This article is cross-posted from reginaurbanecology.wordpress.com
The Urban Forest Stewardship Network (UFSN) is an online resource for organizations, community groups and individuals working on urban forest initiatives across Ontario. It is a platform for sharing experiences and resources, and for capacity building.
The Urban Forest Stewardship Network was initiated by LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) in an effort to bring together community based urban forest groups from across the province.
One of their projects is to TAG URBAN TREES to show their value to those who benefit from them. These tags can be placed on street trees and trees in parks or even on your own front lawn to display the benefits in Air Pollution Control, Water Recycling, Oxygen Generation, etc.
Image via UFSN
Chicago Business Owner: No Protected Bike Lanes Is a Dealbreaker
by Angie Schmitt
As our Chicago readers are well aware, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made bike infrastructure a key part of his economic strategy. Since Emanuel took office, Chicago has been adding protected bike lanes perhaps faster than any city in the United States. The famously sharp-tongued Emanuel has even pledged to attract businesses from other cities, notably Seattle, with top-quality bike infra.
Jeff Judge, owner of the Chicago-based startup Signal, says he won’t consider relocating to a city that doesn’t take bike infrastructure seriously. Image: People for Bikes
Well here’s one indication that it’s working. Mary Lauran Hall at People for Bikes reports Chicago business owner Jeff Judge won’t consider a move to another city unless its bike amenities can match what his employees have become accustomed to:
Judge recently weighed moving his marketing startup from Chicago to Boston when a Massachusetts-based company approached him about acquisition.
“The first thing I looked at was what the bike infrastructure is like in Boston,” said Judge. “It’s so important to me. I wouldn’t even give consideration to other cities that don’t have that sort of infrastructure built out, or at least plan to. Why fight against something when there are a lot of great cities in the country making sure that it’s an important attribute?”
Judge’s company is Signal, a marketing platform for small businesses. His small team works out of 1871, a coworking space for digital startups in downtown Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.
“We’re close to many protected bike lanes downtown,” explained Judge, who rides in Chicago’s new protected bike lanes on his commute to work. “For me and for my employees, it makes a big difference.”- Streetsblog.net
A Cartoonist’s Vision of a Car-Free Future
St. Paul-based cartoonist Andy Singer has never owned a car, even though he’s lived, over the last 47 years, in places as diverse as New York City, Ithaca, Oakland, Boston, and now the Twin Cities. He’s clearly a minority among Americans, but he’s made a career out of using art to convince others to rethink their romance with the automobile.
His latest is Why We Drive, a book released late this summer that uses political cartoons and historical photos to make the case. Many of his main arguments are familiar: he’s anti-sprawl, pro-public transportation, pro-biking, and against the types of hidden government incentives that make these policies difficult to put in place.
But Singer takes a more visual approach to advocate for sustainable living. He chatted with Cities about his new book and how he’s used his work as a cartoonist to make arresting visual arguments in favor of alternative transportation.
How did you become interested in issues of sustainability, transportation, and auto culture?
I had a moment in high school, going to a concert in Nassau County, Long Island. I bought tickets off a scalper, which turned out to be bogus, but the people whom we had driven there with got into the concert. So we spent three hours just trying to amuse ourselves walking around the parking lot [at the Nassau Coliseum]. And it was just this moment of realizing that everywhere you looked there was nothing but concrete and cars. And I think that was the first moment where I realized, wow, there are too many dang cars.
How were you inspired by some of the urban and suburban forms you see around you in St. Paul, where you live now, and other places you’ve made home, including New York and Boston?
I’ve just noticed in different places that I’ve lived that people like to visit old places. When you go to New Orleans, for example, people want to see the French Quarter, the older parts of it. Or when people are in Boston they want to walk the Freedom Trail and see Paul Revere’s House and Beacon Hill and the old parts of Boston. There are historical reasons for that because they want to see the history behind something. But I think that people also like those spaces, and they like those spaces in part because they’re walkable.
