Monday, July 6, 2015

Once Around the Block: Monday, July 6, 2015

I hope everyone had a blast of an Independence Day weekend (pun totally intended). Here are a few articles from the world of city planning, urbanism, and general interest from the past week or so:

Let's start again this week with another set of articles and stories from Michigan. Detroit is a city that continues to receive a great deal of attention from urban planners and public policy experts, especially as the city attempts to restructure its infrastructure and governmental structure.

An interview on Local 4's Flashpoint program with anchor Devin Scillian included urban planner Gil Penalosa. Penalosa stopped by the WDIV studios to discuss what exactly Detroit, and other cities for that matter, might need to accomplish in order to be considered a "great city". It's encouraging that this sort of discussion is happening in Detroit, and frankly, this serves as a reminder to other cities that this sort of discussion should be occurring even when your city seems to be thriving (Houston!). Penalosa makes a number of suggestions for Detroit and other cities. When asked about what people in cities want, Penalosa says that most desire to be in a city that allows us to use our senses. "Just how birds fly, and fish swim, people walk."

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Last week Stephen Colbert found himself in Monroe, Michigan, hosting the monthly local-access cable show "Only in Monroe". Since Colbert's new stage is not yet complete for his Late Show debut, he took to local access. Colbert chatted with regular hosts, and registered nurses, Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, the 1988 winner of the Miss America pageant, (and personification of Parks and Recreation's character Joan Callamezzo) and Michelle Baumann. Colbert then featured the "vicious internet flame war" happening in Monroe between Yelp reviewer "Mark M", and Jerry's Frenchtown Bar and Grill. Finally, "a local Michigander who is making a name for himself in the competitive world of music" stopped by. That local Michigander was none other than Eminem.

A recent Detroit Free Press article highlighted how Ford is attempting to plan for a future with less car owners, reinventing "itself as a mobility company and address the trend in urban areas of cities growing and becoming more congested." Ford CEO Mark Fields noted "People value access more than ownership. We need to understand customers' concerns and make their lives easier."

We can always count on engaged discussion about cities from our friends in Canada. First, CBC asks why Canada has fallen so far behind in public transit. This story is a bit older, but CBC's The National featured a segment addressing "How Cities Make Us Sick". The story, which includes urban planner Brent Toderian, examines how planning cities for cars has led to decreased health for humans, and decreased efficiency. How do we make cities better for people, not simply our cars? This is something that Houston and the rest of the United States should consider.

If you're an urban planner or generally enjoy the discussion about cities and urbanism, check out the collection of urban issue podcasts from Bay Area urban planner Jeff Wood at The Overhead Wire. I've listened to his Talking Headways podcast over at StreetsBlog quite a bit, and can attest that his podcast, and others, are venues for valuable discussions between planners and transit enthusiasts.

Business in Vancouver featured a story highlighting the reaction of the recent addition of yet another bike lane, as the city takes more steps in returning many city streets to pedestrians. "Something very odd happened when the City of Vancouver recently announced yet another bike lane reducing car capacity on the Burrard Bridge: nothing." Speaker, author, and urban food revolutionary Peter Ladner pointed to the lack of reaction as "the ascendancy of The Pedestrian as a legitimate user of public street space."

Antonio Olivo at the Washington Post featured an article discussing traffic congestion in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County, Virginia. As with most areas of congestion, residents want relief from traffic, but without any sort of increased density.

The Houston Chronicle's Gray Matters blog featured a few articles regarding affordable housing in Houston. The first discusses the fact that affordable housing is now becoming increasingly harder for even the middle class to find. The second examines the recent Supreme Court ruling that found "that the state of Texas reinforces racial segregation in the way it awards tax credits to developers who build or repair rent-assisted apartments."

Over in El Paso, it is predicted that streetcars may once again grace the city's downtown.

Houston's Swamplot featured a Comment of the Day highlighting the recognition that our homes are growing much larger (and I would argue more isolated from community and neighborhood life), even as family size decreases. This is likely part of a cultural trend where we see our homes as our ultimate refuge. As a Christian, I'd argue (with the help of this discussion) that larger homes and increased isolation will not be fulfilling.

West Virginia Living featured an article highlighting Huntington, West Virginia's Old Central City, and the growing role its playing in the city's tourism.