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San Francisco

Even little parks make a big difference

San Francisco even has a guide to making parklets.

Parklet in San Francisco

The city’s parklets guidebook [PDF], authored by Chasan and released in February, reads kind of revolutionary, at least so far as city infrastructure goes. With explicit goals of encouraging non-motorized transportation, eco-friendly design, and reshaping neighborhood interaction, these teeny parklets pack a big political punch.

“In terms of changing the dialog about what the public realm can be, I think it’s been really successful, both with the public and within the city bureaucracy itself,” says Chasan, who has headed up the program for two and a half years. “When you park your car on the street, you’re essentially privatizing a public space. So when you turn it into something for everyone, it becomes a very literal metaphor.”

Even when they take over that private parking spot, parklets still straddle an odd private-public line. Each one is sponsored and bankrolled by a local entity, most often a business, and can cost about $20,000-30,000 — a significant investment for what is truly a public space. Those parklets outside coffee shops and cafes may seem like an extension of the restaurant that ponied up that cash, but they’re really not. The city requires that parklets look and feel public and separate from the sponsoring business.

“Sometimes people get upset if they feel like the parklet feels private, like it doesn’t live up to the civic ideals of the program,” says Chasan. “Like ‘This is supposed to be for everybody and it doesn’t feel like it’s for everybody.’ They should get upset about that if that’s the case.”

One of my favourite places in Saskatoon was the deck at City Perk (I saw “was” because it is under construction) which was owned by City Perk but seemed like a town square in the heart of City Park.  Along the thinking, I am always surprised that more churches (who have parking and buildings that are under utilized) don’t do this in urban areas.  I have always thought that creating community amenities for the neighbourhood was a great idea whether you are a business or a non-profit.  Sadly too many of these spaces are created but behind a locked fence and the opportunity is lost.

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Wider Highways? Bay Area’s Smart Growth Plan Has Some Glaring Mistakes

The challenges of smart growth

Population growth in the Bay Area doesn’t have to mean more traffic and more suburban sprawl, if it’s planned for in a sustainable way. To that end, regional planners at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission recently released a draft of Plan Bay Area, a state-mandated blueprint for focusing housing growth over the next 25 years near transit hubs, where new residents are less likely to need a car to get around.

Sustainable planning advocates say the plan is mostly headed in the right direction, but it still falls short in some areas. One glaring mistake is that the plan calls for spending billions to widen highways to create high-occupancy toll lanes — carpool lanes that single-occupancy drivers can pay to use. Those lanes should instead be created by converting existing highway lanes, says TransForm, an Oakland-based group that advocates for better walking, biking, and transit policies on a regional and state level.

“MTC’s plan follows a 1970s-era Caltrans practice that limits Express Lanes to new construction only, without even studying the option of optimizing existing lanes,” wrote TransForm Deputy Director Jeff Hobson in a blog post. “This kind of outdated thinking is hardly the best approach to solving 21st century transportation problems – and would completely exclude some of the most congested stretches of highway from the plan.”

Because most of the revenue from HOT lanes will be soaked up to pay for the highway widenings, instead of just charging single-occupancy drivers to alleviate congestion in existing lanes, SPUR has pointed out that they will generate little money for transit improvements. Meanwhile, the new lanes will induce more demand for driving and do nothing to reduce existing congestion.

Tech entrepreneur is converting retired city buses into showers for the San Francisco homeless

I don’t know if I find this encouraging or depressing.

San Francisco is teeming with tech entrepreneurs who want to save the world but who’ll pass by the homeless person on the street without a second glance.

Doniece Sandoval, a Bay Area tech entrepreneur, is not one of them. Her latest trick? Turning retired city buses into mobile showers for the homeless. The initiative, known as Lava Mae, is a response to a desperate need in the city. According to the most recent count, more than 6,500 homeless people sleep on the street or in shelters in San Francisco, and there are only eight shower facilities specifically available to the homeless, and most of these have just one or two stalls and aren’t open every day.

I love the idea but I find the homeless number of 6,500 people more than a little depressing.  The idea of showers and facilities for the homeless has also been done quite well in Seattle at Urban Rest Stops.

The Urban Rest Stop (URS) is a hygiene center providing free restrooms, showers and laundry facilities to homeless men, women and children within a clean, safe and dignified environment. The URS has five private shower rooms, 9 washer and 14 dryer units, and large men’s and women’s restrooms. Patrons receive free toiletries including toothbrushes, toothpaste, disposable razors, shaving cream, shampoo and soap. Patrons may borrow overalls while they wash their clothes. 

Bridge lights done right

When Saskatoon put up lights on the Traffic Bridge, it was mocked because the lines of the Traffic Bridge aren’t that pleasing (and the lights highlighted that) but also because they rarely worked right.  When they did work, the motion looked like something you would see on the Vegas strip. Year after year, something was always working poorly and in the end, the entire thing was an embarrassment to the city.  Despite our inability to do it well,  San Francisco has.  They have done an amazing job showing us how a project like this is done right.  

