and backgrounds.

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Public spaces are a bellwether, and a bridge, for difference. Photo of Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn by Ethan Kent

Since public spaces can both reflect and shape the communities they serve, they become incredibly meaningful places for people working to create more equitable cities. Many underserved communities have been systematically excluded from the prosperity and vibrancy that their city continues to generate for its wealthier residents. When neighbors come together to improve their public spaces, results can be tangible and immediate, and this process itself amplifies the sense of inclusion that great places can generate.

These benefits are often obscured in public debates surrounding Placemaking. Critics have voiced concerns, again and again, that Placemaking provides amenities that are geared toward a specific demographic—that its aim is to make “less desirable” areas more aesthetically palatable, and that it works to accelerate (or even initiate) gentrification by increasing property values and driving long-term residents out of their neighborhoods. Because of such fears, which urban critic Matt Yglesias has termed “gentrificationphobia,” neighbors often resist improvements to the public realm, from the installation of bike lanes to the development of long-vacant properties.

PPS developed The Beach in Detroit’s Campus Martius through a Placemaking process. It has become a shared place that brings together, and bridges, vastly different populations.

PPS developed The Beach in Detroit’s Campus Martius through a Placemaking process. It has become a shared place that brings together, and bridges, vastly different populations.

“It’s not always that neighbors feel new development will make the area worse,” writes

Yglesias, “sometimes they oppose new development because it will make the area better. [While concerns about people being priced out are not] crazy, it is crazy that this is the kind of thing people need to worry about in urban politics. ‘Your policies will improve quality of life in my community’ should never be a complaint about a policy initiative.”

Here we can see the fundamental misunderstanding that has led to so much of the concern around Placemaking today. A bike lane is not Placemaking; neither is a market, a hand-painted crosswalk, public art, a parklet, or a new development. Placemaking is not the end product, but a means to an end. It is the process by which a community defines its own priorities. This is something that government officials and self-proclaimed Placemakers ignore at their own peril.

This is why the involvement of all residents is vital for creating great places. Placemaking offers a unique opportunity to bring people of different backgrounds together to work collaboratively on a common goal: a shared public space. When local officials, developers, or any other siloed group prescribe improvements to a place without working with the community, no matter how noble those groups’ intentions may be, it often alienates locals, provokes fears of gentrification, and  increases the feeling and experience of exclusion. This kind of project-led or design-led development ignores the primary function of Placemaking–human connection.

Read full article here.

A Love-Hate Relationship With the Recession Teaches Life-Long Lessons

By Heather Alhadeff

My incessantly analytical brain is ruled by logic. So, to me it just made sense — evolve or die on the proverbial vine. It did take me a while, however, to realize I was hating the very thing I should love.R

This incredibly distressing recession required me to question all assumptions. In so doing, it prompted me to launch my own business, doing the work I love while creating more time for friends and family.

For me, it started with the 2008 housing crash at the same time I started working from home on my furloughed “days off.” I along with thousands of other public sector employees were hoping for a 2 percent a cost of living increase only to be greeted by the equivalent of a 10 percent pay cut and fewer hands to help.

That year began the most serious housing related financial set back I will likely ever endure. For the first time in my life, my incredibly optimistic family couldn’t even say “chin up” or “it’ll be OK.”

With a seemingly distorted outlook, I can say this housing crisis has resulted in a better future for me. Given that inheritance or savings are not available as a stepping-stone, the loss of equity and credit could have been debilitating. Or, it could become a life altering way to force me to position problems and ideas in a new light.

Fast forward to lucky 2013, and today I hear very different comments. “Wow, you are so brave.” “You know, I have always wanted to do that….” “Why start an urban planning business now?” “What do you see in the future that grants you such positive outlook?”

These are the most common reactions I have been receiving from friends and colleagues since my December announcement of my small, woman-owned business. It’s true, now I am officially more creative and open to consider new ideas that many dismissively label as risks.

I believe there are two types of reasons I made the leap. One is due to key changes in the workplace (technology, reduced competition, and change in project types) and the other is a shift in fears related to freelance work (lack of job security and reduced benefits).

Not so long ago, computers were predominantly found in the office. Now with mobile technology, Ultrabooks and iPads you don’t have to sit at the same desk to get your work done. Smaller, cheaper, and more enhanced computing capabilities enable people to work from anywhere at any time. In fact, in the private sector I frequently work with planners and architects of the same project team whose desks are thousands of miles away in different time zones.

With the closure and buy-outs of many small and medium level firms, the recession has actually reduced the number of firms competing. And with reduced budgets, one may presume that fewer projects mean more competition. However, it seems that there are more projects of a smaller scale. That bodes well for smaller companies in an environment that calls for teams consisting of individuals from different companies that have less overhead costs.

Larger firms often don’t pursue projects that fall under a certain financial threshold. The biggest firms offer clients an ideal abundance of people power and service lines from around their global offices. However, they are not as nimble. Being large means you have to spend 10 hours getting permission to borrow a staff person for eight hours of work. Simply put, there are numerous firms that are not as fiscally agile due to the nature of their size.

Project types have evolved with reduced budgets too. The plans and projects that are moving forward demand professionals that can handle more complex, urban or suburban retrofit projects or programs. Niche services are in greater demand.

In essence, effective planning requires the science of macro level solutions applied at a micro level. It also requires the art of intrinsically knowing local realities. Smaller and medium size firms frequently have more “local” or ground level planners who are more apt to know the site-specific issues and politics. Those skills can’t be learned in a classroom or from your corporate office in another state.

In a twist of irony, freelance work no longer takes the cake in conjuring fears of reduced job security and benefits. In fact, it seems that same low-grade fear is on the minds of many “regular” employees. Many companies and public sector agencies have been forced to cut people in high-level positions or those that seemed untouchable with 20-plus years of service.

The rise in healthcare costs and reduced pensions has literally reversed decades of expected benefits. Employees are now paying more social security and a higher ratio of healthcare costs, while individual healthcare options are on the rise. Suddenly, from an income perspective, “regular” company jobs don’t seem less risky than freelance work.

My main lesson learned is not about how to struggle through a recession. Rather, it’s how to open your eyes and think differently. The recession’s punch is packed with life-long lessons that will continue to make me more resourceful than any salary increase could have accomplished.

How About a Crosswalk Light that Dances?

The makers of this gyrating Do Not Cross signal say it reduces jaywalking by 81%.

The automaker Smart (of teensy e-car fame) claims it has found a way to make 81% of pedestrians obey traffic signals. The trick: Make the “Do Not Cross” man gyrate, lead_largeswing, and pump his arms like he was auditioning for Saturday Night Fever.

The company carried out the experiment in public safety this summer in Lisbon. They first erected a mini-theater in a public square that allowed one person in at a time. Once inside, people were blasted with music and encouraged to cut their best rug. Motion-capturing cameras then translated their frenetic dancing in real time to the crosswalk signal, bringing amusement to many… save for this elderly, bemused gent:

Take a look:

Full article here.