Thursday, September 24, 2015

Metropolitan Area Travel Diary and Regional Design

We were asked in our Urban Environmental Theory and Practice class to track our travel patterns over a five day period, then design the metropolitan area in which we live to better fit the needs of us and other residents.

1.       Start with a travel log or journal. Record all trips for five days (Saturday and Sunday and three weekdays).  Place the information in a table.


Friday
Origin
Destination*
Distance
Mode
Trip 1
Home
Work
12.1 miles
Car
Trip 2
Home
Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart, Target
14.6 miles
Car
Trip 3
Home
Home
.7 miles
Walk
Saturday
Trip 1
Home
Church
1 mile
Car
Trip 2
Home
Sister-in-laws
15.2 miles
Car
Sunday
Trip 1
Home
Church
1 mile
Car
Trip 2
Home
Sisters
13.4 miles
Car
Trip 3
Home
Sisters
13.4 miles
Car
Monday
Trip 1
Home
Work
12.1 miles
Car
Trip 2
Home
Walmart
13.9 miles
Car
Tuesday
Trip 1
Home
AF Station
10.1 miles
Car
Trip 2
AF Station
Murray Central
24.4 miles
Frontrunner
Trip 3
Murray Central
Stadium Station
10.2 miles
TRAX
Trip 4
Stadium Station
Classes
3.1 miles
Walking
Trip 5
Murray Central
Stadium Station
10.2 miles
TRAX
Trip 6
AF Station
Murray Central
24.4 miles
Frontrunner
Trip 7
Home
AF Station
10.1 miles
Car
*All destinations ended at home except for Tuesday (Figure 1)

Map of my Home to Work Route by Car (Figure 2)

Map of my Home to School Route by Car, Frontrunner, and TRAX (Figure 3)

 2.       Reflect on why you chose the modes of travel that you did.  What factors weighed into your decision (either consciously or not).
I have broken this section into three paragraphs, one for each of the figures listed above and a brief paragraph of clarification. To explain figure 1, I live in Orem and public transportation is less than desirable for convenience, reliability, and time. With public transportation, biking, and walking, which I will get into later, being less than desirable I use a car to get around. I would love to ride public transportation more frequently, but Orem is set up in a way that doesn’t allow me to use it with any amount of ease. Looking at Utah Valley’s public transportation and the popular nodes makes it seem like it wasn’t actually designed with the needs of its residents in mind, which as you will see in answer to question four is the exact opposite of how it should be created. The closest public transportation stop for me is over two miles from my work, and half a mile from my house. This leaves me two potential modes of transportation from my hose to the stop, and the stop to my work. I can either walk the 3 miles or bike the miles. I used to bike, but the streets from the stop to my work are very car-centric; as the roads were developed for cars only with the safety of any other mode on those roads being questionable. Furthermore, it takes two different buses and over an hour to make it 6 miles. I could bike the distance faster, but the issue of safety comes into play. This is why public transportation is not a viable option for most residents of Orem and Utah Valley.

Now for my commute to the University of Utah, I choose a mixture of public transportation and car. (The American Fork Frontrunner Station is 10.5 miles from my home, and the similar factors come into play for this leg of my trip making car the only viable option to the station.) From the American Fork Frontrunner station to the University of Utah, I choose public transportation as it allows me to do homework, relax, save money on gas, and avoid the traffic of I-15 during rush hour. The University of Utah also provides me with free transportation on Frontrunner and TRAX helping sway my decision towards public transportation. The trip usually takes 15 minutes longer than driving but allows me to do more on the trip, and drops me off closer to campus. If I were to drive, I would have to find/pay for parking or walk a mile plus from free parking areas, (which I do on Thursdays because of the time it takes me to get home using public transportation systems later at night.) If the Frontrunner ran more frequently throughout the day, as it does in the busier times of the day, I would use public transportation every time I made the trip to Salt Lake City with few exceptions.

Before I attended the University of Utah I never would have taken public transportation as the overall stigma of public transportation is highly negative in Utah Valley, and people are so habitual and car prone in this valley that it will take greater access, reliability, and exposure to positive opinions of public transportation for any significant shift to be made. Habits are hard to break, and a habit of riding public transportation would be harder to keep if reliability decreases. It is a cultural shift that will need to happen, as there is a highly negative stigma to riding the bus in Utah Valley, and that is the only public transportation available to Utah Valley citizens.

