Amalgamated’s Top Posts of 2013

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Finished my first full year of blogging, hope you enjoyed. Granted I took an almost half-year break.  I lost some of my inspiration for writing and time for extra curricular reading after a stressful move and starting a new job.

I love my new job, but as a result I don’t have as much time or energy to focus on this side project. Writing has never come naturally so it’s always a significant effort to put a post together. I will have to see how 2014 plays out. My plan is to focus on shorter and more pithy posts to keep the project alive.

As for 2013, here are my top five posts:

5. The Pattern of My Dialect – The quiz on the New York times website was an end of year hit. 

4. Elevator Suburbs – On Canada’s dense suburbs. Doug Saunders gave this one a boost over twitter. 

3. Why has Toronto Overtaken Chicago – My explanation for why Toronto’s population edged out Chicago’s in 2013. 

2. Better Streets: Fountain Place, Poynton – The amazing transformation of Poynton place in England is popular. Good to see that lots of people interested in better streets. 

1. Blaming the Victims – After a horrific crash that injured 10 people this summer on Lakeshore I wrote a reply to the Toronto Star’s incomprehensible coverage of the crash. My most passionate post of the year clearly resonated and tops the list for 2013.

Thanks for reading!

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What I’m Reading: Planners, Dreamers and Schemers

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. But I do want to highlight a theme that emerged from this week and then offer a brief summary below. This week’s theme:

 Planners: Schemers and Dreamers

In a field as broad as urban planning there are always different approaches being debated and discussed. This week I look at three that floated into my RSS feed.

First, the Planners Network U.K. (PNUK) argues planning itself needs a radical overhaul. They have released a draft of what they hope will become a manifesto for progressive urban planning in the United Kingdom. The group present a strong normative vision of planning, offers arguments about why the field requires an overhaul, and suggestions on how it can be achieved. Polis reports that  PNUK is organizing public discussions and debates on the manifesto over the next four months.

The Global Urbanist meanwhile argues that planning needs to be far more practical. It needs to focus on pinpointing problems and solving them with solutions that have timelines, budgets and schemes that are easily attained.

Lastly, the Guardian profiles an example of the emerging eco city trend in planning. Iskandar Malasia will be built as an ultra-modern “smart metropolis.” The city will be built from scratch and will be expected  to have a population of 3 million by 2025. Somehow it seems fitting that Pinewood Studios, a film and television studio,  and Legoland are two parties that have expressed support.

To summarize, planning needs an overhaul, and the solution to rapid urban growth is to ditch grandiose plans and focus on what is practical, and to build massive centrally planned sustainable cities, funded by Petrodollars, that will house millions.

What I’m Reading: Weathering the Present and Future

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. But I do want to highlight some themes that emerged from this week and then provide a brief summary below. This week’s theme:

Weathering the Present and the Future

Last week the self stylized capital of the world, New York, was hit by Hurricane Sandy. National Geographic discussed why New York City is one of the worst places for a Hurricane to hit. Not only is it the densest place in North America, but its tall buildings and bridges are vulnerable to high winds, there is a lot of underground infrastructure, and the New York Bight (a “bight” is a curve or bend on an open shoreline) traps millions of gallons of water. So:

When all of this water slammed into New York’s Bight, the water got trapped where the legs of the L form. With nowhere to go, water then spilled onto the land… Waves from this excess water piled up and formed storm surges of dangerous height.

Scientific America had some excellent reporting on the storm and its aftermath. There were the small issues, like the United Nations being damaged by flooding and a storm related fire, and more serious issues, such as the need to evacuate a major hospital.  Yet, the main theme emerged was how we are going to protect cities and infrastructure from similar weather events in the future?

Matthew Yglesias, writing for Slate, offered some suggestions, proposing a system of dams and flood control devices in New York that the Dutch have pioneered. Meanwhile, shoreline activists in New Jersey argue the state really only has three ways to protect the its shore from extreme weather when it rebuilds:

build more jetties and seawalls, keep beaches replenished and relocate homes and businesses.

Underlying these discussion about Sandy is the acceptance that events like this will be more common in the future as we begin to feel the effects of climate change.

For example, Scientific America reports how:

Once rare, flooding is now so menacing that the Guna have agreed to abandon ancestral lands for an area within their semi-autonomous territory on the east coast of the mainland.

The City of Toronto meanwhile received a report this week about how climate is expected to change by 2040. Torontoist summerized the following predictions from the report:

  • We will have 26 fewer snow days per year, 9 fewer in December.
  • There will be more rain and less snow in winter; overall precipitation will increase slightly.
  • The average annual temperatures will increase by 4.4 degrees.

Finally, Asian cities are really worried about future big storms:

“These cities are undergoing very rapid expansion and they are not only exposed to sea-level rise, they are also exposed to tropical cyclones,”

To summarize, I read this week that Sandy was bad, New York is vulnerable, climate change will make flooding more common in coastal cities, and there are no easy solutions.

What I’m Reading: Downtowns Booming

Photo by simon.carr

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. But I do want to highlight some themes that emerged from this week and then provide a brief summary below. This week’s theme:

Downtowns

Downtowns rental markets are growing in the US. The IndyStar and Pittsburgh Post Gazette both wrote this week about the high demand in rental construction:

In Indianapolis:

“The reality is….. we’ve never seen (so much new development) concentrated in a small market like Downtown before. Never had this many units at once,” said George Tikijian of Tikijian Associates apartment brokerage. “But Downtown is very popular. I do think they will be absorbed.”