The first cartoon in the book — across from the title page — shows the ‘Goldilocks’ version of mixed use development. How did you come up with this idea, and how does it map onto how you view the discussions about density and urban development?
Another peeve I have is that there is pretty much a common awareness among people in New Urbanist circles that low-density sprawl, car-oriented sprawl is a bad thing — environmentally, socially, economically, etc. But there’s also this non-agreement as far as how much density is too dense.
And there’s this idea that we can have hyper-density that is somehow much more environmentally efficient than this low-density sprawl. I think that it could well be more efficient than low-density sprawl, but is it the most efficient level of density?
And you see when there’s a power blackout, in a lot of these hyper-dense cities, a lot of these buildings become uninhabitable because they require electric elevators and water pumps and all sorts of mechanical stuff to make them usable. You’re not going to be able to get up to the 25th floor of your building and back down on a regular basis. And they require much more energy-intensive materials to build and to take down than, say, a three or four-story walk-up.
You write that you are “an advocate of car-free cities, car-free city sections and car-free living.” How do your drawings try to illustrate how people should think about these possibilities?
I’m trying to encourage people to look at the pre-automotive sections of their own cities as a guide or an envisioning of what their city, or sections of their city, could look like without cars, at what life would be like without cars. I think a lot of times when you see something or you envision something, you understand it more. A lot of people see a freeway, for example, in the Twin Cities, and they think that that freeway has always been here. And maybe for their entire lifetime it’s always been there. But they don’t realize that, wow, there used to be townhouses and apartment buildings and homes on that land before that freeway was put in, and people lived in a very different way 100 years ago.
Any last words?
If there’s a takeaway that I want people to have, for lay people or people who are not steeped in all this, it is to appreciate some of the ways that automobiles impact our landscape and impact our lives and our environment and economy.
But I think for people who are more into these issues, I want people to think about the tax structures, the way that in almost every state we have all of our motor vehicle fees and gas taxes being dedicated to highways. This tends to cause states to choose highway solutions to transportation problems, even when another solution using transit or better land use would be more appropriate. There are systemic forces that tend to drive highway building.
These “before and after drawings” represent Singer’s visions of the different kinds of land development and sprawl that accompany rail vs. highway infrastructure.
This interview has been edited and condensed. All images courtesy of Andy Singer and Micirocosm Publishing.
Kaid Benfield, Better! Cities & Towns
On September 20, metered parking spaces around the world were magically transformed into oases of relaxation and frivolity as citizens, small businesses, nonprofits and even local governments celebrated international Park(ing) Day. Enjoy these images of Park(ing) Days past and present, and consider the possibilities:
Here in Washington, according to an article written by Maggie Fazeli Fard for The Washington Post, “more than 20 [DC] locations are participating in the annual worldwide event, sponsored by the Trust for Public Land to raise awareness of the need for more parks and public spaces in cities.” Participation in the event was permitted through an application process administered by the city’s Department of Transportation.
The idea is not just to raise awareness but to create a one-day means of civic participation and to try out, informally, ideas that might be adopted in real parks. Also in The Washington Post, Candace Wheeler writes:
“Park(ing) Day began in 2005, when a San Francisco-based art studio dedicated to environmental projects set up a park for two hours in a metered space. Since then, the event has spread, with temporary parks popping up in 162 cities and 35 countries over the past seven years. Now, the third Saturday in September is designated as the day for creating temporary green space.
“More than a dozen cities along the East Coast participated in this year’s effort. Park(ing) Day’s Web site, which allows people to look for events taking place in their area, provides a how-to guide on creating a pop-up park. There’s also a manifesto created by the event’s founders on the ideals of urban planning and answers to potential legal questions about setting up parks while navigating a city’s permit laws.”
In a 2011 press release, John Bela, principal with Rebar, the San Francisco firm that started it all, emphasized the idealism behind the event:
“From public parks to free health clinics, from art galleries to demonstration gardens, PARK(ing) Day participants have claimed the metered parking space as a rich new territory for creative experimentation, activism, socializing and play … While PARK(ing) Day may be temporary, the image of possibility it offers has lasting effects and is shifting the way streets are perceived and utilized.”
