Buried in a post which otherwise has little directly to do with the urban environment is this insight: I like neighborhoods better than individual buildings.
Buried in a post which otherwise has little directly to do with the urban environment is this insight: I like neighborhoods better than individual buildings.
...discussing eminent doman in the wake of Kelo. It's a healthy focus.
But where are the planners and economists considering the efficacy of governmental redevelopment programs which rely on eminent domain? The ultimate argument which will limit or even overturn Kelo is based on social utilty i.e eminent domain doesn't work except (I'd allow) in circumstances so very rare that little is lost by raising the burden on government when it wants to condemn property to facilitate economic development.
The Seattle Monorail Project's board of directors has approved a new financing plan for a scaled-down version of the beleaguered Green Line.
I can't say that I am excited about the whole situation...even the substance of the Plan. I think the problem started when the second (there were never more than two) bidder dropped out and the SMP's executive team negotiated with a sole-source supplier. That should have been a signal to the Board (and to everyone else) to pause and ask "Why do we have only one bidder? What are we asking for which is so uninteresting?" I'd drop the existing contract and go back to the drawing board, and try to find more bidders.
Nevertheless I will vote YES in a few weeks because I know that the real power in the situation is no longer the SMP Board but the City Council and Mayor. Even with a YES vote, they will stand in the way until they are satisfied the project is an improved one. But with yet a 5th YES vote they won't be able to stand there forever because then they become the issue politically.
Why the ongoing undercurrent (that's mild) of hostility to New Urbanism from bloggers I perceive as urbanists to the core? From The Gutter and PIXEL POINTS, for instance? One would think that they should be New Urbanism's loyal (if critical - as am I) supporters.
I can't quite understand why such obviously perceptive people aren't able to separate urban site plan -- which is the core of New Urbanism -- from "architectural style" (the white picket fence criticism at the basest level) which is really somewhat irrelevant to it.
Would they really prefer to have Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry -- as opposed to Andres Duany et al -- taking lead roles in helping Mississippians in their rebuilding? Are there annoying things -- a sometimes excess of enthusiasm about NU from young acolytes? Should CNU be chided for naivete for giving an urban design award to Gehry? Is Duany sometimes a bit overly-certain of his position? Of course. And we are all human. But look at the big picture, folks: Who has more to say -- and give me an example, please, if you think otherwise -- about rebuilding Mississippi? Duany or Gehry/Koolhaas? (These names are more stand-ins for ways of looking at the world than real personalities. For all I know Gehry and Koolhaas may indeed have something to offer urbanism -- but they haven't demonstrated it.)
I hope these bloggers will read this and respond as I can understand anti-Seaside design cant from a generalist like Christopher Lydon. But I expect better from The Gutter and especially from Pixel Points. Her suggestion that""New possibilities for sustainability...aren't as easily sketchable as neo-quaint cottages and homey front porches, but they'll give us a lot more to debate" is a sad and disingenuous distortion of New Urbanism.
After months of uncertainty and four grand jury appearances, Karl Rove escaped the worst possible outcome on Friday, and a collective sigh of relief swept the Bush administration and the Republican Party.
In fact I think it has just gotten worse for anyone in the White House who has committed a crime. Prosecutor Fitzgerald now has a potential witness -- Libby -- with a motive to talk -- avoiding jail. And this witness is not just a junior staffer witness but was one of the top insiders -- Chief of Staff etc etc for a powerful V-P. Libby's indictment could be the camel's nose under the White House tent.
Of course Libby could be hold out, refuse to spill the beans and do jail time with the expectation that Bush will pardon him. While it's one of the common memes - Libby pulls a Liddy in return for a pardon -- Libby has already gone too far and tied himself up in a web of lies which he will find awkward to explain. And would you trust Bush -- absent a clear agreement, which would offer yet another indictable offense -- to trade your jail time for his place in history? No, am not sure that Bush will pardon anyone.
A majority would vote for a Democrat over President Bush if an election were held this year, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released Tuesday.
Life is not just "location, location, location" but "timing, timing, timing."
Portland has a nice street of small businesses and shops along Southeast Belmont, bustling without being San Francisco-style boutique. The University District or Capitol Hill each might have had a Belmont if Seattle encouraged innovative urban planning and enlightened landlords.
What do we have instead along the Ave and Broadway? Big chains and panhandlers. Wake up, Seattle. Portland is gaining on you.
