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The Death of the American Shopping Mall

Maybe it isn’t that American’s aren’t shopping at malls anymore but rather they are out of money.

“You came, you shopped, you dressed nice – you went to the mall. That’s what people did,” says Lawless, a pseudonymous photographer who grew up in a suburb of nearby Cleveland. “It was very consumer-driven and kind of had an ugly side, but there was something beautiful about it. There was something there.”

Gazing down at the motionless escalators, dead plants and empty benches below, he adds: “It’s still beautiful, though. It’s almost like ancient ruins.”

Dying shopping malls are speckled across the United States, often in middle-class suburbs wrestling with socioeconomic shifts. Some, like Rolling Acres, have already succumbed. Estimates on the share that might close or be repurposed in coming decades range from 15 to 50%. Americans are returning downtown; online shopping is taking a 6% bite out of brick-and-mortar sales; and to many iPhone-clutching, city-dwelling and frequently jobless young people, the culture that spawned satire like Mallrats seems increasingly dated, even cartoonish.

According to longtime retail consultant Howard Davidowitz, numerous midmarket malls, many of them born during the country’s suburban explosion after the second world war, could very well share Rolling Acres’ fate. “They’re going, going, gone,” Davidowitz says. “They’re trying to change; they’re trying to get different kinds of anchors, discount stores … [But] what’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

Of course it didn’t help that they were built with no urban planning principles in mind.

For mid-century Americans, these gleaming marketplaces provided an almost utopian alternative to the urban commercial district, an artificial downtown with less crime and fewer vermin. As Joan Didion wrote in 1979, malls became “cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes”. Peppered throughout disconnected suburbs, they were a place to see and be seen, something shoppers have craved since the days of the Greek agora. And they quickly matured into a self-contained ecosystem, with their own species – mall rats, mall cops, mall walkers – and an annual feeding frenzy known as Black Friday.

“Local governments had never dealt with this sort of development and were basically bamboozled [by developers],” Underhill says of the mall planning process. “In contrast to Europe, where shopping malls are much more a product of public-private negotiation and funding, here in the US most were built under what I call ‘cowboy conditions’.”

Shopping centres in Europe might contain grocery stores or childcare centres, while those in Japan are often built around mass transit. But the suburban American variety is hard to get to and sells “apparel and gifts and damn little else”, Underhill says.

Same thing in the largely empty Confederation Mall.  The mall emptied out after rents skyrocketed in Saskatoon.  What used to be disposable income is now needed for rent.  In that way, malls are a reflection of the economic health of the surrounding communities.

The Sound of the World Cup

This is the sound of what the World Cup sounds like when Brazil scores a goal in a Rio de Janeiro neighborhood. I love it.

The Near-Death of Grand Central Terminal

It’s amazing how close New York came to losing Grand Central Station

Many consider the destruction of New York’s original Pennsylvania Station in 1963 to have been the architectural crime of the twentieth century. But few know how close we came to also losing its counterpart, Grand Central Terminal, a hub every bit as irreplaceable. Grand Central’s salvation has generally been told as a tale of aroused civic virtue, which it was. Yet it was, as well, an affirming episode for those of us convinced that our political culture has become an endless clown-car act with the same fools always leaping out.

“In New York then, I learn to appreciate the Italian Renaissance,” said Le Corbusier of Grand Central. “It is so well done that you could believe it to be genuine. It even has a strange, new firmness which is not Italian, but American.” It was not seen as such by its owner, New York Central Railroad, which viewed it mostly as a cash cow. As early as 1954, the Central proposed replacing the terminal with something called The Hyberboloid — an I. M. Pei monstrosity that, at 108 stories and 1,600 feet, would have become the world’s tallest building at the time. There was enough public outcry that a scaled-down Hyberboloid was built instead just north of Grand Central, where it was retitled the Pan Am (later the Met Life) Building. Even at a lesser height, it proved every bit as grotesque as promised.

Still unsatisfied, New York Central proposed in 1961 to build a three-level bowling alley over Grand Central’s Main Concourse, which would have required lowering the ceiling from sixty feet to fifteen and cutting off from view its glorious blue mural of the zodiac. This, too, was stopped. Foiled again, New York Central resorted to plastering the terminal with ads and bombarding travelers with canned Muzak, complete with commercials, over the public address system.

Meanwhile, in the angry atmosphere that followed the demolition of Penn Station, New York City finally got a Landmarks Preservation Commission, which designated Grand Central a landmark in 1967. But the terminal still wasn’t safe. Now hemorrhaging money as Americans turned away from trains and the passenger rail system began to collapse, the New York Central merged with its old rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad. The chairman and CEO of the new “Penn Central” was one Stuart Saunders, former CEO of the Pennsy, and the man who had torn down Penn Station to build the latest Madison Square Garden.

