[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]
American cities are adding bus and bike lanes, implementing bikeshare systems, and creating public plazas and miniature parks at a rapid pace.
Urban streets, long the domain of automobiles, are increasingly being reclaimed by and for the people, a change that amounts to the biggest transportation innovation in recent years, according to a new report by TransitCenter.
“A People’s History of Recent Transportation Innovation” details how strong alignment among local civic organizations, city leadership, and transportation agencies has yielded enduring changes in regional transportation systems.
[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]
Big cities aren’t the only places working hard to create terrific communities. I was reminded of this fact when visiting Roanoke, Virginia over the past few days to attend CityWorks(X)po, a conference for change agents and placemakers. Going in, I was completely unfamiliar with the city, but was delighted with what I discovered there during my short visit.
It was the friendliness of Roanoke’s residents that I first noticed. This wasn’t just the small-town Southern hospitality that’s a cliché. The congeniality of the city’s residents seemed more significant, somehow, and more genuine. People had an open manner and authenticity I was unaccustomed to in hectic Washington D.C., with its preoccupation on political affiliations and “optics.”
Then I discovered Roanoke’s downtown area. “It’s only about five square blocks, but they’ve done a real nice job fixing it up over the past couple years,” said Harry, my hotel shuttle driver. That was a bit of an understatement. The downtown public plaza was actually the result of a crowdsourcing project launched at (X)po in 2011, according to conference organizer Amy McGinnis.
Atlanta has Livable Centers. San Francisco has Priority Development Areas. And here in D.C., we have Activity Centers.
Different terms, similar concepts: places or hubs in large metropolitan areas where future growth is designated, encouraged, and concentrated.
Activity Centers have big implications regarding efficiencies in transportation, sustainability, and livability, particularly in a post-recession environment of scarce financial resources that need to be allocated with a high degree of purpose and attention to the bottom line.
[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on March 5, 2013]
The Summer Olympics serve as a chance for host cities to showcase their architectural prowess. Who can forget the fabulous flyover views in 2008 of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium?
But now nearly five years later, the Bird’s Nest remains largely vacant, and its future unclear. Even one of its creators, Chinese dissident artist Ai Waiwei, has divorced himself from the project, citing in his litany of complaints his opinion that the building is “not integrated with the city’s life.”
Done correctly, though, an Olympics can both demonstrate national pride through architectural grandiosity, as in China, and economically and socially revitalize an ailing part of a city. This is the case in London, where planners have seized on opportunities provided in their successful bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics in order to rehabilitate a derelict post-industrial part of East London.
[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on February 22, 2013]
Urban planners have long proselytized about the preferability of urban forms of development over suburban sprawl. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that the market caught up with their sermonizing.
Urban planner Jeff Speck, who will be speaking at a Mobility Lab event on April 18, has written a new book called Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time that makes a convincing argument to that effect. Speck notes demographic shifts that have led to an increase in demand for city living and a decrease in popularity of the suburbs, going so far as to quote Christopher Leinberger’s contention that “much of suburbia is poised to become ‘The Next Slum.’”
The answer to both the dilemma of the suburbs and the key factor in whether people will be moving to your city versus another, Speck maintains, lies in walkability. The Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments is embracing this concept already, with its activity center project focusing on walkability surveys using the State of Place Index as a kind of “bond rating” for our built environment. The index factors more than 165 different characteristics to assess each activity center’s current status for walkability, thus helping local jurisdictions to determine where to focus investments in a way that will maximize walkability to get the most “bang for their buck.”
[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on January 16, 2013]
The differences between Clarendon and Tysons Corner – two communities in Northern Virginia – are readily apparent to even a casual observer. Clarendon has walkability, cohesion, and sense of place and Tysons has sprawl, confusion, and traffic gridlock.
Although these two places will soon be linked when Metro’s Silver Line opens west of Washington D.C., the similarities seem to end there. While a lay observer might quickly note these distinctions, qualifying or enumerating the differences between these areas has been elusive.
Enter some new metrics that intend to tackle this issue: namely, Walk Score and the more robust State of Place index. Both quantify and score locations in terms of walkability and proximity to amenities.