August 2008 Archive

Bratislava Pictures III

August 29th, 2008

Here are some more pictures of Bratislava and surrounding areas. I have really enjoyed the trip but am also glad to be heading home tomorrow. School starts next week and should inspire a never ending list of topics for us to discuss. Until then…




A nice chapel in Piestany, Slovakia





Interesting way to dress things up…


…back in Bratislava, it is interesting to see all of the buildings that remain in disrepair. Many are incredibly beautiful with nice architectural details. They simply stand ready, waiting for someone to spend the money to fix them up.














Scored a nice night shot of the main square last night. I have probably taken too many pictures of the square, but it is a nice place and I enjoy spending time there.





Shot of one of the streetcar/pedestrian streets that weave through the city.





Finally, a shot from Devin Castle just outside the city. We spent today roaming around the grounds and lucked (I guess) into a huge medieval festival!


Bratislava Pictures II

August 28th, 2008

The weather has improved since the first day and allowed me to get some better pictures. Hope you enjoy!

















Bratislava Pictures

August 27th, 2008

Really enjoying my time here in Bratislava, Slovakia. I will talk more about the project we are working on in the future, and probably talk more about Bratislava, but for now I thought you might enjoy a some pictures from my first day in this beautiful European city!

By the way, sorry for the quality of some of the images. The sky was so gray this first day, that the pictures bleed into the page.



Most of our team arrived on Saturday, August 23 and had the opportunity to explore the old city. The building in the background is the beautiful Old City Hall.




The rain didn’t necessarily ruin the site seeing, but it did seem to put a damper on the musical festival that was going in Hlavné námestie (Slovak for the Main Square).




St. Martin’s Cathedral is the largest chapel in Bratislava and was formerly used as the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary.




A nice view of the skinny pedestrian streets that make up the Old City district of Bratislava.



The town has public art spread throughout the city including this sewer worker that was quite popular.




Finally, here are a number of students on the team being dazzled by the projected coke sign on the Old City’s stone street.

I will make sure to post a new image(s) each day until I get back (I now have a much faster internet connection than I have been experiencing, which was making it difficult to upload the photos). Thank you for continuing to check in!



Headed to Bratislava!

August 22nd, 2008

I am headed to Bratislava, Slovakia to work on a planning and design project with a team of students and professors from MIT. We will be spending the next seven days doing site visits and due diligence before returning to Boston where we will spend the next semester designing a health spa resort.

Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to post pictures while I am there, but the post may be a little hit and miss for the next week. Either way I will let you know how it goes and keep you updated as we progress throughout the semester.

Pictures of OKC’s Newest Skyscraper: Devon Tower

August 20th, 2008

Here are some pictures of the new Devon Tower that was just unveiled. The tower is planned to rise 54 stories / 925 feet. I am sure I will have more to say at a later date, but just enjoy the pictures for now!





























Oklahoma City in the NY Times…

August 18th, 2008

This article ran in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago and I have been meaning to post it. It is nice to see Oklahoma City getting positive attention for the great things that have been going on.

I really like where the author Finn-Olaf Jones attempts to explain where Oklahoma City is located regionally. I always say that Oklahoma and Texas are similar with a mix of old south, midwest, and southwest – but Okies lack the Texas ego. Finn-Olaf comes to a similar conclusion, but with vivid descriptions as to why:

Newcomers to Oklahoma City might at first have a hard time guessing what part of the United States they’re in. A generally flat cityscape and the Chicago-style Art Deco architecture downtown, coupled with the friendly-but-not-too-friendly nods and hellos, hint at the Midwest. Jazz, blues bars and ubiquitous barbecue joints suggest the South. But the wide vistas, blast-furnace winds from the surrounding red-dirt prairie and preponderance of American Indian shops (Oklahoma has 38 sovereign tribes), pickups and cowboy hats indicate that you are indeed in the West.

Check out the full article here and think of all the reason you have to love Oklahoma!

More from Skyline Ink: Midtown OKC Animation

August 15th, 2008


Midtown Oklahoma City Animation – by Skyline Ink from imagiNATIVEamerica on Vimeo.

For more of Skyline Ink’s amazing work, head to their their website!

What Is the Future of Suburbia?

August 13th, 2008

Stephen Dubner (co-author of Freakonomics) invited seven leading thinkers on cities to weigh in on what the future holds for suburbia. Here is an overview of the important points, followed by some of my own thoughts on the subject. To read the full NY Times article, click here.


ARTICLE RECAP

James Kunstler, with his typical gloomy apocalyptic vision, describes a future in which both energy consuming suburbs and high-rise urban areas (described elsewhere as buildings over seven stories that necessitate elevators) will suffer greatly:

One popular current fantasy I hear often is that apartment towers are the “greenest” mode of human habitation. On the contrary, we will discover that the skyscraper is an obsolete building type, and that cities overburdened with them will suffer a huge liability — Manhattan and Chicago being the primary examples. Cities composed mostly of suburban-type fabric — Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, et al — will also depreciate sharply. The process of urban contraction is likely to be complicated by ethnic tensions and social disorder.

