Friday, October 30, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
While food system planning tends to focus on the development of grocery stores, farmers markets and community gardens, it does not often make the link between transportation, shopping and food systems. In Europe, and across the world, where communities are more walkable and fresh local produce is more accessible, stopping by a Shouk or a Bazar after work to pick up a few vegetables is a way of life. In America our shopping habits are more concentrated and require more support: we shop for groceries once or twice a month, load up our cars and hope we finish our vegetables before we go shopping again. But when 36% percent of Philadelphians' don’t own cars and when car ownership imposes a significant burden on low income families, then you have a growing realization that there is a critical link between food systems and transit planning.
According to the latest American Community Survey, 26% of Philadelphians commute to work via transit. While they may use transit for work, far fewer use it for such things as shopping. According to a 2005 Econsult on commercial corridors, only 10% of trips to commercial corridors were taken via public transit. More over 52% of all trips to commercial corridors in areas where thirty percent of the population is below the poverty line were via car. However, only 37% of people in those areas actually own cars. Philadelphians with lower incomes have significantly less access to fresh and healthy food and everybody from The Reinvestment Fund, to the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition and State Representative Dwight Evans have been fighting to bridge that gap. Over 125,000 people shop at local farmers markets, and 167,695 Philadelphians live near commercial corridors without grocery stores. By partnering with supermarkets and the Food Trust (which oversees Philadelphia’s 27 farmers markets), by out-fitting buses with simple shelves, and targeted routing changes it is possible to “move the needle” and bring the number of people who shop via SEPTA closer to those who commute via SEPTA.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2009
Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City - 1.25 AIA/CES LUs; CEU Eligible for PA Landscape Architects
Friday, October 23, 2009
Recently The Oregonian featured an article titled Residents of transit-oriented Orenco Station still driving cars to work. The author notes:
"About two out of three Orenco residents drive to work in cars, slightly less than some other suburbs but hardly the car-free utopia many idealists expect of the transit-oriented area. Even as the neighborhood has grown closer, block by block, to the MAX light rail station"At first glance this “post occupancy study” would suggest that transit oriented development does not work.
However, no matter how damning the headline or lead sentence may be generally one can find far more interesting data further along in a report. For one, it would appear that most people who live in Orenco tend to:
"...walk to shopping and use mass transit for nonwork trips – to the zoo or symphony, for example – at rates that beat other suburban communities… Orenco residents are five times as likely as [nearby neighborhood] residents to walk to shops and stores more than five times a week."As Jennifer Dill director of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium notes, only 20% of trips are journeys to work trips. The fact that their journey to work (JTW) still exhibit high car mode share is a function of where they are going. After all, every trip is determined by origin and destination, and if the origin is walkable but the destination isn’t, well, you will simply have to drive there. That is clearly evident when people in Orenco prefer to move around their neighborhood via foot and bike but still drive to work.
Ultimately this a reminder that any single TOD is only as effective as the entire region around it. TOD is not about specific projects here or there, but the rules by which we allow our entire region to be built.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
I finally got up to New York to see the High Line. As expected, it is pretty cool. It was packed with people sunning themselves, walking, eating at a café – all experienced at an elevation to which we are not quite accustomed.
The High Line has some interesting features that attempt to retain the site’s historical memory as a an abandoned railroad bed, like overgrown vegetation and railroad tracks emerging out of the ground in some spots. I found these elements particularly important to the experience. No matter how expensive the park’s finishes (it cost $150 million so far) or the luxury buildings that abut the High Line, its designers want us to remember a period when this viaduct was abandoned and overgrown – a ghost of a vibrant industrial past.
Looking out over the edge of the High Line, it was clear that this linear park was the most recent addition to the living urban museum that is Chelsea. The surrounding neighborhood has similar features of industrial infrastructure captured in a semi-blighted state, adorned and modernized with expensive materials, made relevant through modern uses. Former industrial warehouses hold high-end restaurants, couture shops, and art galleries. Places like Chelsea Market relish the trendy aesthetic of crumbling brick contrasted with expensive lighting and modern art.
Later, from the ground looking up at the High Line I realized something; when there are gaps in the people walking upon it, there is no indication from the street that this modern floating park even exists. From below it still looks like an overgrown and blighted railroad viaduct. And that’s the point. Reusing historic infrastructure is trendy, but surely for the High Line’s designers the viaduct’s reuse was about retaining the historical memory of a less vibrant past.
Like many postindustrial urban areas, there was a time not too long ago when Chelsea’s fate was considerably more uncertain. In a story of urban revitalization that has become well known, Chelsea was rediscovered by artists in the 1980s and 1990s, then by main-stream New Yorkers. Today it is hypergentrified as the High Line floats above a Vera Wang boutique, and runs beside a new Frank Gehry building. Modern-day Chelsea has the privilege of recalling its darker days, while celebrating its affluent success. Many urban areas are not so lucky.
