Tag Archives: ggw

planning

Middle path density gets some news

Option A
Option A (by nydiscovery on flickr)

This  past weekend, the East Bay Express (a paper in Oakland), wrote a fairly balanced article about the battles over densification in Oakland and Berkeley. Although it took as its subject a particularly acerbic debate over local development projects, the scenario is the same everywhere. The article presents three largely oppositional theses: tall buildings are environmentally sound, all density is environmentally unsound, and that density can mean Paris as well as Manhattan. Each one is given a fair voice, but ultimately only the middle path comes out looking informed.

Of course the commenters jumped out of the starting blocks and onto their respective causes: the electric car, renewable energy, zero population growth, THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITING EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS, planting “subsistence” gardens in quarter-acre lots, and obviously the meme that developers are profiteers and gentrifiers. But what none of these people seemed to see was that the options of a pleasant human environment and a limited footprint on the natural world are not mutually exclusive.

Option B (from baslow on flickr)
Option B (from baslow on flickr)

Read the article; take a look at the section on pages 3 & 4 in particular, where Mike Pyatok, an architect with decades of experience, drops the usual truth bombs.

In an environment with artificial scarcity by way of outdated and strict zoning, the costs of land allotted to tall development, prices will be too high, even for luxury development. 5-8 story buildings are cheaper, more comfortable, and more energy efficient on a regional scale. Similarly, the need for a large footprint to justify the vertical costs means a less refined urban grain and less human-scale detail and fewer potential owners.

As long as cities are lusting for the skinny towers of 1920s New York, opponents will only see a superblock grime of the 1970s. Unfortunately, those skinny towers never made much money and definitely won’t nowadays. So, many opponents are simply reacting to unreasonable visions of the future with equally wrong visions of dystopia. Expect to see knees jerking until city councils and armchair planners ask for middle density.

Russia

Russia still outrageously dangerous

Today, checking up on the general doings of Russia, I came across three interesting articles about very different automobile collisions. Russia, I just learned, is the worst country in terms of per capita automobile fatalities. This situation has some historical roots in Stalinist city planning that called for large highways with few pedestrian crosswalks, but automobile fatalities weren’t really a problem when only 2% of the country could own a car. Now, when there are something like 2.5 million drivers in Moscow (still, only 16% of inhabitants), the roads get clogged, noisy, and deadly. According to the article, there were 236 fatalities per million Russians, nearly twice the United States’ 136 deaths per million. Calculating the death rate based on automobile use, 900 motorists die per year per million automobiles or motorcycles on the road in the Russian Federation. The United States isn’t even close.

The term many people seem to use to describe contemporary Russia is dikaya, meaning “wild,” as in The Wild West. Dikiy kapitalizm, dikie nochi, dikie voditeli. Russian drivers are notoriously bad, impatient, and unprepared. But it’s not just lax licensing and bad drivers, the roads themselves are terrible, most designed for puttery small cars like the Lada and if not, then just poorly maintained. Moreover, the speed limit on all streets within Moscow is 60kph, around 38mph, but in reality, nobody drives the limit. 

The government has enabled the newfound love for motorcars, looking to the Interstate Highway System for inspiration. In Moscow alone, the Federal Government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to expand the road network, including building a twelve lane freeway on the already massive Leningradsky Prospekt, right up to the center of the city, and putting tunnels under multiple plazas on Tverskaya Street. I lived off Leningradsky Prospekt for a while, near its intersection with the Third Ring road, and crossing either road was a slow and onerous process that sometimes required me to use graffitti-covered and patently unsafe pedestrian overpasses. And incidentally, one part of the Third Ring is a leaky tunnel that causes cars, moving at freeway speeds, to aquaplane in the summer and slide on black ice in the winter, resulting in a spectacularly morbid video and many severe injuries. 

The second article, a real gut punch, is one that has become familiar to pro-pedestrian bloggers. On may 13th, a driver named Roman Zhirov killed a visibly pregnant woman named Yelena Shumm, who was walking in a crosswalk with the right signal. Her death is a tragedy in itself, but not quite the horrible act of malfeasance that it has since become. Soon afterward, the police got the license place of the car and located the owner of the blue Forester seen speeding away from the scene, but have yet to file charges. You see, Mr. Zhirov is a member of the Internal Affairs Division of the police.

The State Prosecutor’s office has apparently begun some investigation into that unit, but so far, nothing. Unsurprisingly, the story has been picked up by the news media in Moscow, thanks in part to the murdered woman’s husband, Alexei, who has started a very depressing livejournal. Take a look at the google translation if you don’t speak Russian. 

I can’t much end on such a miserable note, but I can’t find much related to счастливое водительство that is very happy at all. Still, at least only broken bones resulted from the high profile collision between a jaywalker and a motorcycling rock star that happened two days ago. That’s still not great, but at least the reporters in those blog posts use the active voice to describe the motorists’ actions.

Local

Tenleytown trashing

Anyone go to the UrbanNexus event last night? What the hell was with all the slights against Tenleytown? If you’ve ever been to a PUD hearing, you know that uptown of the Uptown we can hold our own. It’s hard selling urbanism in these parts, and I don’t need none of your highfalutin’ downtown snark getting in the way. We may have lost the punks and some people may have terrible, outdated ideas about what is good for the city, but hell, have you even eaten at 4912?