Saturday, August 15th, 2009
High Speed Rail and Transit Roundup
John Hilkevitch had a great column this week putting the matter of 110MPH service vs. real high speed rail on the table.
A Milwaukee Road rail line coal-burning locomotive was clocked going 124 m.p.h. on a stretch between the Twin Cities and Chicago — in 1939. Such long-distance trains routinely barreling across the Midwest at speeds exceeding the century mark may have been far ahead of their time 70 years ago. On the other hand, today’s back-to-the-future plans by the federal government to encourage development of 110-m.p.h. train service in parts of the U.S. may simply lack the spirit and forward-looking approach that was alive back then, or even as recently as the 1960s, when 200-m.p.h.-plus “bullet train” systems were built in Asia and Europe. It’s a touchy subject that has received scant attention as politicians glom onto the idea of investing billions of taxpayer dollars on high-speed rail to stimulate the U.S. economy.
It’s a must-read.
A Cincinnati blog compares the cities and distances in the proposed Midwest high speed rail system with those of the successful TGV system in France. The Midwest stacks up favorably. Clearly it is not an apples to apples comparison, but still an interesting data point
If you want to get depressed, watch this Fortune magazine video on China’s $300 billion bullet train. There are some embarrassing errors by the narrator, but still a good one.
The Chicago Transit Authority Board this week approved moving forward with three L expansions: a Red Line extension to 130th St, an Orange Line extension to Ford City Mall, and a Yellow Line extension to Old Orchard. The Red Line extension is the biggest news in terms of ridership – and cost. The extension is projected to add 41,000 new daily riders. It’s 5.3 miles long and $1.2 billion. Stay tuned to this blog for more on that.
Indianapolis Transit Video
Washington DC blogger Alex Block who writes CityBlock recently visited Minneapolis and put up some nice series of photos of that city’s LRT system and more. Check them out, and check out the rest of the blog while you are there.
Here are some samples to whet your appetite:
What Pittsburgh Can Learn from the Netroots
Mike Madison’s great Pittsblog has a great post up on what Pittsburgh can learn from the netroots. He has a cautionary warning about the limits of Internet activism. Urban enthusiasts around the Midwest should take heed.
Reckless optimism is sometimes warranted; once in a great while, it pays off. The younger/progressive wing of Pittsburgh can learn from NetRoots that naive enthusiasm is not enough. I talk to younger people in Pittsburgh who are wildly and unrealistically optimistic about Pittsburgh’s bright future; they are unaware of the daunting financial challenges that lie ahead. They can learn that social media and connectivity are not enough …. You have to have a message, and you have to connect the content to on-the-ground strategies. Content matters; you have to have something that’s worth saying. And that wing can learn that a narrow base isn’t enough.
Turning from younger/progressive end of the socio-political spectrum to the older/establishment end of the socio-political spectrum, there are complementary lessons to be learned: Adapt or be swept away. When the younger/progressive wing gets better organized and gets more strategic, and if it can come up with serious arguments on the structural economic and financial problems facing the region, then that wing becomes a force to be reckoned with. It isn’t necessarily an irresistible force, but it has to be acknowledged in a way that in Pittsburgh, today, it rarely is.
NPR did a story in the Detroit-as-new-frontier genre. It’s similar to the ones I linked to before. More evidence.
BROOKS: Cooley is 33. He grew up in Michigan and worked as a banker in Chicago. But four years ago, attracted by cheap property, he returned to Detroit and bought these three buildings for a little more than $200,000.
Mr. COOLEY: We thought that was really inexpensive.
BROOKS: For a couple hundred thousand dollars, right? And you got three buildings.
Mr. COOLEY: Yeah.
BROOKS: And in Chicago, not possible.
Mr. COOLEY: No. And in fact, we were looking at something similar in Chicago, and we were looking at, like, just a building that would – needed a whole lot of work for about 800,000.
BROOKS: Cooley runs a real estate business in one of the buildings. And in another, he helped open Slows Bar BQ restaurant, which has became hugely popular and the anchor of a mini one-block urban renaissance. His partner is his 31-year-old brother, Phil Cooley.
Mr. PHIL COOLEY (Real Estate Developer): I found that this is a city that really was wide open. I would definitely consider myself young and dumb, you know. I’ve learned far more from my mistakes here than I have from my successes. It’s lovely to be able to afford to do that here because one, the community is forgiving, and two, it’s less expensive than other places, so it’s affordable.
BROOKS: Phil Cooley worked as a fashion model in cities around the world, but he says he would rather live here in Detroit.
Mr. KOLTAY: And the thing is the spirit of the people that I know is what drew me here. I met people that are like, yeah, I got my own metal shop. And sure, I sleep here and it’s weird and I made this loft in the back of the place. And, you know, for a year I lived there without hot water, it was gnarly, but whatever. Now I’m golden. I’ve never seen a city that has this kind of opportunity for growth. And I think that’s beautiful.
Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert from the NYT piece also figure in this one. Perhaps they are good at getting in the papers, but I think it does offer a cautionary counter-note that, as in many Midwest cities, while great things are happening, the pool is still pretty shallow, so to speak. Via Rust Wire
Elsewhere on the Detroit front, former Bush speechwriter David Frum had a widely debated opinion piece on “What killed Detroit?“. His answer? Poor race relations and the rejection of intellectual pursuits in favor of brawn. It’s worth a peek, and is not entirely unsympathetic to the city.