Bear with us here, as we trace how the troubled new railroad nearly succeeded in tearing down Grand Central — for it says much about how we conduct business and politics in America today.

Pew Survey: Liberals Want Walkability, Conservatives Want a Big Lawn

Liberals want walkability

From Streetsblog

The dynamic reinforces Nate Silver’s observation after the 2012 elections: “if a place has sidewalks, it votes Democratic. Otherwise, it votes Republican.”

Among those who identified as most conservative, 75 percent reported they’d prefer to live in a place where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away.” Only 22 percent said they’re prefer to live in a place where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance.”

The situation was reversed for the most liberal class of respondents. Among this group, 77 percent said they preferred a smaller house, closer to neighborhood amenities. Only 22 percent would opt for the larger, more isolated house, Pew found. The proportions were roughly reversed for conservatives.

Americans overall were roughly evenly split, with 49 percent saying they’re prefer the bigger, more remote house, and 48 percent saying they’d prefer the walkable community. Interestingly, both classes of respondents — conservatives and liberals — showed little love for the suburbs. Just 21 percent of liberals and 20 percent of conservatives said they would prefer living in the suburbs.

Among the factors that were important to liberals and conservatives in choosing a place to live, there were some consistencies and some inconsistencies. Both liberals and conservatives rated living near extended family and strong schools highly. But access to museums and theaters was particularly important to consistently liberal respondents: 73 percent said these amenities were important to them, compared to just 23 percent of consistent conservatives. Liberals were also more likely than conservatives to say it was important to live in a community with a mix of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

The Partnership’s position on Bike Lanes

From The Partnership’s Chairman, Dave Denny

The Partnership’s position on Bike Lanes has been consistent.We endorse the idea of protected bike lanes, but only with adequate consideration of traffic flow, special needs safety, and with minimal cost to parking convenience. We have several ideas for how to make this possible by reducing the number of lost parking spots, by making up for lost spots, by providing affordable options for employees to move their cars out of prime spaces, and by enhancing the commercial benefit to downtown businesses. We hope for a chance to collaborate with the city and with the bicycle community to make safe bike lanes come true in a way that all interests can support.

We believe that it is worthwhile to pursue a demonstration of parking-protected bike lanes in downtown Saskatoon because it could simplify safe access for bicyclists. Safe bike lanes would be an additional amenity for downtown employees, customers and residents and would help enhance our downtown brand as youthful, fun, progressive, and healthy. We recognize that every visitor to downtown who switches from driving to biking will have opened up a new parking space for the other drivers.

We simultaneously believe that convenient parking downtown is one of our most critical challenges. The vast majority of employees and shoppers in our winter city currently drive. Many drivers view downtown as more fun, but less convenient. As convenience decreases they may be attracted to our suburban competitors, as has already happened in many other Canadian cities. The parking issue is more complex than simply the question of how long it takes for shoppers to find a metered space. It also involves finding acceptable parking solutions for employees. It involves finding alternatives to unsightly gravel surface parking lots which currently are heavily relied upon to serve a legitimate need. Proper parking management should involve measuring and projecting parking needs as our economy changes and as people’s transit choices change. It should involve finding solutions when there is a deficiency. We categorically reject a philosophy of “management by neglect” whereby car convenience is left unmanaged with the hope that its deterioration will drive visitors to other transit methods. Downtown is too important to take that chance.

For these reasons we hope for an opportunity to collaborate with the city and with the bicycle community to make safe bike lanes come true in a way that all communities can support, thus ensuring the longevity of this demonstration project.

Bridge City

A couple of months ago I discovered that BridgeCity.ca was available to be registered and I scooped it up.  I had wanted a domain to document Saskatoon on for years and this seemed to be as good as place as ever.

Since then I have been uploading photos.  Most of them are of Saskatoon but a few are from outside of our city limits.  My inspiration for this has been the amazing photoblog Winnipeg Love Hate.  If you have never been there before, you really need to check it out.  Bryon Scott has done an amazing job of documenting his city and I hope to do the same for Saskatoon.  

River Landing

If you want to read more about Bridge City, you can find out the information here.  It’s RSS feed is here.  I have been managing to update the site four days out of seven.  Hopefully that will increase to five out of seven.

Mark with his DSLR

Bike Lanes in Saskatoon

Francois Biber joins David Kirton to talk about bike lanes on the Saskatoon Afternoon Show.

Listen

Excellent summary of the issues by both of them.

Just previous to this segment, Kirton expressed his frustration with city councillors, the mayor, and city administration being pro-car.  Listen below.

Listen

Why Public Transit is Under Funded

The reason that public transit (and bike lanes) are underfunded is that the rich don’t rely on them

Another report has come out in support of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), an innovative way to provide public transit at a low cost with dedicated bus lanes, stops, and schedules.

