Every city has blight – the unsightly, derelict, abandoned, disheveled, and under-utilized spaces of our urban areas. It drains the life out of neighborhoods, drives down the values of surrounding properties, and just looks really bad. So what do cities do about it? Some seize it through eminent domain for redevelopment and others offer incentives to developers to replace it with something better. Many of them, though, don’t do anything at all. But removing blight from a city is not impossible, and it doesn’t have to be an elaborate multi-party scheme or a drawn-out political process. It can be as simple as a coat of paint.
In most cases blighted properties are left to rot on their own, below the eyesight of city officials and politicians. But blight out of sight is still blight in the end, and it is a situation that not only feeds on itself, but feeds on its surroundings. Stopping the blight monster from swallowing up entire neighborhoods does require effort, but maybe not as much as some would think...
A bit of bizarre news caught my attention recently and it got me thinking. It was about these roads in Japan that had been designed to play music as cars drive over them. The engineers behind this idea cut thousands of grooves into the roadway, separated them by certain specific intervals, and then drove their cars. What resulted is a weird humming melody that reverberates in the cars as they drive. The video linked below showing the roads and their songs is awesome, but so much more could be done.
These singing streets are an impressive novelty, but this idea could be far better utilized to improve road safety. Using this same sort of groove-cutting, sound-producing method, it seems like road engineers could make major progress in the reduction of traffic accidents.
The green building standard LEED is moving beyond the structure and into the neighborhood. With the pilot phase of LEED for Neighborhood Development now underway, its organizers hope to establish a new way to create and evaluate environmental sustainability in urban design and development.
Environmental concerns have flooded into the public consciousness recently, and addressing these concerns is the new frontier of political correctness. With movies, television, and the popular media at-large increasingly tapping into the drama of climate change and environmental degradation, the past few years have brought about a widespread resurgence of the environmental movement. With that resurgence has come a boom in the green market: organic foods, hybrid cars, energy-efficient appliances, and on and on.
The strike has begun! Negotiations have broken down between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, forcing Hollywood's TV and movie writers into a strike. What, you may be asking yourself, does this have to do with planning? Well, to put it bluntly, this strike is arguably the most important opportunity in American history for the widespread development of infrastructure and public works projects.
What planners need to do is take advantage of the void left by the striking writers and whip up some new TV shows and movies that center around the construction of massive public works projects. Those big Hollywood budgets will revive the nation's infrastructure needs, and at the same time keep its people entertained. After two full days of the writers strike, Hollywood is practically aching to hand out some of its money for new material.
Most people don't know anything about planning. Sure, they may understand the general gist of it, but many planning concepts just haven't yet made it into the public consciousness. In an effort to accelerate the education of the public, here's an easy-to-use pictorial guide that relates some of those not-so-familiar planning concepts to something we're all familiar with: food.
Here's a few examples of some planning concepts made more accessible through food-based analogies...
Urban development, demolition, and redevelopment has been a century-long pattern in Salt Lake City, Utah. As the city again ventures into a massive redevelopment project, former planning director Stephen Goldsmith wants the community to take a new look at what this change means for the city. And he's created a museum to help them do it.
No city is a stagnant place. Shifting demographics, lifestyles, and economic trends all influence the evolution of cities as they try to accommodate the desires and demands of the urban culture. Increasingly, this evolution is playing out in the downtowns of cities across the nation. One American city exemplifying this common state of flux is Salt Lake City, Utah. After years of decline, the city looks to be on the rebound.
The August 1 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis has briefly reminded municipalities across the continent that they, too, have crumbling infrastructure. Local officials have reacted to this tragic current event by reassuring their respective constituencies that they will do whatever they can to make sure their bridges are safe. But if that bridge in Minneapolis hadn't collapsed, would America's formerly-unconsidered bridges be getting all of this attention?
I'd guess they probably wouldn't.
From the sampling of subsequent news headlines listed below, it's interesting to see the many instances of government snapping into quick action to assess bridges and assuage the safety concerns of residents. Federal highway officials ordered states to immediately inspect the 700 other U.S. bridges that share a similar design with the collapsed Minneapolis bridge. Governors in many states ordered immediate inspections of their state's bridges. With more than half a million bridges in the U.S., bridge inspectors are sure to be busy in the coming weeks...
In the Chicago suburb of Berwyn, Illinois, an iconic piece of public art featuring a 40-foot spear stabbing through a pileup of eight cars will soon be replaced with a Walgreens pharmacy.
The sculpture -- titled "The Spindle", but unofficially known as the "eight-car pileup" or the "car kabob" -- has towered over the parking lot of the Cermak Plaza Shopping Center since the cars were gored and hoisted in 1989. The piece has been neighbored by a number of retailers over the years. Its current backdrop is an outlet of the big box electronics retailer Circuit City and a huge store called Shoe Carnival, and by the end of the summer the site of the Spindle will become the 5,808th Walgreens Pharmacy in the United States...
It is now about 22 months since hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. I was recently in New Orleans for the first time and had plenty to see. The city is still very much in a state of devastation. But there has also been a lot of progress.
In this post, I'd like to share some pictures I took when I was there and some facts and figures I've come across that help illustrate the current situation in the city...
This message is brought to you by the frustrated residents of a city where strip malls prosper and the stock of affordable housing struggles to keep up with demand.
A new strip mall being constructed at the intersection of Venice Blvd. and Western Ave. in Los Angeles inspired this public display.
Strip malls are in no short supply in L.A., and this is just one example of yet another being built in the city. Unmixed-use retail developments like this are popping up all over the place. Much less new housing is being built. And a sharply lower amount of new affordable housing is being built...