Mind the Gaps. Picture =1000 words. Connecting cul de sacs streets to form a grid is easy to visualize; a no brainer. But can it happen in suburbia? We hear the screaming already. Maybe just easier to abandon dead houses on dead streets. Sad.
Location as Destiny? What is it about certain cities and places that fosters specific attitudes? .. To what extent does the infrastructure of cities shape the lives, work, and sensibilities of their inhabitants? Quite significantly, I suspect, writes David Byrne in his new Bicycle Diaries. All this talk about bike lanes, ugly buildings, and density of population isn’t just about those things, it’s about what kinds of people those places turn us into… Do creative, social, and civic attitudes change depending on where we live? Yes, I think so. Check the excerpt for musings on what may account for developments in Hong Kong. After missing Byrne at the talking bike heads book shindig to last week at the Baghdad, it was good to catch him being interviewed this morning by Jacki Lyden on Weekend Edition.
Making Parking Cool. Bike lane building Michael Bloomberg reaches out to the frustrated motorist trying to find a parking place. In his opinion piece in the Daily News this week, the New York Mayor challenges app developers to make parking and parking revenue collection more efficient. How would you like to use your mobile device to see a map of available parking spaces in your neighborhood – and also use it to pay your meter? Or how about getting a text message as your meter is about to expire, so you can get back to your car before getting a ticket?
Dead Freeway Reference Work Sarah Mirk’s discussion of never built Portland area got the attention of a lot of folks, including us. Now the Mercury journalist has located the study of Portland that Robert Moses did 66 years ago with all of its now very quaint-looking hand drawn map and gentle watercolors of what might have been. Writing from the other Portland, blogger Christian McNeil provides a nice review .
Chinatown Past and Future. New talking pictures this week! Brought to you by the Portland Development Commission and staring, among others, our own Stephen Ying, is Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown.
The senselessness of embedding energy-efficient buildings in energy-squandering suburbia was echoed by NPR’s Steve Inskeep in Houston: Texas-Sized Sprawl, No End In Sight. Sweating with humidity and weighing in at 620 square miles – the size of Chicago, Phildelphia, Baltimore and Detroit combined – Houston forces its residents to use more energy than almost any other American metropolis.
In contrast to the energy-loving Texas city that keeps building more roads, Portland, Oregon has a proud history of tearing them down or stopping them in the first place. Sarah Mirk’s The Dead Freeway Society documents this phenomenon, if a bit in the rhapsodic tone typical of so many accounts of Portland urban planning
Mirk notes the intergenerational dynamics which have made contrarianism mixed with public consensus building a fundamental part of the city’s culture: While other American cities have built, built, built, Portland’s freeway history is boom and bust: massive road projects were planned, mapped, and sold as progress by one generation, then killed by another. When current transit planners visit from exotic Houston and DC to admire Portland’s progress, what they are really admiring are the roads not built—freeways erased from the maps decades ago.
Containing sprawl is not without its battles. The Cambridge, Mass-based Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which specializes in research and training, has teamed up with Boston-based Northern Light Productions to produce Portland: Quest for a Livable City. A special screening of the documentary is planned for October 14, 2009 at 7 pm Portland State University.
A recent review and trailer shows the wrangling behind the rhapsody. Energy conservation and the reduction of carbon emissions ultimately depend on complex measures to rein in car-dependent sprawl, maintain farmland, and promote density. Public policy reform in these areas is arduous because it forces a reevaluation of long-held individual and community values. But it’s safe to say Portland has made progress along the road (“bike path” ?) that Houston has not even started to build.
Old Town Chinatownʼs public restroom advocates are busy preparing 20-minute presentations entitled Public Restroom Design for 21st Century US Cities: The PHLUSH Principles and Innovations in Sustainable Design: Case studies from Portland, Oregon.
The invitation came as surprise to PHLUSH, a committee of the Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association whose efforts have focussed on downtown Portland. World Toilet Summit organizers had noticed the groupʼs work in urban restroom design on their website http://www.phlush.org . In order to participate, PHLUSH must now raise funds to permit two of its Co-Founders to travel to Singapore.
Tax-deductible donations are being received by Neighbors West-Northwest, a coalition of twelve Portland Neighborhood Associations that serves as fiscal sponsor for PHLUSH. Neighbors West-Northwest is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization accepting donations on line (add special instruction “PHLUSH” before hitting send ) and by check (to Neighbors West-Northwest, 2257 NW Raleigh St., Portland, OR 97210; put PHLUSH in memo line).
For the past four years, PHLUSH has worked to increase public restroom availability through well-focused citizen advocacy and practical, informed collaboration with local officials. The only organization of its kind in the United States, PHLUSH now has the opportunity to promote Portland and its acclaimed urban design and livability. Furthermore, participants will become familiar with the latest sustainable sanitation technologies and gain access to technical experts on issues ranging from composting toilets to proposed amendments to plumbing codes.
Please help PHLUSH take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to exchange expertise with participants at the 2009 World Toilet Summit.