I wonder what the writer means and expects by the term "innovative urban planning?" By urban form, the streets she talks about -- both Belmont and Broadway -- are anything but "innovative." They represent a traditional "Main Street"/Three Rules form very well. (Gosh, I hope I am remembering Belmont correctly!) My question is not so much criticism as curiosity. What do non-specialists mean when they use such terms as "innovative urban planning?" Something, I am sure but I wonder if it much to do with urban form. The words which people use in asking about the built environment frame the answer.
As to enlightened landlords -- don't kid yourself.
More broadly, this issue -- Why does Seattle not (and it does not) measure up to Portland and Vancouver BC as urban civilization? -- is gaining ground as a topic of conversation in Seattle and that is a good thing.
NPR (National Public radio) has in the past used a terrific image in its fund-raising: "Driveway Moments."
You're driving along, listening to a story on NPR. Suddenly, you find yourself at your destination, so riveted to a piece that you sit in your idling car to hear it all the way through. That's a Driveway Moment.
Such moments may be become history due to pod-casting.
I had just caught a part of a very interesting Christopher Lydon show on Rebuilding the Mississippi Coast when I arrived home a few nights ago. Lydon had just turned to Andres Duany for a response on some point (I think it was the trivial one about Seaside being "artificial" -- it's a beach resort, for god's sake!) when I pulled into the garage and I thought for a moment that I should sit and listen. But then I realized that I was also downloading these shows via ITunes and I could listen later (at my desk or via IPod) so I was able to turn off the engine and forgo a driveway moment.
UPDATE: Btw, In fact that particular show was downloaded to my desktop computer automatically. I transferred it to my IPod and listened to it on a walk yesterday. Generally, it was worth my attention. And in particular, Lydon's snarky (ignorant?) attitude toward Seaside was well-answered by Duany's perceptive comeback -- that the major point of the Truman Show is that you can not believe what you see on the screen without applying critical judgment. I can't remember the film (but just added it to my Netflix queue) but it's a clever riposte.
I have long wondered if/when the American critical establishment would start to see through -- or at least put in perspective -- the Iconic/Precious Object buildings (and they are first and foremost buildings) of Gehry, Koolhaas, Hadid et al. You hardly see even the ghost of a hint from the critics at big media that such eye candy has a sub-text, a sub-text which often overwhelms the ostensible purpose of the building.
Are the committees assigning commissions for these buildings concerned with the pedestrian or the city’s architectural fabric?
The architectural fabric is the last thing the iconic architect considers, if at all; which is why society should demand more of them. It is not to say they can't do it, or there is an impossible contradiction between iconic building and city. Rather they tend to be opposites, and so need conscious reconciliation.
Jencks loses it (for me) when he tries to relate iconic architecture to the Death of God. But overall it is nice to read even establishment figures finding a more sophisticated understanding of the phenomenon.
Like trying to play the "leader," witness GW Bush, I wonder if the fatal flaw with iconic buildings is that producing an icon is something best done by indirection, with a bit of modesty. So much depends on the unpredictable. If one tries too hard, maybe one looks like a Chief Justice with chevrons on his robes i.e. one doesn't proclaim leadership but is recognized. I suspect that a lot of these iconic/precious object buildings will look pathetic and dated, the florid slut with too much lipstick, in not very many years.
Nearly 50 years ago, a former department-store window dresser and gourmet home cook took an old hardware store in a rural California town and turned it into a groundbreaking store that changed the way Americans shop for kitchenware.
Interesting story if you think -- as I do -- that people like Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren and now (new to me) Chuck Williams are significant, maybe even historical, figures in their influence on the way we live and how we view our world.
...the secret reason for why shops still exist is not merely because it is useful to have a clerk explain the product and/or so you can actually hold it yourself and get its essence. The not-so-secret (additional) reason is because people actually like the contact with other people which "bricks and mortar" provide...even merely chatting up a clerk, much less sitting down in a cafe.
Why would one ask such a question? If one wanted to simply know what other people were listening to, it's a funny -- nothing wrong with it, mind you, just funny -- way to phrase it. It struck me as similar to asking what one should have for breakfast. I just don't get it. Doesn't he already have a collection of CDs? etc? Maybe it's some sort of reference to Heinlein's hero.
