Cumulus recently teamed up with Futago to submit a proposal for Sydney’s Laneway Art and City Spaces. An excerpt from the submission:
Wandering George street, just heading from A to B, a small piece of lush green ground catches the eye. As though some movement of the ground underneath had cleaved two steep-sided buildings apart, Abercrombie Lane is the lush fissure that remains. In the tearing apart, it is almost as though a piece of original ground is revealed - a tiny sliver of riverbank perhaps - heading to a stream that is no more.
This public artwork will reclad the ground of a narrow, sloping lane off George Street with artificial turf. The turf will undulate as it touches the buildings on either side, as if it might represent the movement of water, draining down the river bank. Originally a source of fresh water for Sydney, the Tank Stream is an invisible key to the city’s settlement. Abercrombie Lane leads down to Tank Stream Way, which is part of the line of the watercourse that Sydney was built around. While the stream itself is hidden in tunnels under the pavements and buildings, the slope of Abercrombie Lane is a place where it is still possible to read the original topography of the riverbank.
Per capita vehicle miles of travel (VMT) dropped again in 2013, making it the ninth consecutive year of decline (see figure above). Total VMT in the United States increased by 0.6 percent from 2012, hovering just below 3 trillion, while per capita VMT dropped to 9,402.
This recent downward shift in driving, unlike others in the past, does not appear to reflect economic trends or gas prices. The decline is more likely due to changing demographics, saturated highways, and a rising preference for compact, mixed-use neighborhoods, which reduce the need for driving.
Some key factors that pushed VMT upward for decades – including a growing workforce and rising automobile ownership – have also slowed considerably. Some state Departments of Transportation have acknowledged these downward trends and begin to revise transportation plans.
Despite opposition from the MTA, the Efficient Passenger Project (EPP) quietly began posting advisory notices in the NYC subway system this week. As reported inNew York Magazine, the project wants to help passengers board the trains in the most convenient way for their transfer needs. The MTA claims that the signs may cause crowding in certain platform areas and uneven loading in cars.
Still, the first batch of unofficial signs went up Sunday night along the L train, which has a large ridership and various transfer options. The installation went smoothly with the 4/5/6 transfer spots first up and more scheduled. Adopting the unobtrusive visual language of official subway signage, the EPP stickers tell riders which car will get them closest to the stairs or exit needed to switch lines at the appropriate station.
Although this project seems innocent enough, the person behind the EPP campaign says that the MTA has refused to cooperate and even tries to hunt the perpetrators down. But the EPP won’t be easily deterred. More signs are coming, and next there will be advise on how better to navigate through the stations. The EPP coordinator suggest that we “just watch where you’re walking.”
Perhaps inspired by tactical urbanism’s focus on temporary installations in public spaces, the EPP seems more oppositional in proceeding with its signage campaign without official blessing. Do you think this guerrilla urbanist campaign is worthwhile? Will it proceed smoothly? Stay tuned.
As cities become increasingly desirable, gentrification becomes more common and widely debated. In a recent article in Place Makers, Scott Doyon reflects on his own personal history and experience:
"Almost twenty years ago, just married, my wife and I bought an old house in a friendly but economically depressed old neighborhood. It was, at the time, a predominantly black neighborhood though, like many historic neighborhoods in and around Atlanta that predate our tumultuous, race-driven urban disinvestment of the 60s and 70s, it had also been a predominantly white neighborhood at one point as well."
"Like most people, our understanding was shaped by the lens of our own circumstance. And that circumstance was that we were relatively broke. Yes, we both had white collar jobs but they were the lowest of entry level and we had a lot of work and dues-paying ahead of us before any sense of expendable income might ever become something real."
Doyon goes on to share personal stories, not to argue whether or not he, his wife, and friends are gentrifiers, but to demonstrate what constitutes gentrification — and whether or not it’s a positive or negative phenomenon. He argues that the best places will deal with such issues by encouraging residents to work together.
Working together on common problems may indeed help to overcome the social polarization associated with gentrification, although we should not rely solely on voluntaristic personal approaches. In my opinion, this community spirit should also extend to governmental policies to promote social diversity and affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods.
“There is nothing inevitable or intrinsically correct — not in geographic, cartographic or even philosophical terms — about the north being represented as up, because a map is a human construction, not a natural one. Some of the very earliest Egyptian maps show the south as up, presumably equating the Nile’s northward flow with the force of gravity. And there was a long stretch in the medieval era when most European maps were drawn with the east on the top. If there was any doubt about this move’s religious significance, they eliminated it with their maps’ pious illustrations, whether of Adam and Eve or Christ enthroned. In the same period, Arab map makers often drew maps with the south facing up, possibly because this was how the Chinese did it.”
