Tag Archives: John Norquist

The end of this blog and the beginning of a new one

I haven’t written in this blog in a very long time.  I’ve been very busy, moving across the country, starting grad school, and various other things.  I’ve also been getting a little tired of focusing just on New Urbanism.  I think part of what’s wearing me out is that I’m tired of dealing with different people’s definitions of New Urbanism.  To some (myself), it’s compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-centered development.  But to many planners, New Urbanism is Calthorpe and Duany building greenfield development with kitsch, traditional decoration.  I’m not wild about greenfield development, and I’m especially not fond of Calthorpe, who more often builds uses adjacent to each other rather than truly mixed or even vertically mixed.  Duany has done great theoretical work and some wonderful projects on the ground, but many have been greenfields that aren’t connected to transit and central cities.  Norquist, on the other hand, is an urban, central city New Urbanist, and I find myself very much in line with his rhetoric.  And as far as architecture goes, I feel that it’s secondary to true urbanism.  Although I probably want a porch on the house I finally live in, I don’t feel that everyone else should have one.

I want to comment on things not related to New Urbanism, both things still related to planning and things related to architecture and other topics.  I also want a place to just spout off every once in a while.  With that in mind, I have started a new blog, Munson’s City.  I hope that those who have been reading my blog for a while will visit my new one and continue to take interest in my opinions on architecture, urbanism, and everything else.

What’s Next: The 1-5-10 Issue

Metropolis Magazine‘s January issue is called “What’s Next: The 1-5-10 Issue,” and in it they ask a number of experts in the building industry about what they expect to see in their field in one, five, and ten years.  Of particular interest are the Transportation and Urban Planning comments, from John Norquist and Ken Greenburg, respectively.  According to them, this is what we can expect in upcoming years:

  • One Year
    • Transportation: The short term outlook is bleak for transit.  Norquist points out that current policies focus on congestion reduction instead of value, which is wrong because the areas across the country that have the highest value are often the most congested.
    • Urban Planning: The beginning of fixing the suburbs.  In some areas, suburbs are already on the way out, and some suburban communities are rushing to fix their development patterns so that they can support transit and depend less on the car.
  • Five Years
    • Transportation: Norquist sees a shift in this time from massive projects to a focus on smaller projects.  He sees the appreciation over time of wetlands as an indicator of the future for small, dense street networks and projects.  Eventually transportation planners will reach an “Aha!” moment where they will realize that the small things they are destroying for their big projects are actually worth preserving, emulating and restoring.
    • Urban Planning: Cities will need to follow the example of areas at the forefront of technology and update their infrastructure accordingly.  Greenburg cites the Scandinavian Envac waste management systems as one example of new technologies that will be applied to the city, much to the benefit of its citizens.
  • Ten Years
    • Transportation: Transit will be seen as an upper/middle class amenity, rather than a lower class subsidy.  Changing demographics and settlement patterns will encourage a more dense, urban future.
    • Urban Planning: Around this time, the massive post-war projects in America will reach the end of their structural lifespan.  Highways will be replaced by transit.  Congestion pricing will become the norm.  Buildings will be built to return energy to the grid.  The only question is, will developing countries keep the pace and not make the mistakes that we made, or will they follow right in our footsteps and repeat them?

Next chapters in the Great Transit Debate

David Brewster brings us this article on the future of Seattle‘s Link light rail.  It cites a recent story from the Seattle Times complaining about the lack of parking at Link stations with the exception of Tukwila.  He says that, because planners wanted to make a livable, walkable community, they can expect fewer commuters on Link.  There is a possibility that commuters would park on the street of communities by train stations, and to prevent this many communities have set up parking pass systems.  “Areas around stations will be upzoned, driving up property taxes and increasing traffic. Feeder buses will flock to once sleepy commercial districts. Small shops will be driven out,” he says.

First of all, light rail isn’t built for commuters.  That’s what commuter rail is for.  Light rail should stop every half mile to mile, and should be surrounded by dense, mixed-use development, not parking lots.  Parking lots are fine for commuter rail, which stops every 2 miles or more, goes considerably faster, and is often grade separated, whereas light rail often isn’t.  Light rail is made for locals who may be traveling across town for work or entertainment, who may want to live car-lite or car-less.  So to say that commuters won’t ride it is missing the point.

