Tagurbanism

Urbanity fails again

Photo by my friend and UIC alum, Joshua Koonce.

I asked him about the photo’s title, “Urbanity fails again.” He replied:

I just thought it up on the fly, but you do see a lot of just these really little urban failures. Like, decayed bike lanes, weeds, potholes, gaps, sidewalk plates missing, leaky viaducts, “minor urban disasters” so to speak.

I feature Josh’s photos often on Steven Can Plan and now Grid. I also created a Flickr group for Grid where you can showcase your photos about sustainable transportation in Chicagoland.

Can we use location-based services to make urban planning “rise”?

Facebook launched a feature called Places that allows its users to “check in” to Places and to see where their friends are. People can also see where the most popular venue is at any given time (provided they have friends there).

SeeClickFix has mobile apps (and a website) that enables users (in participating locales) to report issues (like graffiti and potholes) in their neighborhoods.

Augmented reality apps for smartphones overlay the virtual world (of yellow pages and restaurant reviews) on the physical world depending on where you point your phone’s camera.

Is there something (an app, a concept, a teaching) that we can develop that uses these apps or the same technology to raise awareness of “urban planning” in all of our cities’ citizens? Such a scheme would attempt to educate and involve more people into the city’s social, cultural and built environments, the urban fabric (buzzword alert!), as well as the history of their surroundings.

Possible scenarios

1. While riding the train through a neighborhood, the new location-based service that encompasses everything about urban planning might aggregate information relevant to the location and activity. Perhaps the application would display to the user information about the history of this particular elevated train’s construction on this branch as well as pull up information on upcoming schedule changes. Lastly, the transit operator may ask the user to take a survey about this particular trip, looking for information on how the user accessed the station (via bike, walking, car, or bus?).

2. My friend Brandon Souba created a proof-of-concept app called Handshake that tells you about nearby app users with similar interests. But this hardly raises civic or urban awareness. Maybe non-profit organizations who need volunteers could create profiles in Handshake and when you’re near a staff member or the headquarters, your phone alerts you to a possible volunteer opportunity.

3. What are your ideas?

Tuesday roundup: High-speed rail and Asian carp

A collection of links and news stories I liked yesterday, Monday, June 4, 2010, the first business day of a new year and new decade. I hope you’ve started on this new year’s resolution.

  • Riding The Rails: How $8 Billion in Stimulus Funding for High-Speed rail Could Change the Face of the midwest—or Get Derailed* (Mindful Metropolis – The article presents nothing new, but for novices on the topic, it combines all of the talks, plans, and dollar amounts that have been discussed over the past few years. New to me, though, is feedback from a meeting of train advocates and industry types at the Spertus Institute in October 2009. *Links to Flash version of entire magazine issue. Download accessible PDF, look for page 28.
  • Columnist warns of forced porch-sitting, with possible mandatory neighbor interaction (Sprawled Out) – John Michlig takes Milwaukee Sentinel writer to task about shoddy journalism and defends real, walkable neighborhood designs. Also, a mention of a new neighborhood design called “coving.”
  • ‘Fewer’ people use fast train (China.org.cn) – The world’s fastest high-speed rail opens in China (Wuhan to Guangzhou); two weeks later there’s subtle criticism of low ridership reports. China.org.cn is interesting; known as “China Internet Information Center” and “published under the auspices of the State Council Information Office and the China International Publishing Group in Beijing.” It’s hard to know what information comes from the government and what doesn’t.
  • Fight Against Asian Carp Threatens Fragile Great Lakes Unity (New York Times) – The State of New York has joined the State of Michigan’s lawsuit against the State of Illinois to force Illinois to close the waterway connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. The states fear that Asian carp will soon invade the Great Lakes and destroy the ecology. The State of Illinois operates eight locks and dams along the Illinois Waterway and Illinois River. See map below (made with Google My Maps).


View Lake Michigan to the Mississippi in a larger map

Diversity in business and buildings

One of Jane Jacobs’ key points in her works tells about the need for diversity in neighborhoods: choices and options in housing, jobs, natural and gathering spaces, and entertainment. As lives and lifestyles change, people aren’t forced to move or move out. Urbanophile touched on that in part two of “Building Suburbs That Last.”

This should sound familiar to you since it is exactly how Jane Jacobs described a healthy city neighborhood. She says it better than I ever could: “Flourishing diversity anywhere in a city means the mingling of high-yield, middling-yield, low-yield and no yield enterprises.” And, “Time makes the high building costs of one generation the bargains of a following generation. Time pays off original capital costs, and this depreciation can be reflected in the yields required from a building. Time makes certain structures obsolete for some enterprises, and they become available to others.”

“Turnover Plaza,” a photo by PJ Chmiel.

I don’t believe that Jane’s discussions will convince any banker, economist or developer. For those arguments, you’ll have to refer to the rest of Aaron’s article on how smart, commercial land use development occurs in order to create sustainable suburbs. You should refer to paragraphs like:

If you having nothing but high value buildings, no one but national chains can afford to invest. If you have nothing but low value buildings, no one wants to. It is important to have a mixture of buildings, supporting a mixture of uses, mixture of high, medium and lower values uses, and both national chains (which bring much good with them) and indigenous business. It is this diversity that again helps to mitigate against the failure of any one element. And also provides room for the local business that is both committed to the town and a source of at least some independent economic life.

Where else does diversity give an advantage?

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