And Michigan snagged $1.4 out of $2.4 billion in federal grants for battery investments. The state hopes to create a technology epicenter with this money. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Even without the bailouts, Michigan was going to receive most of any new investment from auto companies into new tech because the headquarters are there. Now with the Obama Administration’s own credibility on the line after its rescue of GM and Chrysler, the federal government as well has an incentive to stuff money into Michigan. Ohio and Indiana would appear to be the losers here.
Why the ‘Livable City’ Rankings Are Wrong
Joel Kotkin had another great piece last week that got widely discussed around the web as his stuff is wont to do. This one criticized all those more livable cities awards out there.
Cultural institutions, public safety, mass transit, “green” policies and other measures of what is called “livability” were weighted heavily, so results skewed heavily toward compact cities in fairly prosperous regions. Most of these regions suffer only a limited underclass and support a relatively small population of children….These places make ideal locales for groups like traveling corporate executives, academics and researchers targeted by such surveys. With their often lovely facades, ample parks and good infrastructure, they constitute, for the most part, a list of what Wharton’s Joe Gyourko calls “productive resorts,” a sort of business-oriented version of an Aspen or Vail in Colorado or Palm Beach….Yet are those the best standards for judging a city? It seems to me what makes for great cities in history are not measurements of safety, sanitation or homogeneity but economic growth, cultural diversity and social dynamism….Such places are aspirational – they draw people not for a restful visit or elegant repast but to achieve some sort of upward mobility. By nature these places are chaotic and often difficult to navigate. Ambitious people tend to be pushy and competitive.
That’s why the world’s truly great cities – London, New York, Chicago, etc. – don’t rate well in these surveys. Their energy, density, and chaos keep challenging you and makes you stay on your toes. These are the places that power the world economically and culturally. And they are the places that offer the greatest scope – and incentive – to personal growth and transformation.
It reminds me of my own previous article “Impossibility City“:
I don’t think people truly get the link between a broad vision of what a city is, a large sphere in which individuals can pursue divergent activities and goals, and economic success. As Sam Jacob of FAT put it, “Cities are not about the perfect vision; they are not about a singular idea. They are about a collision of all kinds of incompatible demands.” The life of the small town or the suburb are rigidly circumscribed. They might not be about a single vision, but they are about a more narrow and defined view of what life should be. They demand conformity. A place like that, no matter how large or even how successful, is not a true city.
A collision of incompatible demands. What a great way to put it. It is in containing that collision within a geographical, political, social, and culture context that a city creates its meaning. Cities can resolve the paradox, reconcile the incompatible into something new and powerful. It isn’t always pretty. The results are sometimes messy or unpleasant. But its in that resolution process that we create the energy and innovation that moves the city forward and allows its residents, business, and institutions to reinvent themselves and their lives if they so choose.
New York Bike Racks
Looks nice. People do seem to be wondering if it might be too easy to break these off and stea them. New York plans to install 5,000 of these over the next three years.
With things like their bike rack programs, LED streetlights, the High Line, and their Street Design Manual, New York is really has some of the most progressive street/trail design going on out there. While the whole Midwest is behind, I’d like to particularly call out Chicago.
Chicago has done some amazing things with bike lanes, streetscape improvements, etc. But it has stuck with cutesy retro design approach that is very generic, and also has not been a source of major innovation the way places like NYC and Portland have. Chicago uses generic, off the rack u-shaped bike racks, antique gas lamp replicas, basic bike lanes, etc. It is now copying New York with its Bloomingdale Trail – with some of the design team previously having worked on the High Line. With its vast mileage of abandoned elevated freight tracks, Chicago could have and should have been first to this.
My understanding is that there’s a vacancy over at the top at CDOT. Whomever the mayor puts in that position needs to bring a strong sense of design and an innovation mindset to help Chicago catch up in this area.
National and International Roundup
Speaking of New York, here’s a super-cool map of the daytime and night time populations of Manhattan that @PD_Smith pointed us at on Gawker. Click for full size.
Check out the 20 finalists in the Re-Burbia competition.
The psychology of economic development in New Brunswick. “Attitude matters. Psychology matters. If we can reset the narrative on Northern New Brunswick and point it in the right direction, we will have taken a huge step forward.” (via @intelegia)
The Journal had coverage of the “Living Cities” conference in Dayton. This was a gathering of people from the 10 cities Forbes labeled “dying” in one of its infamous lists.
Chicago’s murdered children (The Guardian) – Chicago’s violence wave gets international press. I’ve got my quibbles with their methodology. I wouldn’t call an 18 year old a “child” for example. But this is clearly a whole bunch of Not Good.
CTA, Pace feud getting nasty (Greg Hinz @ Crain’s Chicago Business)
Saga of the Burnham Pavillions (Blair Kamin @ Tribune)
Poison pill amendment is about less, not more (Enquirer editorial) – The Enquirer weighs in against the proposed anti-rail charter amendment.
$10 million upgrade and expansion for tennis stadium (UrbanCincy)
Foreclosures grow in fertile suburbs (Dispatch)
A new wing, a new direction (WSJ) – Great national piece on the Cleveland Museum of Art and its expansion plans
Downtown, surrounding areas get marketing boost (KC Star)
Funkhouser lists what he hopes to achieve in Kansas City (KC Star)