3.       Outline physical changes to the location and design of places in the metropolitan area that lead/help your travel decisions improve.  Draw upon lessons from lectures and readings.
I stared at a map of Orem, and its major pathways for what seemed like hours racking my brain on how I would make physical changes to the design of the place in order to help my travel decisions improve. The a few things continued to come to my mind were the following thoughts; residents of Utah Valley have become auto dependent due to the design of the Valley. Huge single family residential areas are clumped together with strips of business districts strewn along a few main roads. There is little to no mixed use in the majority of the areas. Even where it can be found the cost is such as to dissuade most income levels from living there and being far enough from all necessities to merit the need to drive the majority of the time. The main roads have been widened to allow for greater traffic to use them, which has increased the speed of traffic and as discussed in class allowed for a greater amount of individuals to use those sources over other modes of transportation. In the next several paragraphs I will dig into these thoughts and create physical changes to Orem and Utah Valley to improve my travel decisions.

As I thought about this place and continued to try and brainstorm ideas of how I would physically change it to improve travel decisions, the start of a solution occurred to me. Keep the grid the way it is, grids allow for better connectivity for all modes of transportation and enhance connectivity with potential nodal areas. To further this idea I would widen 1600 N and leave the rest of the paths alone. The proper infrastructure, outside of 1600 N, exists currently in Orem and will work as a foundation on which I will improve the design of place, and enhance social, environmental, and economic equality for the city.

With this infrastructure in place I would wipe clean the current placement of all residential, public, and commercial structures and rearrange them to meet the needs of all areas of the city, and the same could be done for the entire valley. (See Figure 4 below)



Major Pathways of Orem, Utah (Figure 4)

Major Nodes of Orem, Utah (Figure 5)

After this thought occurred to me I developed a map focusing on the main pathways throughout Orem city. As the game went in class we placed schools, office buildings, and other community needs around transportation lines.  Figure 5 shows the main nodal sections marked in red to emphasis the main intersections of transportation routes.

With these maps in place we can now redevelop the area for its resident’s needs and equality of social, economic, and environmental needs. The businesses would now be focused around the red marked nodal sections in figure 5. Orem has the population to support three major high schools, one in the top left section in between the four nodes, a second in the bottom left section in between the four nodes, and the last in the right middle section between the four nodes. Grocery stores would be built around the major nodes and the 3 clinics would follow the same pattern as the schools with the major hospital being in the middle left section.

With this redevelopment in place, day to day transportation would be reduced in time and distance as amenities would be more centralized to their residents. The centralization of these amenities would allow for different modes of transportation to now be viable. This includes public transportation. I would establish a mixture of bus/TRAX lines down State Street, Geneva, 800 E, University Parkway, Center Street, 800 N, and 1600 N. These lines would not only allow for alternate reliable means of transportation throughout Orem, but could increase connectivity to all areas of Utah Valley. The streets are also significantly wide enough to adapt them all to complete streets sharing the width of the road safely with all forms of transportation.

These changes would break the death grip that the car-centric Orem has on its citizen’s lives. This same idea would be established in all of Utah Valley allowing everyone to commute between cities by other means of transportation other than the private vehicle.

As to the why I suggest these changes, it goes beyond the transportation reasons I stated above. These changes allow for all residents to have close access to public amenities including parks, hospitals and clinics, food/groceries (cutting down on the food deserts which currently exist in Orem), proximity to jobs, education, and entertainment. This also clears up confusion on navigation through the city as the grid will be the standard that all roads run off. This also allows those living in the city to breathe cleaner air as less emission intensive modes of transportation would now be available.
This would also develop a greater amount of mixed use areas and higher density areas yet still allow clumping of businesses to a certain degree. A mix between the two is still vastly important for the social sphere of the neighborhoods, and commercial districts.