In Kunstler’s mind the cheap energy era is over and technology is not likely to save the day:

The automobile will be a diminishing presence in our lives, whether we like it or not. Further proof of our obdurate cluelessness in these matters is the absence of any public discussion about restoring the passenger railroad system — even as the airline industry is also visibly dying. The campaign to sustain suburbia and all its entitlements will result in a tragic squandering of our dwindling resources and capital…

…Sometimes whole societies make unfortunate decisions or go down tragic pathways. Suburbia was ours.

Jan Bruekner, professor of economics at the University of California, offers a more balanced take examining how the incentives that created the suburbs are shifting.

Urban economics tells us that cheap gas, lots of investment in highways, and rising incomes created the suburbs that we now see in American cities.

The first two forces made it affordable and convenient to commute from far out, and greater affluence made people covet big houses, which can be built for less on inexpensive suburban land. Lately, these suburbanization forces are being reversed by “gentrification,” with well-off, empty-nester households lured back to city centers by improving urban amenities (restaurants, museums, etc.) and the renewal of crumbling downtown housing stocks.

Over the next 40 years, these forces will continue to operate, with some new twists thrown in. Skyrocketing gas prices will lead some households to reconsider their long commutes, introducing an “anti-suburbanization” force that favors denser, more compact cities. Boosts in auto fuel economy will soften this blow, but the push for suburbanization will nevertheless slow. Urban densification will also mean a different look for some of our neighborhoods: single-story ranch houses, the hallmarks of past suburbanization, will increasingly give way to denser, two-story suburbs, as is already happening in many cities where land prices are high.

John Archer, chair of the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, believes the suburbs will be resilient and able to survive by becoming more flexible, smarter, and hybrid.

Ideals of privacy, property, and selfhood…are splendidly realized in the single nuclear-family detached house, set in its private surrounding yard. And no matter the threats of global warming or energy shortages, the solutions that we pursue are going to adhere to those ideals.

Seemingly, at least in Archer’s opinion, the “new urbanist” are the first to attempt to cater to these ideals with a hybrid form.

As many “new urbanist” and “new suburbanist” projects demonstrate, suburbia is becoming a hybrid place that melds desirable traits of city living (activity, diversity) while still maintaining allegiance to primary suburban ideals of selfhood and domesticity (and, one might add, consumption).

Alan Berube, research director and fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, offers a compelling analysis that views the continued impact of transportation on the form of cities.

New physical forms. Just as America’s first suburbs sprouted up along the streetcar lines built in the early 20th century, the first half of the 21st century will see the growth of “light rail suburbs” (even in areas that don’t have the rail yet).

High oil prices and the imperative to address global climate change will help spur denser residential development along transit corridors outside of cities. We’d see more of it today, if supply kept up with demand. Chris Leinberger estimates that walkable suburban communities served by transit today command anywhere from a 40 percent to 200 percent price premium over conventional drivable suburban development.

Lawrence C. Levy, executive director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, offers similar findings, but admits it is largely dependent on political leadership and cost of energy

The energy price crisis, which is battering suburbia harder than other areas because of its dependence on the car, has hastened a trend toward building higher rise housing in village downtowns near commuter rail lines — aka “transit oriented development.”

The units are more affordable because builders can acquire land in depressed village downtowns more cheaply than in other areas and because they are usually allowed to build more units per acre. The affordable apartments in hipper, walkable urban-style neighborhoods become a magnet for young, well educated workers that many suburbs have been losing. Independent elderly couples, who no longer need or want a big single family house, also are drawn to these cheaper, more interesting neighborhoods.



DEFINING THE OBJECTIVE

I should note, that in addition to the repeated forecast for denser, walkable, and transit-oriented development, many of the respondents spent time discussing the shifting demographic trends which are sure to reshape the suburbs we know today. This is certainly something we will see happen and I generally agree with the insights offered on this point.

What I am more intrigued by however, is the view echoed by almost all of the respondents that the cost of energy will be a major determinant suburbia’s future. This may seem like an obvious point for them to make, but I have always been one to believe that as soon as the cost of gasoline rose to a point that invited competition, the market would respond with innovations that softened the effect of energy cost. What has actually always concerned me more is the debilitating urban form that has arisen as a result of the personal automobile – a form that necessitates tons of parking, hinders community, and makes active living difficult. Ultimately, I find that we can embrace both the personal automobile with the exceptional freedom of mobility that it offers, along with an urban form that provides a high quality of life for everyone, including those that do not own a car. But quality of life must be the priority!


