Posts about MIT

ULI hosts a “Back Room” Discussion on OKC – Tuesday, Oct 13 at 5:30pm

October 12th, 2009


If you enjoy the content of this blog and want to join me, some of Oklahoma City’s top real estate and planning professional, and two of my favorite fellow bloggers for a night of candid discussion on all things OKC, then this is the even for you.  I have had the pleasure of being involved with the ULI organization over the years.  Initially in Oklahoma City as part of an effort to found the Oklahoma District Council and since as a student involved in the annual urban design competitions.  I think highly of the organization, especially the group we have working locally, and have high hopes for the impact ULI can have on the land use and development practices in our city.  So it was truly an honor to be asked to sit on the next ULI panel this Tuesday night at the Midtown Deli…


Okay, enough with the fluffy intro.  This event is billed as a “candid ‘back room'” event and I am going to try to make sure we deliver (though I would request that if I do get run out of town, someone will at least drop me off at the airport).   Here is the event description from ULI:

Some of the best insights about OKC Real Estate and Urban Planning are found on the web! Now three very popular BLOGGERS join us up-close and in-person! This will be a candid “back room” event — not the usual Yada Yada. 20 bucks buys you drinks, eats, and some stuff money generally cannot buy. If you come, bring a business card.

What will we talk about?  A lot of that is up to you.  Bring a business card so that we can put you on the “Roulette Wheel”. If the wheel lands on your name, you get to ask any question you want. Obviously, we will probably have to talk about MAPS 3.  Hopefully we can offer a multifaceted view of the program.  Even as an admitted fan of MAPS 3 and someone who plans to vote yes, it definitely isn’t perfect.  We can also talk Devon Tower, Downtown Streetscapes, and the future of Bricktown, Automobile Alley, and the burgeoning Midtown district that is hosting the event  Finally, while we have a suburban developer downtown, we should venture into some of the more technical aspects of development and the differences between urban and suburban development models – this might actually be a very beneficial discussion that we don’t have often enough.


I can’t explain how I am qualified to be on the panel with Jeff and Steve, so I won’t try.  I like and admire both of them, but we definitely view the city from varied perspective.

Jeff Click
Blogger at ModernLandRun, President of the Central Oklahoma Homebuilders, and  also authors the funniest tweets on the web about the hilarious remarks of his 4 yr old daughter.

Steve Lackmeyer
Reporter for The Oklahoman, literally wrote the book on downtown development in OKC, is always blogging away at OKC Central


Register in advance or just come on by Midtown Deli on Tuesday at 5:30pm.

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Back in Boston…and more on the ULI Competition

April 7th, 2009

Hey Everyone,

After a terrific few days in Denver, I have made it back to Boston and am settling in for a two week stretch of thesis writing.  As noted earlier, we were in Denver to compete against three other graduate teams in round two of the 2009 Urban Land Institute / Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition.  We had a great time throughout the process: meeting the other teams, working on our presentation, eating lunch with Mr. Hines, etc.    Finding out that our proposal for Panorama Station won the competition and the $50,000 team prize was truly icing on the cake.

Appreciate Steve breaking the news on his blog.  As a side note, if you haven’t already, you should check out the videos of Jeff Speck’s presentation he posted – good stuff.

Thanks to Mr. Hines and ULI staff for hosting such a great competition. And thank you to everyone for the congratulations via email, facebook, etc.

ULI has yet to release pictures and press releases from the competition, but in the meantime here are a few new images from our project.

Our proposal for a new transit-oriented development to replace an existing big-box and strip retail center.

Integrating the station plaza platform with an iconic pedestrian bridge creates a memorable destination and strong sense of place.

The competition required that existing tenants – like Sam’s and Kmart – be integrated into the design.  Here this is accomplished by providing generous street-front entrances to sub-grade retail sales floors.  Elevator connections to structured parking in the center of the block continue to provide convenient access for store patrons.

