The Vehicular Pedestrian

Making way for the Vehicular Pedestrian will be more than a critical mass issue due to significant changes in dense urban land use and a necessary but dimly recognized design problem that must be solved. As a result,  Personal Urban Mobility Assistants (PUMA) and power assist vehicles (HPV) will begin to reshape urban design decisions the hard way. Unfortunately, the city remains poorly prepared for this change.

For some time, the rule demanding the separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic has required extensive revision.  The reason is the emergence of the “vehicular pedestrian”  in small, lightweight vehicles. As they continue to arrive on the roads far more quickly than the current supply of re-designed or de-vernacularized roads can manage, trouble is inevitable. Moreover, HPVs and PUMAs are ecologically appropriate and efficient for urban use yet confront a dangerous interface with the American fascination with the truck chassis beneath a sports utility vehicle.

HPVs and PUMAs are well-known as bicycles, in-line tandems, and power-chairs. They now include power assist recumbent, side-by-side tricycles, and standing boards.  These and many others fly along the roads with impressive power and speed.  All are causing urban designers to examine a brand new set of “right-of-way” challenges. Regrettably, they are not successfully awakening the need for lawmakers to pave the way. Transit leadership has responded with paint for lanes, moved auto parking a bike lane away from the curb, and posted “share the road” signs. The campaign has included not-so-subtle reminders on bus ads that tell you that it is a felony to knock a person of a bicycle. If the speed is over 30mph, the rider’s death is more likely. Finally, NYC took a “Vision Zero” view of NYC’s speed and lowered the limit to 30mph and then to 25mph.

Only a tiny part of the regulatory way is established in the American Disabilities Act (ADA).  Practical, if not elegant, design solutions serve physically disabled travel on pedestrian routes and “low-speed roadways” where various wheeled “cart” vehicles are available.  Use does not require registration or licensed use. Still, much is unclear about proceeding from this modest standard of care framed by the ADA.  These design solutions have made it easier, but the problem remains well beyond improving access. New forms of mobility will completely reshape the way we live in cities with more ways to move to get things done as individuals, families, and businesses.

The mobile web is built on mobile devices with processors running on faster networks that access cloud services described in thousands of publications entitled the internet of things (IoT).  The two most common outside of the home, the smartphone and personal vehicles. 

The Mobile Web

The mobile web changes everything. Finding your way, the acquisition of connected things nearby translates into dramatic changes in business technology toward user-centered design in the context of every possible use.

For decades, development practices and residential investment behaviors have produced what the planners, urban designers, and architects often refer to as “non-place” landscapes.  They are deeply intertwined with the public’s demand for personalized transport – a car. 

These vehicles offer multiple destination flexibility, abundant storage, and varying levels of self-expression, from practical to exuberant.  With this as a given, it is logical to seek ways to encourage movement from a school campus to a train station, hospital or shopping district by other means such as walking or cycling. The destination should determine the choice of vehicle if the option was available.  To do that requires an improvement in public policy on mobility systems driven by the mobile web.

Vehicular Diversity

Vehicular diversity is controlled by the pathway offered. The vehicle is of little use without a public right of way. The power to alter it should be shared equitably, but it is not.

The planning and urban design approach involve partially or completely de-vehicularized roads or routes that add alternative vehicular capacity.  This dual approach is gaining added attention for two key reasons.  First, it serves public safety due to the increase in human-powered-assist vehicles (HPVs).  Second, mass transit can accommodate the addition HPVs. They are as benign as folding bicycles or power boards, but it stops there.  Therefore, the problem includes encouraging the routine use of HPVs as life-affirming, turf-sharing, circulation, and vehicular portage.

The demand for HPV route designs is significant. So much so that the lack of “parade” permits has been used to prevent “future now” or “critical mass” expressions by cycling interests eager to demonstrate for added safety.  The image below is drawn from a Community Design Center in Arkansas (see website: here). 

The Yellow Brick Road in Arkansas

The “mall culture’s” unintended social and environmental consequences reveal opportunities to expanding access to destinations that increase urban development and density. The demand for transportation options between “big box” retail exposes mass parking lots as “ex post facto” land uses.

Perhaps the most visible choice of personalized vehicle is the fully-powered Segway and competitors serving security at the “mall.” At this point, they are classified as neither a motor vehicle nor a consumer product. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a preliminary opinion that they should be considered a “consumer product.” Therefore, they remain unregulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This designation will change as more personal mobility devices become common due to necessity.

The initial result driving the change envisioned in Arkansas was market-driven regulation arising at the state level to protect citizens.

  • Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation allowing the use of Segways.
  • Five states (CO, CT, MA, ND, and WY) have no legislation permitting the use of Segways.
  • Two states (AR and KY) have no statewide prohibitions against Segways, but local regulations may exist.

Choices that do not require new regulations or added government oversight are broadening rapidly in the HPV/PUMA business in general, thanks to the aggressive marketing efforts of Segway. The range of vehicles entering the market is, in fact, staggering.  A review of what Segway and others are launching is aggressive, only hampered by the CPSC list of recalls. The NHTSA’s focus on adding automobile connectivity can reduce collisions, but the NHTSA has yet to focus on alternative vehicles. The following runs through a brief search of what’s “out there.”  The short answer is not much.  Not yet.

The B-cycle has gone electric in its locations, the Citibank’s bike has captured NYC and remains human powered.

The B-cycle offers a “what if” link that is based on zip codes.  At one time, a researcher could experience a marketing effort for New York City. Put zip-11368 on the website, and you are asked if you want Flushing or Corona, Queens.  Choose Flushing, and the program tells the reader is in an area with just over 1 million people that could use about 380 bike stations and nearly 5,000 bikes.  It suggests that if just 10% of residents participated for just 30 miles per year, the following dramatic results would occur. 

The vehicle miles traveled would be some 3.5 million.  This translates to reducing carbon emissions by about 1,700 tons; it would save over 170,000 gallons of gas and produce $2 million in savings for other expenditures.  In addition, the use of an HPV would help reduce traffic by over 100,000 cars, and the users would burn around 162 million calories or the equivalent of 47,000 pounds lost or 0.403 pounds per cyclist.

This particular “bike-share” idea is a partnership of three industries. Humana. Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky.   A health services corporation and a bicycle manufacturer combined resources on the bet that people are looking for new ways to move around their city.  Although people are being motivated by the vague influence of climate change data. However, the addition of health providers, transit planners, and urban designers are eager to make the roads human again.

Market-Driven Change Failed

The big boys on the block all also have their ad-eye on the advancement of HPVs.  These companies are directly tied to selling more stuff in more ways than ever with ads called faces.  HPV stations and bus shelters meant getting faces on more places as close to eye level as possible. When web-connected, each face could project the newest stuff, like rain gear that enhances the joy of a wet bike ride.

Cemusa, Clear Channel and Decaux

JC Decaux reported over $5,000,000 in losses related to its Paris bike-share fleet over eighteen months.  Some have suggested this is a negotiating ploy for aid from local governments eager to earn green points.  Another leading company the expressed an early interest in the bike-share field is Clear Chanel.  In the mid-1970s, this industry claimed a significant share of New York City’s public space.  At the time the New York was in a recession and severe financial crisis.  They offered a share of ad revenue from “faces” on bus shelters that Clear Channel would provide and maintain.  Unfortunately, their shelter design and management solution proved to be a failure on many levels.  Cemusa has recently taken the NYC market share with a bus shelter and/or newsstand upgrade and new technology. They are also interested in the placement of bike-share kiosks or stations as sites for ad space.

Opinions, from the average person to the head of the Federal Reserve, the more stuff we buy, the better off we will all be, except for the contradiction that over the long term, this is not possible.   Confronting inherent contradictions in wealthy society is difficult. Exponential growth cannot go on forever in a finite world that demands adherence to sustainability principles. Those who promote the idea of exponential growth are either quite mad or economists, as Kenneth Boulding once noted.  But, it was Marshal McLuhan that reminded us that only the little secrets are protected. The massive ones are kept secret by our own incredulity. The one we live with now is that our economic system must fit itself into the ecological system.

Yes, buying more and more stuff may not be good, yet reversing life to spiritual self-fulfillment, is not as easy as riding a bike. Does it come down to something as simple as an HPV and the new kinds of urban environments they would shape?  It is not about more stuff but choosing more rightly in a newly designed “waste nothing” world.  Therein lies the classic contradiction when company sponsors use bikes to encourage consumption. An HPV minimizes consumption to maximize well-being.  Leadership to advance the law on landscape preservation to public health and safety. The compromise is obvious, it is possible to list where ads are allowed on what retailers call “faces,” and expand the use of slow places 

Public Interest Design Explorations

In 2008, a modest step in the direction of encouraging bicycle use was taken by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and Transportation Alternatives.  The promotion of the CityRacks Design Competition admitted a need above the existing 5,000 bike racks in the city.  However, tossing more bikes onto the streets is not placemaking.  While welcomed, the entire process missed a key point addressed by the Forum for Urban Design.  The Forum is a New York-based membership organization to advance awareness of best practices and confronting urban design challenges. The New York Bike-Share Project was one of its initiatives.  Here, place-making was emphasized as a “bike station” for personal bike storage and bike rentals in the Red Hook Competition.  In turn, this opens the discussion productively in the “best location” area and, after that, to the public responsibility to promote placement incentives.  Perhaps, the lesson to date would find an “urban design” and an industrial design process beginning the more supporting community design process is not developing well.   

Test Cases

Today, cities have a few slightly heavy, modestly well-branded bikes free for 30 minutes round trip but rentable for any “station-to-station” travel.  Beyond the initial hype, they are a feel-good utility in the service of touring hotspots. Still, they are unlikely to shift the paradigm to general public use of HPVs as viable or zero-carbon transport for modern urban living.  So if leadership in this area delivers ad companies, what are the other choices?

Advancing good business practices by outfits such as  Sustainable Business Consulting offer an understanding of the metric tons of carbon dioxide produced by staff activities.  The reduction of harm is beneficial. It sets goals and measurable objectives for CO2 reduction reducing water use, or sending zero waste into landfills.  The steady flow of metrics into the process is an appropriate push on public policy.

The New Equity is Energy Used Well

The interplay between transport systems and urban design is evident. Whenever a system can deliver 9,000 people to a place per hour, the responsibilities go well beyond appropriate circulation and way-finding.  It is exhibited everywhere, from suburban sprawl to new cities that have adopted transit-oriented development. 

Adding alternative transportation concepts to the system has begun.

  • The power to provide “the way” is in the public domain.
  • Making way for newly competitive low-cost public transit from HPV to a bullet train only requires two components: lanes and destinations.
  • In older urban centers such as New York City, transit-stationed neighborhoods are equivalent to entire towns in other parts of the nation.
  • Efforts to produce transit-oriented villages remain in the planning stages.  In New York City, multiple public transit hubs are recognized for robust economic returns.

The lesson learned by newer places such as Portland or Seattle is to add value by defining transit stations as whole places.   The American Public Transportation Association’s (TPTA) work on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) develops in various local and international case studies. The central issue is how to frame development benefits sufficiently to assuage the perceived loss of market share by reducing auto parking to minimal yet reasonably accessible levels.

Measuring the public benefits more broadly (i.e., carbon cap and trade systems) will be helpful, and legislation has stumbled for over a decade.   Nevertheless, improvements in the health of the walking/cycling community are genuine savings.  Ultimately, the household pocketbook issue remains central to effective change.

Infrastructure Change is Too Slow

Put Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) into any search engine, and the data for nearly every website concerns trucks and cars. Not cool.

September-October 2008 issue of World-Watch explored alternative transportation ideas. Gary Gardner wrote When Cities Take Bicycles Seriously (World Watch 11, no. 5 (1998): 16-22) cited increases in bike commuting and its growing prestige. He suggested that if five percent of the 1.5 trillion miles consumed each year in cars and taxis were taken by bicycles, it would save its consumers $100 billion. Moreover, if ordinary people could safely choose five percent of their trips using an HPV, it would easily and consistently moved upward in urban areas alone. Just that five percent is the break-even point on the investment, more on the subject (here).

When redefined as urban “hubs,” the train or subway station becomes a prime asset.  Obviously, they cannot all be “grand central’ in character yet sufficiently equal in charm to encourage social capital and enhance the public’s sense of well-being.  NYC’s lesson from these newer urban cities is less about real estate value than effective leadership in five-point placemaking. 

  1. Efficiency: The average cyclist travels at about 12 mph.  This is faster than the average driver during peak hours anywhere in New York City. The peak is around 2:30PM and bracketed by the morning and evening rush.
  2. Equity: The low infrastructure cost of cycling is obvious.  An HPV uses one-twelfth of the mid-sized car space. Transit systems with infrastructure for all forms of HPVs generate more efficient point-to-point destination volumes.
  3. Exercise: Biking uses more muscles than walking. It invokes the release of endorphins — natural renewable energy that includes a strong sense of well-being.  Riding as little as five miles each day improves health.
  4. Affordability: A bicycle is more than affordable.  Public transit in NYC cost fours dollars round trip (2009) and $5.50 (2020) and rising steadily.  Three months of bicycle use for commuting would equal the average acquisition cost of a bike and now deductible as a business expense for employers.
  5. Sustainability:  Public knowledge of sustainability concepts will grow if walking and HPV are used to acquire goods and services.  Extending new access modes to regional centers expands competitive positions.

NYC Planning Department website describes mandated bicycle parking in privately-owned public spaces (here). Grasping the budget and regulatory pressures in New York City is difficult. Why does it take over 25 years to get 70% of the way toward increased HPV use and safety? The 1997 Bike Master Plan, by the City Planning, set a goal for 1,800 miles. The Department of Transportation celebrated getting to 1,000 miles in 2020 (described here). For a brief comparison, spend a moment or two on the Tokyo bike storage system for up to 10,000 bikes.  

The (Bike) Path Ahead

A place HPVs creates a highly strengthened transit-oriented system.  European examples abound in this area.  The Tokyo system is one example. In the United States, the empirical insights of Jane Jacobs remain a compelling argument for the diversity of use inherent to the dense urban grid.  

This is because the city makes the bicycle and HPV vehicles extremely useful. Therefore, policies that make the city more efficient in this way will release design creativity.  Three locations in NYC are manufacturing sites for HPVs.  The only element missing to bring this market forward are places for the vehicles on the streets of NYC.

Policies that make a more human-powered city:

  • Ban or reduce automobile traffic lanes from streets: Just three lanes of Manhattan’s north/south avenues could serve over 100,000 bicycles per/hour per/block.  Steps for increased HPV/bicycle safety require a design solution.  In NYC, a street closing caused stress.  The strain of a complete conversion is spread to all north/south streets can be made permanent by the current design.  HPV dedicated cross-town routes can work as well.  Imagine pleasure riders but see a vast increase in business-to-business deliveries. Extend the policy to the boroughs.
  • Replace car lot space with bike lot space: Obviously, bicycles are a better fit. A law to provide a tax-free pricing system for bikes can be absorbed by increasing rates for cars.  Is there room for “bike stations”. 
  • Increase tax on trucks/cars: The gas tax in Europe is five times the USA.  Congestion pricing to push truck deliveries into night schedules is common.  While regressive in the short term, it is worthwhile to stimulate “pedestrian-oriented” cities across the nation.   Places like the Netherlands have thousands of miles of a dedicated bike path. Still, they are New York City’s routes growing correctly – to assure success?  Have you been “doored” lately?
  • Walkable city: Reduced auto use increases transit and design efficiencies once well-placed mass-transit development centers are identified.  Where is the leadership at this point in NYC?  The term “woonerf” is Dutch.  It describes streets as dominantly pedestrian.  These are tree-lined routes with culvert drainage systems and “neck-downs” open enough for local traffic and emergency vehicles.  Implemented for residential life, they were quickly adapted to commercial settings.
  • HPVs for long or short-distance transit routes: Trips from Midtown Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn, as “HPV ride would add seats to the train. Mass transit needs the low-impact of the vernacularized rider. 
  • Arrivals and Departures: Zoning bonuses and related tax incentives should emphasize space for showers and bike storage. More people would ride a bicycle to work if they could do so in a designated bike lane, park their bike in a safe place, and clean up a bit on arrival. 

Existing urban design solutions promote “pedestrian and bicycle-oriented” travel reasonably well.  A row of parked autos protects pedestrians. The same solution now serves human-powered vehicles.  Turning the dominance of the automobile readily available to manipulate into a source of added HPV use.  The college campus or other large regional parks already also offer clear bike transit that does not require reinventing the wheel. All that is needed is safe passage and the opportunity to build a brighter, cleaner, sustainable neighborhood, city, and world.

An excellent summary of the issues associated with the “critical mass” bike ride occurrences in NYC and the response of the NYPD was prepared in 2006 by the New York Bar Association.  The Association criticized the legislative role of the NYPD on HPV.  It advised the City Council to discourage using the police power to pre-determine constitutional issues based on vague rules defining “a parade.”

Legislation based on basic economics, triple bottom line science, ecological footprints, happiness indexes, and accurate cost accounting are emerging.  All seek the means to press for more sophistication in measuring and confirming sustainability principles in the city.