It’s always good to be reminded that buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of US energy consumption. Indeed, architects and planners have a new awareness of this and load on all the bells and whistles that get a building LEED Gold or Platinum.
But it’s one thing to green a building and another to green a whole city, or a nation’s way of life. European rating systems, such as Passivhaus, use a wealth of other criteria to certify the environmental impact of new and recycled buildings. In the end a great building doesn’t count for that much if the people who do business in that building drive to get there.
University of Pennsylvannia Urbanism Professor Witold Rybczynski makes The Green Case for Cities in the October Atlantic.
The problem in the sustainability campaign is that a basic truth has been lost, or at least concealed. Rather than trying to change behavior to actually reduce carbon emissions, politicians and entrepreneurs have sold greening to the public as a kind of accessorizing. Keep doing what you’re doing, goes the message. Just add a solar panel, a wind turbine, a hybrid engine, whatever. But a solar-heated house in the burbs is still a house in the burbs, and if you have to drive to it, even in a Prius, it’s hardly green.
Density is the answer. It doesn’t have to be high rise, although elevators are fairly energy efficient. Low rise family houses, duplexes and triplexes compactly grouped into urban neighborhoods like those built the first half of the 20th century are sufficiently dense.
For inspiration on becoming green, we only have to look back to more gentle times before the automobile took over and expelled us to the suburbs.
The Pearl District, Portland’s icon of New Urbanism, still does not have a single public restroom on its pedestrian friendly streets! How can this be?
We’re not talking about Starbucks here. We’re talking about the commons: toilet facilities that serve residents and visitors in shared spaces such as sidewalks and public parks.
According to Neighborhood Notes, the Planning, Transportation and Design review Committee of Pearl District Neighborhood Association has been working with the city to identify a location adjacent to sewer lines, to sun for the solar panels and where the Loo will not block lines of sight from nearby restaurants.
The proposed corner of NW 11th and NW Johnson seems ideal to us. The Loo would take the place of a parking space if this can be worked out with the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Unfortunately there is push back. Some people don’t like the idea that it will be available 24/7. Pearl District residents should take a look at the prototype Loo on NW Glisan between 5th and 6th. It the Portland Loo can work so well at this Old Town Chinatown location, it can work at Jamison Square. But the neighboring community must take ownership and make it work, as the Old Town Chinatown community appears to have done.
An especially useful post entitled Rethinking the Street Space: Toolkits and Street Design Manuals appears today on Planetizen. Amber Hawkes and Georgia Sheridan review a number of publications from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Most are available free on line.
The common goals of all toolkits include the following, as defined here by the authors.
- Livability and Placemaking: Making streets places to linger and places to cherish.
- Access and Mobility: Improving the public right-of-way for all users.
- Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety: Supporting design improvements such as raised crosswalks, bulbouts, bike lanes, and roundabouts that improve safety for pedestrians and bike riders.
- Flexibility: Giving designers choice, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Context: Designing streets based on their place within a hierarchy of streets and their relationship to surrounding land uses, densities, and commercial activities.
- Balance: Maintaining several functions in the street that include safety, roadway infrastructure, environmental sensitivity, and others.
- Healthy Environment: Minimizing negative environmental effects and creating places that encourage walking and exercise.
- Visual Excellence: Improving the overall aesthetic with an emphasis on high quality, lasting design and materials.
Most of cities have created regulatory manuals in which street design methods and improvements are directly integrated into current zoning and regulation. An exception is the Seattle manual where “street design methods and improvements are directly integrated into current zoning and regulation.”
Earlier posts by the authors of the three part series are Rethinking the Street Space: Why Street Design Matters and Rethinking the Street Space: Evolving Life in the Streets .
All appear to be profusely illustrated and written for citizen advocates as well as specialists.
The Portland firm Root Design Build, is building on of the nations most energy efficient structures in Hood River. As John Minervin puts it in Willamette Week’s cover story on Futurehaus, “A local company is building a house you can heat with a blow-dryer.”
Only last year, Root’s Milo Jovanovic built Portland’s first LEED Platinum house. Now he’s moving past LEED checklist to meet the much higher Passivehaus standards.
Only seven homes in the United States are certified to German Passivhaus standards and this is the first on the West Coast. The new Shift House, which is being built in Hood River, requires only a tenth of the heating and cooling of the average American residence. This environmental breakthrough combines a number of approaches.
First, the house is super-insulated. Every effort has been made to design out thermal bridges which lead to heat loss though the shell of the building. All construction joints in the calls and roof are sealed and windows have three panes.
Second, it slurps up and holds heat. Exposed concrete floors benefit from thermal mass. Windows face south and have wooden shutters which are closed at sunset to retain the heat throughout the night.
Third, the house uses intrinsic heat from within: waste heat from appliances and body heat from resident people and animals. Fourth, the heat recovery ventilator that ensures heat quality, transfers the warmth of the outgoing stale air to the incoming fresh air.