Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

National Historic Preservation Month: Archaeology and Fort Stevens, DC

Probably the biggest hole in my knowledge about historic preservation is archaeology.  Just like how there is a break in understanding between what we might call "high" and "low" preservation -- "high" being related to high art and people or events of lasting historical significance vs. "low" or vernacular and social-cultural-economic history as represented by the creation of historic districts at the neighborhood scale, archaeology is the same--between pre-history and social-economic-cultural history as exhibited by "digging up disturbed earth," from slave quarters to old building sites.

Many places require that archaeological digs occur in advance of new construction, and this can be a requirement of federal undertakings.

This road is almost 1,800 years old and sits on top of an earlier road dating almost 600 years older.

In older countries, this is especially important and it is common for digs because of new development in places like Greece, Turkey, and the UK to uncover incredible history.

For example when building the subway in Thessaloniki, they found part of the original road from Rome, dating back more than 1,500 years ("Subway work unearths ancient marble road in Greece," NBC News).

The Emory Beacon of Light Church is building affordable housing on its site, around the church.  The church pre-dates the creation of Fort Stevens, a Civil War era fort, where President Lincoln actually came under fire while watching Union troops repel a Confederate assault.

Information posted about archaeological findings at Fort Stevens, on construction fencing, DCThey did archaeological study of the site (which continues), and unusually, they have posted information about what they found on the promotional banners hung on the site's construction fencing.

Since an ongoing element of the historic preservation items this month have been about communication, like the one about Downtown Phoenix sending out release about distinctive historic buildings in their downtown, this caught my eye because it's very rare for such findings to be communicated so directly on site.

This type of public communication requirement should be added to the process.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Quote of the day: wanton death and political inaction | Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo

In the aftermath of the high school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, which killed 10 and wounded 13, Houston police chief Art Acevedo wrote a Facebook post lamenting political inaction:
“This isn’t a time for prayers, and study and inaction, it’s a time for prayers, action and the asking of God’s forgiveness for our inaction — especially the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing,” Acevedo wrote Friday on Facebook.

Acevedo wrote that God “hasn’t instructed me to believe that gun-rights are bestowed by him,” and asked people not to write “anything about guns aren’t the problem and there’s little we can do.”
From the Austin American-Statesman article, "SANTA FE SHOOTING: Chief Acevedo says elected officials should ask God’s forgiveness for their inaction."

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

When planning outdoor special events, always plan for a rain date

The DC area has had rain for more than one week ("Washington slogs through storms as rain continues for a sixth day," Washington Post), and this will continue for a few more days. 

Mostly, those organizations that scheduled outdoor events during this time are screwed, such as the Garden Tour in the Shepherd Park neighborhood.

Always include a rain date when planning such events, if they are to be held mostly outside.

This does pose a challenge. Note that the Lynchburg Art Festival poster pictured at left had its rain date on its promotional poster (which is what should be standard practice).

But it raises other questions.

Do you merely schedule the day after as the rain date?  What if there is a weather front lasting for awhile?, such as is the case this week in DC.

In that case, the next day might be just as bad as the first.

On the other hand, if you postpone the event for a week, if there are vendors, many might not be able to participate if they have prior commitments.

OTOH, you'll have more participants and a better experience, if you postpone, but it will still pose challenges, making it harder to pull off the event as planned and anticipated.

Of course, some events, like big music festivals are scheduled as "rain or shine," because the performers are likely to have other commitments for other weekend dates.

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Downtown Phoenix Business Improvement District promotes historic buildings during National Historic Preservation Month

Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix. Photo: Lauren Potter.


Hmm, this sticks out so much because other business improvement districts aren't leveraging National Historic Preservation Month to call attention to historic assets in their districts.

Since Phoenix is the poster child of sprawl, it's hard to think about it in terms of "historic buildings," but they are there, in landmarks and in cool neighborhoods with historic architecture, for example the Roosevelt Row district of bungalows, which is now a thriving arts district.

-- "Celebrate Historic Preservation Month with these 7 Downtown gems," Downtown Phoenix Inc.

"Main Street" commercial revitalization programs are obvious candidates for doing something like this because they are revitalization efforts built on a foundation of historic preservation.

The article also calls attention to other state and local organizations--ArizPreservation Foundation, Preserve Phoenix, and Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition-- working on historic preservation.

Many downtown revitalization programs do develop and present brochures, walking tours, etc. on historic properties. But there are many more opportunities to do so than have been realized.

It bugs Suzanne that I want to stop in practically every visitor center that we pass by as we travel.