Climate Central

Changes in weather or global averages in sea levels and temperature from year to year are popular tangents for discussion but only as useful as a local sports talk show. The real news is how improvements in energy generation demanded by the dense urban environment are now responsible for most GHG emission reductions. However, the motivation to change urban conditions in response to climate change remains weak, but envisioning tools by Climate Central that show logical sea rise levels is a step foward.

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The threat alone is not enough. The word “climate” is also used to define a human relations condition of importance in community development. For example, New York City produced 48.02 million tons from all energy sources to reflect a 19% reduction from 2004 to 2013 in three main categories. The main GHG producers are buildings plus street lighting, transportation of all kinds, GHGs connected to urban wastewater treatment, city landfills, and solid waste removal out of the city categorized as fugitive.

climate

Solutions come from the urbanization of energy.

Cities are effective at measuring and then decreasing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The urban focus on energy varies by economic sector and social choice. The choice of fuels that reduce carbon intensity remains economic. However, the lack of choice in controlling external factors is the most problematic. External factors that control the amount of energy needed are population growth by location and the weather in “degree days.” Still, the distinctions between energy and its users are diminishing rapidly for the first time in human history.  Energy use includes the ability to visualize a set of futures based on fact.  The presentation below is not sophisticated climate science. The elevation above sea level is “a,” and the sea-level rise or a storm surge is “b” a long list of coastal cities will have seawater as predicted.

The political readiness for the advent of a new ocean/human/earth “oneness.” is the most disconcerting due to the “fear itself” effect.  The extreme sea level via a vision reveals more than the risks. It exhibits the lack of capacity for a public decision-making process in a privately-held world.  The hidden data involves changes in value. The effect can go one of two ways.  It can push every investor of every square foot into climate change denial for the lack of any other plan, or it can draw every investor into a plan with the capacity to confront the paralysis embedded in such projections.

Given these conditions, the demand for an evidence-based, performance-measured, and outcome-driven protocol that can reach the local need for global effect is now an indispensable policy requirement. People can understand basic units for analysis such as building floor area and total population and apply a per unit/per capita analysis to provide a reliable basis for trend and regression analysis. Energy coefficients established during study periods help determine the change in carbon intensity for each energy source in each sector to yield the percentage of each source contributing to the GHG inventory.

While dense urban cities are the largest producers overall, they offer the best environment for protocol analysis and comparison among all other resilience/mitigation measures that may have an impact on global conditions. Three “get started” sources are here:

  1. GPC – Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  2. LGOP – Local Government Operations Protocol
  3. Climate Central – Download the free Surging Seas CRS Guide

Index Density

Personal growth is the main stimulant of culture and a balancing agent against the excesses of power. We slowly realize the stimulants are here and now when this growth is offered to all people freely. The next fight for freedom will be to sustain our ability to share what we know. The very first place to test for truth will be right outside your front door and where you can walk from there.

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Isolated this song may sound like a warning, for those of the dense urban world it has a joyful tension.

The Ranking

A broad new set of factors injected into the urban scale expresses a numerical value such as “top ten” as if a place has a price, and therefore comparable. These factors are used to index urban “livability” across the rapidly changing structure of cities. The index aid policymakers in rating the sensibilities of ordinary working people or retirees about those who seek to profit from their labor, skill, insight, capital, and productivity.

Two ranking styles are popular; the first puts a high value on economic and financial services supporting trade in material resources and economic measures. The second index lists environmental pleasures such as the climate, interesting scenes, cultural experiences, and the general absence of discord. This yields the appearance of objective criteria to implement a marketing response to a specific human need or general desire regardless of wealth or station.

Search “Livability” for Thousands of Ranking Agents

The demand for policies that measure and react in short, precise cycles has begun. As a mathematical matter, the city’s economic value now includes specific environmental conditions such as costs associated with aesthetic perspectives. Voila! More parks, green streets, more room to walk. The mathematical value associated with vibrant or viable space is different than sustainable or resilient or secure and stable. Aesthetic measures associated with sociocultural conditions such as recreation and entertainment are used as a ranking. The mathematics of such ratings on all of these things center on the idea of weight, whether weighted equally or in a framework for preferences.

Undoubtedly, these value conditions continue to produce a dense urban form for people, yet it remains an abstraction of consumption weighted by per capita spending. The new flurry of numbers means one new thing, “they know” and “we know they know,” so now what? What is the impact? Measures of equity will become highly visible. It is now possible to index racism, even sexism, by place for scoring.

The driving factor for these new index factors will involve three-quarters of the earth’s population, who will have an urban life of some description by the year 2050. Most will be holding smartphones. The demand for an urban life has created this 3:1 ratio of “attraction,” leading to self-fulfilling urban development that continues without checking for the balance required. For example, the demand for a set of values that express diversity as one cherished over the concentration of wealth would be useful. Those who remain far outside the urban region may be recognized as those most important to sustaining that realm and keeping its ability to be wild as its stewards.

Density

Our one purpose is to participate in a forum on the complexity of urban density and examine its makers worldwide. In the research for Density, we are reading hundreds of websites, books, and articles. Most are online.  We are not stepping completely away from the dead tree press, but new opportunities are exposed with more than one thing in hand at a time.

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  • Our team envisions regionally and city-based writers willing to establish a long-term negotiation with the world on density opportunities and the problems it solves by analyzing issues, various approaches, and action ideas.
  • The partnership aims to produce a continuous, worldwide exploration of dense urban environments’ success (or failure).
  • The objectives implied by this goal will require the expertise of many contributors with various skills and thousands of locations. For example, the development and use of KML code will add an important online function.
  • Additional excerpts from a working draft of Density and our offer to join in developing this unique “world partnership project” can begin by sending an inquiry below.
The Vehicular Pedestrian
Making way for the Vehicular Pedestrian will be more than a critical mass issue due to significant changes in dense urban land use and a necessary but dimly recognized design …
Climate Central
Changes in weather or global averages in sea levels and temperature from year to year are popular tangents for discussion but only as useful as a local sports talk show. …
Index Density
Personal growth is the main stimulant of culture and a balancing agent against the excesses of power. We slowly realize the stimulants are here and now when this growth is …
Road Density
The Global Roads Inventory Project (GRIP) dataset describes 60 geospatial datasets on road infrastructure worldwide, covering 222 countries and over 21?million?km of roads. The dataset is split into 5 types: …
Black Rock
Black Rock City In 2010, Black Rock City (aka Harveywood) was the fourth largest city in Nevada, but only for a short while. The total population was 51,515 paying guests …
Diversity/Density
Twentieth-century urban and technological development events represent immense power. Yet, whether they are judged superficial, highly significant, or isolated and irrelevant, all share the common ground of small self-interest groups …
Tale of Two CTs
City Center Lincoln Square Robert Venturi once observed Las Vegas as the only uniquely American expression of architecture. No one ever says it is a product of thoughtful planning. In …
Getting on Track
The Ties Make the Track Three factors have brought about the demand for global, multilateral change in national societies with varying impact degrees, and all of them are tragic. First, …
Self-Analysis
In 2006, New York Magazine identified 50 projects and commissioned the "world's best architects" composite. In 2006, the most active and closely watched areas were: Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn, 2010 & …
Mega Region Design
In November 2007, Bruce Katz presented the challenges of the "mega" urban world. The exquisite logic of Blueprint for American Prosperity was this century's "Rachael Carson" moment. The truth is almost impossible …
Seven Elements/Four Topics
The following few thousand words seek a new value system for the city and regional planning, architecture, and engineering professions. Your bones tell you, you smell it, there is the …
The Urban Planet
"The social contract for authority is at the center of money, politics, and religion. No surprise there. Each center’s loci has confirming elements such as the high priest’s temple or …
Catastrophic Resolution
Dense Cities are Self-Renewing
Cities are Different
"One number above all other metrics suggests a housing affordability and infrastructure emergency is pending. In New York City, one emergency is around 40,000 people living permanently in shelters, with …
The Synergy Project
The plan for compacity
Remember Muir
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911, …
Urban Mobility
Artists of various urban futures are fond of envisioning the easy movement of people and goods as a visually exciting urban benefit. We see crowded, yet free-flowing shoulder-to-shoulder sidewalks, sweeping …
Global Density
Add fees on Amazon books below will be assigned to our effort. This one brings the lessons of the explosive structure of density from observers along the Pacific Rim. Comments …
Evacuation
Don't run, just know where to go. The zones vary Most observers know from experience that the low cost of land and lower population densities occur from the center of …
Create 2,000 Dense Places
I have a plan for 2,000 dense urban places, with 20,000 people each connected to high-speed communication systems. Each is an urban core offering specific opportunities for unlimited growth in a …

Road Density

The Global Roads Inventory Project (GRIP) dataset describes 60 geospatial datasets on road infrastructure worldwide, covering 222 countries and over 21?million?km of roads. The dataset is split into 5 types: highways/ primary/ secondary/ tertiary/ local roads. It is used by organizations such as GloBio to monitor human impacts on biodiversity. The GRIP dataset consists of global and regional vector datasets in ESRI file geodatabase and shapefile format and global raster datasets of road density at a 5 arcminutes resolution (~8x8km).RLC

Data gathering such as this may appear to be a process like that of an embalmer, given the rate of change in biodiversity and the increase of global warming gases, largely facilitated by the expansion of roads and what the lead to for our use. But, could it be that simple? Would it be possible to end road construction?

The Global Roads Inventory Project (GRIP) dataset was developed to provide a more recent and consistent global roads dataset for global environmental and biodiversity assessment models such as GLOBIO. The GRIP dataset consists of global and regional vector datasets in ESRI file geodatabase and shapefile format and global raster datasets of road density at a 5 arcminutes resolution (~8x8km).

The United Kingdom has a national land-use policy like most of the EU. However, the UK is a dense island nation represented by a core of residential, institutional, and commercial urban centers in Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. While the relationship with the Republic of Ireland is improving, it is deteriorating with the EU due to Brexit and complications with Northern Ireland.

The urgency of sustainable energy or a zero-waste world is well defined philosophically, but the question of successful implementation is unanswered.  On the other hand, the UK might be the first place of significant size where implementation will offer some hope.

In the United States and the EU, economic policy distributes energy resources to accomplish affordability while anticipating a period of increased scarcity extending through the twenty-first century. 

The increase in “green deals” and the promotion of tech innovations focus on all levels of new urban development.  Alternative bio-energy/hybrid systems design materials based on re-use as the sustainable alternative addresses 10% to 20% of the problem. This is roughly equivalent to the rate of new products entering the market.  The remaining 80% to 90% is represented by the world that is already built.

The issue is neatly symbolized in the United States by the high-speed train.  Thousands of rail mass transit miles in older urban centers offer a century of trial and error development of enormous value to successful urbanization.  For example, the New York City transit service area is just 321 square miles serving its 8 plus million residents who, over the course of one year, will travel nearly 12 billion miles. 

(See the National Transit Database for your region).

Older mass transit systems are examples of how government absorbs private economic development in the public interest.  Based on where and when the goalposts are set, “a penny saved” and “payback” investment in the existing dense core should encourage the holders of real estate to invest mightily to save millions. Still, the capital continues to move to greenfield opportunity (AKA – nice flat farmland) and in the American drylands (mid-to southwest areas), where substantial new development has occurred.

As of the beginning of the 21st century, nothing compels investors to “future-proof” past the wonders of a solid ROI.   Doing so will require new forms of public investment to move the dime on the zero-sum question by limiting development outside of the present urban core with various disincentives.

Similar limitations are outlined in the vital areas of the social economy.   The social security systems of European and American origin drew a safety line around everyone.   These health, education, welfare, and defense investments borrowed extensively on continuously advancing “productivity” technologies.  Is it reasonable to protect the high cost of long life and civil society, or is it more responsible for funding a permanent state of global warfare in various combat settings?

The only threat to analysts becomes increased social and economic dysfunctions contained within “regions.” The bet on technology, a reasoned quality of life contract, and a way to end the confrontational conditions caused by the poor allocation of energy resources require a serious look at the lines of demarcation.

DATASETS & INDICATORS

The following list of “road datasets” suggests how important investors assess this large public function. Conduct a simple search test of the dataset titles [in brackets] below to confirm this impression. Report back via comments and published papers, musings and so on. Thanks


Road density (km of road per 100 sq. km of land area) [IS.ROD.DNST.K2]
Roads, goods transported (million ton-km) [IS.ROD.GOOD.MT.K6]
Roads, paved (% of total roads) [IS.ROD.PAVE.ZS]
Roads, passengers carried (million passenger-km) [IS.ROD.PSGR.K6]
Road sector diesel fuel consumption (kt of oil equivalent) [IS.ROD.DESL.KT]
Road sector diesel fuel consumption per capita (kg of oil equivalent) [IS.ROD.DESL.PC]
Road sector energy consumption (kt of oil equivalent) [IS.ROD.ENGY.KT]
Road sector energy consumption per capita (kg of oil equivalent) [IS.ROD.ENGY.PC]
Road sector energy consumption (% of total energy consumption) [IS.ROD.ENGY.ZS]
Road sector gasoline fuel consumption (kt of oil equivalent) [IS.ROD.SGAS.KT]
Road sector gasoline fuel consumption per capita (kg of oil equivalent) [IS.ROD.SGAS.PC]
Motor vehicles (per 1,000 people) [IS.VEH.NVEH.P3]
Passenger cars (per 1,000 people) [IS.VEH.PCAR.P3]
Vehicles (per km of road) [IS.VEH.ROAD.K1]

Black Rock

Black Rock City

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is harveywood.png

In 2010, Black Rock City (aka Harveywood) was the fourth largest city in Nevada, but only for a short while. The total population was 51,515 paying guests as the marker, not including a couple thousand undocumented, smuggled in amidst the art. Larry Harvey’s motivations vary for having this big party. They change with each new experience, annually repeated since 1986. Perhaps that is why he wears an unusual hat. He is a designer and an architect, a friend and observer of life.  He is tightly wrapped by the kind of humor that only a real sense of tension can produce. While its control has surpassed the management capacity of the few unique people that began it all, its epitaph remains incomplete. But one part has been written. Long live Harveywood, but from now on, we will cap this party at 50,000 souls.

Without a doubt, any discussion of establishing a super urban density and a pure wilderness is likely to engage the subject of living in the desert wilderness of northwestern Nevada for a short while as an event. This idea confronts a void, fills it with art and design, and then goes away. Just beneath the surface, there is a lot of responsible talk and action about taking only pictures and leaving only footprints, and thus the Black Rock City party’s actual theme is revealed. It offers real proof of how messy humans will be to make a point. The point is a big one. No matter how temporary, that bit of dessert will always have a mark, and it is a warning.

Diversity/Density

SPHERE 2

Twentieth-century urban and technological development events represent immense power. Yet, whether they are judged superficial, highly significant, or isolated and irrelevant, all share the common ground of small self-interest groups nested into their environments with various needs, interests, and concerns. Diversity is good for density.

The city makers and builders might control great wealth for scanning vast expansion opportunities. On the other hand, the makers could implement simple actions such as confronting crime abuses with more sophistication than a neighborhood watch. The deep and complex range of these events are measures of the urban place and experience. They are like the frequencies used to describe the technology of communication. Whether the event source is the long reach of a real estate investment trust or a modest urban infill project, the impact, whether top-down or up from the bottom, is less relevant than the diversity of methods applied by these actors and thereafter the regulators of events in response.


Envision a set of human occurrences in single-family homes on half an acre, tree-filled lots and compare that activity to what might occur in rows of multiple-story apartment buildings resting on commercial service and retail establishments, a school, and a couple of train stations.


Accounts of the action contained in urban spaces allow us to define unique spheres of influence. For example, a market analyst or urban demographer might apply the gravity model (wiki) to examine the economics of the actions and events within these places. Still, the actual forces involved are not dissimilar to that between the earth, our moon, and the solar system in which we are contained. The wonder of the billions of small moments involved in this system is that now it is possible to imagine taking stock of all of them, and there are many examples.

The so-called “smart-city” already lives in the imaginative eyes of those who are now trying to build them, and they might call upon an IBM data system called “Watson” to examine options, and so on. The need to build “a safe camp” or ‘a good city’ or “a flourishing earth” is a process that succeeds best when the action is community-motivated and understood as such. Individual self-interest behaviors are well known, and extraordinary work on interpersonal communication and behavior continues to advance. This makes the main problem very clear, but it is no longer a camp or a city. It is the earth. It is not something we can build like a camp or a city, or is it?

Nearly eight billion people form the earth community. Comparatively, small groups know the spatial implication of this. Yet, while each is capable of great accomplishment, they prove to be painfully ineffective in solving ‘whole earth’ problems. Yet, we also know the most successful responses to changing conditions, both social and natural, are buried in these small actions.


What are the connective tissues that would make a whole earth strategy workable?


In our minds-eye, a few practical examples in three segments are crawling into view that might become whole earth networks aimed at human dignity. The armature for building this vision is built on the grid, the second segment deals with the nature of consumption within the grid, and the third examines the urban brand or vision so formed.

The Infinite Grid

Ring on Grid

Alongside the expected order of the urban grid stands its shadow. Grids demonstrate an infinite matrix, a system for moving forever outward over the landscape. But, equally, the complexity of the movement developed for the use of all grids brings forth the novelty essential to what Alfred North Whitehead describes as the “what else” question.

