News from the [complete, walkable] Street

Byrne, Bluemenauer and Sadik-Khan at Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around event in Washington DC WashCycle summarizes remarks by the star studded panel at the December 8 event.   New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s called for a federal framework for urban street planning, saying local frameworks are too easily tied up in red tape and applauding Cities for Cycling.
.
NACTO launches Cities for Cycling The National Association of City Transportation Officials’  Cities for Cycling initiative will catalog, promote and implement the world’s best bicycle transportation practices in American municipalities.  According to the press release:  Cycling is booming in cities across the nation. Based on the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. census bureau, cycling as a share of transportation is up in major cities by as much as 72% from 2007-2008, with an average growth rate of over 30%…. From protected cycle-tracks to bike boxes and special traffic signals for bikes, Cities for Cycling seeks to share these best practices among leading cities and encourage State and Federal governments to adopt the new design treatments as standard practices, opening up funding and technical support opportunities and cutting red tape.

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.

New Urban News aggregates articles on Walkable Streets. Is it just our imagination, or was 2009 the year when Walkable Steets and the 20 minute neighborhoods became kitchen sink concepts?  And concepts that beg so many other questions: transportation policy, design standards, connecting the grid, the need for motorists,  razing freeways, multi-modality, shared streets, pedestrians and cyclists dealing with one another more intuitively.   Great stuff.

Complete streets fundamentals and policy guidance.  The National Complete Streets Coalition also has a bunch of basic tools for activists working with planners and city officials. There are FAQs, fact sheets on a whole slew of sub-issues, and  community workshops.

Walmart rejects idea of integrating store in walkable community.
Hurricane Katrina wrecked a WalMart in a Mississippi town, opening the way for new ideas about what WalMarts should look like.  Local architects presented three different plans, all with a full-size store and housing  above ground-level parking. Residents would have had views of the Gulf of Mexico and protection from hurricane-driven water. But Walmart reverted to a single-use building elevated six feet higher than the one ruined by Katrina with no on-site housing.

Byrne, Bloomberg, Moses and Videos from Chinatown

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.   And Ivy Lin,  the energetic chronicler of the neighborhood and creator of Pig Roast and Fish Tank, Ivy Lin has issued an invitation to her next premiere. Coming Together Home, the story of the Chinese interred (not interned, as the sub title suggests) at Lone Fir Cemetary screens at 7 pm October 11, 2009 at Someday Lounge.   See you there.

Reining in the energy costs of sprawl

Reining in the energy costs of sprawl
The senselessness of embedding energy-efficient buildings in energy-squandering suburban neighborhoods was driven home again by NPR’s Steve Inskeep on 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 not building them in the first place.    Sarah Mirk’s The Dead Freeway Society is a fine little history of this phenomenon, which can be forgiven for the   rhapsodic tone typical of so many accounts of Portland urban planning
http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/the-dead-freeway-society/Content?oid=1676323   Mirk notes the intergenerational dynamics which have made  contrarianism mixed with public consensus building such 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.

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.

PortlandQuestFilm

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.

Restroom design work wins PHLUSH invitation to international summit

Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human, or PHLUSH, has been invited to make two presentations to the prestigious World Toilet Summit in Singapore in December 2009.
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 (at http://www.nwnw.org/Donate.html : 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.

Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human, or PHLUSH, has been invited to make two presentations to the prestigious World Toilet Summit and Expo in Singapore in December 2009.

button3Old 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.

Green the nation’s way of life? Say goodbye to the suburbs.

Building are responsible for nearly 40% of US energy consumption.   Indeed there’s new awareness of all the bells and whistles that get a building LEED gold or Platinum.  European approaches, such as Passivhaus, certify buildings using other critera.
But it’s one thing to green a building and another to green a whole city, or a nation’s way of life.   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 Pennsylbvannia 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 and 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, we only have to look back to more gentle times before the automobile isolated us in the suburbs.

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.

Will Portland’s icon of the New Urbanism get its first public toilet?

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.

Jamison Square, the lovely, whole block, city park with an interactive fountain located in the heart of the District now has the opportunity to have a Portland Loo.

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.

A trove of streetscape design manuals

An especially useful post Rethinking the Street Space: Toolkits and Street Design Manuals http://www.planetizen.com/node/40394 appears today on Planetizen.   Amber Hawkes 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.
Earlier posts by the authors in the three part series include Rethinking the Street Space: Why Street Design Matters http://www.planetizen.com/node/39815 and and Rethinking the Street Space: Evolving Life in the Streets http://www.planetizen.com/node/40066

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.