Hopefully if we ever decide to light a bridge up again, we do it correctly.

via

Best Conversation of Super Bowl Week

This conversation between Caterina Fake and her taxi driver is priceless and a much read about how she probably isn’t going to be watching the Super Bowl

Oddly enough despite being a passionate NFL fan, I probably won’t watch the game either.  My problem is that I start to care about the NFL draft on Monday and I go strong all through the off-season and keep it up until about week 15 of the NFL season before I burn out.  By the time the Super Bowl week hits, I can’t handle anymore football which means I only pay a passing interest in the game itself unless Denver is in it.  In other words, I’ll be back caring about football on Monday.

Got what it takes to be a bicycle courier?

I didn’t think so.  You can read more about Godspeed Courier on their website.

Why don’t more people live in a most “livable city”?

The Financial Times asks why more people don’t live in places like Vancouver?

“Sure, Vancouver is beautiful,” says Kotkin, “but it’s also unaffordable unless you’re on an expense account and your company is paying your rent.” Burdett agrees: “Economically all these cities at the top of the polls are also in the top league.” In fact, it can often be exactly the juxtaposition of wealth and relative poverty that makes a city vibrant, the collision between the two worlds. Where parts of big cities have declined, through the collapse of industries or the fears about immigration that led to what urbanists have termed the “donut effect” (in which white populations flee to the suburbs, leaving minorities in the centres), there is space to be filled by artists and architects, by poorer immigrants arriving with a drive to make money and by the proliferation of food outlets, studios and galleries. These, in turn, attract the wealthy back to the centre, at first to consume, and then to gentrify. Whether in New York’s SoHo, Chelsea or Brooklyn, in Berlin’s Mitte or London’s Shoreditch, Hoxton and now Peckham, it is at these moments of radical change that cities begin to show potential for real transformation of lives, or for the creation of new ideas, culture, cuisine and wealth. Once gentrification has occurred, bohemians may whinge about being priced out, as they always have done but, in a big enough city they are able to move on and find the next spot.

I also learned that I need to stop complaining about the Study Stone Centre Building. It’s ugliness is good for Saskatoon.

There is one criterion which throws up shockingly counter-intuitive results – beauty. On this criterion alone, almost any Tuscan hill town, perhaps Venice, perhaps Paris, would come out on top, yet none of these are there. Most of the beauty in the cities which occupy the tops of the leagues seem to ghettoise their beauty outside the city. They have convenient escapes, though the most beautiful and enjoyable – Rio, San Francisco and others – are curiously absent from the lists. The problem is that beauty doesn’t do you any good at all. It’s not a factor for the efficient, mid-sized chart toppers – though places such as Zurich certainly have their lovely bits. But it also damages your chances of making it into the disaffected megacities mentioned at the start of this article. The most beautiful cities become monuments to their own elegance, immobile and unchangeable. They cannot accommodate the kind of dynamic change and churn that keeps cities alive. In London, New York and Berlin, it is their very ugliness which keeps them flexible.

The impact of gentrification on San Francisco

From a series of articles written in 1999 in the San Francisco Guardian

LET’S SAY THE NEXT major earthquake that hits San Francisco is of roughly the same magnitude as the Loma Prieta quake of 1989, or maybe just a little bit stronger. Let’s say it wipes out roughly 1,000 houses and apartment buildings and leaves some 5,000 people homeless. Let’s say the falling buildings and flying debris and the overload on medical facilities lead to 120 deaths.

Let’s say the damages leave 50 local neighborhood-serving businesses — hardware stores, pharmacies, bookstores, cafés — on the brink of bankruptcy.

And let’s say a few unscrupulous profiteers take advantage of the shortages of critical supplies and charge desperate residents triple the normal rate for food, blankets, and drinking water. Let’s say a few speculators work the hardest-hit areas with wads of cash, trying to buy up distressed property cheap. Let’s say some greedy out-of-town charlatans arrive by helicopter with prefabricated structures and cartons of goods, and set up shop in the neighborhoods, selling hammers, medicine, and coffee before the local businesses can get their doors back open.

It’s not hard to imagine the official response. The president and the governor would declare San Francisco a disaster area. Emergency loans and relief funds would roll in. The mayor would launch a crash program to rebuild damaged homes and find places for displaced families to live.

The profiteers, speculators, and charlatans would be exposed in the press and roundly, loudly denounced by every political and community leader in the city. The ones who didn’t wind up in jail would be forced to leave town in disgrace.

* * *

So listen:

In the past three years San Francisco has lost more than 1,000 low-cost housing units to demolition and hotel conversions, some 2,000 public housing units to demolition, and roughly 1,600 rental apartments to back-door condominium conversions. In all, city figures show, more than 8,000 residents have lost their homes to evictions, and many have been unable to find another place to live. Those who haven’t left the city entirely are now among the roughly 10,000 homeless who try to survive on the streets.

Last year 103 homeless people died on those streets, mostly from a lack of adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

Since 1995, dozens of local businesses have closed up shop, driven to bankruptcy by big, out-of-town chains.

It links to some steps that cities can do to deal with gentrification.  It isn’t the best written list but it gives you some ideas of what can be done if you care about the issue.

Fixing the Muni

Great time lapse video of fixing some of the Muni’s tracks in San Francisco. via