Staring up at the High Line, while eating lunch at an outdoor restaurant where beers cost $7, I thought about my hometown of Philadelphia and our own Reading Viaduct that some hope to turn into the next High Line-esque park. However, unlike in Chelsea, there is no Vera Wang or Barneys in Philadelphia’s Callowhill and Chinatown North neighborhoods. Instead Philadelphia still has postindustrial areas suffering from physical blight and urban decay.
No matter how neat a floating park could be in Philadelphia, the Reading Viaduct’s context makes this reuse inappropriate just now. Its surrounding neighborhoods are not in a position to memorialize the history of a blighted past; that blighted past has not yet become history. Those who feel that the Reading Viaduct is ready to become the next High Line are missing the underlying symbolic meaning of the High Line and its context.
I don’t mean to say that the Reading Viaduct should not be preserved and at some point transformed. However, if this happens, it must be part of a larger strategy that focuses on true neighborhood revitalization, rather than a standalone project.
As I mentioned in a previous post, a few years ago a group of community organizations came to the table and cooperated in developing the Chinatown Neighborhood Plan. The plan charts a course for a comprehensive approach to building physical connectivity, attracting new residential and commercial growth, addressing issues of affordable housing and local economic development, as well as adding new recreational sites (including restoring a major portion of the Reading Viaduct as a floating park). It’s a good plan that was developed through a consensus building process. The City and neighborhood groups should agree to put their weight behind it and make the plan a reality.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
public school students, displayed at the 1947 Better Philadelphia Exhibition.
I was recently invited to participate in a Philadelphia public high school class where students engage in planning a community-based project (in this case a community garden, seating area, and food stand just a few blocks from the school). Each time I go to class, it strikes me how engaging this project is for building commitment to community, while using a physical neighborhood space as the means of teaching academic subjects and life skills. As part of the class, students are learning about planning, urban design, market analysis, business planning, and community involvement.
Teaching planning in schools is not a new concept for Philadelphia. During the fall of 1946, an experimental city planning course was introduced into the curriculum at sixteen public schools across the city. Staff of the City Planning Commission and the independent Citizens’ Council on City Planning spent months in the classroom working directly with the students, helping them learn about planning concepts, and ultimately guiding them to create their own plans, models, and drawings of the future of their communities.
The first round of student models, drawings, and plans were put on display at the Better Philadelphia Exhibition – a massive showcase of Philadelphia’s city planning work that attracted 385,000 visitors in 1947. Reports on the show praised Philadelphia’s foresight in preparing the next generation of citizens to plan a bright future for their communities. The program was a huge success and was subsequently permanently added to the Philadelphia schools curriculum. I don’t know when or why this planning course was dropped. However, the class I’m involved with today is not a standard feature for Philadelphia’s public school students.
If planning is such a great framework for teaching basic skills and building community values, why don’t we bring it back as a permanent element of the public school curriculum? A few years ago, I suggested this idea to some of my colleagues in education policy. The feedback was resoundingly negative. Their argument was that most public school students in Philadelphia lack adequate reading and math skills. Who has time for something superfluous like planning?
In a recent article Michael A. Rodriguez, a Bethesda, Maryland-based transportation planner, argued for the importance of teaching planning in school. In his article, Rodriguez notes, “To the nay-sayers who do not think schools have time to teach planning concepts, or worry more about 'core' curricula in math, science, and reading, I say that teaching planning concepts is fun and complimentary to teaching other subjects. They are not mutually exclusive.” He notes that teaching planning involves math, geography, and writing. I have seen this overlap with core subjects in the class I am involved with. The community planning element is a way to teach core subjects through an interesting and engaging subject that directly affects that place where the students live.
Rodriguez also adds another argument to the mix: “Planners often encounter ineffective public participation because of the fact that citizens often are not taught planning skills in school.” In other words, if kids aren’t taught the need for planning their communities, how can they become active community participants down the line when it really matters?
Going back to my previous post, it is clear that in order to build stable and thriving communities, we need to focus on developing engaged, concerned, and committed citizens. By teaching planning in schools, we are giving children the opportunity to understand that they can become engaged in their community, and that this engagement can be truly rewarding.
Some of my education policy friends may disagree with me. But ultimately I hope that these students – the parents of the future – will stay in their Philadelphia community (for some I hope this means returning after college). I hope they will become strongly involved in their community, and provide a better environment for living and learning than existed for them during their formative school years.
Education cannot be viewed as simply a process to get kids to a certain level of preparation in math and reading. It must be viewed as our major avenue for preparing the next generation of committed citizens. Otherwise we are missing a critical element of what school is intended to do. Without this element we may help a handful of students to escape and move on to better lives, but we do nothing to solve the underlying issues that afflict their under-served schools and communities in the long-term.