German Passivehaus standards outdistance LEED

 

German Passivehaus standards out distance LEED
The Portland firm Root Design Build, is building on of the nations most energy efficient structures in Hood River.   As Willamette week puts it in their cover story on Futurehaus, “A local company is building a house you can heat with a blow-dryer.”
Only seven homes in the United States are certified to German Passivhaus standards and this is the first on the West Coast.  It is a home that requires a tenth of the heating and cooling of the average American residence. 
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.
A number of factors combine in the environmental breakthrough of Shift House, which is being built in Hood River.  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, it 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.

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.

From the Willamette Week, June 3, 2009

From the Willamette Week, June 3, 2009

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.

Are we ready for composting toilets?

Think about it.  In an endlessly repeated cycle, the residents of America’s most sophisticated cities urinate and defecate in their drinking water.   They clean it up at staggering expense only to use the water again to carry away an ever fresh supply of human waste.     What is to be done?

Humanaure Handbook

Cover of Humanaure Handbook

Still the task  of selling environmentally sound sanitation to an extremely skeptical public has hardly begun.

Some help comes in a well-documented  series entitled  Crap Happens: A Grist Special Report on How We Dispose of Our Poop.   In the concluding article of the series, journalist Catherine Price tries to fill the gap in basic understanding by interviewing people who happily own and mange humanaure composting toilets in their homes. 

Every year America produces seven billion dry tons of post-treatment sludge, or “biosolids,” to use today’s term, coined in an industry naming contest.   Price starts out by making the crucial distinction between biosolids and humanaure.  While human feces is the key ingredient of each, the former may contain  heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and thousands of other pollutants.  While humanaure may contain pharmaceuticals, it is not contaminated with industrial waste and toxins.    

While consumer resistance to composting toilets remains extreme, at least were talking about it.  Comments one reader,  “I know that we have been mollycoddled for several generations, but can the cultural barrier against dealing with our shit be so completely insuperable? I certainly hope not.”

Echoing the work currently being done by the  World Toilet Organization and its partners, Price muses about bottom of the pyramid approaches.   The majority of the world’s people are simply not connected to sewer lines.  Demand for innovative products is more likely among those who are off the grid than among western consumers with strong resistance to consume.   Just as many developing countries adopted cell phones without ever having built the infrastructure for landline phones, poor communities could skip sewer systems and develop  integrated system of composting toilets instead.

What would Chavez have done?

“Scold everybody for wasting so much time,” says son Paul Chevez referring to Portland’s unresolved two-year street-naming saga.   The interview appears in a long-over due piece  by Gosia Wozniacka in The Oregonian.   Chavez was a national leader of a broad movement unbounded by ethnic lines, who only later in life emerged as a Chicano/Latino/Hispanic role model.   (Note poignant 1968 photo of Chavez with a soon-to-be-assassinated RFK at the conclusion of a hunger strike which refocussed the Farmworkers on the path of nonviolence.)  

Jump to this weekend in Chavez’ old stomping grounds.   California’s gay rights activists have taken their  “Meet in the Middle for Equality” to California’s Central Valley.   Chavez’ core constituents and their descendants are seriously discussing  Proposition 8 and the implications for “liberty and justice for all.”  

It was former Mayoral City Council candidate Ed Garren who drew my attention to the Oregonian piece, adding this:

Decades before it was popular or politically expedient to embrace the GLBTQ community, Cesar came to EVERY large rally or gathering when we were fighting for our rights in California.
When our backs were against the wall in the first LaRouche HIV quarantine initiative (Prop. 64) and we needed lots of campaign literature printed inexpensively, it was the Farmworkers Press in Tehapachi CA that printed them for us AT COST and with a “union bug.”   
The man was as close to a saint as any human being who has lived in my lifetime.  I’m just sorry more people don’t know that.
Decades before it was popular or politically expedient to embrace the GLBTQ community, Cesar came to EVERY large rally or gathering when we were fighting for our rights in California.

When our backs were against the wall in the first LaRouche HIV quarantine initiative (Prop. 64) and we needed lots of campaign literature printed inexpensively, it was the Farmworkers Press in Tehapachi CA that printed them for us AT COST and with a “union bug.”   

The man was as close to a saint as any human being who has lived in my lifetime.  I’m just sorry more people don’t know that.

Okay, Portland, time to come together on this one.  Here in the City that Talks, two-years is not too long.  It’s just that the conversation has been diced and shredded into the pettiest of viewpoints, turf battles and whining about entitlements.  Time to take a serious look at Hugo Chavez as the great American leader.  

Talk is okay.   Sure, it would be nice if a local university hosted a national colloquium on Chavez.  Or if Gust VanSant made made a Milk-powerful documentary.  But we know enough.  We need to find an appropriate way for Portlanders to say thank you.  ( See Ed’s case – third comment following article – for renaming Division Street and possibly have the name run straight from the food-loving city to the farmlands of East Multnomah County. )  And we need to do it sooner rather than later.