By now you probably have heard about the heated debates regarding the private tech commuter buses in the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently the Beyond Chron alternative newspaper published a provocative article by Randy Shaw on “Anti-Tech’s New Nativism,” which gives a different spin on polemical issues of gentrification and displacement.
Shaw reports on a recent meeting, called by SF Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission District and other gentrifying neighborhoods, to air disputes between tech workers and their detractors. Reports on the event illuminated the polarized debate. While issues of gentrification are important to discuss as possible keys to policy recommendations on neighborhood stabilization, it is fair to invoke group stereotypes that condemn individuals based on preconceived notions.
On tech worker, for example, reportedly “was heckled by a woman in the crowd who accused him of not having lived in San Francisco long enough.” Another critic told the crowd “that the people who give San Francisco its character - think murals, street festivals and the city’s progressive roots - are being forced out due to the booming tech economy.”
Anti-tech activists actually have no idea whether individual tech workers support murals, street festivals, and community events. Stereotyping people because of a particular group membership, and charging newcomers with promoting values alien to the local culture, runs the risk of nativism and xenophobia. And most tech workers are not the most highly paid professionals in the Bay Area relative to doctors, lawyers, and others.
By personally maligning the new residents, rather than focusing the underlying processes of real-estate costs and possible policy solutions — see recent post on urban policy approaches to neighborhood stabilization — anti-tech activists run the risk of promoting a new nativism. U.S. cities have a long history of such biases, which seems similar to charging incoming tech workers with undermining the city’s “traditional values.” In the past, it was racists and homophobes who attacked newcomers to San Francisco. Are the tech workers being unfairly singled out today?
A glowing review of a dance troupe from Rio de Janeiro. Companhia Urbana de Dança, reinforces Brazil’s reputation for cross-cultural fusion and innovation.
The country has a long history of transculturation or “cultural cannibalism” (anthropophagy or antropofagia in Portuguese), by which the importation of cultural elements — religion, music, dance, and so on — results in creative and distinctively Brazilian mixtures.
Composed of young people, mostly men of African descent from Rio’s favelas, this Brazilian urban dance company is choreographed by Sonia Destri Lie, a white woman not from the favelas. She is trained in ballet and American and European contemporary dance, yet the works are based on a somewhat refined hip-hop.
According to Brian Seibertmarch of the New York Times, this urban dance company’s performance “… is so wonderful that it seems miraculous. Anyone who saw the troupe’s American debut at the Fall for Dance festival in 2010, or caught its visit to Montclair State University in New Jersey in 2011, already knows why.”
Seibertmarch also notes that “ID: Entidades,” a signature work on those programs, is one of two pieces being presented at the Joyce as part of the theater’s four-company festival of Brazilian dance. He suggests that the work rewards repeat viewings.
By the way, did I mention that I have tickets for this weekend to see the company at the Joyce in New York City? I am so psyched…
Many major metropolitan transportation agencies in the United States are in hot pursuit of a new transit alternative. Although light rail and streetcars are still hot, Bus Rapid Transit or BRT is another increasingly popular mode of mass transit. How does BRT work?
Take the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan Area for example. MSP has almost every form of transit, including, but not limited to; local, enhanced and express bus, light rail, commuter rail, and American Disability Association (ADA) approved transit:
Local buses are routes that run along a busy street, stop about every block, and cost the lowest ($1.75 non-rush hours to $2.25 rush hours).
Enhanced buses or limited stop buses typically follow along the same route as a local bus, but stop less frequently, usually at other major intersections where a bus connection can be made.
Express buses are the quickest, yet most expensive mode of bus travel. They run during peak rider periods, make few stops along the route due to driving on the highway a majority of the time, and a ticket costs about $3.00.
Light rail trains run along a fixed rail route and have a definite end and start point. They have stations spaced out about every ½ mile to one mile with ticket machines available at each station. The cost is the same as local and enhanced buses.
Commuter rail operates with the intention to move many people from far isolated suburbs quickly into the city using freight rail tracks. The cost is dependent on how far a passenger travels, but can reach up to $6.00.
ADA transit is known as Metro Mobility in the Twin Cities. It is a heavily subsidized mode of transit specifically designed for the disabled and elderly that provides curbside service.