I mentioned mixed use, and to further clarify the reasons behind why I would incorporate mixed use into the redesign of the city is to develop: a sense of place, a walkable community (which leads to economic equality), and shorter day to day commute times (which cuts down on carbon emissions and costs of travel).
The positives of mixed use would reverse the habitual need to drive long distances, and bring
architecture and urban design to the human scale. How will it accomplish this? If a city is walkable people will then think about their modes of transportation. If walking is now an option then design would have to adjust to meet the needs of pedestrians as well as the private vehicle. Outdoor seating which is almost nonexistent in the current Orem, would be more available as the number of pedestrians would rise. (Pedestrians in this context means citizens who walk.) A rise in pedestrians would also lead to Orem residents being more relaxed as they have more time to enjoy the outdoors. It would also lead to a reduction in obesity levels as walking is a form of exercise. This would also allow for past times as less travel distance and travel time converts to more time for other things.

4.       From this exercise, reflect upon what a transportation system ideally accomplishes and thus what it might look like.
A transportation system ideally accomplishes the needs and desires of the residents that are affected by it. In other words the transportation system is developed in a way that it allows its users to get from their point As to their point Bs in an efficient and timely manner. This includes proximity to homes, business districts, and public amenities. What it would look like depends on its users and geography. If planned with its users in mind, it would look like is a heat map of residents ideal transportation routes laid over a geographical map. “Nothing about us without us is for us.” Transportation should be developed with the economic, environmental, and social good of its stakeholders in mind, and its stakeholders are all those affected by it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Skyscraper Farms and Edible Walls - Living Architecture

I have been looking for greater amounts of information verticle farms, and edible walls, and came across this image. The ideas of habitat take green roofs, and green walls a step further. See the video below:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Green Infrastructure and Our Connection to the Landscape

I originally named my blog Landscape Connections without really thinking much about the names meaning. This was long before I knew what urban planning/ecology, Landscape Architecture or any of the fields were really about. Since then my understanding of the world around me has increased and grown, and the name couldn't have been more perfect. The field of Urban Ecology is growing to better understand our connections with each other and our environment.

As we recognize those connections, we learn to better integrate the needs of the environmental, social, economic spheres. Below is a video on Green Infrastructure, and how we can integrate it in all that we do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Edible Bus Stop: Community Gardens From Neglected Sites

I have been looking for ways to improve my community and in doing so have searched dozens of blogs and videos to find simple ideas to help transform the way we think about Urban Space. Below is a video that could help give pin pricks of Urban Acupuncture throughout Utah and Salt Lake Valleys:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Downtown Vineyard and the New Eco Speedway

Downtown Vineyard and the New Eco Speedway We were asked to select two environments that are part of our daily life, and create scenarios that repair and transform the problems with their mobility, buildings, and consumer life. In doing so we are to provide elegant alternatives to the current situations that therein lie. The two environments that I have selected are my girlfriend’s house, which is located in Vineyard, Utah, and my place of work in American Fork, Utah.

I have decided to break this paper up into four parts: background or overview of the chosen environments, and their mobility, buildings, and consumer life. After I have given background on these locations I will provide my elegant alternatives for both environments in each of the mentioned categories. Each category will be thoroughly explained and all three areas for each environment will blend together to enhance their social, environmental, and economic well-being.

 I have lived in Orem for several years now and am excited about the changes taking place there. (They are currently looking to redevelop the University Mall and the State Street corridor making it a more complete street with protected bike lanes and mixed use development, thus making it more walkable. It’s exciting!) Connected to Orem is the little, but growing, town of Vineyard. I have had friends and acquaintances that have lived in Vineyard and so have made infrequent trips there for the last five years. Recently, as mentioned above, I started dating a young lady from Vineyard and the trips have become daily, giving me the opportunity to really notice detail and the town’s evolution.

Vineyard has always pretty much looked the same, until recently. Orem hit its boarders for growth and developers have started looking elsewhere. Vineyard being right next door, with ample “undeveloped” or unbuilt space, was the logical place to develop next. The sad thing about that is several of the same mistakes Orem made are happening all over again. Vineyard has made improvements on the lack of planning in Orem, but greater improvements can and should be made. That is why I have chosen Vineyard as my first environment in which I can create an elegant biophilic town replete with complete streets, protected bikeways, street lamps, and mixed use developments.