We require knowing what is possible now. Science and engineering disciplines inject the grid with service components like mass transportation, steel construction, and the elevator. The grid provides unlimited electric power within all spaces, and with it, the presumption of certainty such as living is about thinking up new ways to live. The unique human capacity for campfire innovation is effective and responds to challenge well. Then suddenly, the urban question changed from how can we “make cities better” to “can we stop cities” and we all know why.

From basic urban reform to anti-sprawl, today’s global conditions are born of grid technologies that have begun to threaten life and community, but it still holds the novelty we seek. The same way the stars were once seen as sparks from the fire, the city’s vision as unending expansion will also change. Yet, we face one single great problem. Will the unlimited potential of the sphere bring balance and containment to the infinite grid?

Containing Consumption

food city

Materialism is associated with human well-being toward the negative. It tends to reduce positive-social behavior on interpersonal levels. We also see materialism as a major contributor to ecologically destructive actions defined globally as “overshoots” and “footprints.” Worsening educational and social outcomes occur when focusing on the supremacy of personal preference and pleasure over other values. Finally, excessive materialistic behavior is associated with unmanageable debt, often linked to a broader range of pathologies. While these are negative outcomes, the economic arguments dismiss these criticisms as unfortunate behavior while denying the cancerous downside of growth. Containment will require a new kind of intelligent abundance.

The economic growth of nations and the foundation of most revenue schemes depend greatly on the two forms of physical consumption. The overall economic condition is clear; it will drive spending to high levels by encouraging the purchase of “materials,” but that includes all required to provide or buy an “experience,” and therein lays the novelty we seek. As spending shifts away from physical products toward acquiring personal experience, it offers a unique step toward sustainability. It could build a society with the capacity to recognize the power of introspection and limits.

The Creative Asset

point

Cities have a brand heritage often leveraged as history along with a set of cool stories that firmly establish their urban product. One of the most important or useful of these narrative brands is the ability to cross-cultural borders with food, social norms, sensibilities, clothing, patterns, color, and experiences you might not acquire otherwise. However, when ‘professional urbanists’ seek to change an existing condition thought of as bad to something good, they have not successfully targeted their target audiences for the lack of one ability — to shift perspective.

Narrowing the professional focus to a single project or program is a step toward failure unless it can be consistently, if now relentlessly infused, with a new view up from the bottom, or from alongside, the top, or via a simple pan inward across the entire creative landscape. The capacity for superlative focus in response to a violent storm or fire is well known.  It is a power to be tapped in new ways as its purpose is to force an element of lateral “death and life” Jacobian creativity in every action (after Jane Jacobs, 1969).

For another example, the creative application of an oblique strategy is one of the best ways to shift views and see new opportunities.  Please take a moment to explore. Then, post it in the comment section below if it works—a personal reference via BBC podcast here (30 minutes).


The oblique strategy phrase that started the three indulgent and digressive paragraphs below was: “Make a “blank” valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame.”


Due to the above reference to Jane Jacobs, I will put a regional development policy idea aimed at increasing non-auto access to places in an exquisite frame. As a result, various multi-use districts would gain advanced levels of market strength given three new frames of regional urban development policy.

  • First, I saw employment growth in these beautiful business clusters created by land-use policies that discouraged job dispersion. Then the potential for these sleek competitive regional economy trains emerged.  They were blue.
  • These trains controlled the direction, if not the physical quality of development or the stability of growth, but each cluster and the train riders had enormous power.
  • Next, a portrait of the funding agents for quality urban form found my frame.  My blue transit system (rail, light rail, and bus) connected combinations of government services, knowledge-based employers, and major universities and medical centers, including “entertainment-based” cultural institutions with finely targeted retail offerings.

The “branding” idea of strong, dense centers connected to other strong, dense centers is an elegant picture.  The next frame captured traditional agricultural areas, watershed protection zones, and other natural resource functions, including older auto-oriented retail centers and other large warehouse and distribution centers reliant on trucking. These outliers (currently dominating my landscape) will gain the opportunity to be financially supported to defend an expanding natural environment through stewardship. Equally, the dense core structure offers an environment where the toxins of human activity are contained and eliminated with zero-waste policies, but I digress.

Summary: Choose How Your World Works

That little “oblique” exercise above is a method to take a personal experience (my education, training, career) and think about how the world should work. The concept works equally well in the organizational development of small groups, especially when there is a breakdown.


This brief essay on frequency and diversity is a simple example of individual thought and ideas. It needs to fit somewhere like a thought bubble among other people to conclude this way.


Government should pay for the essential stuff like keeping the nation on a permanent war footing or to help corporations and great big banks cover losses, oh, and spying lots of spying to protect old lines in the sand. But, then again, maybe it (that would be we) should pay for health and environmental protection, affordable housing and public transportation, and lots of education and training.

I know the former is a well-known path to economic distrust and collapse and the other, an intentional step away from madness toward human dignity. Yet, paradoxically, the former policies may be drawn by “rampart survivalists” as the way it has always been and requires us to circle the wagons. The latter may want to “occupy” new economic priorities by causing a re-energized, democratically digitized, public networking process. Both are “small group” formations – the former is a small group of large organizations and the other a large group of small organizations.  The thing on offer in this example is to launch a quest for balance instead of power.

The former can be overly defined as the one or two-percent groups with great financial power, global corporate structures, and a managed “public good” regime on the balance sheet. The latter is composed of lots of small groups with chaotic, tentative goodness rules because they are working on new theories of financial power and economic change. One is informed by a small group press and media that the few need and read to solve information problems. The latter works to solve the integration problems of small groups, and they read about ways to build new education process networks. These two forces are at work to change the other. With both in play, something exciting might happen in the region of balance.

Examine the following examples of that large group of small organizations struggling to find new ways to build their small individual stories into a larger and globally efficacious narrative.

Social Change

  1. The Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project. Connect people to their personal and community ecosystems. To create a way forward, this value is held as the guiding all others. This force identifies and eliminates all elements that contribute to ecological collapse and, in doing so, design and implements a biomimetic future. This alternative is known as the new intentional pathway.

Science and Technology

  1. Ask Nature challenges everyone to reexamine every aspect of how we use nature to make stuff, think and store ideas, and manage waste. It will produce a massive catalog of nature’s solutions to human design challenges.

Consumption and Well Being

  1. The Good Guide proves people with safe, healthy, green, & ethical product reviews based on scientific ratings of some 250,000products

Education and Training

  1. Kahn Academy is a non-profit educational organization created in 2006 by educator Salman Khan to provide “a free, world-class education for anyone.”

Participants are asked to expand this list in the comment section below to help develop new main headings, indexing, and groups. The main criteria being the information, and in some cases, the services provided are free. Voluntary donations may be requested.

Climate change events and displacement impacts threaten water, land, and food security. These security questions link directly to culture as defined by race and spirituality, wealth and poverty, and so on. A thousand questions rise to decide whether or not a proposed practice such as treating carbon dioxide as a regulated pollutant or whether a financing scheme such as “cap and trade” fits into how your world works when it comes to the cost of food, energy, water, transportation, and housing for people.

Whether it is the “company store” or cooperative alternative, the question will remain clear. Is there an equitable transition made by this decision that increases human dignity opportunities and reduces the potential for ecological disruption and catastrophic resolution?


“If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.  The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.”  

Sent-ts’an, c. 700 C.E.

Van der Ryn and Cowan

Challenging smart-growth-talk has seemed impotent until recently. Perhaps this is why it might change.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Ecological-Design.png

A decade ago, Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan contrasted sustainability defined technologically and ecologically in their book Ecological Design. They pointed to the hubris embedded in the tech-solution approach unless it was fully tethered by how David W. Orr describes the higher priority of ecological principles. (See one through four below.) Technology is zero-sum +(but not net-zero) when placed in a priority higher than these four principles of real change.

  • First, people are finite and fallible. The human ability to comprehend and manage scale and complexity has limits. Thinking too big can make our human limitations a liability rather than an asset. (Citicorp, AIG, and the rest…)
  • Second, a sustainable world can be redesigned and rebuilt most successfully from the bottom up. Locally self-reliant and self-organized communities are the building blocks for change. (something that every small successful business knows well)
  • Third, traditional knowledge that co-evolves out of culture and place is a critical asset. It needs to be preserved, restored, and used. (duh, the 2008 election)
  • Fourth, the true harvest of evolution is encoded in nature’s design. Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: it is the best model we have for all the design problems we face. (climate change is as more message as measure)

Technology is zero-sum when placed in a priority higher than these four principles of real change. The position of Sustainable America by John Dernbach (et. al) is direct: Sustainable development will make the US livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous. The book runs through 28 areas of human behavior that need to change using 100 actions taken within five to ten years and thematically summarized as follows:

The position of Sustainable America by John Dernbach (et al.) is direct: Sustainable development will make the US livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous.  It was published on January 12, 2009. One can order from Island Press here. For more information, See Dernbach’s website. See “Booksand papers for lists.

The book runs through 28 areas of human behavior that need to change using 100 actions taken within five to ten years and thematically summarized as follows:

  1. Ecological footprint system integration
  2. Greenhouse gas reduction programs
  3. Stimulate employment for unskilled persons in environmental protection and restoration
  4. Stimulate NGOs to play a major role
  5. Organize government initiatives using sustainability principles to prioritize
  6. Expand options for sustainable living choices to consumers
  7. The advancement of public and formal education to higher levels
  8. Strengthen environmental and natural resources law
  9. Lead international efforts on behalf of sustainable development
  10. Systematically improve access to data for decision making

Planning Together: Part III

carbon dioxide equivalent in metric tons per square foot, per year

Two forces are at work in the continuing creation of NYC.  First-force is energy aimed toward “centers.” Second-force moves outward and away from its centers.  Implementing the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA) is an interesting example using a comprehensive urban planning perspective of both. The centers are locations where there are buildings with more than 25,000 square feet in NYC.  The force is generated by a global condition demanding a reduction in GHGs. The focus is on large urban centers within large metropolitan cities.

RLC-OCCUPY

xxx

The CMA requires building owners to contribute to meeting the 80/50 goal.

By 2050 NYC will reduce GHG’s to 80% of current levels.


First-Force

If the legislation passes, the first milestone in the ten-year LTCP will be the City Report’s Conditions (COC). The narrative will draw on the ongoing objective, measurable data that City agencies generate every year over the last five years and punch it into the COC. The COC focus on long-term issues as embedded in the data concerning long-term planning and sustainability will have to face the Climate Mobilization Act’s impact.

Suddenly the Climate Mobilization Act marches into the room from 2021 to 2024 with compliance requirements through 2029. If there were anything like a 1,300-pound Grizzly in community planning, it would be every building owner in the community with square footage over 25,000 square feet yelling, “the investment in energy efficiency, for the reduction of GHGs, will cost the community jobs and displace residents.”

The law says tenants will be protected, but we are in a buyer beware world. The following was set from “deepdive

“When the act originally passed last year, owners of buildings where rent-regulated units make up less than 35% of the total were given an alternate path to compliance due to what officials called “outdated” rent laws in New York State. That path allowed landlords to pass the cost of building upgrades to tenants by charging for major capital improvements through higher rents.”

“Then in July, the state-level Housing Stability and Tenant Protections Act of 2019 altered how such improvements can be imposed by only allowing rent increases for rent-stabilized units if they make up 35% or more of the units in a building. While this adjustment saves tenants from having the costs of capital improvements and retrofits passed on to them, some councilmembers worried about landlords’ ability to absorb those costs themselves.”

Elected officials said while more established landlords can likely take on the costs for improvements like HVAC and lighting upgrades. Still, those who manage smaller buildings may not be able to, especially as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has affected their rental incomes.”

Residential building owners will see it as a perfect opportunity to displace tenants through major capital improvements with added harassment efforts. Major Capital Improvement (MCI) and careless rule enforcement allow building owners to raise rents on the unsuspecting. Documented abuses in monthly MCI rent hikes over $800 per apartment are well-known and feared.

Is it possible to imagine that the plan that eliminates jobs doesn’t matter because the people who have them will be displaced anyway? A counter-measure is available if the focus on the green economy is on jobs. The data is available in jobs from the production of a net-zero supply-chain to the production of well-educated people in the universities NYC has to offer. (See list)

Whether that ridiculous scenario occurs or is more likely in some neighborhoods than others, the Climate Change crisis is that Grizzly in the long term. It has the capacity to push aside all the other issues, education, transportation, public health, arts and culture, economic development, zoning, and land use.

Set by climate policy, the Climate Mobilization Act’s implementation priority will focus on projects that involve about 50,000 buildings in this category, about 2,500 have a million square feet or more. NYC’s Open Data portal has an example Building Footprints to illustrate that the city can be super-square-foot smart on a building by building basis.

The GHG reduction goal is a force applied from the outside toward these locations. The impact on sales and acquisitions in real estate markets for all land uses old, new, and proposed will be significant. The buildings are known and mapped. This is where defining the second-force comes into play.

An old example of a first-force, “center-inward,” and a second-force “center-outward” impact was global thermal nuclear war and auto-technology.  The policy was to spread out urban life, leaving energy-efficient public transit systems behind and in decay. The priority was to produce the massive growth promised in an auto-driven economy.  Hey, it looked great for a long time, but now hundreds of articles available from the GBC and elsewhere talk about the lack of balance in this policy.

Second-Force

The building owners and communities involved and informed by the Climate Mobilization Act will be encouraged to understand its requirements. These reactions to a problem will occur outwardly from the lawmakers who know stuff to ordinary people who haven’t been told and may never know.

The conduct required involves analyzing existing energy use, building condition, and capacity for financing implementation. Depending on the community, facility projects will either fail or comply with their carbon emissions reduction to 26% by 2024 – 2029.  The Green Building Council (GBC) here provides details.  The structures involved are organized by space classification, and fines and penalties for non-compliance may not be significant.  A good example is the Empire State Building will have to pay $1.25 million as a fine for failure.  See story, The New York Times

SEED

Poorly defined second-forces can include the displacement of low- and moderate-income households in rapidly complying and gentrifying NYC neighborhoods due to the well-known impact of “major capital improvements.”. A well-funded outreach and community planning process is needed to get beyond the dubious effect of fines. Assured compliance with Social, Economic, and Environmental Design (SEED) and the LEED nod to this issue is essential. The SEED Evaluator and certification framework establishes social, economic, and environmental goals for building projects to measure success. Buildings are the major contributor to global warming. Still, the people of dense cities such as NYC are the low per capita energy users.  The people in the buildings (residents and workers) should have a higher value than the buildings.

The lessons of displacement are throughout the United States.
I urge you to hear Colette Pichon Battle. What she knows now, we need to know.

The Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and Colette Pichon Battle’s work raises awareness on equitable disaster recovery, migration, economic development, climate justice, and energy democracy. Climate change is not the problem. It is a symptom of a more significant system problem the American people must address. TED presentation (here).

The NYC Zoning Resolution is now open for business as a negotiating tool.  Mandated inclusion to subsidize rental housing is the most recent example.  A mandated subsidy drawn from the energy savings produced could be used to prevent displacement and sustain affordability.  A therm saved is one earned. The thing is, there is no negotiation with a rising ocean, only the duty to protect all people from all the forms of displacement it will cause.

Exposure to all the wiggle room (cash savings for wealth owners) could help line up social justice and equity goals with needed compliance. For example, Local Law 84  mandates benchmarking and disclosure of energy use.  However, it exempts buildings with 10%+ (really, seriously) floor space devoted to data centers, trading floors, or broadcast studios.  No Energy Star score is required because disclosing a terrible energy use intensity (EUI) is awful PR. Example abound in this arena of the wiggle.

LEED

Carbon offsets are allowed. Purchasing unlimited renewable energy credits (RECs), also known, can reduce reported emissions for electricity.  A citywide emissions trading scheme (ETS) focused on greenhouse gas emissions will come up in 2021 and so on.  Every dime should turn into an anti-displacement dollar for one reason — the law outlines “guidelines” most of the specifics have yet to be reconciled. And, in addition to Local Law 97, the Climate Mobilization Act includes other laws:

Local Laws 92 & 94 – Green Roofs & Solar PV: Requiring green roofs solar PV systems on specific new construction and renovation projects.

Local Law 95 – Building Labeling: Adjusting metrics used for letter grades assessing building energy performance.

Local Law 96 – PACE: Establishing clean energy financing tools for building owners

Local Law 98 – Wind Energy: Obliging the Department of Buildings to include wind energy generation in its toolbox of renewable energy technologies.

Thankfully, there are resources to help building owners navigate this evolving regulatory landscape. The NYC Retrofit Accelerator supports building owners’ efforts to improve their buildings’ energy efficiency. (calculator) At the state level, NYSERDA has several programs geared towards putting buildings on the path to energy efficiency.

Voluntary nonprofits are gaining traction to assist institutions with the measurement tasks for a price. A good example is CRIS — The Climate Registry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) measurement, reporting, and verification platform, accessible at https://www.cris4.org. This tool is used by The Climate Registry (TCR) reporting members, TCR-recognized Verification Bodies, and the general public to measure and/or communicate the carbon impacts of organizations of all sizes across all sectors.