As far as commuters parking on local streets, I don’t really see that as a big problem.  Most communities have adequate (if not excessive) off-street parking requirements, so locals should be able to park off-street okay.  On-street parking encourages people to walk past local stores where they may make purchases on their way home.  It also slows down traffic and buffers pedestrians from the road, making walking safer.  And if you’re worried about an inordinate influx of cars, you can always encourage fewer cars and get a significant revenue stream at the same time by making it pay parking.  So I don’t see the worry about on-street parking, as well as the permit programs (which are a big controversy in Provo right now).

Yes, areas will be “upzoned.”  They should be, to make the area around the stop more vibrant.  And yes, under a traditional system, this would drive up property taxes, but not under more reasonable tax systems such as Pittsburgh’s, which taxes based on the value of the land as opposed to the value of the building.  And as I’ve often quoted from John Norquist, there’s good and bad traffic, so to say that traffic would increase isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Feeder buses should center on rail stops so that the rail is available to more people.  And who wants “sleepy commercial districts”?  Sleepy commercial districts are failing commercial districts.  More traffic means more people passing and stopping in shops, which means higher sales.  Local businesses will thrive, not be driven out.

I’ve commented a lot on Seattle’s transit system, which I have never seen, so I will leave that as a caveat, that everything I’m saying is theoretical and I may be off-base with some of my claims.  But based on my experiences in Salt Lake with TRAX and on everything I’ve ever read about transit, I think that Mr. Brewster may be out of line with some of his comments.

Could Recession Lead to Death of Sprawl?

Ted Smalley Bowen brings us this article on what may be the death of sprawl.  The numbers from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies show that cities have taken a hit, but it isn’t the knockout that suburbs and exurbs are experiencing.  Many outer areas have simply stopped growing, whereas cities are still growing slowly, in some cases faster than they have in recent years.  The economic crisis seems to have accelerated the trend away from suburbs and back to cities.  John Norquist, who arguably may be biased, says that this is a permanent change.  I would have to agree.  Although economics are forcing people to downsize in the short term, increasing gas prices and other elements that will only get worse in the future will keep them from going back in the future.  In addition to economic factors, demographics are also encouraging the move back to cities.  Baby boomers have become empty nesters, and they want smaller, more manageable nests, closer to everyday needs.  At the same time, Millenials that grew up in the suburbs but had all of their fun in cities (like me, my wife and my sister) have a desire to live a more vibrant life closer to the center.  Bowen cites changes in Phoenix, focusing on it’s new light rail line and connections to Tucson and Flagstaff, as a great example of this change.  Even in suburban western cities like Phoenix, the future for cities looks bright.

Planners push to tear out elevated I-10 over Claiborne

Lolis Eric Elie brings us this story, which may be some of the best news I have ever shared on this blog.  The people of New Orleans are finally taking the idea seriously that parts of I-10 should be torn down.  The history of I-10 is long and mostly sad.  The freeway was laid over North Claiborne Boulevard, a vibrant street with many local businesses and an extremely picturesque collection of oak trees.  It was used as a parade route for Mardi Gras and a variety of other get-togethers.  When the freeway was put in, it cut off a poor black neighborhood from the upscale French Quarter, essentially walling the neighborhod off from jobs and prosperity.  Now, as the time has come to rennovate the freeway, people are discovering that it may be more affordable to tear the freeway down and build a surface road, much the same as North Claiborne used to be.  John Norquist, who was involved in tearing down a similar freeway when he was mayor of Milwaukee and, as president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, created the Freeways Without Futures list, has been a major proponent of this change and has been working with locals to bring this vision to fruition.  Unfortunately, the city of New Orleans is dragging its feet, saying that the I-10 is not on the top of the priority list.  I would like to suggest that anyone who reads this blog, especially if you live in the New Orleans area, that you contact the Mayor’s office and get this change on the front burner.

Deep six for I-95 by Penn’s Landing?