 As a planner we are to seek to better understand the individuals or stakeholders for which the ideas and plan will be carefully crafted. In order to do this I have spent time with some of the residents of Vineyard, gathering background and history of the people and town. I would like to proceed by giving an overview of the town, including the layout, history, occupational backgrounds, and built and unbuilt environments. This overview will also delve into the background of its people, because as stated so many times in class, nothing about us without us is for us. In the case of Vineyard this concept includes the wildlife.

In our Green Communities class we had a few opportunities for group projects. The first assignment we worked on, we were able to take the neighborhood of Poplar Grove and envision a better future for it in order to help the community grow environmentally, socially, and economically. We discussed policy changes, distance from major trafficked roads, community programs, and the rezoning of spaces for commercial, mixed use, and high density developments. Although Vineyard isn’t within 300 yards of I-15, it does boarder and run along Geneva Road.

Geneva Road, before Orem reached its boundaries, was infrequently trafficked having fewer than a thousand vehicles per day. Since the construction of the new developments, which several were constructed along Geneva, traffic has more than doubled and will continue to increase as the area is earmarked for even more developments. That is why this is one of the area’s many issues.

In the 2010 census Vineyard, Utah had a population of 139 all of which lived on the same street. That population was a mix of about 3 extended families and was made up predominantly of farmers. In 2012 the population increased to 232, and more than doubled in 2013 with several neighborhoods and streets, thus losing the original integrity of a rural family town. It was a wildlife area with dots of the built environment. Now it is a built environment with dots of wildlife.

At the end of 2015 the estimated population of Vineyard is in the thousands, with a vast diversity of occupations and housing types. This type of growth anticipated has led to larger roads, cleared wildlife areas and marshes, and large box homes with little yards.

Although there is a higher density, and is in part an improvement from Orem’s extreme sprawl and little to no mixed use developments, Vineyard is not taking into consideration the massive habitat loss that is taking place there. Currently there are frequent deer crossings on what will be Vineyard’s main street, and the deer and other wildlife’s habitats are being rapidly destroyed. There is a wreath on the door of my girlfriend’s house, and because trees and other sanctuaries have been cleared a bird has made its nest there.

Vineyard city is is 6.6 square miles, with 4.4 of those square miles being land, and 2.2 being the Utah Lake. The reason this is important is the unbuilt environment of Vineyard is, as mentioned briefly above, home to migratory birds, deer, and other animals. The other sections of previously developed land were predominantly parks and farming. As the unbuilt environment decreases the animal populations are being pushed elsewhere or going extinct, because there is no away when you take someone’s home. I can only imagine the solophilia the animals and original town residents must be feeling as they watch the drastic changes to their environments and communities.

My vision for the future of Vineyard includes cultural relativism, or the principle that an individual human’s beliefs and activities should be understood, and in this case understood before they are completely destroyed. It also includes solutions to the loss community, farming area, and animal populations. My vision includes vertical gardens, animal crossings, and family owned commercial establishments. The development will focus on 3600 North, which runs along Vineyard’s town hall, and span outward to help protect the wildlife areas still left, and preserve the friendly community feeling.

The second environment I have chosen is the strip of developments between the Orem and American Fork Frontrunner Stations, which includes the North Pointe Business Park where my work is located. I have worked at Marketecture since November, 2012, and have made that commute by car almost daily. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to make a change, and it was this change that helped persuade me to choose this section as my second environment. I now make the commute by bike and Frontrunner, and although the commute is longer and must be planned around the Frontrunner’s schedule it has given me daily exercise and time to read. My commute in the car took 9-12 minutes depending on the traffic on I-15, and now takes 40 minutes almost consistently.

Background on this area was a lot more difficult as it spans four towns (Orem, Vineyard, Lindon, and American Fork) and goes through residential, rural, wildlife, and commercial areas. Due to this fact I chose to focus on the section between the American Fork Frontrunner station and the North Pointe Business Park for targeted background on this area.

Along this 3.3 mile stretch of land there are roads riddled with potholes, no street lights or marked bike paths, and almost no sidewalks. Drivers honk frequently at other modes of transportation trying to share the road, and drive incredibly fast. Because this section isn’t a main vain of vehicle traffic the wall of I-15 and the backs of warehouses, and other buildings are the predominate view along this path. In between the area buildings occupy, are a few patches of wildlife. Overall the path is pretty bleak and dangerous, definitely not encouraging or the ideal place for a bike ride or commute.