Boston in Motion

March 18th, 2009

This is not the first time I have posted a time-lapse video, but this is the first time I have posted one that I produced. I worked on the video as part of a studio site analysis project that I presented earlier this week. It is my first time-lapse attempt and there are definitely some kinks to work out (most noticeably the fact that every time a train passes the camera shakes a little). Still, I think it is pretty cool. Watch it and let me know what you think. If you have a short attention span then fast-forward to around the 50 second mark and watch from there. Cheers!

Year 2050: Day in the Life of Panorama Station

February 22nd, 2009

Hey everyone!  Here is another piece of our 2009 ULI Urban Design Competition proposal that was named one of four finalists competing for the $50,000 first prize.  We were asked to come up with a single tabloid sheet describing a day in the life of the project in the year 2050.

I decided to use a comic book format to tell the story.  First I put together some basic perspectives for each scene and then used a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator techniques to produce the “comic book” look and feel.  The information is structured using the same heirarchy found in our “15 minute car-free lifestyle” diagram.

Click on the image below to enlarge.

ULI Competition 2009: We’re in the top 4!

February 20th, 2009

Got some great news yesterday and wanted to share it with you.  We are one of four finalist teams that have made it through to round two of the 2009 ULI Hines Urban Design competition. Which means we will travel to Denver in April to compete for a shot at the $50,000 first prize.  Really excited and look forward to working some more on this project. Also, now that the results of round one have been announced, I can share with you everything we worked on.  And I am sure to say we, as it was definitely a team effort.


Sarah Snider, Master of City Planning / MIT
Eric Komppa, MBA / University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jesse Hunting, Master of City Planning / MIT
Duncan McIlvaine, M.Arch / MIT
Blair Humphreys, Master of City Planning / MIT


This is our complete design board.  The board measures 51″ x 22″ – or six 17″ x 11″ sheets.  In addition to this we were required to turn in two separate 17″ x 11″ sheets, one with financials and one “day in the life of” sheet conveying life in the year 2050 (click here to see it).  I have chopped up the board pictured above into separate images to fit on your screen below.  The proposal is for an approx. 80 acre site surrounding Denver’s Alameda light rail station.  The northern portion of the site is currently a fairly typical big box retail layout, while the southern portion has a range of tenants connected to the Denver Design District. The primary challenge was to redesign the site to take advantage of the light rail station without displacing any of the existing tenants.  The boards are meant to be self-explanatory (i.e. we weren’t present when the judges viewed them), so I haven’t provided any commentary but if you have questions, just let me know.  Thanks!

note: this post is image heavy so it may load a bit slow.

Enrique Peñalosa on Good Cities

February 6th, 2009

I just attended a lecture series featuring Enrique Peñalosa, a former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.  He is considered a visionary for his work in Bogotá that included major enhancements to quality of life through investments in bike/pedestrian infrastructure, construction of a groundbreaking bus rapid transit system (BRT) and introduction of unique community events like Ciclovia.

It was an enthusiastic presentation and I was fairly intrigued by a number of his ideas.  Certainly there are contextual differences between Colombia and the United States that make some of what he has accomplished difficult to apply here, but a number of his principles seem universal and I think they are worth sharing.  These notes are not all exact quotes, but are a mix of quotes and paraphrasing.

What is a Good City?

Quoted Jan Gehl, “A Good City is one where people want to be out of their houses!”

A Good City:

  • is not malls, but public space and parks.
  • has places for people to walk and to be with other people.
  • gives people needed spaces to play
  • does not make some people feel inferior

A Good City looks out for the most vulnerable citizens: elderly, children, disabled.  He recommended that public officials should be required to navigate the city one day a year in a wheel chair.

A child on a bicycle can go safely anywhere in the Good City!

Cars = Monsters? No, but…

While cars are great thing and provide a great service, the poor design of our cities has turned them into monsters.  If you say to a child, “Watch out, a car is coming.” They will likely jump out of fright.  And for good reason: over 200,000 children are killed each year by automobiles. The answer is not more separated infrastructure for cars, but integrated infrastructure that values all persons equally independent of their mode of travel.

How to Measure of a Proposed Intervention: Does IT make the city more pleasant to walk in?