For more information, visit http://parkingday.org/.
What Makes a Successful Place?
Great public spaces are where celebrations are held, social and economic exchanges take place, friends run into each other, and cultures mix. They are the “front porches” of our public institutions – libraries, field houses, neighborhood schools – where we interact with each other and government. When the spaces work well, they serve as a stage for our public lives.
What makes some places succeed while others fail?
In evaluating thousands of public spaces around the world, PPS has found that successful ones have four key qualities: they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place: one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit. PPS developed The Place Diagram as a tool to help people in judging any place, good or bad:
Imagine that the center circle on the diagram is a specific place that you know: a street corner, a playground, a plaza outside a building. You can evaluate that place according to four criteria in the orange ring. In the ring outside these main criteria are a number of intuitive or qualitative aspects by which to judge a place; the next outer ring shows the quantitative aspects that can be measured by statistics or research.
Access & Linkages
You can judge the accessibility of a place by its connections to its surroundings, both visual and physical. A successful public space is easy to get to and get through; it is visible both from a distance and up close. The edges of a space are important as well: For instance, a row of shops along a street is more interesting and generally safer to walk by than a blank wall or empty lot. Accessible spaces have a high parking turnover and, ideally, are convenient to public transit.
(Photo: Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, OR)
Questions to consider on Access & Linkages:
- Can you see the space from a distance? Is its interior visible from the outside?
- Is there a good connection between the space and the adjacent buildings, or is it surrounded by blank walls? Do occupants of adjacent buildings use the space?
- Can people easily walk to the place? For example, do they have to dart between moving cars to get to the place?
- Do sidewalks lead to and from the adjacent areas?
- Does the space function for people with special needs?
- Do the roads and paths through the space take people where they actually want to go?
- Can people use a variety of transportation options – bus train, car, bicycle, etc. – to reach the place?
- Are transit stops conveniently located next to destinations such as libraries, post offices, park entrances, etc.?
Comfort & Image
Whether a space is comfortable and presents itself well – has a good image – is key to its success. Comfort includes perceptions about safety, cleanliness, and the availability of places to sit – the importance of giving people the choice to sit where they want is generally underestimated. Women in particular are good judges on comfort and image, because they tend to be more discriminating about the public spaces they use.
(Photo: Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France)
Questions to consider on Comfort & Image:
- Does the place make a good first impression?
- Are there more women than men?
- Are there enough places to sit? Are seats conveniently located? Do people have is a choice of places to sit, either in the sun or shade?
- Are spaces are clean and free of litter? Who is responsible for maintenance? What do they do? When?
- Does the area feel safe? Is there a security presence? If so, what do these people do? When are they on duty?
- Are people taking pictures? Are there many photo opportunities available?
- Do vehicles dominate pedestrian use of the space, or prevent them from easily getting to the space?
Uses & Activities
Activities are the basic building blocks of a place. Having something to do gives people a reason to come to a place – and return. When there is nothing to do, a space will be empty and that generally means that something is wrong.
(Photo: Kungstradgarden, Stockholm, Sweden)
Principles to keep in mind in evaluating the uses and activities of a place:
- The more activities that are going and that people have an opportunity to participate in, the better.
- There is a good balance between men and women (women are more particular about the spaces that they use).
- People of different ages are using the space (retired people and people with young children can use a space during the day when others are working).
- The space is used throughout the day.
- A space that is used by both singles and people in groups is better than one that is just used by people alone because it means that there are places for people to sit with friends, there is more socializing, and it is more fun.
- The ultimate success of a space is how well it is managed.
Questions to consider on Uses & Activities:
- Are people using the space or is it empty?
- Is it used by people of different ages?
- Are people in groups?
- How many different types of activities are occurring – people walking, eating, playing baseball, chess, relaxing, reading?
- Which parts of the space are used and which are not?
- Are there choices of things to do?
- Is there a management presence, or can you identify anyone is in charge of the space?