I consider such places--at least the ones that haven't dropped brochures in favor of digital screens--"best practice learning centers," because the promotional materials they hold are supposed to be the ultimate scintillation about what makes those places special, and usually the design of these brochures is also quite good.

(It took me years to figure out to file such brochures by state.  I still haven't gotten around to reorganizing these files into sub-files for commercial districts, historic preservation, arts, transportation, etc.)

Years ago I was struck by the visitor materials on architecture and place for the town of Bedford in Pennsylvania.   For a small community--the town has fewer than 3,000 residents and the county not quite 50,000 residents--they put many other places to shame in terms of the quality of their visitor marketing program.

In some communities, the main placemaking advocacy or architecture group, like Municipal Arts Society in New York City or the Chicago Architecture Foundation have an active schedule of tours and other programs, not just during Preservation Month, but throughout the year.

The Preservation Society of Charleston is prominently located in a corner building on the city's main Downtown shopping street, King Street.  Wikipedia photo.

Those organizations, business improvement districts like Downtown Phoenix, and visitor marketing organizations like Visit Bedford are great examples for other places in terms of upping the way they call attention to historic preservation as an element of place that is attractive to visitors through  destination development and marketing, but especially residents--a point that former Mayor of Charleston, Joseph Riley, always makes.

From Mayor Riley's standard speech:
Now downtown was like every downtown in America. It was dying, if not dead. People moved out. All the things we discussed today, and all the things we understand. We worked hard at it, and we all must work hard at it. It’s the hardest thing we do. But the reason we have to work hard at it is, that is our public realm. That is the most democratic space of a city. We cannot relegate the next generation of Americans to living in a community where things are increasingly privatized and where there aren’t the opportunities for mutual celebration. That’s what the marketplace means! That’s what downtown means! That’s why Main Street is so important!

You own the sidewalk. It belongs to you if you’re the richest person, the poorest person. You have the same equal enjoyment of it. It will never happen in the malls. The malls are wonderful and they’re convenient, but where the buildings come to the sidewalk, the public buildings, the shopping buildings, the marketplaces and the hearts of our cities are something that belongs to everyone, and at all costs we’ve got to work to save them and to make them more beautiful and to make them more inspirational places. That’s why we work so hard at it. It’s not just about the buildings. It’s about saving the public realm for human beings who need it in their cities. Every city needs a center, and human beings need centers.

Well, our downtown was like everyone else’s and we started with a program to show what the buildings used to look like, and get owners to fix them up. ...
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Interestingly, seeing King Street in Charleston and the Savannah Historic District, on a road trip with a college friend around 2000, helped me to better appreciate historic preservation aesthetically as well as its utility as a sustainable and successful urban revitalization practice.

The Preservation Society of Charleston even has a "store front" on King Street, which we visited.  More historic preservation organizations need to have such prominently located and visible offices in their own communities.

I came back to DC with the realization that my then neighborhood of H Street NE was no less beautiful than Capitol Hill or Georgetown or Charleston, just different.
Rowhouses on 8th Street NE (by Gallaudet University), Washington DC
Rowhouses on 8th Street NE (by Gallaudet University), Washington DC. Photo by Elise Bernard, Frozen Tropics.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Another example of the need to reconfigure transpo planning and operations at the metropolitan scale: Boston is seizing dockless bike share bikes, which compete with their dock-based system

For going on 10 years, I've been writing about how the DC area doesn't really do metropolitan scale mass transit planning.  I did a presentation about it at the University of Delaware planning school in 2010.

-- Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework
-- "Route 7 BRT proposal communicates the reality that the DC area doesn't adequately conduct transportation planning at the metropolitan-scale," 2016

Slide, Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework

Slide, Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework

What I advocated for originally was that the area's designated Metropolitan Planning Organization should be tasked to do true cross-jurisdiction transportation planning, and that separately the jurisdictions should contract for transit operation.  (Now though I have broadened this concept from "mass transit" only to a more complete "sustainable mobility platform" that includes walking, various forms of biking, car sharing, delivery, taxi services and microtransit, etc.)

State-designated road signs in Maryland.  Photo: alpsroads.

States do a form of this with "state-controlled" roads that serve multiple jurisdictions. 

For example in Maryland, for the most part all the major arterials are controlled by the State Highway Administration, even though the counties still do separate transportation planning, which also provides guidance for these roads.

This would make the MPO, not WMATA, the operator of Metrorail and today the default heavy rail transit planner, the planning organization. (Note that this is a problem in other areas, but not others, depending on how strong the MPO is, whether or not the planning area covers multiple states, etc.)