The only other route I could take would be a 1.1 mile bus ride further into American Fork then a 2.3 mile bike ride down a main road and over the freeway. Taking this route would make me leave 30 minutes earlier because the schedules of public transport don’t mesh well in this area. It would also put my commute time at 55 minutes to go 7.9 miles. I could just as easily bike the entire way and get there faster.

With the background of the two environments in place I would now like to discuss my vision or ideas for the mobility, buildings, and consumer life of both places. For Vineyard I will focus my vision and ideas, as previously stated, on 3600 North. My second environment, the American Fork section, I will be focusing my vision on an 18 mile stretch between the Lehi and Provo Frontrunner stations, as this helps to create a better healthier future for all of Utah Valley and resolves an enormous issue with the area.

Vineyard’s 3600 North Street is currently four lanes with an island in the middle, and a large berm separates the street from a serpentine pedestrian/bike path on the north side of the street. Two roundabouts break up the monotony of the fairly straight road and the capable speeds of the road, but do little more. This street is also a location of frequent deer crossings and is loaded with runners and bikers who end up taking up part of the road because there isn’t enough room on the serpentine path. With the diversity of those stakeholders for the mobility of this area, greater things need to be done then just creating a complete street.

As I thought about how to redevelop the street with bikers, runners and walkers, animals, and cars in mind the potential solutions became extremely interesting. Each solution piece builds to an extremely elegant mobility system intertwined yet separate.

The first piece was based on wildlife crossings. There were several potential solutions, but the idea that would be most affordable and safest for all modes of transportation was an under road green space animal crossing. These green space crossings would allow animals a safe place to cross from one wildlife preserve or park to another without fear of crossing, and decrease damage to bikes and cars. This solution would reduce the current frequency of wrecks occurring on the road and would be placed in the natural areas where deer and other wildlife currently cross. They would also be planted with native plants persuading the animals to continue to cross at these areas.

To build on this idea bikers, walkers, and runners needed safe places as well. The street needed to be reimagined to make it safer for everyone. In effort to do so the island would be planted with shrubs and gardens, which would offer detail and a feeling of place. This would help vehicle traffic reduce speeds. The width of the lanes would decrease as well making drivers pay more attention to driving thus helping reduce speeds further. A protected bike lane planted with shrubs and trees, with pedestrian sidewalks on both sides of the street would allow a semi-transparent separation from vehicle traffic and other forms of transportation. Raised textured crosswalks would be added with solar lamppost to light up the street. This would help increase visibility and awareness of all modes of transport at all times of the day, and would allow all modes of transport to safely and comfortably travel through the space.

The buildings of this area would be developed to both increase sustainability and walkability of the community. Stores and shops would be brought up closer to the street creating a downtown area and encouraging citizens to acquaint themselves one with another. These buildings would be mixed use with commercial establishments on the bottom floors and residential housing on the upper floors. This would create jobs and local economy and offer security and housing for more residents and efficiency of space. In addition to these main street buildings two vertical farms would be created along the main street similar to the farms in Singapore that we were shown midway through the semester. These farms will be constructed in several other areas of Vineyard, but the two on the main street would serve both as a reminder of the town’s roots (literally and figuratively) and a source of food for local restaurants and grocery stores. The farms and rooftop gardens would also be developed to compensate for the area previously occupied by farmland allowing equal amounts of crops to grow.

These buildings along the main street would rejuvenate the small town feeling where you know your neighbors, and would allow consumers to spend money where the tax goes back into their own community helping to improve it. It would also make it possible for consumers of Vineyard to walk to stores and have shorter distances from their home to the grocery store, or other commercial places. The remaining pitches where gardens aren’t planted would by covered with solar panels and photovoltaics to allow the area to be almost completely self-sustaining. It would become a model for other local and national cities and one of the best and nicest places to live in Utah, being a sanctuary for all its residents, wildlife and human alike.

For my second environment, the 18 mile stretch between the Lehi and Provo Frontrunner stations, I got the idea from a video we watched midway through the semester. I saw a bike highway in the video and researched its integration with other modes of transportation. As I researched bike highways more I came across the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In thinking about the needs of Utah Valley I thought it best to create an adaptation of the Midtown Greenway.

The name I decided would be best, with help of my roommate, was the Utah Valley Eco Speedway. I chose this name because normally car transportation is thought of as the fastest mode of transportation, and I wanted to break down that idea while promoting bike transportation as a viable ecofriendly and fast alternative mode of transportation. This again was developed with Utah Valley citizens in mind. In speaking with some of the valley’s citizens whether they mean to or not the majority are looking to get from point a to point b in a fast manner because of their busy schedules.

The Utah Valley Eco Speedway would allow them to use public transportation and current city bike lanes as a supplement to bike commutes. The Eco Speedway would go through the connected towns at the most level areas and connect parks and main business districts to residential districts. At strategic points on the Eco Speedway, express bus stops will be added to allow straight shots to Frontrunner stops, downtowns and other main attractions. At sections where elevation cannot be helped, specifically the Provo to Orem section, bike escalators will be installed.

Along the bike speedway new commercial and recreational areas would be developed catered toward bike oriented traffic. The architectural design of these buildings would allow for greater detail to be infused back into our culture opening up new demands for skilled trades. These buildings would be bike shops, bike parking, bike share programs, as well as mixed use housing, farmers markets, delis, and other more intimate businesses allowing a community and culture to form.

A secondary goal of this bike speedway would seek to draw larger crowds and bike traffic helping to expand the speedway’s reach and connectivity loosening the grip of our dependency on cars. This would in turn help small business be able to thrive again, decreasing our dependency on big box stores and imported high impact goods.

Another goal of the speedway would be to help drive social justice, greater health and quality of life, and job opportunity, while changing mentalities in Utah and the rest of the United States of what equality really is. The social justice would in part come through job creation and access, and the mentality of consumerism in the US will decrease and get back to the personal scale and the idea of quality over quantity as seen in most chain stores.

All people, professions, and cultures would again be pushed together and push collaboration and connectivity, “biking” (instead of driving) openness, and fresh new ideas. These ideas are what (drive) understanding and equality and bring vibrancy to the ecology of place.

Obviously these types of changes will take time and most cities in Utah don’t have the same scenario as Vineyard or the new Eco Speedway would. Transition strategies are about improving communities through redevelopment or in more developed areas pin pricks of urban acupuncture until they reach a point where the community drives development. These are just some of the environments that I believe an ecocity or biophilic community can be established. They will be able to serve as models in helping reshape Utah to be healthier and self-sustaining; after all, our work is to transition these places back to health.


Citations:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ways You Can Help the Environment Today!

Energy Efficient Home
On the TRAX train last Thursday I had a conversation with a classmate on the things we have learned in our Green Communities class. We were both in awe of the information and harmful things we had been doing to our environment unknowingly. Right before I got of the train the conversation moved to housing and the question was raised as to why, with the evidences we have, doesn't the Local, State and Federal Governments implement new building regulations in favor of greener more environmentally friendly designs and resource efficiencies?

The know how and technology is there we just haven't started to mass produce homes with the same green guidelines. In our day there are so many subsidies on everything we never know what the real costs are. Using green technologies in home building is not only naturally cheaper, but they are drastically cheaper monthly for heating and electricity as well. It would have you thousands of dollars a year to have a home built with green technologies, and it would be a lot nicer too.

A video I watched the other day that opened my eyes a bit on this topic was the following video:

Often times when studying the topics I do I feel helpless as to what I can do to make a difference. Well here are a few ways:
Energy Efficient Home
Why or how does this help?
It's simple really, the more you ask about it the more realtors look for those types of properties. Which splashes over to builders building new homes using these technologies. 
  • Write your local, state, and federal government representatives pushing for green technologies to be mandatory building practices.
Write the Government
Why or how does this help?
If green technologies became the law all homes would be built better and in the long run cost thousands of dollars less. Carbon emissions would decrease thus improving air quality and these same regulations would be used to build commercial and other buildings. This would become a standard building policy and would become a major topic for governments to focus on.