When it comes to actually eliminating "blight" -- not using it as an all-purpose make-weight for eminent domain in acquiring the land to allow redevelopment projects, as in Kelo -- there is an alternative: Abatement. Force the owner to remove the offending blight condition (that proverbial fire-trap rat-infested house). Or do it for them if they refuse and then send them the bill.
Society's authority to "Abate a Nuisance" originates, in my own folksy view, in the fundamental power of society -- the police power. Abating a nuisance is akin to self-defense; the normal rules of society -- the prohibition against killing another, the prohibition against the trespass and taking of another's property, for example -- are lifted because of the permissible imperative to survive.
Here's some material from Washington State -- and btw most US jurisdictions run in parallel on land use matters -- Authority to Regulate Nuisances.
In the big picture, government has a number of means to deal with "blight." It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court does not require government to use -- as it does with what are called "fundamental rights" or speech, worship, etc -- a "least intrusive means" test. If it did, I think you'd see more abatement and less eminent domain.
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Legislators aim to put limits on uses of eminent domain.
Eminent domain is supposed to be used for public works projects that benefit entire communities, like highways, airports or bridges, he said. Others, though, say it should be available more broadly...Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy has said that eminent domain is an important tool. The city used the threat of eminent domain to persuade Pittsburgh Wool Co. to make way for an expansion of H.J. Heinz Co. facilities, which were later purchased by Del Monte Food Co.
"Persuade?" And deciding that H.J. Heinz trumps Pittsburgh Wool? Is that what Mayors are supposed to do? Not in my world. If H.J.Heinz wants to expand, he'll just have to pretend to be a capitalist and take part in the market system.
Todd Zywicki notes Anti-Kelo Legislation in Pennsylvania:
The idea that one taxpayer's property can be taken by government and turned over to another private person for non-governmental purposes is outrageous," said state Sen. Jeffrey E. Piccola, R-Dauphin.
He is sponsoring legislation to restrict municipalities rights to take property by eminent domain..... municipalities could seize property under certain circumstances --- for example, to remove blighted structures that are beyond repair and unfit for habitation or use....
The delicious irony is that one can achieve the same result -- "...remove blighted structures that are beyond repair and unfit for habitation or use..." -- at no cost to the taxpayer by the use of the nuisance abatement process.
Of course one cannot assemble vast tracts of urban land for redevelopment using abatement as it leaves the property in the hands of the owners -- so long as the owners ultimately pay back the government for the abatement costs (e.g. tearing down and disposing of a fire-trap house.) It is quite remarkable that the makeweight of blight has been accepted by the courts as basis for condemnation and, for that matter, accepted by the public at large, which bears the ultimate responsibility, of course, for the sins of our elected officials.
How do policies based on freedom and choice make a city great? Where are those cities? Who's winning the War on Pleasure? What can Las Vegas teach the liberals and conservatives who fear and loathe it?
But one thing I do know: they will have a great party, which is of course the only reason to go to a conference anyway. The sessions themselves are a makeweight, or at best a good conversation starter; all the interesting things happen in the interstices.
Conventions and conferences are example of planning to facilitate the chance encounter i.e. the overall event is planned but the real, genuine reason any individual will take part is for the possibility that something novel will happen.
Buried in an article on who will succeed to Federal Reserve Chair is this tid-bit:
There is a stronger case for restraining housing bubbles than stockmarket bubbles, because they tend to cause greater economic harm when they burst.
I would think just the contrary. Of course you'll have massive rewriting of portfolios but as most home mortgages have been securitized, it wouldn't effect banks per se but the entire financial system, just as does a stock market decline. As well, if/when the value of your house drops by a third -- and that would be an enormous and unprecedented drop -- what do you do? You don't make any discretionary moves i.e. you don't sell.
The point is not whether a housing bubble-burst would be troublesome -- of course it would be. The sole issue here is whether it would be worse than a stock market burst, as The Economist casually suggests.
Any informed theory?
The physical manifestations of tyranny are invariably hilarious, the more so for their humourlessness.
Perhaps adulation to any degree -- worship of media presence, for instance -- produces the same sort of suspension of critical faculties. It happens to even relatively sophisticated people such the boards of prestigious cultural institutions which fall for takes-itself-very-seriously starchitecture.