Part IV

It applies to a neighborhood in New York City and available: here

James Baldwin

I have no idea if Aeon Video is a good source to use, but these few minutes of James Baldwin are vitally important to recall as words spoken a half-century ago. Even more instructive is the obsequious British joy in gaining Balwin’s participation in their instruction and then of the insight of Buckley who became an apologist for racism while defending American values as he has learned of them.

Nowhere else can one see more clearly how the knowledge and experience of hypocrisy carried by Baldwin contrast with a white male intellectual who sees his world as one designed specifically to conduct “a win” at the expense of all others. The community’s authentic voice is diverse, and it is this built-in strangeness that every agency or agent for change struggles to understand.

Do you know how a disaster (flood, fire) in a city will strengthen resolve while drought will have people at each other’s throat? I do. We are in that drought, and the political premise is correct — we do overvalue consensus because people want it to exist.  A bit of core knowledge in the people of the color world is that change tends to be for the worse, exceptions prove the rule, and there is a pedagogy of the oppressed. These core perceptions are poorly understood and that when “the white world of capital investment” comes knocking at the door and says we are here to x, y, and z you all. It becomes incredibly disappointing. The things to which you, we, or they can agree to “at least somewhat” do not built well on contradictory and unevaluated value systems. Not once in my long life has a developer entered the room saying we are racist. We represent a racist system. What is said is you have a role to play. If you move outside of that role (caste) and exact a price on the change we propose, we will label your efforts extortion. Not once have they ever said we accept full responsibility as system representatives. We commit ourselves to finance a way for you, for all of us to being that way starting now and forever.

Eye on the Mountain Top

snow covered mountains
Photo by Patrick Doyle on Pexels.com

Tale of Two CTs

City Center
Lincoln Square

Robert Venturi once observed Las Vegas as the only uniquely American expression of architecture. No one ever says it is a product of thoughtful planning. In 2006, when MGM Mirage and partners decided to build City Center, Las Vegas, NV, New York news aptly described it as an entertainment-based retail project. A comparison with an older effort confirms why metaphor-desperate architecture critics get super busy; however, I think lousy planning is the more useful element to engage. Enter stage left, Lincoln Square, Center, and Circle.

A viewpoint for examining the similarities and differences from one other kind of uniqueness can be useful. America is not built on ancient traditions, universal religion, ethnicity, or race; our founders believed they could be built on ideals. The principles of human dignity are given the highest value. Without the rigorous implementation of this core value, community development tends to fail this purpose. The question is not if the development practice in Lincoln Square, NYC, and City Center, Las Vegas was racist. The question is, how much racism is in play?

These two real estate investments are instructive of American urban development. They stand fifty years apart, but it might as well be five centuries regarding their exposure to values. Robert Moses broke ground on the Lincoln Center project with President Eisenhower. The biography of both patriarchs confirms a systemic racism component. Both believed Black people should be treated equally but did not think they were equal, and many of the policies and actions of both remain as proof.

Lincoln Square is an example of racialized architecture rationalized in New York City because the backdoor (parking/shipping) of Lincoln Center is Amsterdam Avenue adjacent to public housing. The entry plaza logically favored the Broadway/Columbus intersection. This was a reasonable architectural decision for many reasons. However, one reason rarely, if ever mentioned, is that architecture as a profession has no design solution for racism. They are subservient; the racism of their clients is included. The profession received clear notice of this problem in 1968 at their 100th convention (here).

Lincoln Center’s development is not as apparent as the proliferation of Confederate monuments from 1900 to through the 1920s, which continues through the 1950s. Lincoln Center did not support segregation with intimidation. On the other hand, it did support rules of law ito demolish a mostly Black neighborhood in the name of high-culture.

The Civil Rights Movement pushes back, and Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Park is now Emancipation Park. A record of the effort to remove intimidating monuments is kept by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). On the other hand, the high culture of Lincoln Center uses the grade sheet of their traditions. They seek to convert participants into high arts as their earnest effort to confront racism and claim success in programmatic terms.

Lincoln Center represents issues that architectural design or sculpted monuments cannot handle. Its creation was born of the slum clearance, race intimidation movement known as Urban Renewal. It developed through the redlined 50s and into the late 60s in NYC. The civil rights response pushes back but is compelled to accept reconciliation measures. Reconciliation also occurs in the offerings of special district law in 1969. The Lincoln Square District’s roots can point a bit remarkably to its transformation. It led to comprehensive inclusionary zoning laws, albeit fifty years later.

As a renewal program, the special district design attacked the southern diaspora of poverty into the North with displacement strategies. As for tactics, restitution-like compromises such as the promise of affordable housing and well-funded ‘top-down” cultural services can be agreeable goals to the “fighters” and the losses, grave as they may be, deemed acceptable.

Understanding these programs’ rectitude provides the added depth needed to understand the term “systemic” in race relations and economic change.  The displacement practice, once quoted to me once as, “you are free, just not here, because you can’t afford it,” continues to this day and well examined in a report from the University of Pennsylvania’s City Planning program (here).  Displacement is a percentage game, and if human dignity was the measure, the players on both sides are losing. Penn’s work is an excellent update of Chester Hartman’s book, “Displacement: How to Fight It,” developed by Dennis Keating and Richard LeGates (1981). The truth in both publications, now decades apart, is the displacement process has only changed on the margins. Therein lies the terror of it all.

2009

2018

A small portion of New York City (Map: CT 145) covers an area of eight typical city blocks just west of Central Park. It had a 2000 population of 4,500 people living in 2,900 housing units that sustains a low vacancy rate of about 2%. The land area is 60 acres to yield a residential density of 48,000 people per square mile. (Facts to be updated following 2020 Census – see below.)

The area includes the Fordham University Law School, and it is just south of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Juilliard School, and a dozen other cultural miracles. It is not just a neighborhood composed of multiple-story apartment buildings; it is a destination experience established by cultural centers, the splendor of Central Park’s open space, and the Time Warner 12-story shopping “mall” without the standing auto-surround. The daytime population density can be doubled with ease and well supported by a transit system at this location that can deliver 5,000 people per hour, 24/7/365.

Zoning Resolution Chapter: 82-00 Map:  8c Effective Date: 4/24/69

The public goal (1969) of the Special Lincoln Square District is to enhance the area as an international center for the performing arts. To achieve this goal, urban design along Broadway will follow street line rules. Arcades for interior urban-room retail and service facilities provide a compromise for regulation and limits on street-level uses. Supply-side development bonuses are through special permits that offer added square footage for housing rented at lower (but not low) rents governed by Inclusionary Housing R10. and subway improvements. The demand side bets on good shows, a friendly neighborhood, and a sincere hope that the NYC mass transit services do not collapse.

Lincoln Center is a life-long learning opportunity in community development. Despite a long history of cultural engagement efforts as compensation for a vast mid-50s clearance of thousands of families, a tabula rasa planning strategy, and elements such as the fortress edge at Amsterdam Avenue, the entire project remains an unfulfilled story of transitional urban power.  Its future continues to be written for the success it still might get, not by crossing Amsterdam, but in recognizing how well the social fabric of this part of Manhattan is willing to attack its drift into a binary culture and ignore new opportunities that offer exceptional new levels of depth.

Instantanious Urbanism

The comparison with another entertainment-retail center for the high-spend culture has America written all over it. It is instructive of the “binary problem” and a warning of competing solely for the high-end. The City Center was a five-year design and build “hit”, not unlike graffiti, but way neat and well worth the time exploring innovations.

The $9+ Billion Las Vegas City Center (left to right): KPF’s Mandarin Hotel, (392) Libeskind, and Rockwell’s Crystal’s premium goods mall, Pelli’s Aria, (4,000) Helmut Jahn’s Veer, (335) Foster’s ill-fated Harmon. (demolition was in 2015) Also in the City Center, Rafael Viñoly Vara hotel and residences (1,495). A “who’s who” of architect high-end destination creation. The City Center project broke ground in 2006, and despite significant construction difficulties, including nine deaths in sixteen months, the new skyline hit the press in late 2009. The plan for this massive development was based on speed regardless of the human cost and a systemic “rent-comes-first” problem.

The entire project is symbolized by the demolition of Foster’s Harmon hotel, but like New York City’s development projects, the greater effort survived the 2008 recession. In Las Vegas, all bets are all on the black. Undeterred, billions spent in building the City Center out of nothing that can be remembered occurred even though Las Vegas sits amidst the aridest desert on Earth. Most of the 2.6 million residents trust in the spin on Lake Mead as shrinking (or not), rejecting any notion of a prolonged era of despair due to the rains of 2016/17.

The fresh knowledge of anguish from the City Center project became available when the Las Vegas Sun received a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the causes of construction deaths and lax regulatory assessments. The tragedy of a worker’s family is described (here). You can read all of the stories by Las Vegas Sun for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Public Service (here). One of them points to NYC’s positive response to construction safety. Please read the work of Alexandra Berzon of the Sun who explored the pace, fear, and death, and terror that accompanied the creation of City Center before taking in the five minutes on the spin on the final product in the following presentation.

Bill Smith managed construction of the $9 billion City Center completed in 60 months.

All of Las Vegas began as a city of no-rules sprawl. The property taken didn’t make the news. It produced thousands of hotel and residential condo units spread through multiple structures on a 67-acre site. The Vara overlaps residence floors with a 1,500-room hotel. Regular housing is included in the Mandarin Oriental and a 37-floor twin tower. The housing and related residential accommodations combine a complex of hotels, shops, and gambling entertainment. Whether the housing is composed of permanent residents or time-shared ‘hotel-condo participants is of small consequence. The community with this density can resolve the service implications with reasonable ease based on density. That leaves median income and whether racial and gender disparities are becoming dispositive.

Developing business models on the provision of unique destination-retail cultures (high or low) are coupled with a base of rental units, permanent, and condo-hotel housing. Development of this kind suggests the need for a comparison built on the demography of a place, before, during, and after. Such a comparison could yield measures by which the fast “time is money” impact of capital project disruptions that often lead to forced and economic displacement also provide proof of balance. There would be sufficient generational investment for those found in the wake of this harm that will never occur to that household again. It would be a guarantee that the cycle of poverty ends with an emphasis on every child regardless of the cost.

AKA: Near Win Wheel

The resident population of Las Vegas will be close to three million people in 2020, and before the 2020 pandemic, this city had 42.52 million visitors in 2019. There are just two “isms” that describe gambling in Vegas, “tourism” and “capitalism.”

The increased competition for gamblers as entertainment-based retail comes clear in a joke you would not hear at City Center. “What is the difference between an online casino and a live casino? – When you lose online and cry, no one will laugh at you.” The enclosures of the modern casino encourage over-confidence, leading to the illusion of security. Our brains like this as a sense of pleasure and contributes to the idea that an educated guess can be precise. Illusions of control also negate outcomes of chance into more extreme emotions, such as a “near win” means getting close to one.

To the visitor, the core illusion is gambling is a personal decision not influenced by the environment or knowledge of “the odds.” Both support and encourage the fantasy of winning and a sense of superiority despite a uniform failure (not-wining) rate. This phenomenon is well understood; however, the public policy allows gambling while discouraging it as a dangerous, potentially addictive practice.

A growing proportion of society participates in gambling. The economic impact occurs in every public jurisdiction. It is not treated as a preventable problem, but a percentage of the population issue, leaving it to post-trauma “hot-lines” to resolve. Proof of a high-quality education system will occur when the “casino” as a land-use disappears or when no one other than the fabled 1% gamble.

Demographic Comparisons

Every resident, business, and neighborhood in the nation has a census tract. The Bureau of the Census has made significant improvements in providing online access to data for ordinary people. There are thousands of tables on who we are as a nation, city, state, county. The census tract is the “where” of this data. Knowing the actual condition of our lives yields an assessment of fitness and reasons for action based on comparisons. The first and most important bit of that knowledge is to know that the patriarchy that beats society into submission cannot be used to dismantle its house. One must know how the house got there in the first place.

The creation of the structures you enter to live, work, shop, or play must be safe structures. To assure these objectives, the regulations governing land use and the practice of architecture, engineering, and construction are strict. When errors are discoverer and repair is impossible, the building comes down, as in Foster’s building in Las Vegas. The structures also have social and economic impacts, but these products are not well regulated or measured. The ideals of the American Constitution demand fair treatment measures under the law, fair and just compensation and unfettered access to quality education, and a “we the people” promise of fairness in the pursuit of happiness.

Following, you will find a glimpse of the 2010 data on two U.S. Census tracts illustrated in the description of these two locations. This glimpse will await the final publication of the 2020 Census. Both locations are products of a largely racist power structure focused solely on the flow of capital as exhibited by the value of the real estate. The fulfillment of America’s constitutional ideals is deemed irrelevant or, at best, secondary to that flow of capital.  Ironically, improving the flow of capital is touted as the best remedy to whatever set of problems a social justice agenda might present. Therefore, the quality of life becomes a material consequence of profit. Rightly so, until a tipping point occurs when the measure of quality lowers until it is only viewed as the ability to subsist.

Population, Sex, and Race

Census Tract 145 Manhattan (2018 estimates) has a total population of 5,960. It is 64.4% White, Non-Hispanic, and 38% of the population 15 years and older have never married. Census Tract 68 Las Vegas (2018 estimates) has a total population of 5,077. The White, Non-Hispanic population is 23.2%, and 45% of the population 15 years and older have never married.

2010 City Center (CT 68)
Total population3,986
Median age (years)35.1
Sex ratio (males per 100 females)101.9
Age dependency ratio56.6
Old-Age dependency ratio17.0
Child dependency ratio39.6
One race99.0%
White74.9%
Black or African American7.4%
American Indian and Alaska Native0.0%
Asian4.6%
Some other race12.3%
Two or more races1.0%
Hispanic or Latino origin (any race)45.4%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino41.7%
2020 City Center (CT 68)
to be written

2010 Lincoln Square (CT 145)
Total population6,245
Median age (years)34.3
Sex ratio (males per 100 females)105.0
Age dependency ratio33.8
Old-Age dependency ratio20.2
Child dependency ratio13.6
One race97.3%
White79.0%
Black or African American3.8%
American Indian and Alaska Native0.3%
Asian12.2%
Some other race1.4%
Two or more races2.7%
Hispanic or Latino origin any race)14.4%
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino69.4%
2020 Lincoln Square (CT 145)
to be written

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ODBC

The promise of planning, architecture, engineering and construction is useful but not the way we think. 

Designers, planners, architects, all of us, suffer from several well-documented cognitive failings that distort our ability to predict accurately. But, hey, it is the future, it is not that easy to predict, but this could be changing due to two causalities:

  • Are we more likely not to believe evidence contradicting a commonly adopted meaning of a bright-line, hot button event? The event is easy to recall, leading to the likelihood of overestimating such events’ incidence. We are, thus, less likely to accept contradictory evidence without the bright lines.
  • We know how to make events recur with increasing accuracy right along with the sunrise and the tide. But, the capacity to build for the future does not include knowing what it will mean to people or do to their lives?

Solid psychological evidence of these abilities and behaviors leads to one of my favorite things — inevitable conclusions. With human behavior data, governments and businesses use open database connectivity (ODBC) to build businesses. ODBC is a powerful alternative to firms making decisions based on an experts’ track record.

ODBC is complicated because we are all involved. Knowingly as well as without our knowledge, we are all participants in a huge regression to the mean experiment. New ODBC business partnerships bring unbelievably accurate tools to analyze/improve urban evolutionusing a benign participation process with some sticky privacy issues.

New kinds of knowledge capital are consistently built through curiosity and action. Known preferences are finely tuned essentials of routine design decisions predicated by the senses of the human body. The ODBC benefit builds on this framework for a reform movement in which designers, planners, architects, and engineers acquire the leadership role and loses their subservience to capital by capturing a higher level of control over its uses. Aside from the political challenges involved, the advancement of certainty is a forceful way to assure the quality of human life on the earth.

The Decline of Expert Discretion

I offer two examples as to why this decline is probable. In Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart, Ayres describes the replacement of the “expert” whose knowledge is built on experience and track record by step-by-step procedures with fact-holding computers for data modeling. He argues that anything can be predicted. Just before the publication of Super Crunchers, an equally popular book entitled Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, illustrated how extensive analysis of databases reveals hidden causes and new questions replacing the “firm expert” approach to community development services.

These writers explore new business structures that replace the expert. They skillfully illustrate how massive datasets’ quantitative analyses make hundreds of real-world decisions using algorithms for people asking better questions. The question posed here does not regard removing the role captured by traditional experts from the policy framework. The question is not when or if but how quickly it becomes inevitable. Is there any solace in this truth? It seems the answer is yes.

The remaining and most important human element is to guess. Guessing requires a test to discover the variables that should and should not be included in statistical analysis. In other words, to generate hypotheses remains ultimately human. To ask “what causes what” remains the most valid human act.

What Causes What?

Our present experience is coupled with a dense urban environment where the exponential growth in the number of variables affecting choice is now instantly available. These “sets” of information are beyond our “intuitive” abilities to use, let alone an individual or team’s skill at defining problems. However, tools, such as telescopes in space or microscopes in laboratories, force new observations. We thought they were stars, but they are galaxies, and we are a little blue marble in one of them. We can’t see the “atom” but know why they are objects of matter that are smaller than a wave of light. This quality of observational insight is now available regarding human behavior.