There are several other ways to help, these were just catalysts to help you get started. Have other ideas share them in the comments or need other ideas contact me today!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Urban Planning Show and Tell

In my Green Communities class each day a few people have the opportunity to share videos and links of interesting or cool things they have found in the Urban Planning community. A lot of them have been exciting and mind blowing for the potential of what can be done. I have decided to share a few of those videos below:






Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Evaluating and Improving Your Urban Spaces

San Antonio Riverwalk
I wanted to write this post in connection with the post done on Thursday of last week: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. In that post I shared a video and synopsis of the principles of small urban spaces. In this post I would like to go over the ways in which we can evaluate our urban spaces and use the principles taught in the video to improve those spaces.

Evaluating Urban Spaces:
Although an evaluation of an urban space can be fairly subjective, we will use the guidelines from The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces as a way to measure the effectiveness of any space.

The main principles taught in that video are as follows:
  • Sitting Space - If there is no place to sit there is no reason to stay. Planters, ledges, movable chairs, benches, etc can all serve as sitting space.
  • Social Space's relationship to the street - I would define this as access. Is the park easily accessible and in a naturally popular area?
  • Light or sun - Few people enjoy the cold, and in a social space fewer enjoy darkness.
  • Water features - These provide white noise and focal points or relaxation for visitors to the social space.
  • Trees and plants - These offer shade protection and a feeling of comfort.
  • Food - Food often brings people together.
  • Entertainment - This can be street performers, musicians, sculptures, art, festivals, etc. Are there things that bring people into the space and create memories?
When evaluating any urban space it needs to be done with at least these things in mind. Simply grade your public space on those items above and give it an overall score.

Movable chairs
Improving Urban Spaces:
Once you have given it a score in each of the areas focus on those areas with the worst scores. Then brainstorm ways to transition this space into a better urban space. In doing this think of long and short term strategies.

For example if the sittable space is lacking look to put in movable chairs and tables, and eventually add planters or ledges to permanently provide seating.

These things will allow you to better understand the space and why it is or is not working well for your community. For more ideas of visioning and improving your area please contact me or comment on the post.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces has become sort of a staple in the Urban Planning field. It was one of the first experiments of its kind done to define basic principles of good urban spaces. It's 58 minutes long and a bit hard to watch in places, but I have posted the video below. If you don't care to spend the hour watching it I have given a synopsis below the video which goes into locations and principles of the video. If you have any thing to add to my notes on this video please leave them in the comments.



The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces was done by the Municipal Art Society of New York, and the narrator on the project was William H Whyte. He worked closely with the Street Life Project in doing research on these small urban spaces.

Seagram Plaza
Some of the urban spaces mentioned and shown in this video are:
Disneyland
Under use is the great problem with most parks and urban spaces because they don't follow the principles below.

Principles:

  • People tend to sit where there are places to sit (Sitting space) - One linear foot per 30 square feet. They don't have to be benches, they can be ledges or planters and need to be two backsides deep to allow for better seating. Movable chairs are always a bonus.
  • Street (Relationship to the street) - the location of the park and movement on the street past the park are important. The entrance to the park needs to be inviting and exciting to bring people in as well. Plazas need to be connected to the street or their visitors drastically decrease, so no sunken down or elevated plazas and none on higher levels in buildings. Avoid putting fences around the plazas and parks.
  • Sun (Lighting is what is most important) - The sun is most important in "nippy" weather. What people 
  • Water (Water features) - The sound of the water helps mask traffic noises and conversations, it serves as white noise. Allow people to play in the water, make it interactive or close to waterfronts.
  • Trees - Trees and plants offering micro climates, shade, protection, etc
  • Food - "If you want to seed a place with activity, put in food." Pushcarts, cafes, machines, etc. Also with the food station provide receptacles. These stands offer gossip and social spaces as well as meeting spots, and friendly greetings to the parks.
  • Triangulation (External stimulus of some kind) - This means street performers, musicians, sculptures, art, or other focal point of parks. 

