Reading this got me wondering: why isn’t Atlanta’s streetcar accomplishing that same thing, seeing as we’re in the final stretch of construction? We have the One 12 Courtland apartments under way (with one wing completed and occupied) and that project is bringing hundreds of new students into Downtown’s GSU campus — a great thing, to be sure. But what about non-student housing for more permanent residents?
As of now, no new non-student residential construction has been started or even announced on the route of the Atlanta Streetcar. The city is losing out on one of the main capabilities of the streetcar that other US cities have enjoyed in theirs: bringing in new residents with new housing.
Why aren’t we getting new housing Downtown?
Looking for answers, I reached out to the office of City Council-member Kwanza Hall, whose district encompasses the streetcar. I also asked for input from Jennifer Ball. Vice President, Planning and Economic Development at Central Atlanta Progress.
Jay Tribby, Hall’s Chief of Staff, writes this:
"Kwanza has been convening the community for the past few months to update the zoning for the [King Historic] district, which hasn’t been updated since Mrs. King created the district decades ago. Part of the update process has included discussions of massing and heights for any new construction."
Jennifer Ball writes:
“While the market dynamics are supportive of new residential development in Downtown – particularly along the Atlanta Streetcar route – developers have been slow to find and acquire good sites for ground-up development. You are likely to see adaptive re-use projects first, then ground-up deals.”
Current leaders seem to be doing what they can to bring in new housing, and that’s admirable. But I can’t help but wonder why it’s so hard in 2013 to accomplish something that we’ve known about for a long time as a need for Downtown.
The housing problem we’ve known about for years
Twenty two years ago, in 1991, Atlanta architect John Portman wrote this in an editorial about the need to capitalize on the 1996 Olympics to improve Downtown: “Perhaps our greatest opportunity is housing. We must put more residential housing Downtown. It should stretch from GSU toward the central city.”
Seven years later, a 1998 Atlanta Journal piece titled “Let’s get moving again on downtown housing” had this to say: “Experts agree more housing is critical to make downtown more like a neighborhood. A study released Thursday by Central Atlanta Progress and Centennial Olympic Park Area Inc. called the city’s recent experiment in downtown housing a clear success, with overall occupancy of new projects at 96 percent.”
So we see that Downtown housing is successful and that experts agree that much more needs to be built. What about demand, though — would people actually WANT to live downtown?
Yes, they would. A 2011 survey found that one in four people across the entire metro would consider living in Downtown Atlanta.
With all of this encouragement by experts to increase residential housing downtown, and with a survey showing the willingness of a huge number of people in the metro area to consider living here, it seems only natural that local politicians would have done everything possible to create a master plan that allows and encourages a windfall of new residential housing to be built. Particularly with the massive expenditure of the Atlanta Streetcar on the horizon.
City of Atlanta: Do. Not. Screw. This. Up. Past leaders have left a mess of a situation wherein it’s difficult for even willing developers to build much-needed new housing Downtown. Understandably, this is a product of previous generations’ efforts to subdivide housing, office, event and retail instead of mixing them together in walkable spaces. We’re still paying for those past development/planning mistakes.
But now is the time to play major catch up and to give both Downtown and the Atlanta Streetcar their best chance for success by bringing the one main ingredient that experts have crowed about for decades: more people living here.
The AJC has published a report on a new technology that may replace the gas tax as a means of funding transportation: a little black box in each car that records the miles you travel on roads and taxes accordingly. It’s a controversial proposal that has formed some odd alliances, with Libertarians and environmental groups both in favor. But many others are opposed. Here’s a quote:
…while Congress can’t agree on whether to proceed, several states are not waiting. They are exploring how, over the next decade, they can move to a system in which drivers pay per mile of road they roll over.