The selection of statistical inferences capable of building datasets that explore human behavior is a vital new policy tool. Hours of sleep, the expenditure of dollars on everything-everywhere, miles traveled, even tears shed, and a laugh out loud. It will help designers to see things never seen. Discovering novelty and asking questions will be the source of human insight in regression to the mean data. Still, the sources of data to establish commonality will define the ultimate decision-making structure of every individual. The trade-off could and must be equal. For example, have a look at this narrative on Earthdays (here).

Consensus on OBDC

Therefore, the consensus on this question is developing as follows: There is a lack of extensive knowledge regarding viable algorithms useful for defining the aesthetic of the urban living experience as weighed against the privacy sought. New questions:

  • How will people be added to this group to develop the super-crunching urban design discussion?
  • How will end-user experience data become a routine product for design and planning firms in dense urban and metropolitan areas?
  • How is urban design data produced, made accessible, and used to alter urban design practices?

Two books that offer some insight are: Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart

Housing

The causes of the housing problem can give you a facial tick. Here goes one recent example; the housing market has added single-family-rental securitization. This specimen is made of our old friend mortgage-backed securities backed by inflated home value and a rising market for rental housing. Combined with the collapse of employment, a friend from Michigan put it this way, this could turn into a nasty brew of outraged and hungry people, all of whom have guns.

In 2016, 95 percent of the distressed mortgages on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s books were auctioned off to Wall Street investors without preconditions and few provisions. As a result, the market recovered but without homeowners. Instead, private-equity firms acquired over 200,000 homes. While cities like New York are attractive but expensive investments, a substantial percentage of these new acquisitions occur in middle-class and low- and moderate-income suburban neighborhoods. Single-family-buildings have been in the rental market for a long time, but only recently has this practice added volatility to the market with the public humiliation of eviction.

Matthew Desmond’s book focused on eviction as a cause and consequence of distress in low to high-density communities. Once considered a big-city problem where evictions occurred formally through the courts. Less known and understood are management practices using subtle displacement practices such as “rent to buy schemes,” where low rent is the “hook,” and high down payments provide the profit. Overall, the increased rate of housing displacement is driven by weak government policies attracted to quick fixes, leading to the rise of institutionally managed and owned rental housing, and a court system that does not recognize the rights of tenants as comparable to landlords or developed the capacity for mediation before calling a U.S. Marshal.

“The moment these moratoriums are lifted, we’ll see massive evictions.” 

Professor Emily Benfer, Columbia Law School to CNBC reporter Annie Nova

The tables below will look very different from 2020 onward. Eviction Lab’s website (here) may become one of the best places to keep an eye on America’s housing policy crisis.  Ordinary citizens can help flatten their legislators’ learning curve by examining the Lab’s scoreboard of state policy changes in response to the pandemic. The continuing legacy of the 2008 crisis is directly reflected in the lab’s state-by-state and county checklist (here) and NYC’s Columbia Law School’s help. For example, new York landlords can’t file eviction orders against tenants right now – but they can after June 20, 2020.

The best source for monitoring policy changes in NYC is through the New York University Furman Center.

The market recognizes home value fluctuations with an increased number of tenants available to cover mortgages. However, the market could not recognize the collapse of renter capacity to prioritize shelter over all else. Another fly in the soup (aka malfunction) is the invisibility of increased corporate ownership in low-density areas whose legal systems heavily favor owner over renter. The table below shows how NYS is attempting to protect its 8.2 million people in rental households, of which 5 million are in NYC. The share of renter households whose gross rent made up more than 30 percent of their monthly pre-tax income is approaching 50% of households.

A 2018 study of New York eviction cases (Collinson & Reed, here) established a connection between eviction and homelessness in New York City.  The malfunctions of the housing market go both ways. A similar graph showing the percentage of household income for rent would also move steadily up from a baseline of affordability at 30%, rising to over 50% in 2019.

America’s complicated housing market story includes a blaze of web articles (example here) that claim property management and rental housing acquisitions are good investments based on the volatility of sales (figure 3 below), offering the fun of bargain hunting coupled with the steady upward trend in asking rents (figure 2 above).

Wall Street as Landlord

The Malfunction

Wall Street’s $60 billion real estate purchases have altered housing markets all over the United States. (NYT Story) The total funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8) was a third of that at $20.292 billion in FY 2017. As in the 2008 recession, the malfunction is not paying attention to the possibility that former housing policies put equity in ordinary families’ lives through homeownership have disappeared just as the public might have been ready to recognize the inequity built into the system since 1950 could be corrected for the damage to families of color.

New York City’s real estate market includes some of the most high-profile properties in the world. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive in which to invest. This wrinkle in a hot market is smooth with the invention of publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITs). 

These outfits are companies that invest directly in real estate through properties or mortgages. The Internal Revenue Service requires REITs to pay taxable profits in dividends to shareholders. Companies with REIT status do not pay corporate income tax. It has developed adjudicative services with support systems that recognize the rights of residents as renters. Investopedia’s description of Investing In New York City REITs is recommended reading.

In 1968 the Citizen’s Housing and Planning Council of New York (CHPC) produced a little sixteen-page booklet on the housing problem with the above graphic on the cover. As a housing affordability advocacy group, they wanted people to understand what it took to build and operate affordable housing. So they put in the form of a five-room apartment in which the average cost of its development came to $20,000.

It is important to point out that this was considered reasonable and $20,000 in 1967, based only on the consumer price index changes that would be $155,000 in 2020 to yield a total inflation rate of 675% or 12.73% /year. The genius of the CHPC presentation is how the five rooms (image above) represented in the development was composed of 1) construction, 2) taxes, 3) land, 4) money, and 5) operating costs and then pointed out of the five which had the greatest impact on rent. Answer: the cost of money is the major factor. Today a change of one percent in the average interest rate from development through permanent financing could alter rents by $120 per month. Manipulate all of the other costs, and it will yield minimal impact on rent.

The affordability of housing is built entirely on Wall Street’s finance and banking industries’ desire to sustain both low (for them) and high-interest rates (for everyone else). Since 1967, or just over fifty years, the rate is based on the CPI alone, the trend toward high and almost 675%.

The lack of affordable rents and housing (a human right) sits squarely on government steps in handling the cost of money for the American people’s safety and health. A researcher on this question will find reasonably up-to-date data in another post (here).

Back to Malfunctions

Self-Analysis

In 2006, New York Magazine identified 50 projects and commissioned the “world’s best architects” composite.

In 2006, the most active and closely watched areas were:

  1. Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn, 2010 & 2016 (changing) See Atlantic Yards Superblocks.
  2. The New Museum, Chelsea. It’s done. Good neighbor? Bad neighbor?
  3. 80 South Street, Downtown, future (changing) approved in 05, so now what?
  4. IAC Headquarters, High Line, 2007 (ceramic pebbles in the glass to save energy)
  5. Silvercup West, Queens, 2009
  6. Freedom Tower, Downtown, 2015!

Now approaching twenty years later for these areas time set aside for an assessment will prove instructive. Comments on the products regarding the social, economic, and environmental concerns are due. The public process used to promote the plans requires comparison with the end product requires analysis. The image source is New York Magazine 2006.

Greenpoint Northside Waterfront

Manhattan/Brooklyn Heights

  1. The Edge Stephen B. Jacobs; Master Plan FXFOWLE and TEN Arquitectos, Sept. 2008
  2. Palmer’s Dock FXFOWLE, phase one, 2008; phase two, 2009
  3. North 8: Greenberg Farrow Architecture, spring 2007
  4. Domino Sugar Site: Rafael Viñoly Architects, Park opened in 2018, ArchDigest: FEMA flood plan ArchRecRev (payportal)
  5. Schaefer Landing: Karl Fischer Architects, 2006
  6. Freedom Tower, David Childs/SOM; World Trade Center Transit Hub Santiago Calatrava; Tower 2, Sir Norman Foster; visitor center, 2011
  7. 101 Warren Street; SOM, Ismael Leyva Architects, 2007
  8. William Beaver House; Developer André Balazs, no completion date
  9. Staten Island Whitehall Ferry Terminal; Fred Schwartz, 2005
  10. Battery Maritime Building; Renovation, Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, 2006
  11. Beekman Street Tower l Gehry Partners, Ismael Leyva Architects
  12. 80 South Street: Santiago Calatrava
  13. Pier 17; Beyer Blinder Belle, no completion date
  14. Drawing Center; Architect TBA, 2011.
  15. East River Waterfront; SHoP and Richard Rogers Ken Smith Landscape Architects, 2009
  16. Brooklyn Bridge Park; Michael Van Valkenburgh, 2012
  17. One Brooklyn Bridge Park/360 Furman Street Creative Design Associates, fall 2007
Upper West Side
  1. Javits Center; Rogers FXFOWLE Epstein, 2010.
  2. West Side Rail Yards No completion date.
  3. Moynihan Station David Childs/SOM, late 2010
  4. High Line; Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, phase one, 2008; phase two, 2009
  5. Chelsea Arts Tower Kosser & Garry Architects, Gluckman Mayner Architects, HOK, Fall 2006.
  6. Vesta 24; Garrett Gourlay Architects and James D’Auria Associates, April 2006.
  7. Marianne Boesky Gallery Deborah Berke & Partners Architects, September 2006.
  8. West 23rd Street building Neil M. Denari Architects, Marc Rosenbaum, Gruzen Samton, 2008.
  9. General Theological Seminary Tower The Polshek Partnership, no completion date.
  10. High Line 519; ROY Co., late 2006
  11. West 19th Street building Ateliers Jean Nouvel, no completion date.
  12. IAC Headquarters Gehry Partners, March 2007.
  13. 516 West 19th Street Selldorf Architects, 2008
  14. The Caledonia Handel Architects, 2008.
  15. Chelsea Market Residence Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects
  16. The Standard, NY The Polshek Partnership, 2007. High Line Club Developers Charles Blaichman and André Balazs, no completion date
  17. Pier 57 Michel De Fournier and Gensler, no completion date
  18. Dia High Line; Roger Duffy/SOM, 2008.

The health and prosperity of the world are at stake in this century. Planning, architecture, urban design, and engineering must become one discipline. It must take power to build connections to a far broader set of responsibilities. The need to produce so we don’t fail our kids, and their kids are now. Are the steps taken by these projects enough?

Are public agencies overwhelmed? Can they force the building of the city that should be built, or managing the one that can be built by those this limited imagination and concise term interests. Our public bodies have enormous authority. They miss opportunities to correct imbalances, leverage resources, and eliminate errors for the lack of political will and the ability to take power?

Anyone what to upgrade this with a starchitecture review?

Mega Region Design

In November 2007, Bruce Katz presented the challenges of the “mega” urban world. The exquisite logic of Blueprint for American Prosperity was this century’s “Rachael Carson” moment. The truth is almost impossible to believe, and as it turns out, no one did. That is a serious problem.

RLC
Megaregion Design

The 2050 population estimate by the U.S. Census is about 440 million people.  This is a 60% increase from 2000 at 280 million and sufficient to sustain modest GDP growth were it not for one salient fact.  One-third of the population in 2050 will be 60 years or older.  They will need walkable communities, or they will ask to have everything delivered.

Where will the majority of this population decide to live? Economists think it will be in warm places that are becoming hot and dry or hot and wet. This brings many critical questions. One of them confronts an enormous labor shortage expected to begin around 2025. However, perhaps the most compelling policy question involves the demands of this population for elder care services concerning the quality of its provision in the marketplace.  The impact everything urban where the efficient use of energy depends directly on density.

Knowing how this population will decide to live also goes a long way toward knowing where density can work and be well received.  In order of preference, the following answers are probably accurate – people will be:

  • living the same way since settled, and will stay there until we drop dead, or
  • seeking a village-like setting with easy access to leisure– theater, movies, dining, and health sports such as running, cycling, golf, tennis, or name it
  • moving closer, but not too close to the kids, their kids, and some friends
  • be living with the children in their house as they become caregivers or receivers
  • be looking for elder care or nursing facility/hospice eventually

One way to resolve the conflicts of prediction is to define the population’s cohorts by the 2050 geography of megaregions from Brookings and work back to now. So say it is 2025 – you have a few years to arrange policy and resources.

Google “Overpass”

Change the Subsidy and Alter the Incentive

Planners and developers know the analysis well. Work in the context of the above categories and then modify a carefully selected yet thin wash of possible local development sites with existing services or links to centers of density most likely to provide specialized services. The question of where is then partially resolved. It is least risky to recognize high demand potential regressed to the mean of less predictable costs, including displacement events associated with the climate change event, including COVID-19. The choices also involve a broad landscape of existing housing, large to small retail districts, office parks, and industrial areas.  All megaregions will require analysis of the historically contrived municipal boundaries organization with rapidly changing demographic characteristics.

There is no reason to believe the economic and social forces that accelerated central city decay is not at work with similar consequences in the spread city. A guidebook called Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs documents those who have taken this approach.  (see: Ted Talk by Ellen Dunham Jones). She observes how planners can diagnose low-density areas for possible problems. The failure of grey-field office parks, dead or dying malls, and housing subdivisions altered by illegal or loop-hole conversions are good examples. Suburban communities are feverishly working to stabilize or lower personal and property taxes by urgently digging for new options in more haphazard manners than ever before.

Face it, successfully injecting an urban design agenda into these communities will require a much sharper, top-down “Brookings, APA, AIA, Lincoln, ULI” coalition and a public focus on how impossible it is for local government agencies to direct development in a free market economy.  It comes down to one question. Why are people such as Bruce Katz and his team all alone on the significance of this make-or-break analysis? Where is the public capacity to ban all shovels until all projects proposed to comply with regional rules that clearly recognize the age cohort and highly disruptive displacement events? 

Mandatory rules in the following order of priority are available. The guidebooks and manuals for a more successful urban world are well written.  The missing element is a coalition level of political enforcement that would help assure community planning, urban design, and architecture will accomplish the following:

  1. a residential environment that is safe and walkable to meet convenience needs
  2. design solutions that allow for the routine use of human-powered and power assist vehicles
  3. provision of mass transit access serving all comparison goods, needs, interests, or desires
  4. zero footprint impact and plus-grid (micro) energy, natural and technologically advanced waste (of all kinds) management systems
  5. integration of open space systems responsive to natural environmental conditions of wilderness (preferably not fragmented).
  6. Oh, and end the crapshoot presented by the following image of Atlanta as it really exists.

Experience plus reflection produces knowledge. The Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program back in 2007 presented the real challenge of the American urban world.  Why has it not taken hold in a way that ordinary people can absorb? I think the exquisite logic of Blueprint for American Prosperity failed to convince Atlanta. Except for NYC, nobody got it because the hard truth was impossible to believe. Time to repeat it, SAM.

Comment

Seven Elements/Four Topics

The following few thousand words seek a new value system for the city and regional planning, architecture, and engineering professions. Your bones tell you, you smell it, there is the challenge of unclear change on the tongues of the public speakers. The sticky multiple versions of the truth offered in the political speech of our modern lives will be swept away by the clear mind of science. This is a call for action in that simple pursuit.

The challenges embedded in the failures of planning, architecture, and engineering are vast. Only a third of the earth’s landscape is urban, and it holds over half its population and will not stop. The densest regions are near natural resources and the ocean, and every part of it is instructive of an adaptation to restraint and the failure to do so. These regions range from heartbreaking failures to soaring enclosures of fully actualized human potential. This duality is now squarely before the change-makers. The rationalized contradictions of “have” and “have not” have become the tragedy of the knowing and the unknowing.

Core Elements of Planning, Architecture, and Engineering Practice
  1. The practice knows that humans experience the world through their bodies.
  2. The practice focuses on specific purposes for buildings and built environments for humans to provide experiences of the world.
  3. The practice builds environments made of materials drawn from the earth’s crust, for which there is a timeless responsibility.
  4. The quality of an architectural solution derived from demonstrations of extraction processes includes responsibility for all human experiences in creating and using each product.
  5. Demonstrations of quality derive from combinations of functional and technical requirements.
  6. Creating a place, its coherence, and material quality produce an aesthetic experience assigned by its users to the design solution.
  7. Standards of practice develop through deliberate periods of reflection, evaluation, and routine performance tests to establish planning, architecture, design, and engineering expertise.

The desire to build a city of gold or a shed in the forest does not require the expertise of architecture and engineering (A&E). It does require the confidence presented by preexisting, demonstrable products. Regretfully, the solutions are, therefore, retrogressive on all aspects of economic and social change. Less understood is the fundamental intention of design as a producer of hedonic experiences known as aesthesis. However, the ability to love, like, or appreciate your environment, yourself, and other people as part of that experience requires psychological and physiological knowledge. At the center, the human ability for profound learning can anticipate and empathize with the knowledge. In the A&E professions, this responsibility has been allowed to remain indeterminate, weak, and damaging to the United States. This is due to a “first” principle. Remaining accountable to the desires of the bill payers, and only as accountable to government as the law requires. See (Finding Density)

Whitney M. Young Jr raised racism in A&E in 1968 at the 100th convention of the American Institute of Architects. Just a few years before his accidental death (1971), he put a deck of cards on the table and explained to the AIA membership that they were the problem.

“Now, you have a nice, normal escape hatch in your historical, ethical code or something that says, after all, you are the designers and not the builders; your role is to give people what they want. Now, that’s a nice, easy cop-out.”

Whitney M. Young Jr.
Read the complete speech here.

Providing the service of design expertise to meet severe challenges such as “sustainability” exists, but it is weak. The desire to end development practices that contribute to racism is supported, but with actions subservient to the historical, ethical code used as an escape hatch.

Demands to improve the human experience with the world require steps well beyond establishing the coherence of place. Confirming a sense of safety, comfort, accessibility, mobility, novelty, color, harmonics produce a long set of demands for consistency. The designer’s production of spatial and aesthetic content requires a new social resonance in the 21st century, an open and uncertain intelligence essential to understanding every human need more than physical. The space-makers knowledge of existence will grow in service to a higher cause and one of purpose in service to humanity, not the bill payers. In failing to take these steps, architecture and engineering are not improving the human condition, and the world must ask why?

The following four topics summarize research and analysis of social and economic issues affecting the professional and non-professional urbanization of the United States. It began with the idea that a small laboratory on the idea of breaking some rules in one medium-sized A&E firm could reveal the brilliance of design as power. The topics outline an Occam’s Razor set of four simple steps by the professions of planning, design, architecture, and engineering that might save us all.

Four Topics

Challenging Planning, Architecture, and Engineering Practice

Topic One: The Arc of History Is an Act of Construction

For the last few thousand years, humanity has gathered and shaped materials from the earth’s crust. It now occurs at a rate unprecedented in any other period. Yet, from Fordism to now, history does not describe the cost of this change as safe practice in any sense of the word, but as one designed to be continuously more profitable.  

As a national policy, this practice pushed manufacturing labor out of the United States to less regulated, lower-cost areas in trade for lower-cost goods at home. Globalization is a well-documented force of history; however, its impact on the city-building trades is a research and development task tossed like a ball to the city-builders, the designer, planner, architect, and engineer, and they can’t catch.

Yes, individual projects represent extraordinary exhibits of design and technical expertise. Still, they are caves in the storm of urbanization history as it spreads the poisonous mass of human endeavor “as construction” across the surface of the earth.

Cities cover the earth’s prime locations, and yet they remain little more than a vague notion. As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic, I refer readers to “How cities took over the world” (here). The project experience of the A&E firms expressed by those in the graphic (below) and as many other contributors would care to recommend is needed. The Guardian (here) offers readers an extensive review of the earth’s urban reality. A video illustrates (here) the explosion of cities in the last two seconds of a three-minute presentation covering 4,000 years of urban development, or 9,000 if you want to go Neolithic.

The growth of architecture and engineering as a professional force surpasses all others in city-building, yet it remains an undistinguished expression of political power. Management companies such as McKinsey & Company noticed this as a productivity problem in 2017 (here). Its city-forming capacities and influence are self-suppressed in preference for praise as an art. Over the last four thousand years, from Alexandria to the Erie Canal, the practice has turned away from recognizing how it shapes the world as a political force in preference to its services for expressing the imaginations of capital. This behavior needs to stop.

The global A&E practice has developed in service to those who desire to build cities at a development rate rightly criticized as endangering the well-being of life. In this context, the thousand-year arc of history exhibits urban life brought to its knees many times in countless submissions to the destructive forces of black death, war, resource overreach, and the anticipatory ignorance of central governance. This behavior needs to stop.

The thread in this demand for discussion asks participants to examine this history with the presumption of a continuously urbanizing, global system, structurally and destructively embedded in or alongside another world that uses only what it needs, wastes nothing, and obtains its energy from sunlight. Looking forward and back, questions regarding the medium- and long-term must recognize the incompatibility of these two systems as currently designed. How can the destructive forces of each establish balance, and at what cost to human life?

Preceding our few thousand years, millions of species have come and gone over the last four billion years. In this context, the genius of time is the formation of well-informed and reflective humans, capable of explaining and understanding the universe well enough so as not to become its victim. The first question of history that points to this future of knowledge must discover an urban world that is generous with the earth with near-perfect information. The history of urban construction needs to change. Finally, can the powerful development expertise of actors such as those exhibited above become more mindful of this challenge. What forces are needed to get more effective thinking, and where necessary, force corrective action?

Topic Two: Erase the Contract

Architects and engineers have defined a set of professional restrictions on themselves. They also accepted limits demanded by investors (public and private). As the classic phrasing in the contract documents describes, A&E work shall be limited work. A&E provides two services design and construction documents, or more directly, build design expertise reputations to “get the job” and “documents” that get a project built.  

When a building is to be built, the process begins for the construction manager when there is an agreement between the owner and the architect followed by a separate agreement between an owner and the architect called the B132 agreement between the owner and a construction management adviser. This agreement follows the A232 that outlines the general conditions of the contract of construction. Following this step, the litigious nature established by these first two agreements sets into motion the possibility of many other contracts designed to avoid complaints.

The climate warming crisis has encouraged a process for implementing the concept of “sustainability” into every project as an exhibit (E 235).  The process for change orders and the steps necessary to acquire certifications for payment, new construction change directives, and ultimately a certificate of substantial completion sets forth the final payment elements of the initial contract between owner and contractor.

After these two tasks (get the job and sign documents), A&E is without power and trapped in binding contracts of its own making. It can observe well-paid union workers in conflict with the non-union worker through strategic “divide-and-conquer” tactics to accomplish a profit. Profit, of course, is essential. It is only the term and structure for defining returns and accruals that are in question — the result involves the intervention using public funds for supply-side subsidies and demand-side incentives of public policy.

Change in response to unmet human needs is injected into the city-building process to lower the cost of money or support efforts to produce better and safer environments through various zoning and construction regulations. The result is a maze of contractual requirements. Finally, A&E remains relevant in its examination of a long list of issues and concerns related to the use of building materials and construction practices to maintain public welfare and prevent litigation on a project-by-project basis. In addition, the knowledge drawn from the application of technology in planning, architecture, and engineering in city-building has the power to prove that humanity is not an infestation but an instrument capable of understanding the full complexity of all the conditions in which a building is made, not as an object in space, but as an addition in a community where much more needs to be done and with whom new partners are needed in a very different type of contract.

Efforts to change the system from within have resulted in introducing technology and law to produce contracts, such as presented by the Integrated Project Delivery introduced by the American Institute of Architects in the mid-2000s (AIA pdf here).

As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic, refer your readers to the implementation of IPD ( pdf here) that reviews a dozen projects in the United States. I also ask you to refer project experience of A&E firms expressed in the graphic (above) as it relates to the construction trade organizations exhibited in the graphic (below) along with as many other “workers organizations” as you would care to recommend with one additional component – add your focus on the expertise of the construction trades as exhibited by their union representation and by spending about three minutes with some people talking about their life-experience in construction.

‘The vitality of architecture does not stand on the strength of its foundations or the vision of its builders. 
It stands on the dignity of life formed in the heart of all of its creators.”

I offer the following change tactically aimed at a far more significant change in the city-building contract than exhibited in the well-intentioned tinkering offered by the IPD program. First, I would include a demand to recapture a resource such as building information modeling systems (BIM) as a public responsibility. It is adopted widely and somewhat inappropriately by construction management firms in contracts with owners and developers. It belongs elsewhere in a new partnership.

If significant improvements in system management toward a practice of architecture and engineering are to occur, it must defer to people’s lives in priority over the property. In response to demands for resilience, it must meet sustainability goals in preference to weathering the next storm, whether it be fire or rage. A new relationship between the construction trades, their unions, and A&E can produce the balance needed to move forward as a force for political change. Accepting this idea may be essential to eliminating the destructive forces of raw capital at work in the world.

An improved concept of change that gets well past the profitability of managing time is needed. The cold industrialization of construction awaits on the global factory floor. In this writer’s mind, a new alliance of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) are the best means toward retaining the art and humanity of architecture with the precision of science and engineering sustained by the heart and soul of its human builders. Technology makes many contributions to city-building that offer exhilarating promise. The embodied energy in building materials could be sustained for centuries as recyclable. All surfaces would collect tactile and energy from the sun, the movement of people and goods occurs seamlessly. When these changes can be made to recur there is proof of control. With these proofs, one other human problem requires careful examination in the United States because it is the most diverse society on earth.

The argument in this brief look at changing the city-building contract is one that must occur between design, the technology of architecture, and engineering with the construction trades and its workers. Without this change, the city-building professions will fail in their contract with humanity.

Topic Three: Change the Concept of Change

Building diversity is an adjustment of social justice and a step toward extraordinary new powers for change.

Open processes that value human dignity, fair wages, health, and safety occur in countries with the capacity to make a democratic change. Over the last fifty years, public regulation and litigation regarding the safety of construction sites make them marginally protected. Elsewhere in the world, the record shows construction labor as a struggle with death, and if not death, despair.

Investors know creativity is in the major urban centers, and the time to capture it is now.  When business and government leaders put options on the table that don’t create change, the policy is not to create change. The CEO’s from small to massive A&E firms recognize the prevailing narrative of a nation’s white, male, racial preeminence, and how it is represented in their businesses today. They should see it in the context of a rapidly changing American value system aimed at high levels of fairness that eliminate wrongs, thereby opening an exponential capacity for growth through innovation.

As the more responsible power holders take a good look at the nation as it is today, they will discover how to shift the subtle and corrosive ideology of gender and racial pre-eminence that is white and male toward greater inclusion. They will learn how it creates the invisibility of all others. The first step is to identify the privileges that have enabled past “rights” to continue for so long that they have become today’s “wrongs.” In the light of a society that seeks to improve its understanding of itself, the demand (while painful) for a “facts are friendly” approach to solving problems is paramount.

Nearly 40% of the U.S. population are people of color.  Their lack of representation in many influential fields reveals obvious “white race preeminence” that remains unchallenged. Department of Labor (DOL) numbers to back that up are:

  • From 2009 to 2018, the percentage of black law partners up from 1.7% to 1.8%.
  • From 1985 to 2016, the proportion of black men in management at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees barely budged–from 3% to 3.2%.
  • People of color held about 16% of Fortune 500 board seats in 2018.
  • A 2018 survey of the 15 largest public fashion and apparel companies found that nonwhites held only 11% of board seats and that nearly three-quarters of company CEOs were white men.
  • In the top 200 film releases of 2017, minorities accounted for 7.8% of writers, 12.6% of directors, and 19.8% of lead roles.

As a stimulant to further discussion on this topic and resistance to it, I will refer readers to two discussions on the implementation of diversity (AIA pdf here, a research article here) that addresses a range of issues. The task of linking A&E to the Construction Trades experience offers lessons in racial and gender in both of their ranks.

At first glance, architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms have improved gender balance with a significant influence on education and training programs. The construction trade unions have improved racial access and trust in diversity with added strength in the transparency of pay equity and negotiations for health insurance services in their ranks. There is a strong win/win potential in developing this relationship through education.

An alliance of knowledge and choices in career ladders between the building trades and city-building professionals can produce any more levels of participation from designing a building to building one. The enrichment for a cross-disciplinary engagement in the challenges faced in city-building is infinite in its possibility. It is capable of crushing the intellectual silos in which the trades and professionals find themselves trapped.

Topic Four: Realign City-Building

Until recently, the history of the construction industry regarding change issues has been not to allow social change. The history of A&E, however, illustrates policies more responsive to demands for change. The focus on education serves greater gender-balance positioned to achieve equity; A&E policies are also eager to adapt to new technologies to their portfolio of problem-solving tools.

Few evaluation systems address social change and sustainability beyond the capacity of marketing to claim “steps.” Departments of Commerce (Census) and Labor produce measures for evaluating responses of business and industry to social demands. Agents can claim modest advances in broad areas such as social justice and point to specific areas such as sexual harassment. However, steps in preventing environmental damage do not quantify threats to future generations effectively. Vague, and in many cases, unverifiable measures are used on a project-by-project basis with impunity. Draw a line around the city. Inside unlimited growth is on offer if nothing damaging can go outside that line. With this alignment, there may be enough time to make it work. If not, I fear doom awaits full expression in the screams of the impoverished.

On the question of accountability, these issues concern any thinking person. The design professions and construction trades can take a more substantial leadership role in public policy. There are more questions, and please offer them, but the best of them to seek opinions as follows:

Thank You

Yep, this is a tunnel search.

Please contribute facts, names of places, numbers, sources, and resources to help this little think tank community explore some ideas, and define the problems presented in each of the following questions. Our focus is simple — no one is as smart as all of us.

1

Should the A&E community enter into alliances with the construction trades industry to make both more responsive to social and environmental challenges?

Knowing that an alliance with the construction trades is not considered possible at this time, what strategies might you offer or what purposes might this action serve?

Please respond: link to email here

2

Is it possible for you to envision the formation of a highly trained, architecture, engineering, and construction industry as a highly advanced technological force in the city-building world? If yes, what national and global structures would you deploy (real or imagined).

Knowing that the top annual billing rate for the world’s largest A&E firms falls short of a billion U.S. Dollars, consider your answer in terms of taking full development control.

Please respond: link to email here

3

Through legislation and changes in central governance policy, will it be necessary for A&E to develop the capacity to establish a controlling and deciding role in every expenditure related to urban preservation, re-development, and construction?

This question presumes an inability of nation-states and global regulatory bodies to establish ground rules for managing the displacement of millions of people over the next half-century.

Please respond: link to email here

4

Can A&E define and resolve the challenges of the next two decades that predict enormous physical damages to the urban infrastructure of America?

Please respond: link to email here

The question imagines the availability of substantial capital to resolve coastal and southern border disruptions in new multi-national business partnerships designed to define specific levels of design expertise rapidly when needed.

5

Will A&E lead in its capacity to design and plan environments that respond to the vast creativity embedded in the social and economic diversity unique to the United States?

The representation of the multi-cultural, ethnic, and racial composition of the American population is considered a valuable asset. Can A&E in the United States respond effectively in resolving issues?

Please respond: link to email here

6

Will AEC envision new ways of life that focus on the humanity embedded in our shared realities that produce new forms of comfort in life and health in living with the knowledge that we sustain the joy and laughter of all those who wait in the deep future?

Asking for your theory of change in this closing question asks you to reflect on all previous answers with the idea that some elements of hope for the leadership in the profession will become possible, if not in your heart, then in your imagination

Please respond: link to email here and thank-you.

The challenge is to combine design skill and construction knowledge and the progressive nature of labor unions, architecture, and engineering to create the opportunity to save us all or save anyone who looks into the eyes of a six-year-old to know that we had better try hard and start now.

Housing

Tweets from housing advocacy groups warned of the 2008 Recession for five years (here). They see another housing crisis forming in America caused by raising public awareness. It is about how equity was kept away from people by Americans against themselves. It is an issue defined by the nation’s 400 hundred-year heritage of enslavement, cold, racist terrorism, and bigotry. These facts also describe the world’s history, but it is the U.S. Constitution that had some ideas about how moral people could change immoral societies.

RLC – OCCUPY

Every problem is a housing problem.

Problems that hurt people and go undefined and unanswered creates a climate for authoritarian solutions. The often-told solution is an old retort of hard work, healthy homes, communities, and families. The response is correct but blind to the history of privileges extended to white America as it became the United States. For centuries rights and freedoms were extended to all people. Policymakers made the denial of pathways to equity without a moment’s reflection. The crime of bias barred the accumulation of wealth from property to succeeding generations. The quiet yet insidious reduction and denials of opportunity from education are proven. The lack of equity is significant.

Over a half-century has passed since the idea of forming nonprofit housing development corporations was established by concerned residents and city officials. In Brooklyn and throughout New York City, this emergent network of housing rights advocates works as nonprofit partners with housing developers drawing on various financial mechanisms to defend low- and moderate-income households from the myth of “market rate” access to housing. Formed in the early 1970s, the Association of Neighborhood Housing Developers (ANHD) initially sought to bring equity to families by acquiring publicly owned (in rem) housing and converting it to various local ownership structures. The idea began during the great wave of housing vacancy and abandonment that began in the 1950s that destroyed entire neighborhoods. The pathway to equity remains narrow, easily recognized in the subtle name change of ANHD from developer to advocate. It is now the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (here).

A public map listing of Brooklyn organizations is offered (here). One question is posed. Can equity be created for low- and moderate-income households? Brooklyn’s housing rights and development organizations will soon be struggling with the pandemic-stimulated crisis in rental housing and torn between the logical interests of those who hold equity in rental property, have bills to pay of their own, and thousands of tenants that are without the resources to do participate. In this crisis, there is an opportunity to create new partnerships toward equity in housing because the issue is straight forward as this heading states:

Access to work from the ordinary trades to the most highly skilled professions is proven with painful references to people of color such as “they are not ready,” or the best work suited “for them” is agricultural service. These actions still rip the opportunity for equity with an intense generational impact on people of color. In the centuries that led to the rise of American hegemony, no one, not one person, not W.E.B. DuBois or even Martin Luther King, has been able to fully articulate what this loss of equity has meant to African-Americans and extended without delay to all people of color in America. The voice of Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most current (here). He stands on firm ground because the U.S. has participated in reparations six times. The seventh time should take a long hard look at housing as linked to the displacement challenges posed by climate change.