In Pittsburgh:

“From working with developers and folks from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, there’s a clear demand and need for more housing Downtown,” he said.
“At this point, we can’t build it fast enough.”

Meanwhile here in Toronto, the Star is doing a great series focused on Density and Toronto. Toronto is coming to the end of an intense decade long condominium boom, yet the applications for taller new building keep on coming. In the last month three 80-85 storey and two 70 storey condominium towers were announced. The Star investigates the causes and discovers:

“It’s a trend fuelled in part by large swaths of the population wanting to live downtown.
‘People are willing to pay for luxury apartments in the urban centre in a way they weren’t a few years ago,'” .

Personally, I fear it is connected to Barclays Skyscarper Index study which showed “an unhealthy correlation between construction of the next world’s tallest building and an impending financial crisis: New York 1930; Chicago 1974; Kuala Lumpur 1997 and Dubai 2010.” But the Star did not take that line of investigation.

Back to the theme, having more people moving downtown is great, whether its here in Toronto or in Pittsburgh.  However, there are challenges in creating a high quality of life for downtown residents. Luckily the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City posted an excellent interview with Jeff Speck, author of the Walkable City, who highlights the economic, health, and environmental benefits for residents by creating walkable downtowns.  A great article, please do read it.

To summarize, downtown living is popular, but effort is required to ensure that with growth there must also be an improvement in quality of life.

What I’m Reading: History and the City

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. But I do want to highlight some themes that emerged from this week and then provide a brief summary below. This week’s theme:

History and the City

From Horse Power to Horsepower is an article I stumbled upon. Its an engaging look into urban life in the pre-automobile age. The article is a trove of stats. For example, almost 3 billion flies hatched per in horse manure in the US in 1900, or in 1880 New York City carted 15,000 dead horses from the street everyday.  I highly recommend you give it a read. It will cure any nostalgia you might have about living in a 19th century city.

The Global Urbanist calls for looking into the past for lessons on urban reform.  argues that the means and ends of 20th century reforms resemble are own. For example, tactical urbanist has much in common with the early 20th century playground movement who similarly attempted to convert under utilized space for neighbourhood needs. Take a look and discover what we have in common with reforms a 100 years ago.

Lastly, an article on Denver’s LoDo provides a great example of how historic preservation can be used to create a sense of place and generate real estate value and economic growth. LoDo (Lower Downtown) went from being systematically demolished for parking in the 1980s to one of the most popular and successful urban neighborhoods in the Rocky Mountain region.

So to sum it up, this week I learned the past was harsh, has much to teach us, and left us a flexible and valuable legacy.

What I’m Reading: Tolls and Apps

by mcfcrandall

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. The previous several weeks I was just listing a bunch of articles, however I found that did not add a lot of value. This week I’ll try a new approach. Instead of listing everything, I want to highlight some themes that emerged from the list and then provide a brief summary below.

Themes

Tolls and Polls

Apps

Summary

This week I spotted two themes that I felt were worth highlighting, tolls and apps. From the first, the Globe and Mail published an article on the results of a poll that focus on funding transit in the GTA. The results;

27.1 per cent of respondents named road tolls as their first choice for revenue collection. An increase to the gasoline tax ranked second, with 15.8 per cent selecting it as their preference, followed by a hike in transit fares at 12.1 per cent.

The New York Times meanwhile posed the question “You pay the toll, Where should the money go?” to five experts with different view points. The responses are excellent and well thought out. I highly recommend taking a look at it.

The second theme I saw in this weeks list was the rise of civic minded apps. Governing.com wrote new technologies and the way it was transforming how government interact with citizens and employees. Philly.com reporting on the free CityHall App, complements Governing’s article perfectly  The app, CityHall, is being used to report landlords and tenants who blight their blocks. It has apparently been effective;

Henon, who introduced his CityHall App last spring and quickly saw hundreds of Northeast residents download and use it, discovered that when property violations go viral, most offenders cave. If they don’t, he’ll summon them to public hearings and alert Licenses & Inspections – which is never good news for a noncomplying city property owner.

To wrap up the list, Fast Company is reporting on another app, LocalData. Three young American Fellows have develop the app the provide a digital tool kit to let communities collect data about the places they live. For example;

They used an early version of LocalData to help a community track urban blight, and later, to help urban planning students carry out a sweeping commercial parcel study. “They mapped 9,000 parcels [of land] in a matter of weeks, which they wouldn’t have been able to do using traditional survey methodologies,” Rouault explains. “It proved our hypothesis–that this could be a useful tool not just for community groups, but for experts.”

Enjoy!

What I’m Reading

Photo by Tilling 67

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. So here is a list of some of the articles I read this week that you might have missed:

Community

Development

Planning

Transportation

 

What I’m Reading

Photo Credit: Free Light! by gorbould

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. So here is a list of some of the articles I read this week that you might have missed:

Community

Development

Planning

Transportation

What I’m Reading

Photo Credit: Marc Falardeau, One Block

There is a lot of great stuff being written every day.  I can’t blog about it all. So here is a list of some of the articles I read this week that you might have missed:

Architecture

Community

Planning

Transportation