Defenders of car-dependent sprawl and people who generally fear good urbanism (including, apparently, the author of this news piece) are up in arms regarding the black box’s potential to be used against them:
It is no surprise that the idea appeals to urban liberals[Darin: “that’s me! they’re talking about me!”], as the taxes could be rigged [Darin: “rigged - because urban liberals are conniving bastards, of course”] to change driving patterns in ways that could help reduce congestion and greenhouse gases, for example.
I kinda doubt the black box stands a chance in the current political climate, with the public particularly sensitive to government data-collecting in the wake of the NSA scandal. But, importantly, this move shows a willingness on the part of leaders to tax the true cost of vehicle miles — at least more so than the gas tax allows, given new car technologies that reduce gas use.
It’s a small step toward accounting for the true cost of driving in car-dependent places. And that sounds good to me.
Incidentally, the LA Times has a poll about the issue that shows the black box to be an unpopular product.
WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
(…) All these examples illustrate what the renders can not: a growing number of people working in real places, with real problems, to build real solutions, with the technologies we have in our hands. The transformative power of this opportunity is still in its infancy. The way we engage citizens in the development of smart cities starts by acknowledging what is already going on. There is too much focus on yet-to-come promises based on infrastructures and solutions, oriented to solve only government efficiency needs.
However, the rules have changed in the digital era: thanks to open technologies, people can make real things together. But to do so in our cities, community engagement and strong physical connections are still relevant and the mix of digital knowledge and activism is needed more than ever, as is evidenced in the aforementioned examples. The good thing is that this is already happening, just not in the way mainstream visions predict.
“We’ve known about the environmental effects for decades, we’ve known about the health impacts for 10, 20 years. Now we’re learning that the financial costs of sprawl are going to be staggering and we’re leaving a major deficit to our children and grandchildren.”—Hidden costs of sprawl will cripple cities, report says | Toronto Star, 10/28/2013 (via atlurbanist)
“Rapid urbanization is the fastest, most intense social phenomenon that ever happened to humankind, perhaps to biology on Earth. I think we can now start to understand in new and better ways why this is happening everywhere and ultimately what it means for our species and for our planet.” — Luis Bettencourt, Sante Fe Institute
“Data is the pollution problem of the information age. All computer processes produce it. It stays around. How we deal with it—how we reuse and recycle it, who has access to it, how we dispose of it, and what laws regulate it—is central to how the information age functions. And I believe that just as we look back at the early decades of the industrial age and wonder how society could ignore pollution in their rush to build an industrial world, our grandchildren will look back at us during these early decades of the information age and judge us on how we dealt with the rebalancing of power resulting from all this new data.”—The Battle for Power on the Internet - Bruce Schneier - The Atlantic (via fred-wilson)
“Placemaking is not like opening a restaurant or retail. You don’t cater to a specific crowd, and you can’t paint yourself into a corner — that defies the idea of community and public space.”—Three Lessons on Placemaking (via nextcityorg)
“Some residents even associate highly visible street changes, like bike lanes, with the displacement of long-time black residents in favor of younger, often white newcomers. “You hear that bike lanes are white lanes”—Bike Lanes in Black and White | Peopleforbikes.org, 10/21/2013 (via atlurbanist)
In Manhattan below 60th Street, predictions that reallocating space to walking, biking, and transit would only worsen traffic have not come to pass. In fact, average traffic speeds have picked up. GPS data from yellow cabs below 60th Street show that average speeds are up 6.7 percent since 2008. The average speed of a taxi trip, which was 8.9 mph in 2011, inched up to 9.3 mph last year.
After several blocks in the heart of Times Square were pedestrianized and protected bike lanes were added to five avenues in the middle of Manhattan, motor vehicle traffic is actually moving more smoothly than before, according to the latest release of NYC DOT’s annual Sustainable Streets Index (SSI) [PDF].
The Sustainable Streets Index is part of the city’s PlaNYC 2030 sustainability initiative and builds on previous releases from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The report also includes before-and-after analysis of major street redesigns, as required by a city law enacted in 2008. This year’s report includes ten of these projects, including parking reforms and plaza space in Jackson Heights and the redesign of Grand Army Plaza.