Comparison of space usage by cars, buses, and bikes.  Münster, Germany was one city mentioned by the Mayor that provides excellent bike infrastructure.

On Public Spaces: sidewalks, parks, bike lanes, etc

Sidewalks are not relatives of streets – they are not paths simply for moving.  Sidewalks are more closely related to parks and plazas.  They are places to play and congregate.

The allocation of space between streets and sidewalk for any given area should be based on maximizing happiness.

When shopping malls replace public space it is the result of a sick city with poorly performing public spaces.  People are not stupid, they go to the shopping malls because it offers a pedestrian environment they can’t find anywhere else.

Human like hard surfaces.  We have to understand that there are places for parks and places for plazas.  Ultimately cities are a human habitat and sometimes hard surfaces are appropriate.

Synthetic soccer fields are better at reducing crime in poor neighborhoods than extra police stations.  If you don’t provide space for teens to play, then they will find other things to do with their time.

With limited resources, there are always questions as to what comes first.  For instance, when we have to decide between paving a street or installing a skate park, we will choose to build the skate park.  Cars will be okay on the mud roads, but the skate park enhances the quality of life to a greater degree per dollar spent.

Adding nice bike lanes not only makes biking easier, but changes the social status of bicyclist by sending a signal to everyone that they are important.

Parking is not a constitutional right!

Twenty percent of Bogotá car-owners ride public transportation to work.

Transport and Bus Rapid Transit

You CANNOT design transport without first knowing the type of city you want!  Transport is a political decision: How much space do we want to give to cars and how much to people?  Engineers will tell you how many cars can travel on a given road, but you have to decide as a community how many cars you want to have.  If they made more space for cars in New York City or London, there would be more cars.  So ultimately it boils down to politics and the will of the community.

To have a good BRT system you should plan on spending between $8 – 16 million per mile.

Built Form

Suburbs provide something urban areas need: good schools, open space, etc.

The best density that is most often seen throughout the world is buildings between four and six stories tall.

Coming Up Next Week

Okay, I know the notes are a little disorganized, but I thought they were worth posting.  I will have the next section on Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal up by Monday.  We will take a look at the current and historical context of the site and surrounding areas.  We are going to work through this “re-visioning” process one step at a time. It may go a bit slow at first, but I think it will provide a better solution in the end.

ULI Urban Design Competition 2009

January 19th, 2009

UPDATE: We were named finalist in the 2009 competition! Click here to see our entry

Site Plan for Dallas’s Cedars neighborhood, ULI Urban Design Competition 2008. Credit: Blair Humphreys (click for larger image)

Today I am starting a two-week long urban design competition hosted by the Urban Land Institute.  Last year my team finished well, receiving one of three “honorable mention” slots putting us somewhere in the top 7 out of nearly 100 teams competing.  Our entry from last year was “Digital Thread”, a mixed-use plan for The Cedars neighborhood in Dallas with a focus on technological innovation and digital urban fabric.

“Digital Thread” – my MIT team’s entry into the 2008 ULI Urban Design Competition (click to download .pdf).

I am excited about this year’s competition and am hoping to improve over last year’s result.  I will keep you updated as things progress over the next two weeks, we submit our proposal, and then find out where we finished.  But I am still planning to dive into some issues related to Maps3 this week, so keep coming back.

If you want more information on the ULI competition:

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

In studio: Slovakian spa workshop

November 17th, 2008

So you might remember that back in August I travelled to Bratislava, Slovakia to do site visits for a research workshop I am participating in here at MIT.  If you didn’t see the posts and pictures from the trip, you can check them out here:

Eight of us have been working under the direction of Julian Beinart and John de Monchaux for a couple months now and have made it through a couple pin-ups and one client meeting. Basically, our task is to create a masterplan for a 850 acre natural mineral spa resort to be located a couple hours outside of Bratislava, adjacent to a small village.  We have split up into four teams of two and I have had the pleasure of working with a m.arch named Zameer Basrai.  We are still in the course of figuring out all of the features of our plan, but I thought I would go ahead and share some of our work.

please note: all of these are working renderings – final presentation is still a month away.  Also, these are currently only ideas, not actual development plans, and represents only a small portion of the many ideas being considered.