Why BRT on local streets? Bus rapid transit has already been implemented along the relatively new Red Line that runs from Mall of America to Apple Valley. As its ridership grows almost every day, it’s slowly increasing success is showing a promising future for other rapid transit modes across the region. Although it is a primarily suburban route, the slowly rising success is due to the population density of Eagan and Apple Valley, which is very low and highly automobile dependent. The buses intention is to alleviate traffic along Cedar Avenue and Highway 77.
Local Bus Rapid Transit is a relatively new idea that Metro Transit wants to implement along Snelling Avenue. Currently, Metro Transit Route 84 runs along the Ford Parkway and Snelling Avenue between Rosedale and the 46th Street Station of the Blue Line. This proposed line, which will replace the 84, will be called the A Line.
Studies by Metro Transit have concluded that BRT will provide faster and more frequent service along corridors of transit in need, while at the same time, improving the customer service experience. This will happen by reducing customer boarding and traffic signal delays due to fewer stops along the route. Each of the stops will have technologies that will include pre-pay fare collection to allow faster boarding, well-designed stations with time-estimates for bus arrival, newly designed vehicles for added comfort, signal priority at stop lights, and service plans to that will assist in more frequent buses.
Systems similar to this have been implemented in cities such as Kansas City, Las Vegas, Boston, New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. These communities have experienced improved travel time and increased ridership at a fraction of the cost to implement light rail or a dedicated busway. Travel times can be up to 15-25% faster, ridership can increase 20-40+%, and the capital cost per mile is under $5 Million. These corridors make critical connections to the growing LRT and BRT system as well as linking almost 500,000 jobs. Other corridors in the study and planning phase include the East and West 7th Street Corridors in Saint Paul, and the Chicago and West Broadway Corridors in Minneapolis.
It is essential that major metropolitan transit agencies throughout the United States prepare for the future of transit. A renaissance of urban living is coming or has already arrived in many metropolitan areas, including the Twin Cities. If you look around Downtown, Uptown and the University of Minnesota areas of Minneapolis, construction crews are preparing building after building of rental and condominium units. Rental vacancy rates are as low as 2% in the city of Minneapolis and continue to stay low, despite the increased housing market. This influx of residential development, increased economic development in the urban core, and increase in population, which is generally younger and sees freedom in not owning a car, all act as a catalyst for the necessity of improvisation in transit accessibility, frequency, and speed across the entire metropolitan area.
SAMBA AS THERAPY: In Rio de Janeiro, mental health workers and psychiatric patients organize a Carnival block to sing, dance, and parade in the streets — and to promote social integration, equality, and raise awareness about mental health issues.
A recent article by Timothy Williams in the New York Times discusses initiatives, planned or underway in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh and other cities, aimed at helping those long-time residents threatened by the rapid rise in housing values and tax assessments associated with gentrification.
Such urban programs focus on reducing or freezing property taxes for such homeowners in an effort to promote neighborhood stability, preserve character, and provide a dividend of sorts to those who have stayed through years of high crime, population loss and declining property values, officials say.
Newcomers, whose vitality is critical to cities, are hardly being turned away. But officials say a balance is needed, given the attention and government funding being spent to draw young professionals — from tax breaks for luxury condominium buildings to new bike lanes, dog parks and athletic fields.
During a recent speech at the Pratt Institute, Spike Lee, the film director who grew up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, blasted developers and gentrifiers who were sweeping into the largely black neighborhood. This follow-up article by Vivian Yee in the New York Times discusses the real-estate dynamics and dilemmas for long-time residents of neighborhoods like Fort Greene.
The brownstones pictured above now get handsome prices, as real estate agents and developers offer huge payments for those who bought their houses for $60,000 or $70,000 when neighborhoods were crumbling and unwanted, except by black buyers. Now the newcomers are mostly white. As brownstone Brooklyn becomes more popular, the speculative real-estate pressures mount accordingly.
To stay in a long-time residence or sell and reap the profits? It is a dilemma crystallized by the lively exchange between Spike Lee, the film director who grew up next to Fort Greene Park and whose father still lives there, and an attendee at Mr. Lee’s speech at the Pratt Institute in honor of Black History Month.
The audience member had suggested that the area’s soaring desirability meant black homeowners who have invested in the neighborhood for decades, fighting “to keep the crime down on their blocks” and beautifying the brownstones, could finally reap a reward for their perseverance by cashing in on the great Brooklyn land rush.
“Three generations your house was worth nothing in the ghetto,” said the questioner, who did not give his name. “So for those people that did stick in, now we have an opportunity for wealth creation we’ve been locked out of.”