San Antonio Riverwalk
Other Points:

  • Sociability and people meaning people bring more people because of people watching, safety, and entertainment.
  • Pigeon Ladies*
  • Comfort
  • Better access for all people
  • Retail properties nearby
  • Scale of park to match city size
Other Helpful Links:
http://www.pps.org/reference/wwhyte/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jessieg383/Social_Life_of_Small_Urban_Spaces
http://rebelmetropolis.org/revisiting-the-social-life-of-small-urban-spaces/

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Design Advisor: a Tool for Transitioning Cities

In class on Thursday we looked at several affordable housing projects being created throughout the country, and were asked to review a few of the affordable housing projects found on: designadvisor.org. The affordable housing projects I chose to review are as follows:
I chose these for a few reasons, including their range of locations, size, and contrast of before and after. (Picture contrasts below)
Cabrini Apartments:
Before:

Cabrini Apartments Before

After:
Cabrini Apartments

Regent Terrace Apartments:
Before:
Regent Terrace Apartments Before

After:
Regent Terrace Appartments

Wentworth Commons:

Before:
wentworth commons before

After:
wentworth commons

As you can see the buildings above were beautifully re-imagined and preserved. We were asked to answer a myriad of questions regarding these affordable housing projects:
  • Do these projects meet you expectations of affordable housing?
  • Did anything about these projects surprise you?
  • If you were looking for housing, would any of these projects appeal to you?
  • How might you change elements of these projects?
raise the bar
Were it not for a recent run in with several "high class" affordable housing units that I was denied residency with, I would have said these affordable housing units exceeded my expectations, but I know the bar has been raised drastically. Now it is time for the bar to be raised on all housing.

I feel at times what is known as the middle class income group is being left in the dust of those who are known as the upper and lower classes. (Please bare with me on the use of these terms as they are the easiest way to describe income classifications.) We spend loads of time providing for the lower class, and the upper class provides for themselves, and figure the middle class can do the same. If we really sought for equality, these same designs would be available to middle class residents. This response should give you an idea of how I would answer all these questions, but if not I will answer them below.

equal opportunity housing
Yes they meet my expectations. Yes it is surprising that often times affordable housing is drastically better than anything I can afford. I have looked at affordable housing projects as potential places or residency and been denied. And I would change only the fact that they are a lot of times strictly affordable housing units instead of mixed use and income.

Now the question I really wish to answer with this post is how these projects can be models or tools for transitioning cities. The green technology shown in these projects should be implemented in ever project no matter the group for who it is built. Subsidies can still be in place with certain projects, but I believe they should always be "mixed use" and mixed income, mixed class, mixed background, etc.

This may not be the case, but in my experience in searching for a nice place to live I have been denied affordable housing, despite it being the only affordable housing for the amount I can afford. These projects are models for how all buildings should be built, allowing communities to work together and grow together and help one another out with their distinct backgrounds, education levels, and skill sets. This is how I see these projects implemented as tools for transitioning cities.

Green Technologies
The green technologies in them are in a lot of cases astounding. Example:
Cabrini Apartments:
  • "Convenient on-street and in-building bicycle parking"
  • "High efficiency drip irrigation...for all landscaping."
  • "Low flow bathroom faucets and showers..."
  • "Recycled materials include [everything from the landscape materials to carpets, siding, and framework]"
  • "Formaldehyde free building insulation"
And the list goes on with all these projects. Why don't we use these concepts and practices in everything we build? Why aren't all buildings created equal? And why aren't all income classes treated equally?

Transitioning cities
A teacher in the inner city shouldn't be paid 1/2 of what a suburb teacher is paid, and one school district shouldn't get all the tax revenue of local businesses, where as another school get the horribly short end of the stick. All of these things should be equal shares, equal attention, equal programs, equal funding, equal quality. That is how I see this being displayed as a tool for transitioning cities.
 

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About

I just wanted to take a moment to send a personal message out to all those in the fields of Landscape Architecture, Gardening, Horticulture, and Urban Planning/Urban Ecology. I created Landscape Connections for the purpose to share my love and passion for Landscape Architecture and Design, and Urban Ecology. I was a Landscape Architecture Major at Utah State University and currently study Urban Ecology at the University of Utah. I am working to compile as much information in the four previously mentioned fields as possible. If you have any further information, or would like to either add information or see information posted to landscape connections please let me know.