Inga Saffron brings us what could be excellent news on Philadelphia‘s stretch of I-95 at Penn’s Landing.  After seeing the success of Boston‘s Big Dig in improving congestion, providing greenspace, and reattaching a variety of districts and Boston’s waterfront, Philadelphia is investigating the feasability of dismantling this stretch of I-95.  With inspiration from the urban- and redevelopment-focused leadership of Obama and Mayor Nutter, some want to take the opportunity to redevelop this area, fronting the Delaware River, into something more useful than an under-used freeway needing renovation.  Unlike Boston, Philadelphia has no intention of digging a big trench to reorient traffic; instead, they simply need to tear down the freeway and reroute traffic onto city streets, which means that it will be much less of an engineering marvel (and much less expensive) than the Big Dig.  In fact, it may be better compared to San Francisco‘s Embarcadero than Boston’s Big Dig.  The freeway is about a block wide and would allow the city to expand into this area, creating new real estate.  CNU’s John Norquist, who has been heading up the initiative to turn freeways across the country into boulevards, has encouraged Philadelphia leaders to “Get rid of it.”  There is some opposition, mostly based on how much it would cost to tear down the freeway (which wouldn’t be expensive and would easily be offset by new tax revenues) and on whether traffic would be managable, and as I’ve said, I think we should subject the car to pedestrain traffic, not the other way around.  I think this is a wonderful development for the future of Philadelphia and I hope that it actually does happen within the next few years.

Making Silver Spring safe for kids and adults

Casey Anderson wrote this article for Greater Greater Washington.  He discusses the renewing of Silver Spring‘s central business district, which has been a site of redevelopment and has been successful, but they have brought in a disproportionate number of teens that often make older folks with families feel uncomfortable.  One of the challenges of good redevelopment is inviting everyone into the city, not just the twenty-somethings with no kids.  Of course we need to fix inner-city schools, which John Norquist did a great job of in Milwaukee, to really attract families, but a better mix of businesses is a good start as well.

Global Warming Skeptics Often Own Worst Enemy

John Norquist has written an interesting article on global warming on Opposing Views.  He argues that skeptics should take issue with changes that would hurt national productivity, such as encouraging corn growth for ethanol purposes, which would inflate food prices and not be the most effective considering that you have to use about as much oil to produce ethanol as you would have spent just making gasoline; but that they should stop worrying about things like higher insulation standards, which increases productivity and adds value to the economy.  He argues that big-governemnt actions such as the Interstate Highway Act hurt American cities, and how CNU is a reaction against thes actions.

John Norquist and others at Live Green SLC

For once, I get to do some first-hand reporting.

Yesterday Live Green SLC took place at Library Square in Salt Lake City.  I traveled to the event via UTA bus and TRAX light rail, which was delightful.  When I arrived I was greeted by what you often see at these sort of things: hippies selling hemp clothing and vegan food and Ford salesmen trying to convince you that an SUV that gets 22 miles to the gallon saves the environment.  I was initially disappointed, because I fear that both of these groups hurt the environmental movement more than they help.  But when the various events in the auditorium began, it was a pleasant turnaround.

John Norquist, president of CNU, was the first speaker.  He began by explaining what CNU was.  He said that it was formed as a reaction against the work of CIAM, the congress of Modern architects organized by Le Corbusier.  He commented on the works of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Oscar Neimeyer, all of whom had a large influence on modern suburban development.  He pointed out that it was interesting that New Urbanists are accused of being socialist when all three of these men were socialists or communists.  He compared city streets to a wetland, all saturated with cars, and how building freeways is a lot like channelizing a stream – it doesn’t solve the congestion, and can lead to more problems.  He used Detroit as an example of a city that has fulfilled modernist goals – built enough freeways to avail congestion – that in the process has lost 2/3 of its population and almost all of its vitality, not to mention jobs and industry in its latest hit.  “Congestion is like cholesterol: there’s good and bad,” he said.  He showed various examples of cities that have torn down freeways and turned them into vibrant, pedestrian-friendly areas (the most impressive of which was Seoul, South Korea).  He finished with a critique of the old LEED system, which would award a well-insulated building with solar panels even if all of its workers had to drive 50 miles to get to it, and applauded the new LEED-ND system, set to debut around the end of the year.  Afterwards I was able to talk to him about how to attract families back to cities and to improve city schools.  Despite his background as a Democrat, Norquist is in support of school vouchers as a way to get around endemically poor inner-city schools.  I found the discussion to be quite enlightening.

After a short break, Doug Fine, journalist and writer of Farewell My Suburu, talked about his journey towards being free of fossil fuels.  He was quite entertaining and did have some good points, but in some ways he was one of those hippies that I think is holding back the environmental movement (he mentioned multiple times that he meditates and does yoga in his barn every day with his goats).

The night finished up with a movie, Fuel, that I thought was extremely interesting.  It documented some of the actions of the military petroleum complex and explained some of the chemistry behind biodiesel and ethanol.  At the end of the movie it listed ten things that you can do right now to fight global warming and the importance of foreign oil, which I think everyone should check out and implement to the best of their ability.  Here’s the trailer: