CHILDREN & NATURE BELONG DOWNTOWN: Let’s Create a New Vision : The New Nature Movement


https://i2.wp.com/blog.childrenandnature.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/4.-KidsSchoolBusSoParkBlocks.jpg

Children in a park in Portland. From blog.childrenandnature.org.

In this post, Mary Vogel discusses some of the challenges of families that want to move to the city. There are a number of issues that face an urban family; affordable housing, quality schools, the perception of crime, and sufficient green space are just a few of them. She discusses the plans that Portland has to convert parts of its riverfront to beaches (hopefully the Willamette’s waters are clean enough for such a proposal). Portland also has long, linear parks running through it’s downtown, which are another opportunity to interact with nature. She also mentions green streets. Conspicuously lacking from her assessment is Forest Park, the largely undisturbed forest immediately west of Downtown, which I visited on my honeymoon and went hiking, which is not something I care to do often but felt compelled to because it was just so close. As someone who will, in just a few months, be a father, and wants to stay in a walkable, urban place, these are strong concerns for me, and I hope that in the coming years cities will start to take the concerns of urban families under consideration.

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Parking Spaces Become Park Spaces Downtown | Environment | Downtown News


Park(ing) Day in Vegas. From 8newsnow.com.

I’ve honestly been a bit disappointed in the lack of Park(ing) Day images I’ve seen so far. They are just starting to trickle in, and I hope that maybe after the weekend’s over we’ll see some more. I did see one article yesterday from Louisville where they did some really great stuff, but they wouldn’t let you imbed anything, so I didn’t put it up. The image above, as well as this post from Natalie Cullen, show some Park(ing) Day interventions in Las Vegas which were pretty cool. I re-tweeted a few images I saw on Twitter (@DavidBMunson) that you can check out. I know that Park(ing) Day is getting bigger every year, so hopefully we’ll see more interventions soon.

UPDATE:

SWA installation in LA. From waltercomms.wordpress.com.

We’ve got some new Park(ing) Day images! First, this post includes images of Park(ing) Day installations in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Installation in Morgantown, WV. From thedaonline.com.

And these installations aren’t just for the big city! This one came from Morgantown, West Virginia, home of WVU. I still wanted more though, so hopefully that’s not all.

ANOTHER UPDATE:

Park(ing) Day Phoenix. From streetsblog.org.

Ah, and here is a good cache! Streetsblog put together a compilation of installations from Jacksonville, Oakland, Nashville, Dayton, Austin, Phoenix, Portland (ME), and Cleveland.

Citiwire.net » The Fall and Rise of Great Public Spaces


Strøget, the main pedestrian street in Copenhagen. From kottke.org.

This post from Citiwire is an urban design power post—written by Jay Walljasper from the Project for Public Spaces and featuring Jan Gehl. Walljasper compares the activities along Strøget to the conventions happening in Tampa and Charlotte. While Copenhagen’s public and democratic life happens in its streets, ours happens in semi-private auditoriums. At one time, Copenhagen was on the same track as the US, giving space over to cars and watching its cities decline. They just decided to do something about it and created great public, pedestrian-oriented places. The US’ cities and particularly their public spaces have been in decline for years. Danes go to the pedestrian areas of Copenhagen to people watch, but there are few places in America with enough people to make that a worthwhile activity. Why would you drive to the mall to watch people walk? Why not just live in a nice place with a lot of people, where you can watch it from your front door, or participate by walking to a local park or market? Gehl lists some cities, including Portland, Oregon, that have put work into their public spaces and benefited from it. He says there are twelve things a city needs to have good public spaces:

  1. Protection from traffic
  2. Protection from crime
  3. Protection from the elements
  4. A place to walk
  5. A place to stop and stand
  6. A place to sit
  7. Things to see
  8. Opportunities for conversations
  9. Opportunities for play
  10. Human-scale
  11. Opportunities to enjoy good weather
  12. Aesthetic quality

Innovative Green Urban Design


Vertical garden of Portland’s Federal Building. From greatecology.com.

I usually shy from company blogs because of their shameless self-promotion, but if you don’t read the last paragraph of this post by Alissa Brown of Great Ecology, you’ll see some really innovative green urban design projects. These include the Beacon Edible Forest in Seattle, the vertical garden involved in the redevelopment of the Federal Building in Portland pictured above, and the large roof gardens found on the Solaire Building in Battery Park City, New York. Brown also points out that, as people continue to move to cities, we need to remember that people enjoy being near greenery, and as such, cities should work to develop their green infrastructure, which can also provide benefits when it comes to stormwater, urban heat island, and pollution.

Why are there no trams in America?


Tram in Grenoble, France. From wikipedia.org.

Yonah Freemark recently published a story on Next American City Daily talking about the massive growth of trams in France. Throughout the article, he makes a distinction between European trams and American streetcars or light rail. It led me to think, what are the differences and advantages to the various transit systems between buses and subways, and why do there not seem to be many systems like the trams Freemark is describing in my country?

Trams and their Cousins

Streetcars

Streetcar in Philadelphia. From Studio 34: Yoga.

Streetcars are one of the oldest forms of public transportation. Once ubiquitous in American cities, many were systematically destroyed through a conspiracy involving GM, Firestone, and others in the car industry (sounds crazy, I know, but I’m not making it up; GM was eventually indicted and fined). Streetcars are on a set track and usually powered by overhead catenary wires. They are often no bigger than a standard bus, although some systems like Fort Lauderdale’s The Wave feature articulated systems. although some have formal station structures, like the ones in North Philadelphia, many are just standard bus stops. The greatest weakness of the streetcar is that it has no separation from or priority over other traffic, and gets stuck at lights and behind cars just like a bus would. It’s only advantages over a bus are that it operates relatively quietly (although at least here in Philly when they turn the wheels squeak like the end of the world) and they can have an element of either tech-sexiness or nostalgia to them depending on their design, but otherwise, they are no better than a bus. In fact, their fixed path makes them less flexible and harder to service than buses. The tracks also present a danger to cyclists. I have a number of friends who showed up to class with scuffed knees after an unfortunate altercation with a streetcar track.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

Emerald Express bus in Eugene, OR. From reporting1blog.wordpress.com.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) is a comparatively new technology. They are buses, and as such do not run on a set track, giving them greater flexibility, and don’t feature wires, which some people view as an asset (although many in Europe are fond of their catenaries). They are virtually all articulated buses, most with two sections but some with three or more, giving them higher capacity than standard buses and many streetcars. Some have station platforms, such as Eugene’s Emerald Express, but others are simpler bus shelters, such as most stops on Boston’s Silver Line. BRT has its own dedicated lane, separating it from car traffic and allowing them to move more smoothly and efficiently, although they generally lack priority at lights. The lack of a fixed track and catenaries makes BRT flexible in cases of obstructions to the lane or repair, and also makes them much more affordable to build.

Tram

Trams in Vienna. From wikipedia.org.

Trams have a lot of similarities to streetcars (such that they have the same page on Wikipedia), but there are important functional differences. Both are on set tracks and usually powered by overhead wires, and share the same physical risks, lack of flexibility, and visual situations. Some have stations, but many are just sidewalk loaded. There are two major differences however: capacity and a dedicated lane. Trams are often longer, articulated systems and can carry many more people than a standard bus or streetcar. They also have their own dedicated lane, with all the advantages that this brought to BRT, as well as having signal priority. Many trams in Europe, since they don’t have to worry about cars running over them, have planted the rights of way under their trams with grass, creating more green space, with all the benefits that that brings (aside from recreational benefits – please don’t play on the tracks!). These systems are more expensive, however, and often run through pedestrian-only spaces, increasing the chances of a pedestrian collision.

Light Rail

Salt Lake City’s TRAX light rail. From skyscraperpage.com.

Light rail is essentially lighter than heavy rail (commuter rail or most subway/elevated systems) and heavier than a tram. They run on a track and often have wires, although some are diesel powered. They are virtually all articulated and have capacity equal to or greater than trams. They have larger station platforms and stop less frequently than previous systems. This less frequent stopping and a dedicated right of way (sometimes not even parallel to a roadway) make light rail faster from destination to destination, but it reaches fewer places and, depending on the design, can have a detrimental effect on a streetscape. Light rail is the most expensive option so far, but it is considerably cheaper and easier to construct than subway/elevated trains, and many cities in the last decade or so have built these systems rather than going underground.

So why no trams in America?

There are various reasons why other systems are more widespread in the States than the tram. The streetcar is in many ways a holdout from a previous era, and can be operated without taking away capacity from cars, which is always an uphill fight. BRT is a system that allows for a lot of flexibility and little (comparative) investment, and for many medium-sized cities is probably their best bet. Meanwhile, larger cities aren’t thinking about systems for moving pedestrians around their downtowns as much as they are about moving commuters into their cities from the suburbs, and the light rail, with its higher speed, is generally the better option for that. I think that the growth in BRT in America may lead to future tram development: as communities see the success of BRT and begin to demand more capacity, they may become ready for the investment in more infrastructure. Many light rail systems feature somewhat of a hybrid, where they go quickly from community to community in the suburbs but slow down and stop more frequently in town, like Portland’s MAX light rail. As Alex Davies pointed out (under Trams, above), we’re not likely to see trams any time soon, but hey, give it some time and get the Republicans out of the House, and it could happen.

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