The study (PDF), from pro-transit group Embarq, found that BRT drastically reduced commute times, improved air quality, and cut road fatalities in congested cities like Bogota, Istanbul, Johannesburg, and Mexico City. And we already know that BRT is one of the most cost-effective public transit investments a municipality can make.

The catch? In most cities examined in the report, those benefits only extend to low- and middle-class residents. (In Johannesburg, the poorest residents did not use BRT).

“Since the dominant benefit is travel time savings,” the study’s authors wrote, “the majority of benefits tend to accrue to the strata most represented by BRT users — typically lower- and middle-income.”

While it’s great to have a system that improves transportation access for the majority of a city’s population, BRT’s mass appeal could — ironically — be a political concern that prevents its adoption, at least in the U.S. As Alex Pareene wrote in Salon, public transit often suffers because politicians and donors rarely rely on it. The results show in the states, whose existing BRT systems lag behind those in cities around the world.

Even in densely populated and traditionally liberal cities like New York and Minneapolis, politicians neglect transit. And “because they don’t know or interact with or receive checks from people who rely on it every day, there’s almost no hope for cheap, efficient mass transit options anywhere,” Pareene wrote.

Indeed, the Embarq report echoes the public transit wealth gap, and cites that most BRT systems are often paid for by tax revenue collected from those who may never ride it. Bogota’s famed TransMilenio was financed by increased gasoline taxes, and all the systems required both substantial investment and support from municipalities.

But the Embarq report also showed that BRTs benefited cities with environmental and productivity gains more than they strained financial resources. For example, the average commuter in Istanbul now gets to and from work about an hour faster thanks to the Metrobüs, and Mexico City’s BRT system reduced air pollution enough to save 6,000 sick days a year.

As cities continue to grow and congestion increases, the benefits of BRT may become impossible to ignore — even to the rich and powerful folks who are stuck in traffic.

You see the same thing here in Saskatoon.  After last night’s City Council meeting, you could almost say the same things about bike lanes.

Some Winnipeg politicians defend the status quo

Some Winnipeg city councillors don’t want to lead and want city Bus Rapid Transit line to go to city wide referendum

“I honestly don’t think it’s our best value for almost $600 million,” Browaty (North Kildonan) said, adding several of the city’s other transportation needs should warrant a higher priority and can be funded with all the funds allocated for the bus corridor, citing the westward extension of the Chief Peguis trail, widening of Kenaston Boulevard and the Waverley underpass.

“Everyone of them provides a better value for money than rapid transit phase two.”

Browaty joins St. James-Brooksland councillor Scott Fielding in opposition to the project.

The city is preparing a formal request for $140 million in federal funding for the project but Browaty said that request should be put on hold.

Browaty said he favours a non-binding plebiscite or referendum be included in the Oct. 22 civic election ballot, asking Winnipeggers if they support the completion of the rapid transit project, adding he’s prepared to move a motion at next week’s council meeting to put that into place.

Browaty’s concerns come a day after the civic administration released a detailed report on the $590-million bus rapid transit corridor, which needs to be endorsed by council at its June meeting before Ottawa will consider the application for financial assistance.

The latest report says the city will have to pay $20 million a year for 30 years beginning in 2020, for its share of the project.

Again, cars = value while public transit equals burden in many politicians minds.  Some one needs to tell him that bus rapid transit projects provide tremendous economic payoff, often generating $10 for every dollar spent.

Stop forcing people to wear bike helmets

Look at what Vox has to say about bike helmets

But in the world’s most popular biking cities, particularly in Europe, very few bikers wear helmets. And there are good reasons for that: biking, it turns out, isn’t an especially dangerous form of transportation in terms of head trauma. And the benefits of helmets may be overstated. While they do protect your head during accidents, there’s some evidence that helmets make it more likely you’ll get in an accident in the first place.

Most importantly, requiring helmets deters many normal people from biking in the first place — in Australia, bike commuting rates plummeted when mandatory helmet laws went into effect. And, when there are fewer bikes on the road overall, biking becomes more dangerous.

Of course, if people want to wear helmets they are more than welcome to.

But we should think of helmets as an optional accessory, rather than an absolute requirement — and proposed laws that would mandate all cyclists wear helmets are a bad idea.

New Urbanism’s big impact on medium cities

A quick look at what some huge decisions made by medium sized cities have done since they were made 20 years ago

In mid-sized or smaller cities, the effects of New Urbanism can be much more dramatic. In these places, a few good infill projects, livelier public spaces, and new streetscapes can feel like a whole new downtown. Birmingham, Michigan; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Providence, Rhode Island; and many others that adopted a new urban approach 15 or 20 years ago have transformed themselves to a significant degree. 

