urban planning

Bike buzz

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Recently, the local police decided to start enforcing the ordinance against bicycle riding on the sidewalks in business districts. As a daily pedestrian in said districts, I'm pretty happy with this - the sidewalks are too narrow and cluttered to allow cyclists to zip down them without threatening pedestrians. Those of us on foot have frequent near misses with cyclists as we step out of doors, come around corners, or are crossing the street and have bicycles go for the curb ramp with no regard for how close it takes them to other people.

I also bike to said business districts on a regular basis, and have to say that biking on the street just isn't that bad. No, not even on Michigan Avenue - traffic is well-behaved enough downtown, especially with the lights breaking up flow, that I'm fairly comfortable in traffic, and I'm far from a hardcore, spandex-and-scary-calves, veteran cyclist.


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getDowntown is Ann Arbor's alt-commuting program, running Curb Your Car Month and administering the go!pass program, among other things. Program Director Erica is leaving the country in a few weeks, so her position came up for grabs recently.

And, well, I couldn't help myself. This is, after all, essentially the job description that got me into planning, and I've been lusting after Erica's job since I knew it existed, about six years ago. Rumor has it I got the job. The rumor mill is apparently both (a) slow and (b) wrong, though - I know a week and a half ago that it took somebody like Nancy Shore to beat me out. Nancy is, until now, SOS Community Relations Coordinator (and the party responsible for the SOS News and Views blog), and also has served on AATA's Board of Directors. Congratulations, Nancy!

NPR forgets about zoning.

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Last night's installment of the Summer Documentary Series on Michigan Radio was on "The Sprawling of America", produced by the Great Lakes Radio Consortium's The Environment Report. I was glad to see them focus on the topic, until they unquestioningly repeated the fallacy that density - revitalizing city centers and urban neighborhoods - is a violation of property rights. The popular idea that sprawl is the product of a free market, "What People Want", is probably the single biggest mistake preventing us from either effectively addressing sprawl or effectively revitalizing our cities.

Register, "Ecocities"

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Creating an Ecocity Zoning Map for any American city:

On an up-to-date map of your town, which will be Map #2, locate the present city, town, and neighborhood centers and draw concentric circles indicating distances from these centers. These will look much like the concentric circles of a target. On about one-fifth to one-third of the land area of the town, in the zones closest to the centers, the density of development should be significantly greater than is the case presently. On about half to three-quarters of the land area of the town, in the zones farthest from the centers and most dependent upon automobiles, there should be much less density of development in the future and, ultimately, only natural or agricultural land uses. The lower the [present] density of the whole town, the smaller should be the percentage in the increasing density area and the larger the percentage in the decreasing density area. Everywhere the mix of uses should become far more complex, even in the restoration areas on the future fringe; all sorts of diverse agriculture and networks and patches of nature corridors and zones can be established in time.

Richard Register, Ecocities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance With Nature, "Chapter 10 - Tools to Fit the Task."

Planners on the web - oooh, shiny!


Over on PLANetizen's Interchange, Rob Goodspeed asks, How Can Planners Use The Web? (As if he doesn't know, bearing all or significant responsibility for Exhibits A, B, C, and D.) One of his categories is "Providing information regarding specific projects."

Recently, Mark noted a student project's online presence, a ten-minute long time lapse video of a week's worth of construction in Second Life that the student did up to demonstrate his concept development plan for the Motor Wheel site. Since the creator doesn't have a permanent site in Second Life to host the development, he removed it from Second Life after completion, but the video can be viewed here.

Salomon, "Little House on a Small Planet"

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Since 1950, worker productivity has more than doubled. That means, roughly and theoretically, that if we could somehow maintain a 1950 standard of living today, we could each work forty hours per week for less than six months each year, or twenty hours a week for a full year. But we have chosen instead to channel the benefits of increased productivity into more consumer goods for workers, and higher profits for corporate executives, directors, and shareholders.

Trade unions and a variety of civic organizations are working to lighten our load, but in the meantime, unless you move to Europe or take a time machine back to a prehistoric era or at least the fifties, you'll have to be creative if you want to live more of your life at home.

-- Shay Salomon, Little House on a Small Planet, Ch. 7 - Live at Home.

"Eminent domain in Detroit"

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For whatever reason, a lot of traffic to this site comes from searches for "eminent domain in detroit" or similar. ("Whatever reason" is probably my post in November arguing against Proposal 4 as poor lawmaking.)

Now, I am not a lawyer, nor have I ever been involved in a takings case in any capacity - I'm just someone who has taken the requisite one course in land-use law during grad school. But I can tell you what I know about where eminent domain came from and why Detroit is an important datapoint. (If I'm wrong, complain to my professor - he is a lawyer, after all.) If you need advice on a real-life example of eminent domain, consult a real-life lawyer.

Michigan's local governments: a crucial part of our pre-industrial economic well-being!

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I remain convinced that the fragmented nature of Michigan's local governments is a handicap to our economic wellbeing, and that overhauling this artifact of a pre-industrial society is a necessary part of pulling us out of our current rut. The most important current function of our fragmented local governments is to decrease our social well-being and economic benefit. Since Google is currently the hip thing to discuss Michigan's economy around, I'll use that as an example - ArborUpdate's discussion of the A2 City Council's free parking offer provides a convenient case study.

Michigan 2006 Ballot Proposal 4 - Eminent Domain. (NO)

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In general, I'm skeptical of Constitutional amendments. Ballot proposals in general are suspect - why vote yes on this particular solution? Is it the best solution, or just the first one that well-intentioned supporters put together without considering the consequences? Beyond even that, I tend to see the Constitution, whether of Michigan or the United States, as something that's supposed to change only very slowly. Why is the Constitution the proper place to make this change, and not the legislature? Or the judiciary, if the problem meant to be fixed is a matter of bad law? Any Constitutional amendment put before me, therefore, has a high burden of proof to meet before I even consider the content.

Calthorpe honored by ULI


Peter Calthorpe, thoroughly fawned over architect turned New Urbanist planning and urban design principal and the name brand on Ann Arbor's recent well attacked downtown development steering plan, is apparently set to receive the Urban Land Institute's JC Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development.

If Calthorpe feels the slightest awkwardness at being honored by an industry that many intellectuals instinctively loathe, he isn't letting on.

"It feels great," he grinned after a breakfast conversation that caromed from topic to topic. "I find a lot of developers to be a lot more progressive than bureaucrats and neighborhood groups."

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