The idea is that the breadth and depth of the network would be defined as a planning condition, with Level of Service (LOS) and Level of Quality (LOQ) metrics set independent of the transit operators, and that the jurisdictions working together would then

Rather than WMATA doing this, and then "satisficing" service on Metrorail and in the case of Metrobus eliminating various bus services because of budget shortfalls, the MPO would "contract" for service.  If the service can't be met because of budget reasons, there is the justification for adding to the budget.

Probably the best model for this is the "transport association" model in Germany, where the jurisdictions combine into one integrated transportation planning and operations group, with common planning, scheduling, coordinated operation, and an integrated fare system. 

-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017

In the case of Hamburg, a few dozen different operators provide service, and the organization extends its transport planning practice beyond the border of the City-State to include portions of two adjoining states.    Note that this is how it works in London and Paris also (and probably other areas I don't know about).

GoTransit buses in Raleigh: red = Go Raleigh; blue = Go Cary; green = Go TriangleRed = GoRaleight; Blue = GoCary; Green = GoTriangle.

But in 2016, I learned that a similar kind of system exists the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, where there is a lead transit agency, Triangle Transit, comparable to WMATA, but it acts as the big brother/sister, and over the past 15 years it and the other jurisdictions have increased their level of collaboration in terms of scheduling, fare policy and systems, customer service, and design of the buses in a way that functions pretty close to the German model.

-- "Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model," 2017

2. Moving the MPO model to the next level, by creating Metropolitan Transport Associations, integrating planning and contracting for operation in one organization. Now I would probably argue that the MPO form in the U.S. needs to be revamped and expanded along the lines of the German transport association model, not just for the DC area, but in all major metropolitan areas, depending on how close they are to that model now.

(Greater San Francisco and the Puget Sound region are the closest to this model.  Although in Minneapolis the MPO also runs the transit system.  And many California counties are single county MPOs, some have single county transit systems, like Orange County, others have just a couple transit providers, like San Diego, and others are a polyglot, like Los Angeles County.

NJ and New York City are separate MPOs but they need to integrate as a cross-MPO transport association to better integrate and coordinate transit services.  Etc.)

I wrote about this yesterday, "Integrating payment systems in the Sustainable Mobility Platform," wrt the DC area, and the suggestion that new transit fare collection systems include the various forms of "new sustainable mobility" modes being offered these days including car sharing, and dockless bike sharing and dockless e-scooter sharing.

I am of two minds. I think it should be done, but at least in the intermediate run, many of those firms are likely to go out of business at some point (cf. Hailo, Bridj, various ride hailing competitors, Sliide, etc.) so how much energy should be spent on fare collection integration, especially when most of the new firms don't have the legacy system integration problem, and are mobile-digital native apps. With native apps, the user is probably comfortable "integrating" payment systems on their own--connecting the app to a debit card/bank account.

Note that the Montreal transit agency, unique in North America, has integrated bike sharing and car sharing access into their fare card system. Although LA MTA does have bike share access for their system somewhat integrated into their contactless transit media card also.

But the point that isn't being discussed, despite all the talk about mobility as a service/transportation as a service--which I call the Sustainable Mobility Platform, at least for the sustainable modes that are a subset of the MaaS/TaaS concept, is that in terms of transportation planning at the metropolitan scale, the for profit providers in car sharing, bicycle sharing, scooter sharing, and other modes mostly aren't sitting at the same table with the nonprofit transit agencies and bike sharing groups.

And too much decision making is happening at the jurisdictional level, which can create big holes within what ought to be a platform that works at the metropolitan scale.

3. MTAs need to include a place at the table for for profit transportation service providers. Not only do we need to shift MPOs towards becoming MTAs or Metropolitan Transport Associations, we have to provide a way for the for profit transportation mode operators to participate in these groupings.

Of course that will be hard, because the dockless providers (not the car sharing providers) and to some extent some of the ride hailing operators especially Travis Kalanick ("The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought," Bloomberg) are "anarcho-capitalists" who are libertarian and anti-regulation, making it very difficult to integrate them into metropolitan scale transportation planning. From the Bloomberg article:
Conclusions drawn from the survey were printed and hanging on the walls. About half the respondents had a positive impression of Uber and its convenient ride-hailing app. But if respondents knew anything about Kalanick, an inveterate flouter of both workplace conventions and local transportation laws, they had a decidedly negative view.