The impact on Saskatoon could be similar if Saskatoon City Council has the courage to stick with the City Centre Plan and execute the North Downtown Plan.

Global cities gather in Toronto for summit and to launch the World Council on City Data

This is cool and nerdy at the same time.

The University of Toronto’s Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF) is welcoming cities from around the world to the inaugural Global Cities Summit in Toronto, where the World Council on City Data (WCCD)will be launched on May 15th at 12:30 pm.

This new global entity will build an international platform for open, globally comparable and ISO standardized data for participating cities from around the world.

The creation of the WCCD is an evolution of the last seven years of successful work for the GCIF in developing globally standardized data for cities. The Council’s development has been spurred by the approval of the very first ISO Standard on city metrics, to be published as ISO 37120 on May 15, 2014 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Geneva.

The Council will coordinate all efforts on city data to ensure a consistent and comprehensive platform for standardized urban metrics. It will act as a global hub for creative learning partnerships across cities, international organizations, corporate partners, and academia to further innovation, envision alternative futures, and build better and more livable cities.

“ISO37120 is a milestone for cities. The Creation of the World Council on City Data is a pivotal next step in building a reliable foundation of globally standardized data that will assist cities in building core knowledge for city decision-making, and enable comparative insight and global benchmarking” said Professor Patricia McCarney, Director of the GCIF at the University of Toronto.  “In a world where city data is exploding and big data is escalating, we are now moving forward in building the WCCD as an open data platform on global city metrics.”

The Global Cities Summit is convening global leaders from the world’s cities, businesses, UN and other international agencies, universities, planning and design professionals, on May 15th and 16th in Toronto. The Summit is the inaugural meeting of the more than 255 GCIF member cities from 81 countries. The event will be an opportunity for cities and their partners to learn, share, and exchange experiences across a wide spectrum of big ideas and innovative solutions for cities under the theme: Getting on Track: Sustainable & Inclusive Prosperity for Cities.

The WCCD will be launched in Toronto at 12:30 pm on May 15th, 2014 at the Global Cities Summit at the Sheraton Centre Downtown Hotel. The Council has invited a select group of cities – including Shanghai, London, Toronto, Dubai, Haiphong, Amman, Makkah, Chicago, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Helsinki, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Makati, Minna and Bogota – to come to Toronto to help launch the WCCD and become Foundation Cities of the Council.

These cities, represented by senior delegations including the Mayor of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, are now arriving in Toronto to be part of this launch tomorrow.

Foundation Cities of the WCCD will help develop the vision and drive the new Council agenda forward together with other partners: private, public and academic. Foundation Cities will help define the mandate for the WCCD and develop the first five years of programming on city data, analytics, visualization, publications, city awards and recognitions. The headquarters of the WCCD will be located in Toronto and the Council will host a platform for cities and will build a knowledge network for cities globally. 

“Here in London, we really welcome joining the WCCD,” said Andrew Collinge, Assistant Director of Intelligence, Greater London Authority. “There has never been a time where it’s more important to understand how we as a global city compare with other cities so we can learn from them and actually use data to address challenges that are facing all of our cities.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson said London’s biggest challenge is the boom in the number of people living in London, with the city’s population projected to hit 10 million by 2030. Access to data from other cities will be critical to dealing with this growth.

“That’s a lot of people who will need jobs and homes and a quick and convenient way of getting from one to the other,” he said.

Other cities voiced their excitement at joining the WCCD.

The City of Barcelona is “very interested in this initiative, having been nominated European Capital of Innovation by the European Commission” says Manel Sanromà, CIO, Barcelona, “Barcelona believes deeply in the value of collaboration and standardization.” 

“It will be my pleasure to join you and participate in the launch of such an outstanding initiative,” says Mohammad Jaljouli, Advisor at the Executive Council, Dubai.  “At The Executive Council, we believe in the importance of this major milestone towards building city standards, and we look forward to adding value to the ongoing efforts in this regard.”

Along with the launch of the Council, the Summit will announce a new international standard on city indicators using the GCIF framework that has been developed through the International Organization for Standardization.

ISO 37120 Sustainable Development in Communities: Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life is the first ISO standard on city metrics. Foundation Cities will be the first to pilot this new ISO standard.

This new ISO Standard marks a critical turning point in the world of city data. ISO 37120 provides cities and stakeholders with an opportunity for a standardized approach to city metrics, and a global framework for third party verification of city data.

The WCCD is being established in this critical new space, where ISO 37120 creates the impetus for a reliable, transparent and open data platform.

Saskatoon was thinking of taking part but because of our Mayor’s strong grasp on the economy, we will do it our own way.  Another “tremendous opportunity” lost.

Saskatoon Board of Education

Saskatoon Board of Education