This is a difficult quality for a place to achieve, but once attained it becomes an unmistakable feature. When people see friends, meet and greet their neighbors, and feel comfortable interacting with strangers, they tend to feel a stronger sense of place or attachment to their community – and to the place that fosters these types of social activities.
(Photo: Jackson Square, New Orleans, LA)
Questions to consider on Sociability:
- Is this a place where you would choose to meet your friends? Are others meeting friends here or running into them?
- Are people in groups? Are they talking with one another?
- Do people seem to know each other by face or by name?
- Do people bring their friends and relatives to see the place or do they point to one of its features with pride?
- Are people smiling? Do people make eye contact with each other?
- Do people use the place regularly and by choice?
- Does a mix of ages and ethnic groups that generally reflect the community at large?
- Do people tend to pick up litter when they see it?
After months of diligent research and writing, Shareable and Sustainable Economies Law Center present our 40 page guide, Policies for Shareable Cities: A Sharing Economy Policy Primer for Urban Leaders.
Our guide curates scores of innovative, high impact policies that US city governments have put in place to help citizens share resources, create new resources together, and generate their own jobs. It focuses on sharing policy innovations in food, housing, transportation, and jobs — key pocket book issues of citizens and priorities of urban leaders everywhere
City retailers tend to overestimate the importance of parking to their business. They fail to see the many downsides of free parking (congestion and low shopper turnover, among them). They believe more people arrive at the store by car than actually do. They may not even realize that while driving customers spend more per visit, non-drivers spend as much or more in the long term.
And yet whenever a city considers installing a bike lane, rest assured some retailers will protest the perceived loss of automobile access. Take the bike lane that stole a dozen parking spaces from 65th Street in Seattle a couple years back (for reasons that will seem far less arbitrary in a moment). The typical comment from a bike lane opponent to the city’s department of transportation went something like this:
Please do not take away the 65th St. traffic lanes for bicycle lanes. Traffic is congested already and eliminating street parking for cars will [be] detrimental for all small businesses located on 65th.
If you find such claims strong on emotion and light on empiricism, you’re not alone. Kyle Rowe, who’s studying the built environment at the University of Washington, decided to put that standard retail response to the test. He put together a case study to see whether businesses really had a beef with bike lanes, or were making a fuss about nothing [PDF; via Transportation Issues Daily].
Rowe collected city data on taxable retail sales in the corridor before and after the bike lane on 65th Street went into place. He compared the 65th Street sales figures to those generated by a similar retail corridor where no changes had been made to the street, and also to the sales made by retailers in the entire neighborhood. What he found isn’t exactly subtle (the green bar is when the lane was installed):
So that happened. After the city removed 65th Street’s 12 parking spots and striped a bike lane there instead, the sales index in the corridor exploded 400 percent. Now keep in mind that Rowe didn’t have the experimental controls to say that the bike lane caused the increase — some other factor may have played a greater or contributing role — but it’s quite safe to say business didn’t suffer from it.
To make sure 65th Street wasn’t a fluke, Rowe also looked at a lane installed in the Greenwood district. There the city removed an entire lane of traffic as well as a few parking spots to accommodate the bike lanes. Once again Rowe compared taxable sales in the corridor to a similar strip and the neighborhood at large. Here’s what he found:
Those results don’t look too special — especially after the 65th Street chart — but that’s kind of the point. Business didn’t spike in the Greenwood district once bike lanes were added, but it didn’t plummet, either. It did about as good as everywhere else in the area. Writing at the Seattle Transit Blog last month, Rowe says the unequivocal takeaway is that bike lanes have no “negative impact” on retailers:
Looking at the data, one conclusion can clearly be made, these bicycle projects did not have a negative impact on the business districts in both case studies. This conclusion can be made because in both case studies the business district at the project site performed similarly or better than the controls.
Rowe’s isn’t the only recent study of its kind. A very fresh analysis of how bike lanes (and pedestrian improvements) impact retailers in New York reached similar conclusions. At best, retailers in a corridor seem to benefit from the change. At worst, they can still count on business as usual.