This is the final Sustainable Streets Index released by the Bloomberg administration, and it demonstrates the benefits of many of the street design innovations pioneered by NYC DOT under Janette Sadik-Khan. The next mayor has the opportunity to extend these benefits to more streets and more neighborhoods across the city.
David Cain has started working in Canada again after a seven month backpacking trip of New Zealand and other far away lands, and the juxtaposition fo the two ways of life leads to some interesting observations about the 40 hour work week:
The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.
As technologies and methods advanced, workers in all industries became able to produce much more value in a shorter amount of time. You’d think this would lead to shorter workdays.
But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.
Western economies, particularly that of the United States, have been built in a very calculated manner on gratification, addiction, and unnecessary spending. We spend to cheer ourselves up, to reward ourselves, to celebrate, to fix problems, to elevate our status, and to alleviate boredom.
Can you imagine what would happen if all of America stopped buying so much unnecessary fluff that doesn’t add a lot of lasting value to our lives?
The economy would collapse and never recover.
All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.
The culture of the eight-hour workday is big business’ most powerful tool for keeping people in this same dissatisfied state where the answer to every problem is to buy something.
And the system is designed to give no flexibility, in general:
Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago. While I was abroad I wouldn’t have thought twice about spending the day wandering through a national park or reading my book on the beach for a few hours. Now that kind of stuff feels like it’s out of the question. Doing either one would take most of one of my precious weekend days!
The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is exercise. It’s also the last thing I want to do after dinner or before bed or as soon as I wake, and that’s really all the time I have on a weekday.
This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time. I’ve already proven to myself that I can live a fulfilling lifestyle with less than I make right now. Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others. You work 40-plus hours or you work zero. My clients and contractors are all firmly entrenched in the standard-workday culture, so it isn’t practical to ask them not to ask anything of me after 1pm, even if I could convince my employer not to.
“During the 1996 games in Atlanta, car travel restrictions resulted in 23 percent less morning traffic. During that time period, ozone concentrations decreased by 28 percent, and emergency care visits for asthma went down by 41 percent.”—Heart Disease, Traffic Jams and ADHD Share One Simple Solution: Drive Less | “Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy,” by Elly Blue (via atlurbanist)
“Processing seeks to ruin the careers of talented designers by tempting them away from their usual tools and into the world of programming and computation. Similarly, the project is designed to turn engineers and computer scientists to less gainful employment as artists and designers.”—
If ugliness is better for cities than beauty, and if messiness makes for more vibrant and livelier spaces than manicured perfection, how can we build that?
Don’t mistake “messiness” for something that wasn’t designed. While many consider older neighborhoods like the West Village in New York to be “messy” all those buildings were designed properly, to a human scale. They have proper proportions, as well as extensive details that give the buildings “character”. Older neighborhoods didn’t just “happen”. Someone thought about how things would look. Don’t think Modernism fails because it is”clean” or “manicured”, it fails to inspire the street because it is just bad design.
“Repeatedly, though, he found at the end of cul-de-sacs families who watched each others’ children and took in each others’ mail, who barbequed and orchestrated the removal of snow together, and who considered each other close friends. In cul-de-sacs, these families had a stronger sense of shared social space and territoriality.”—How Cul-de-Sacs Make Good Neighbors (via theatlanticcities)
“People want technology to do more and more things for them. They increasingly want to spend time in mediated realities, yet they also yearn for unmediated experiences that are more real, more direct, more true, more honest.”—UCLA’s Eddo Stern discussing the tensions of video game aesthetics. (via ucresearch)
“Minimalism is not a style, it is an attitude, a way of being. It’s a fundamental reaction to noise, visual noise, disorder, vulgarity. Minimalism is the pursuit of the essence of things, not the appearance. Minimalism is beyond time. It is timelessness. It is the stillness of perfection.”—