With respect to exempting journalis/reporters from being compelled to testify Glenn Reynolds suggests:
I think that such special privileges are a bad idea, as I've said here before. But to the extent that they apply only to Registered Official Journalists (as the story suggests is the intent) rather than to the activity of reporting, I think that they're also deeply troubling. The government is bestowing a special privilege on the press. Will it, like the King, expect loyalty in return?
What about Licensed Artists?
Government-sponsored or -subsidized programs for housing for "artists" raises a similar issue: someone has to decide who is an artist and who eligible for these great cheap live/work lofts. Inevitably, and without any logical exception that I can see, that gets you into government (or one of its designees) deciding "What is art?" and deciding not in historical retrospect but in the here and now before it is even created.
I've always been leery of subsidizing artists in any manner, which makes me at odds with liberal dogma here in Seattle where support for artists is like the defense budget in Dallas: a pillar of faith-based politics.
If legal issues surrounding the environment interest you, don't miss this new link in my blog roll: PropertyProf Blog. It is advanced stuff and assumes familiarity with property law but it reflects a sophisticated and broad-ranging perspective.
James Wolcott, of whom I had never heard until I started reading his snarky blog, must be a non-lawyer as he elevates the Supreme Court to an unrealistic level:
What I don't understand is why Harriet Miers didn't have the modesty and self-knowledge to say no to Bush's overture. She must know that her training and experience have unprepared her for a seat on the highest court in the land; it is an honor she does not deserve, and a job for which she is overmatched.
What I don't understand is why so many people -- lead-on by law professors who make it their business to study the Court? -- who forget that the Supreme Court is supreme not because of its vast wisdom but only because it is last and final.
But it is certainly not heartening:
I urge the SMP Board to do something dramatic, something which will change the context and the framing of the debate...such as eliminating the current Board as an issue. You must face the facts: even fervent friends of the monorail believe that you must go. For the sake of the monorail...commit now to go gracefully.
The Board should announce this plan well in-advance of the election. I think it will make it easier for many people to vote for the monorail if they know that a new Board will be in place to implement it.
I don't mean to be harsh but the monorail enterprise becomes more attractive if one can anticipate that the current Board will be gone. On-the-fence voters might well cast a pro-monorail vote if they knew that they were in essence also casting a vote for a new Board.
Two issues entangle the Seattle Monorail Project:
1. the specific "Green Line" plan itself,
2. confidence in the current SMP Board's ability to manage a very complex financing/construction process.
They are distinct and largely separable matters. Public discussion leading up to the November vote would benefit if we distinguished between the two.
The SMP Board -- in the countdown to the 5th vote in November -- could clear the air and help the public distinguish the Plan from the Board. The Board could announce that if the voters decide once again to endorse the monorail, then it will resign en masse, in some orderly fashion which would provide for election/appointment of a brand new board. (If the vote is negative then it doesn't matter as the SMP, as I understand it, would exist only to liquidate the entity.)
Many people who like the Green Line plan (which includes the Mayor - his problem is the Board's ability to solve the financing) simultaneously find the Board a bit "lacking." (See, for example, Seattle Monorail: Too little, too late and Monorail dream can be saved from this nightmare. As well and even more significantly: "The mayor's position is simple. It's too late. The city has lost all confidence in the board," said spokesman Marty McOmber.) (italics added)
Plan good * but Board weak. That's the riff.
Obviously a lot of people hate the Plan, too, and nothing will satisfy them but killing it so we can continue to "study the urban transportation issue" for yet more decades.
But if you listen carefully to the Mayor and Council, and many others, a lot of the concern surrounds the Board itself and its ability.
Separating these two issues -- the Plan versus the Board -- might be part of a way forward. Don't kill the Green Line because you don't have confidence in the Board --get a new Board. No one called for the abolition of FEMA in the wake of Katrina; people said we need new management at FEMA; in fact the idea getting rid of FEMA because Brown was a poor manager is funny. It's important to separate a governmental program from a particular set of people who are managing it.
Certainly, with an en masse resignation, we'd lose good Board members -- in fact all the Board members as individuals are capable. But the Board as a Board, for whatever reasons, has lost its way and the confidence of Seattle's elected officials and many members of the public, even long-time monorail supporters such as myself. To the end of making the monorail project work, and changing the political context for public discussion, these capable individuals should (and I am sure would) be willing to step down to ensure the SMP's overall success.
* I'd say it's a pretty good plan but it could still be improved and a new Board might feel freer to tweak it here and there.