Our concept is to create a ceremonial source of the ancient mineral water – coming from an underground lake said to be 22 million years old – within a hill that is central to the site.  Additionally, we plan to create a man-made lake that will bring value to other portions of the site, providing attractive development locations for a mixture of hotels, resort housing, commercial nodes, and an indoor water park.  (I got the idea for a indoor water park after visiting the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine with my family – so thank you to my nieces and nephews for their help on that!)  Our plan also attempts to integrate with the existing fabric of the Bardonovo village and utilize the towncenter and other assets to the benefit of both our development and the community.  Finally, it should be noted that there are a number of program requirements placed on us by the underlying financial realities of the project, so the end result is influenced by our personal ideas and the development requirements and constraints.

Or, allow Zameer to put it more poetically:

Some say it is sacred and some say it is forbidden and only few can dispute its magical presence, but it had remained untouched for too long, unclaimed for too long. In a celebration of this hidden treasure we attempt to unfold the depths of water that have remained below our cities forever.

The cut and the lake


The project is an exploration of built-scapes responding to the physical and metaphysical presence of the [water source]. The cut signifies man’s inward journey, his ceremonial descent into the earth to retrieve this irreplaceable resource. The lake in turn signifies man’s worldly pleasures, his desire to live and work in proximity to water. Both experiences contribute to the identity of the project forming two polar opposites in organization and design.


credit: zameer basrai


source: unknown


credit: zameer basrai


credit: blair humphreys

credit: blair humphreys

credit: blair humphreys


credit: zameer basrai


credit: blair humphreys

The Boston Public Library Courtyard

September 17th, 2008

I am taking a course called Sensing Place: Photography as Inquiry. Our first assignment was to take pictures that show how light affects the landscape. I chose the courtyard in the Boston Public Library as my site because it is one of my favorite places in Boston. We reviewed the assignment today and I thought you might enjoy seeing the photos I turned in.

A classic courtyard with a very pleasant fountain in the center.

I ran out of the house on Saturday afternoon when sunlight began to pour through my south facing window (after days of cloudy skies). Would have been nice to get a series of these shots throughout the day, but the sun didn’t really cooperate.

A wonderful pillar supported arcade surrounds the central courtyard.

I was sitting about 20 feet away from this guy when I noticed that he had positioned himself perfectly to get sunlight on his body, while his face stayed comfortably in the shade. I couldn’t figure out how to get a picture that would tell the story, but finally managed to crawl up on a second story window sill and hover with camera directly above the guy.

On any given day you can expect to find a number of people sitting, eating, reading, or utilizing the free wi-fi.

Taken from inside the library with the courtyard visible through the window. The light marble surfaces of the grand staircase shine bright as the sun pours through the southwest facing windows.

Why Traffic Calming?

September 14th, 2008

Mikel Murga is the co-instructor of Urban Transportation Planning, a course I’m taking this semester that is packed full of great information. Actually, if you want to be technical I am not taking the class but am listed as a listener do to time constraints. At least that is what I keep telling myself, but I still manage to watch a healthy dose of football each weekend. Not sure how that works…but heh, Boomer Sooner!

Anyhow, in Friday’s class he did a presentation on traffic calming techniques that he has successfully employed around world. Fascinating stuff and I now have a list of ideas I can’t wait to see happen in OKC! Still, one particular diagram – one that explains the reason we need traffic calming – is what really stuck out:

It is abundantly clear that pedestrians and cars traveling over 30 mph do not mix well! Doesn’t necessarily matter what the sign says if the cars are traveling faster. Not sure if OKC keeps data on marked speed compared to actual speed, but it would be interesting to see what the speeds are in areas that are commonly used by pedestrians (e.g. Bricktown, Downtown, Western Ave, etc).

Anyway, I am sure that I will post more from this class, but If this type of stuff really interest you then you have to check out MITOPENCOURSEWARE, which makes available presentations, lecture notes, assignments, etc, from a number of courses including this one – which you can find here: 11.540J Urban Transportation Planning!