WHERE IT WENT WRONG

Cars are certainly a contributing factor to many peoples overall quality of life, but too often I find that American cities have failed to view the use of automobiles as a means to achieving a greater quality of life and have instead viewed the use of automobiles as the the objective itself. Once we lost sight of the true objective, it is not wonder it all went so wrong. In my opinion, suburbia’s golden era took place when early, wealthy suburbanites were able to benefit from all that suburbia offered in the form of “privacy, property, and selfhood” and yet remained a quick car ride away from a vital urban center that offered the best of a city in the form of community, shopping, culture, and people watching. This ideal combination that truly offered “the best of both worlds” was eventually sought out by everyone – and for good reason – but when all of the people left for the suburbs so did the amenities that were provided by now depleted urban center. The suburbs were no longer “the best of both worlds” and for many were no better than what a city by itself had offered in the first place.


TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT

Perhaps this is the idea that we are returning to with transit-oriented development. This was repeated in different ways by a number of the respondents and I believe their assessment is on target. Transit-oriented developments (or TODs) offer a hybrid of suburban and city living; and in a infrastructural form that contributes to the sustained vitality of a major urban center. What many cities currently have is a transportation system that is exclusively automobile oriented, which is detrimental to the sustained vitality of a city’s downtown and will diminish the aggregate quality of life for all residents. A diversity of transportation options with a diversity of related forms should be appealing to everyone. I certainly don’t want people that hate living downtown to be forced to live there; I want everyone to have the freedom to choose where they live and be held responsible for paying the full cost of that decision. Cities that can provide the overall best quality of life to a diverse population with varying taste will win out in the long run. This can only be done if we allow different parts of the city to serve different functions, but all in a way that contribute to the vitality of the city as a whole.

One way OKC could make downtown more functional for people both with and without cars is to improve parking accessibility and transit downtown – for more on this proposal, check out Bricktown Parking: Killing Two Birds with One Streetcar!

Turning Streets Into Temporary Playgrounds

August 12th, 2008

New York City’s Department of Transportation recently kicked of their ‘Summer Streets’ program, similar to Bogota’s Ciclovia the program temporarily closes major streets to automobiles, allowing people to takeover the space and use it to walk, bike, or just hangout. Like Bogota, they also provided health and fitness activities to encourage people to get out and exercise.

Do you think this could happen in Oklahoma City? Would we be willing to give some space back to pedestrians, even if only for a day? Creating a permanent pedestrian friendly environment downtown will take some time. It will require the full commitment of the city with each new development, zoning change, and public improvement. But closing a street for a day takes nothing more than the will and a “road closed” sign. If you have ever been downtown during the day on a Saturday, then you know that traffic is not really a problem. It would be great to close a couple streets from downtown all the way to the trails at the river every Saturday. South of 10th Street on Broadway then down Shields to the river is my preference. The YMCA would be able to provide some exercise programming and the two new bicycle shops – Bicycle Alley and Schlegel’s Bicycles – could serve as headquarter for bike rentals, etc.

If you are interested in improving things on a more permanent basis, check out this post on Mapping Pedestrian Friendliness in OKC!

8 Common Values of Successful Downtowns

August 9th, 2008

Urban designer Alex Krieger of Chan Krieger Sieniewicz in Cambridge, Mass. is working with the City of Baton Rouge on a new master plan for their downtown and offers up his eight rules for a successful downtown. It is interesting to read the full article and see how the eight values are applied to Baton Rouge. It seems that the downtowns of Baton Rouge and Oklahoma City have a lot in common as far as the renaissance they have both experienced over the last decade and similar problems that both downtowns continue to attempt to solve. Check out the full article if you have the time, if not, here is a summary of the list.

8 Rules for a Successful Downtown

  1. Cities are for living in – to make downtowns work, you need a critical mass of urban residents. The article states, “It takes 5,000 people to reach the next level of market demand to attract retail and other amenities.”
  2. Understand who cities are for - “An urban residential lifestyle isn’t for everyone; many people, particularly families, like the suburban model just fine. Krieger says cities appeal to folks in their 20s and 30s, along with empty-nesters who prefer easy access to restaurants, museums and amenities over a golf course.”
  3. Mixed-use environments - “You don’t want people to come downtown for one experience,” DiResto says. “You want them to be able to enjoy an entire day or evening.”
  4. Think Compactly - development needs to be compact and provide an environment that makes walking not only possible, but enjoyable.
  5. Invest in culture - make room for artist studio space, galleries, cultural institutions, etc. Often these uses get priced out as the downtown becomes more successful.
  6. Conservation - “Green space is a big deal for many cities, even Houston, one of the world’s great monuments to urban sprawl and unchecked development. Everyone likes a little shade, and trees are prettier than concrete. But squeezing green spaces into an urban environment takes a little creativity. In Chicago, which also has an air-quality problem, green roofs are popular.”
  7. Mobility - connecting not only various districts within downtown, but connecting downtown to the outlying areas of city.
  8. Creative use of history - creating a historic narrative that connects people to the history of their city. This is something Baton Rouge considers one of its greatest strengths. Oklahoma City could probably do a better job of highlighting what is a very unique history.



So what is your assessment? What do you think of the list? Which of the eight is OKC doing a good job on and where could we use some more work?