Ending the Wherever Movement

After WWII, localities have kept their hand on the tail of the revenue bull, blind to the rest of the beast. In the last century, millions of households benefited from federal housing policies with only one location principle – housing wherever you want. In this new century reducing the mortgage interest subsidy on the demand side and weakening a long list of development incentives on the supply side has severely weakened federal leadership in housing preservation and development to continue the “build wherever” policy.

A new housing crisis is in the air for reasons other than systemic racism in America. Every issue connects to a housing problem. For some time, the equity crisis re-establishes classicism under headings such as “culture wars,” but the results change little. The metaphor is weak. The facts on the structure of every “next disaster” can be different using resilience principles. Technology offers opportunities to build a broader coalition on equity with justice that includes race by correcting past wrongs, yet moves forward to circumvent long-established rules of “divide to conquer.”

The surge of affordable single-family housing in America continues in the hot wetlands of the south with sporadic drought and the flat drylands of the southwest with asymmetrical flash floods and fire. The onset of climate change will drown the wetlands, scorch and burn the drylands, and cause enormous disruptions in every region of the United States.

Denying the annual recurrence of this possibility is a repudiation of science and a political endorsement of catastrophic resolution. I will not be surprised if we experience a bout of biblical pestilence in the narrative of the resistance to this long term, permanent threat. Long before the direct links to climate change formed, the impacts of disasterous choices in land use development are righly defined as “environmental racism” by pointing directly at the disproportionate number of low-and-moderate-income people losing equity. The damage and despair reveal a broad swath of painful historic bigotry, but now the dangers are thrown at all people.

The opportunity to bring national policies back with conditions that mitigate the impact of regional climate change by region makes it possible to re-establish national housing development policies as the leading edge of a new strategy. It will be re-focused by climate protection that builds restoration with resilience. It will create sustainable equity in communities despite storms of enormous ferocity. It will be designed to survive the hatred, bigotry, far to easily injected in to the threat of high water, drought, and fire.

Two Centuries Out

In the following summary of Tweets from the Housing Advocacy People (HAP) of July 2019, it may be possible to find threads of principle and elements of novelty in current policy efforts that will alter the pervasive opinion that the purpose of the national government has not lost its way. It will be possible to forge new policy from environmental protection as a national defense strategy forced by the bright light of survival and a far more serious focus on the big picture. I offer one example.

The ocean’s tide is once again destined to flow up and into the Great Appalachian Valley from Maine’s ports to South Carolina’s shores over the next few centuries. The ancient geological record proves it has been there before. Given a long term view, getting ready should be a top priority. Preparation for this kind of “sea change” in all its meanings is the most important action of this century (the original map as shown below is here). Issues like this are just the beginning:

Hundreds of more practical definitions of why establishing policies governing housing equity and location can be surmised with a moment reviewing location and percentage of elderly households as a coastal population as provided by a Climate Central study.

Climate Central

Take your pick of issues for building a constituency on housing development and location. If the Gulf of Mexico’s fate is to be an alga thickened swamp, we need ideas to be prepared for what that means. If the Pacific Ocean’s vast torrents alter the Gulf Stream and El Niño yields unservivable surface heat or hundreds of tornadoes and hurricanes. Not being ready is a super bad idea. Whether friendly or with horrible force, from the sky or the sea, heed the words, “the water will come.” The plan seems different when time itself became for sale, and that is not a surprise if you know how non-fungible tokens (NFT) and blockchains began to change all financial transactions. A true distraction, for all the world, is lost to the stage that will not honor trade that does not move from hand to hand.

Policy People

Please enjoy a look at the national Tweet-O-Rama organizations focused on housing (here). With those thoughts in mind, it is logical to look at politics as a sport and as a practice that is now very different from the role of leadership that it implies. A growing number of elected national representatives now complain of a system of government that appears to ignore the will of the people.

Climate Design

The Planning and Design Problems of Climate Change
Measures to Consider

The book “Climate Design,” discussed (here) needs to be re-read by more people. Coastal wind and advanced flood plain envelopes will become integral to a building, and land use policy as light and air standards are today. Traditional electric power grid (coal/oil/gas) systems will go to a 24/7/365 pricing structure to spread demand.  Waterproof everything 14ft above MHT will be standard for 75% of the new housing units and expand to 30% of the land area.  Rain harvesting will be a component of buildings, and “complete streets” make room for vehicles other than cars.   Power storage locations and systems will take top priority.  New route designs will accommodate a vastly broader range of personal vehicles (type, size).  So-called “intermodal nodes” will become high-value zones.

Buildings and Energy

  • Improve energy incentives in buildings by centralizing incentives. Update the State Energy Code swiftly and expedite “climate-friendly” projects. Prioritize energy efficiency initiatives for affordable housing.
  • The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) should be raised from 25% to 30%.
  • The Public Service Commission should be permitted to require time-of-use pricing, which allows the price of electricity to more closely track the actual cost of producing it on an hour-by-hour basis.
  • Provide incentives for installing a “smart meter” to allow for data exchange between the electricity provider and the customer’s electric meter.
  • Sub-metering should be required in all buildings to allow building owners to bill tenants for individual electric usage.
  • The State Energy Code should be amended to cover more building renovations; currently, only renovations that involve the replacement of 50% or more of a building’s subsystem must comply with the Code.
  • All new or substantially renovated school buildings should be required to meet green building standards.
  • Water and wastewater treatment plants should be required to adopt energy conservation requirements.
  • Reinstate the State Energy Planning Board

Land Use

  • The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) regulations should be amended such that GHG emissions are considered for projects that are subject to it.
  • GHG emissions should be factored into local comprehensive plans.
  • Wind projects, including those offshore, should be encouraged and New York should adopt a statewide wind energy goal as part of its RPS requirement.

Vehicles and Transportation

  • Continue to strive for a 10% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) below business as usual within 10 years; to this end, New York should initiate a VMT Task Force.
  • Consider imposing feebates on the purchase of new vehicles with low fuel economy and offer rebates on the purchase of vehicles with high fuel economy.
  • Encourage the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles.
  • Include Energy-saving vehicle maintenance techniques as part of the vehicle registration process.

Additional recommendations

  • Encourage the expansion of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) by promoting the adoption of an economy-wide cap on GHGs; in addition, consider lowering the existing cap.
  • Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology should be pursued provided that adequate federal funding is available.
  • Green workforce development should be promoted by enhancing educational and job training programs throughout the state.
  • Encourage the Interagency Committee on Sustainability and Green Procurement to be aggressive in setting green specifications for certain goods that are purchased by State agencies.
  • Promote methane capture by requiring or encouraging it in all municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills.
  • Improve its floodplain mapping system by taking into account future sea level rise.

New York State Bar Association Task Force on Global Warming reviewed New York’s existing laws and programs, including existing and pending federal laws regarding climate change.  The Task Force is chaired by Professor Michael Gerrard, Director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University School of Law.  (Jan. 2009.)  The proposals are organized into four categories: buildings and energy, land use, transportation, and others.  The following was edited from the Executive Summary excerpted in the Law of the Land blog.

Political Waters

Jeff Goodell at Long Now Foundation

Goodell is a journalist focused on energy systems and climate change. At the end of his talk, Jeff Goodell was asked what he would do with $200 billion. His answer was surprising. He said he would spend it all on finding ways to improve the quality of political change and its ability to adapt to solving big long-term problems. He said we have the intelligence and capacity to deal with the problem of a constantly rising sea. Still, first, it must be recognized as daily and inevitable by our leadership. He adds this is a problem that will last for several centuries, so we might as well get started.  His full discussion of “The Water Will Come” is available at the Long Now Foundation.  His five main points are below. Buy “The Water Will Come.”

1. Gravity

Sea rise is like the existence of gravity. It is all around us; it is happening now every day. Like gravity, the increase in seawater is subtle, and it is a fixed part of the world because you cannot make water go away. All you can do is watch it get redistributed. In every locality, the hydrology of the rise will be unique. The conservation of matter remains the physical driving principal – added moisture in the atmosphere; the higher intensity in storm surges is part of a global system with a deep billion-year-old history.  The need for action to deal with sea-level rise and adapting to it is not physical. It is the hyper-political “not on my watch” principal. They are incompatible. What we can do today is the value to instill in leadership.

2. Rate of Change

The geological record covering billions of years shows 25 to 60 feet of sea-level rise is part of the system, leaving the central question’s time and rate. Jeff refers to Richard Alley as the world’s top ice analyst (climate scientist) who finds the rise of 15 feet by 2100 “is not out of the question.” The geological record also suggests the sea rise occurs in pulses, but the historical average is 13 feet per century. Huge unknowns remain. How will trillions of tons of water change the sea due to the catastrophic collapse of Antarctica? How big and fast questions will last for a century and vary in probable impact in places worldwide. Definitive answers to these questions drive political policy toward resilience. For example, the effect of climate change in the form of “storm surge” on the value of the coastal property is top on the list. The political response, on the other hand, is little more than a finger in the dike.

3. Value

Long before any individual city or region comes up with mitigation resources, the “troubles” will have spoken and measured in dollars. A part of the American culture is that it tends to leave the important things unsaid. For example, the coastal states are losing property value. People are selling (caveat emptor) and moving to get ahead of their sea rise fears following one experience: a sunny day flooding or a crushing surge in the ocean’s new normal. Others take advantage of generous publicly funded encouragements to sustain tax revenues with “move to the shore,” campaigns deemed essential to borrow long term financing for local “fixes” (higher roads, bigger dunes, pumps, and so on) and. In political words, what we have here is a capital mess with a Catch 22 attached.

4. Resilience is Now

There is no way to know what plan will work best or who will call for spending and take the win/lose leadership responsibility to protect against the impact of sea rise. Goodell has traveled the world and has seen brilliance and stupidity. Some jurisdictions pump the water from one place to another. Others raise buildings, but protecting a city is a very different problem. The who is in and outside a mitigation area screams substantial social justice issues on why protections planned for one locality are not in another. Resilience policies are in response to ongoing “chaos costs” because it is too late to achieve sustainable development for five main reasons outlined by Dennis Meadows over a decade ago.

  1. Public discourse has difficulty with subtle, conditional messages.
  2. Growth advocates change the justification for their paradigm rather than changing the paradigm itself.
  3. The global system is now far above its carrying capacity.
  4. We act as if technological change can substitute for social change.
  5. The time horizon of our current system is too short.

5. Why “Catastrophic” Resolution?

The business models used to treat climate change as an economic opportunity is often disguised by waiting for catastrophe. Nevertheless, there are places far less driven by profit-making than the quality of life that may be getting it right and doing so in a timely way.  Lagos is a floating place to live, others in the Netherlands and similar geographies find ways for the sea to take what it will. The re-building design for a flooding world is easily envisioned across the economic spectrum of engineering. Geo-engineering work will attempt to physically alter the atmosphere by buying time or opening Pandora’s box but will not stop the sea-level rise. The question “what now” will help regions know what to do, the skills exist, and get them. To get creativity from skill, it will be necessary to make climate change risks transparent to get the markets and governments to function.

What?

North America’s coastlines are urban, dense, and represent 80% of the nation’s GDP. From the islands of New York City to Virginia’s shipyards to the North and South Carolina beaches’ soft links and from Savannah to Miami, the sea is rising. From hot and sunny New Orleans, Louisiana to San Diego, California, and way up north to the cold and wet of Seattle, Washington, the sea is rising. It took three centuries to build this coastline, and this investment continues.

To sustain these economic giants as viable will require a new force capable of combining political will, economic genius, design, and engineering brilliance and bringing it to the forefront of our thinking. They are all unique urban environments requiring solutions specific to each place’s geology and hydrology, but they are all equally threatened. There are no “need to know” problems, only the need to make an effort. The alternative to a successful push for democratic transparency on these problems will be an authoritarian process that will choose winners and losers the way despots have always chosen.

The Urban Planet

“The social contract for authority is at the center of money, politics, and religion. No surprise there. Each center’s loci has confirming elements such as the high priest’s temple or another supreme power object represented by the elite and their agents. These three realms are carefully designed for the acquisition of wealth. The purpose is to create predictable rates and periods in a political or religious mix. Because it is expected, these failures also predict products such as, when to buy low, followed by the distraction of an intractable political confrontation.”

Rex L. Curry

Money, politics, and religion have yet to recognize the earth as a place. Photographs from the moon made it an island in space ruled by the sun. Still, of the billions of people on the earth, only a small percentage realize the Earth’s location in a solar system of a galaxy, among many. The “Earth Rise” and “Blue Marble” photographs taken a half-century ago from orbit and the surface of the moon through all of the Apollo Missions (1968 – 1972) takes us back a mere five hundred years ago when Galileo began to figure out the earth’s place in our solar system (1600). The first contact with the universe’s vast nature must have yielded a compelling sense of spatial abundance. Galileo would be surprised by how limited it is today among the “knowing” observers of our finite planet. It is the way Galileo used his mind that should be remembered. Read of his thought experiment (here).

Mountain ranges and vast oceans compare to a sea of galaxies in the opposite sense. The earth’s density is close and personal. It begins with roughly 100 people per square mile and climbs to nearly 150,000 people in dense clusters. How do these two experiences “of the earth” and “the city” fit together? That “fit” is oddly similar to the earth in the galaxy.

New York City’s Manhattan island has a residential density surrounding Central Park of around 67,000 people per square mile (2000). Should Yellowstone National Park experience the same fate in another few centuries? After all, the argument for the investment in a “central park” was the increase in adjacent property values. The United States averages less than 85 people per square mile. Methods to evaluate this range became of interest following the 2000 Census with specific new definitions of density in the Census Bureau. See Density.

The designation “urban” has long been in the bureau’s lexicon, but the term “urban area” is new Census 2000 terminology. It is a way to include everything from small urban clusters (less than 50,000 but at least 1,000 people per square mile) down to “at least 500 people” per square mile, in areas immediately adjacent for the cut-off to not urban something else like exurban. Establishing the urbanized area (UA) category and the “urban growth area” (UGA) is helping policymakers to identify areas where urban development regulations predict/prevent growth. Maryland and Oregon have closely monitored examples.

A UA benefit is how it reveals “low density” settlement patterns (less than 100 people per square mile). The presumption that these areas do not alter ecological systems comes from the lack of understanding of either system. Yet, they shape the nation’s mega-regions as we know them today. Low-density areas can be hotbeds of hidden environmental degradation without boundary. Could such places be given a border? Where would the challenge draw a line fall? Would it be at the <100 thresholds or at edges of a <50,000 or within a community that is >100,000 population per square mile? It comes down to perceived value and the primacy of private ownership in confrontation with public interests. (Bundy)

The change in the urban definition of places and census-designated places led to a mild refinement that splits a UA population between urban and not-urban components based on 500 people per square mile. The Census Bureau estimates this change may classify an added 5 million urban people in 7 percent less area (about 6,600 square miles. How much “less area” will continue to be a central question in each recent population census. It may be too late if a policy of urban unification and the wilderness’s defragmentation becomes a recognized priority.

In the Bureau’s decennial cycle, these refinements contribute to local and national policy changes’ poor timing. The American Community Survey may resolve this problem with an equally accurate predictor of annual population characteristics and vital statistics. Growing trust in its sampling technology could help sustain the ecological balance between urban and the remaining landscape. Being able to establish a strategic difference will be crucial.

Fire illustrates the importance of understanding an urban area strategy best.  It is possible to let a forest wilderness fire burn, but less so when the wild is also urban using the 2000 definition. The Paradise Fire in California, 2018 is a clear example of needing a strategic difference policy. Extending this sense of difference to when a river breaks its traditional banks and expands into a flood plain, but far less so when the river upland of a river basin still requires dikes and channelization as seen across the entire Los Angeles basin or bayous of Louisiana.

I do not believe that our sense of fragile earth in a vast galaxy and the sense of ongoing calamity in the world is going unnoticed. Trillions in costs driven by environmental changes to which humans are making a substantial contribution are closely monitored. The “Man versus Mother Nature” series by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Finance and Development in March 2014, Vol. 51, No. 1 by Nicole Laframboise and Sebastian Acevedo make the case quite clear.


This photo of “Earth Rise” over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space.

Catastrophic Resolution

Good for the City in Small Pieces

“Some years ago, and a year or so after the 9/11 disaster, I was standing near a conversation at a town hall session, when a constituent decried failing systems in service to the simple act of voting – long lines, ill-trained, confused poll workers, broken machines, deplorable participation rates, falling registrations, and so on.  The Senator, politely nodding, said, “Little will happen on any of these issues until voting breaks down completely. Only if that happens can action with money be taken, in the meantime…” when the constituent interrupted and said, “But Senator, all the dots are in a row here,” it was like being slapped.”