Mr. Lee, who recently listed his Upper East Side townhouse for $32 million, said he thought there were not many such homeowners. But for those who did exist, “if you worked all your life and you’re retired, you’re selling your houses, and I don’t blame you,” he said.
The Times article, however, suggests that there are many long-time residents for whom the big question is whether to stay or sell their Brooklyn brownstone home — a heart-wrenching personal dilemma, illustrating widespread debates in such neighborhoods in transition.
The highest-income census tracts in the United States, according to the American Community Survey, comprise less than 1% of U.S. families. Leading the list of the wealthiest census tracts (see table above) is southern Palm Beach, Florida, followed by NYC’s Upper East Side (see photographs of both above) and other elite districts. Calculated by Stephen Higley, based on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, this list shows the country’s major concentration of wealth to lie in New York metropolitan area, which represents over half of the 50 wealthiest census tracts, concentrated particularly on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Higgley, a professor emeritus whose research focuses on the geography of wealth, suggests that Palm Beach’s top position in the census-tract data reflects the conversion of what were previously second-home vacation places into primary residences. This trend was evident in Higley’s main list of wealthy communities, the Higley 1000, with the sudden appearance of such places as Southampton, NY and Kiawah Island, SC. Ten years ago, second-home tracts were nowhere to be found in the list.
Also notable in this new list is the fact that 28 of the wealthiest 50 tracts are located in the New York Metro area. Of these, 11 lie in New York City: eight on the Upper East Side, one on the Upper West Side, one in Tribeca, and one on the Chelsea waterfront. Trendy Soho and the West Village just missed the top 50.
Higley’s analysis also shows that Connecticut suburbs represent nine of the wealthiest fifty tracts: five in Greenwich, two in New Canaan, and two in Darien. Surprisingly, only one New Jersey tract made the top 50, the westernmost part of Ridgewood in Bergen County. Westchester County has four tracts in the top 50, including two in Scarsdale and one each in Bronxville and Harrison. Long Island has three of the wealthiest tracks in golf/estate suburbs: Centre Island, Sands Point, and Old Field.
In Texas, six census tracts made this list of wealthiest 50: two suburbs of Fort Worth (Westlake and Westover Hills) as well as two Dallas metro tracts in Highland Park and Preston Hollow (where George W. Bush has his home). Houston has two adjacent tracts in posh River Oaks.
Surprisingly, California has only five tracts among the wealthiest 50 and they are all located on the west side of Los Angeles. Surprisingly, Atherton and Hillsborough, long the wealthiest areas of the Bay Area, are not on the list. Given the extraordinary wealth of Silicon Valley south of San Francisco, the data-smoothing effects of the American Community Survey, which caps reported family incomes at two million dollars, may be responsible for the Bay Area’s relatively poor showing.
A previous post on the wealthiest U.S. neighborhoods relied on smaller enumeration units of census block groups rather than the larger census tracts shown here. In addition, Higley chose to consider the higher family (not household) income for these census-tract data. These changes resulted in somewhat different listings. In both cases, the census upper-income limit of two million dollars somewhat constrains the data. Still, all these data suggest a marked concentration of wealth and power in the contemporary USA. You can read about the methodological assumptions in the Higley 1000.
According to Stephen Higley, a professor emeritus of geography, a new ranking of the 100 richest neighborhoods in America finds that three of the top five are in Maryland, all of them close to Washington, D.C. Higley’s research specializes in the geography of wealth and affluence in the U.S.
The new neighborhood list, called the Higley Elite 100, ranks neighborhood “block groups”—rather than census tracts, ZIP codes, or cities—by mean household income, based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2006-2010. Higley notes that since the census top income measure unrealistically tops out at a mere $2 million, it probably does not give full credit to the really super-rich earners, given the proliferation of large fortunes in contemporary America.
That data-smoothing limitation, a politically sensitive feature of census statistics, could lower the rankings for elite neighborhoods in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. This feature may also somewhat underestimate the much discussed polarization of wealth and poverty in this country.
In addition to showing the mean household income, the table above indicates the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities living in the ten most affluent neighborhoods. While predominantly white, several of these wealthy places have relatively high percentages of Asian-Americans, particularly in metropolitan DC/Maryland and California. In Florida’s wealthy Coral Gables, nearly half of the population is Hispanic.
CNBC recently profiled the Higley Elite 100 with a news report and video by Robert Frank. For Higley’s main list of affluent places in the U.S., see the Higley 1000.These data provide windows on the geography of wealth, and by implication the distribution of socioeconomic and political power, in the contemporary United States.