Rex L. Curry

Photo © iStockphoto.com/Alvinge (Source Link)

The policy of catastrophic resolution is supported as a congressional decision-making model. While reasonable in one sense, it has become a disease of denial regarding the value of prevention. Today, a variety of life-denying systems within the western economies are held by self-styled anthropophagus-like altruists whose logic would destroy the village to save it and govern at an “arm’s length” with the help of psychopaths they put into public offices. They are not the oligarchs of old that hold the spoils of war. In their worlds, surrounded by the obsequious kindness of others, I believe many of them do not know what they do or have done to damage the future. The clutch of sycophants in their spheres quietly whisper in a gaggle of insistence, saying there is no need for decisive action on the unprovable loss of a single species or global breakdowns in seasonal patterns that bring fire, drought, and thunderous waves from a rising global ocean or the searing heat across ever-widening dry plains. The policy of “no need without undeniable insistence” must not occur.  There is a need for revolution, and I think I know where it might begin.

The synergy of dense urban living appears to create or at least support the rise of conditions that prevent damage to future generations as it defines and solves problems squarely ahead. It can be sloppy. However, most of the cycles of sloppiness are short, cover small geographic areas because only parts of the systems that glue the city together fail at any one time. A city in constates of repair is a city with powerful expertise. When an ancient, wood water main breaks, a sewer fails, a gas line leaks and an electric power loss occurs, only a few people are affected and only for short periods because of compacity. A word that describes many people nearby that know exactly what to do or how to get it done.

ConEdisons Outage Map shows the number of customers affected by location.
New York City’s “Outage Map” by Consolidated Edison
illustrates outages for 3.5 million customers by location.

If you in a dense area experience compacity (the feeling of density) by taking a walk for fifteen, twenty minutes in a reasonably straight line, make four right turns to get back where you started, and you have probably walked a square mile. On average, you have enclosed 30,000 to 80,000 people, miles of road, and thousands of homes. You will have come across multiple subway stations, several hundred commercial retail, institutional service, and public facilities such as schools, police, and fire stations. All in a little over a one-hour walk. Amazing.

The central and overriding responsibility of political leaders and public and private service agencies is to assist in the readiness of people to respond to problems of any kind or signs of trouble of any sort. They should know and understand this capacity as it represents the beating heart of NYC’s future. In every one of these enclosures, whether it is a random square mile or any one of hundreds of neighborhoods, the capacity for positive change is undeniable. Still, it needs to be taught as a practical matter of citizenship, of what to do or not when the need for help is immediate or anticipated.

If or when a city’s potential for positive change or the need for occasionally rapid change is denied or obstructed, it is readily recognized as a conflict against humanity in the place where it occurs. The origins of the forces behind these life-defining conflicts may begin as “person-against -person,-nature, -self, -society, -technology or the raw unknown. These are not the elements of fictional narratives. They represent the day-to-day experiences of regular people. They produce these occurrences of conflict with relish in all things, from the simple exchange over the price of bread for currency to a course in high-school algebra for a grade. They are all things wrought by the compacity of urban life that are continuous and in many ways unrelenting.

In many places throughout the city, your walk would have included observing a highly diverse population. You would have heard many voices speaking combinations of familiar and unfamiliar words. Your opportunity within this environment to purchase and consume your requirement for protein or clothing, a laugh, or a smile is easily acquired. A twenty to thirty-minute train ride will take you to some of the world’s finest hospitals and universities or airports and trains to see far-off places. All of these little break-downs and celebrations renew the place and the person.

 

 

 

Cities are Different

“One number above all other metrics suggests a housing affordability and infrastructure emergency is pending. In New York City, one emergency is around 40,000 people living permanently in shelters, with a growing percentage of emotionally distressed and mentally ill people in the population. The number alone is less telling than realizing how and why it lasts for decades.

Homelessness has become a production function of cities.

In NYC, an additional 35,000 people, by official estimates, are homeless as transient or invisible. There are no rules or initiatives to stop these numbers from exponential growth.”

Rex L. Curry

Pushed Out”  illustrates displacement and its impacts.  Produced by: UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and The Great Communities Collaborative, an initiative of The San Francisco Foundation

The history of cities is about how problems are defined and solved. The political skill of the dense city is different than other places. The city is regularly expected to create change that people will believe in, even though combinations of corruption and inspiration determine each change. The effectiveness of either or both is fixed in the experience of communities and demonstrated in neighborhoods. Inexplicably, is this what makes the celebration of cities so unique and important in advancing human thought?  Here is one example.

From the 1960s to the early 90s New York City experienced rapid cultural and physical changes unlike any other. Initially, it confronted wholesale infrastructure deterioration coupled with a profound housing crisis, population loss, racism, double-digit inflation, a significant recession, and a nation embroiled in a foreign war. The city responded with improvements in race relations, education, and training. So far, there was just enough of a federal response to prevent catastrophic collapse. Why? People with disadvantages and other people with extraordinary power found themselves face-to-face with the problem of being face-to-face.

The appointment of a financial control board control over the NYC credit crisis lasted a decade. Ending of the mid-1980s. You know the old story borrow $5,000 from a bank and don’t pay it back; you are in trouble, but make that $500,000 with a run into trouble, you have a new partner. The concept of leverage is thematic in urban development. It includes knowing the power in the phrase of many community organizers, “people united can never be defeated.”

The agreement struck was to build equity through housing rehabilitation, rent stabilization, education, and good employment.  Community control of schools and ideas on creating neighborhood government matured and created community-based development corporations in partnership with charitable foundations and city agencies. They had one purpose. Confront the city’s issues directly before them and create a better city.  It worked, but new problems without easy solutions dug into the city’s flesh as irreversible displacement and permanent homelessness became continuous, like a tide.


Displacement and Homelessness

The examination of the causes of displacement summarized in the UC Berkely presentation has some solutions and remedies offered at its conclusion. Unfortunately, zoning is not one of them.  In fairness to Mike Bloomberg, his comment on the issue was, “Hey, this was the only game in town, so you’re either in or out.”  To this extent, he is correct, the Federal response to urbanization continues to allow the market to have its way until it doesn’t, and the great recession of 2008 was not far off. 

What is poorly understood is how low- and moderate-income people find housing in the suburbs for work and affordability by combining unrelated individuals and families in shared housing arrangements as under the radar as possible. The irony is that shocking zoning is used in the dense urban environment to include low- and moderate-income families in town and keep them out in the suburbs.


Evidence of failure to implement the remedies for ongoing home displacement is in the number of individuals and households (largely women with children) estimated in distress.  A detailed look at this is described in a brief article entitled A New America. It describes the beginnings of a federal role in housing production, infrastructure, and economic mobility due to the rise of displacement, formal and informal homelessness in America.  Here is a brief excerpt: 

“When violent change hits a community, the question turns to the first responder’s capacity, then speed, followed by when (or if) the full weight of federal support occurs. If the change is massive but slow, as if following the logic of a cancer cell, a long-term sense of resilience is essential. Political leverage for needed change will be found when people link these fast and slow forms of damage to climate change and energy. The “small fires” response to sudden catastrophes in the national context produces quality emergency management skills. More is needed.

Service providers with advanced communication systems can reach deeply from federal to local levels. The service of a slower and national pre-trauma framework is building strength because it is vital. Still, first-response systems are quickly overwhelmed without a reliable set of front-end steps in mitigation that can pull its people out of trouble at a steady pace. Along with outright prevention.”

RLC

The Synergy Project

Density and Compacity

Density is a science term. Compacity is a measure of places like the New York Metropolitan Area where its analysts can take several technical measures. New York City, as an example, has a distinctive line around it that defines it well enough to yield a granular character of enormous importance.

People know exactly where they are in the NYMA and when not. Boundary lines separate one thing from another, and the stuff that makes the NYMA separate from everything else is tied to the density of things per unit of land or water. At some point, the area is not dense enough to be called metropolitan. Although these many densities combine to form measures of compacity, of everything we know, and to the detriment of humanity, it remains a vague notion.

Politics and Plans

Lines are also the subject of power. I am a researcher more than a practitioner. The lines in the world of politics and plans distinguish one leader’s area from another. Leaders may be political representatives or other types that reveal distinct responsibilities for services such as police, fire, and sanitation or how water, gas, electricity, and bytes serve your community. The lines are multi-linear. They can define you by a zip code, or the train or road used equitably to a set of career routes to and from places that shape human life.

Energy and Synergy

The premise of combining stories and writing about the compacity of urban life and the many opportunities it offers includes elements of personal political leadership essential to educate and inspire the will to create change on a scale so massive it appears impossible. It is not.

energy = infinity + entropy
energy = infinity – entropy

Remember Muir

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911, pg. 110)
Sierra Club Books 1988 ed. See all of Chapter 6 on the Sierra Club website.

At the close of the century, the World Watch Institute’s call to “minimize consumption” and “maximize well-being” set the best tone with the fewest words. Dense environments can reduce consumption — per cap/per km/per day –24/7/365. The dense city alters the structure of consumption on many levels. So how do we create a renewed sense of abundance in life using these constraints? Remember John Muir.

Urbanization takes about a third of the earth’s surface and about forty percent for food. The remaining twenty-plus percent is the trickiest as a hodgepodge of fragmented spatial leftovers, it is a “SLAP” in the face to everyone from John Muir to those who walk in his footsteps.1

Beyond deserts and high mountain ranges, there are seeds for change, thousands of accessible places, Alaska’s wild glory, and “parks” from New York City’s Central Park all the way up to Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks. Our land use policy tends to give “the wilderness” a boundary and, most vexing of all, nearly ignores the simplicity of our need for it as a thing separate and untouched.

Photo: Carleton Watkins – University of the Pacific digital collections,.

The name John Muir is synonymous with the importance of wilderness.  The tool was to be conservation, but today the river that cut the Grand Canyon no longer reaches the ocean. Muir put it this way in my head, the wilderness is the only way to look directly into the face of God and like it. He could not have imagined we would turn that privilege into our most vulnerable link to the incompetent use of land, labor and capital


1. SLAP — space leftover after planning

Urban Mobility

Artists of various urban futures are fond of envisioning the easy movement of people and goods as a visually exciting urban benefit. We see crowded, yet free-flowing shoulder-to-shoulder sidewalks, sweeping multi-layered elevations serving every possible land use linked to a landscape capable of moving everything from the fruits of a 24/7/365 vertical farm to thousands of colleges students from class to internships across regions.

The visions such as the image (above) presented on the Foster Foundation’s website have begun to meet the technology needed to implement an extraordinary integration of movement with architecture. Three broad questions must be answered to establish a foundation for this vital parts of urban design.

  1. Where would it be best to attempt this expand and integrate free-flowing movement?
  2. What are the political mechanisms for linking the movement of people and goods to the architecture of places?
  3. How does movement infrastructure merge with the architecture of buildings and the layout of cities?

The first question on where this vision might be implemented were examined by the Foster foundation and others using three city typologies – Mexico City with 16,000 residents per square mile as a high-rise, high-density city core, London with 7,000 residents per square mile as a medium-rise, high-density city and the region surrounding the 47 square mile City of San Francisco involving 7 million people in nine counties and 101 municipalities representing the spreading typology of a low-rise, low-density metropolis.  Surrounding counties such as Sonoma have about 4,500 residents per square mile while Marin has a resident population density of around 200 people.

 

 

Affordable Housing

We can dream and have goals, but it is impossible to think things into existence. Direct action is required to be creative. A leader needs parents and friends that believe in action. A leader needs to be interested in exploring new steps and strategies that will end inequality and injustice.

The action takes courage, ideas, funding, and time. Suppose you would like more of that in the Ninth Congressional District (Map). We are everyone who reads this to share their personal experience, ideas, and actions in response to the issues and responses on housing.

Report on Hot Buttons

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table B25070 (2005-2016); retrieved from American Census.

The map shows the percentage of renter households who spend 50% or more of their income on rent.  In the CD9 area, this represents 27% to 35% of households as Rent Burdened.  It is unaffordable, with over 30% of household income. 

Housing Networks

The housing expertise in New York City represents an extraordinary depth of staff from its network of neighborhood organizations to the extensive analytical prowess of national offices. So why are they failing?

Brooklyn’s nonprofit community development corporations and others have decades of experience in the preservation and development of housing throughout the city. This resource faces a variety of new challenges in the prevention of displacement. To succeed,  they will need a far more sophisticated network for sharing housing innovations and achieving political change.  Not doing is why they face catastrophic failure. Just one example: The Trump Administration proposes an $8.8 billion cut funds serving a low-and moderate-income community (an 18.3% reduction)in FY 2019 Budget. Will opposition to this proposal succeed? No.

The primary asset on forged from the grassroots up coupled with the ability to serve short-term needs while producing long-term solutions. Regardless of the “feeding-hand” problem that publicly funded organizations confront, the congressional delegation of New York City will still be the first in the nation to fully understand the subtle waves of displacement aimed at the vulnerable, but working members of their community. The question becomes will they lose their self-respect if they do not resist these forces with every talent they possess? The maps that follow attempt to visualize the membership of a Brooklyn Housing and Community Development Summit that will ask and answer just one question.  What is the information community-based organization need to share to build a more comprehensive and progressive community development strategy?

On the map below, CAMBA illustrates the ability to see people in real places before data.  The services represented by this map also visualize the importance of a comprehensive approach to community development in the context of the Ninth Congressional District and its immediate surroundings. Have a look, and for more detail click (here).  This process is replicable for all geo-filters from Census Tracts to city and state political districts.

Global Density

Add fees on Amazon books below will be assigned to our effort. This one brings the lessons of the explosive structure of density from observers along the Pacific Rim. Comments regarding content are appreciated.

Evacuation

Don’t run, just know where to go.
The zones vary

Most observers know from experience that the low cost of land and lower population densities occur from the center of their nearest large city outwards in a pattern of uses best described as the fragments of leapfrog development. They also knew they live in one of those fragments, and protecting its value is important. The link below reveals an image depicting evacuation zones based on extreme weather threats in a dense urban setting. However, the fragments of safe locations remain unclear.

Hurricane Evacuation Zones and Evacuation Centers 

The urban world is clearly observable as uncontainable. The image above can stretch to every coast south. Like most things that grow and behave this way, they begin and end, grow and decay. Nothing shows how wasteful urban development is like big storms and fires.

Natural systems that react to storms and fires leave nothing behind that does not have a use in the renewal of the larger system. The detritus of urban decay is not an abnormality or malfunction without use or function; however, corporations such as Waste Management (WM) do not fill critical observers with confidence. The best yet sad statistical example is in WM’s 2106 Sustainability Report that suggests a 36% waste recovery rate (see: Video below).

“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” R. Buckminster Fuller

On the other hand, if the city is a container with firm geography, bounded like a water bottle or one of WM’s containers, it defines its users. Accordingly, it will develop to assimilate severe challenges, but not without a preset of physical parameters. Whether water, waste, or something else, if not organized for use in a container of some kind, some remain unknown. Of necessity, the city must become renewable as a whole with reusable components.

One of the people working on getting from the unknown to the known is Michael Storper, author of Keys to the City. He is an economic geographer contributing to our understanding of urban life. He separates “growth” from “economic development” using quality of life and standard of living measures such as real per capita income (nationally), distribution of revenue (locally), and social structures as they attach to income levels nationally and locally.

Storper’s data-rich keys are from highly urbanized places in the United States and Great Britain. The information reveals combinations of urban structures that describe the impact of innovation, agglomeration, or clustering that produce stable urban economies that also offer amenities (e.g., schools, tolerant neighbors, recreation, mobility) to produce choices. Some come with hard economic data for analysis about the softer measures of preference. An obvious top preference is affordable housing in urban areas. In NYC, inclusionary housing loans and square foot zoning bonus rules produce housing for low- and moderate-income households for occupation in the same building and market alongside high-income families.

Two families of three, one earning $63,000 and another $280,000 (2017), will have rent they can afford in the apartments of a multi-family building in a city and neighborhood where both households’ skills are interconnected (See ELLA and Inclusionary Zoning). Using a thirty percent of household income as a measure of affordability, one rent would be around $1,500/month, and the other would be $7,700/month. Arguments examining the drawbacks and benefits of this arrangement are ubiquitous in the urban sociological and economic literature. No matter the depth of each argument, the designers of the containers, define the contents.

Innovations such as inclusionary zoning and similar programs push standard market forces toward choice with civility in a workable urban proximity. Stroper’s observations regarding this kind of urban development identify regional land use patterns as “territorially unequal” exhibiting two types of inequality. The first is that urbanization is itself a form of extreme unevenness: it packs people, firms, information, and wealth into small territories.” It also concentrates poverty, many types of physical deterioration, and social inequality.

Both empirical and statistical evidence of social fragmentation and economic displacement recurs with routine persistence. In the case where low- and moderate-income households live successfully “next door” to higher income households who help assure stable economic settings is a product of policy. The housing market is a “teacher”, but in the experience of a lightly contained city such as New York, it takes far too long to recognize and separate the right lessons from the wrong.

Stroper’s second type of unevenness in urban development is statistically observable over thirty to forty years. Individual metropolitan regions throughout the world undergo considerable turbulence in their fates, rising and falling in the income ranks, and gaining or loosing population at different rates. None of this is bad. Ever since the invention of capital, this behavior is the world’s most successful development process. Trial and error, up and down, back and forth, here or there is how the world works. Stopping the human part if it is stupid and besides, it is not doable. Turning the earth into a machine is well underway. The application of conservation of energy rules, on the other hand, says there is no way to isolate the energy of a machine system. While theoretically possible, conserving energy within a machine is not possible. In short, it stops.