As usual with Kalanick, the discussion grew contentious. Jones and his deputies argued that Uber’s riders and drivers viewed the company as made up of a bunch of greedy, self-centered jerks. And as usual, Kalanick retorted that the company had a public-relations problem, not a cultural one.
Dockless bicycle and scooter sharing firms operate similarly, even if they are moving into some cities under various forms of licensing and/or pilot testing.

Although ideally, at the same time, MPOs as MTAs could increase the focus on sustainability and adopting policies on sustainability grounds.

-- Integrated sustainable mobility in cities - a practical guide, Sustainable Mobility Project 2.0, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

While many large cities and metropolitan government coordinating organizations espouse sustainability principles, when it comes to transportation policy and practice, most US cities with some exceptions continue to prioritize the motor vehicle.
Sustainable mobility planning challenges
Sustainable mobility planning challenges in cities.


4. Boston. An example of the necessity of figuring out how to integrate for profit providers  is the introduction of dockless bike sharing to the Boston area.

The City of Boston created the Hubway bike system, originally serving Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville in 2011 -- now it's called Blue Bikes with Blue Cross as the primary sponsor.

Boston's bike sharing program has been exemplary in at least two dimensions.  They've been pioneers in providing discounted access to low income residents.  And somehow they've gotten universities like Harvard to buy into the program and pay for stations, thereby expanding the reach and value of the program.

This year, various dockless firms have entered the Boston metropolitan market and while LimeBike and Spin have avoided placing bikes in those communities that offer Blue Bikes, Ant Bicycle, a firm local to the region, hasn't, and Boston has been seizing Ant bikes that are deposited in the city ("A bike-share border war has started in Boston," Boston Globe).

First, this raises the general problem that the local government bike sharing programs are seemingly cross-jurisdictional but aren't. There is a common brand, but each jurisdiction joins and operates separately, independent of the MPO.

AntBicycle.  Jessica Rinaldi, Boston Globe photo.

Second, from a MPO/MTA standpoint, planning for bike sharing should be done at the metropolitan scale.

Third, with the anarcho-capitalist introduction of dockless bike sharing and e-scooter sharing, somehow these anti-regulation types need to be bridled and brought to the MPO/MTA table, because transportation modes are supposed to be integrated into a system.

Fourth, the traditional bike sharing programs probably ought not to be allowed to be super anti-competitive like Boston seizing bikes.

Although that being said, there are many problems with the dockless bike sharing business model ("Shared Economy Business: Fixing Its 'Genetic Disorder'," Eurasia Review) and it's not necessarily clear that any of these businesses will be around in the intermediate to long term, without venture capital subsidy--plus they are an expensive way to get around comparatively speaking, and they aren't likely to be used much for regular transportation, therefore obviating the need to support their introduction.

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Reorganizing governance at the metropolitan scale.  Note that the problem with MPOs and MTAs is a subset of a bigger problem, that "center cities" have reorganized as metropolitan areas (what Brookings Institution calls the "Metropolitan Revolution (book review)," Peter Muller, "Transportation and Urban Form: Stages in the Spatial Evolution of the American Metropolis") but political and governance structures of these communities, except for those with merged counties and center cities like Indianapolis and a few others, haven't caught up (Toronto, but it has a big center city-suburban divide).  State legislatures and various jurisdictions aren't disposed to be supportive of such mergers.

Note that in cities like Montreal, London, Paris, and Thessaloniki, there is a hybrid form of this.  There is the "center city" as a whole, but it is also broken up into boroughs/arondissements, so that citizens are represented both city and borough governments.

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May is (2018) Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 3: Preservation at Home (34-41)

This post is updated and expanded annually, to encourage us to acknowledge and celebrate historic preservation, ideally not only during Preservation Month but throughout the year, by pointing out things that we can see and do.

In the past I've run this as one very long post, which grows each year as I add items.  This year I've broken up the post into four, with each installment running on succeeding Mondays throughout May.

-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 1: Learn; Get Involved (1-16)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 2: Explore your community (17-33)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 3: Preservation At Home (34-41)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 60 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Cultural Heritage Tourism (42-60)

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Historic Preservation at Home

34. If you own "an old house," and want to learn more about historically sympathetic renovation, why not subscribe to relevant magazines such as Old House JournalOld House InteriorsAmerican BungalowThis Old House, Fine Homebuilding, etc.

You learn about historic architecture and details. They run features on interesting neighborhoods, places you can try to see when you travel. And the magazines offer good ideas of how to make historically appropriate changes in your own house.

Losing the interior details of historic homes in favor of newer designs, stainless steel appliances, "open concept" floorplans, etc., often reduces the historicity of a house to the equivalent of an envelope.

I hadn't been interested much in "the decorative arts" and interiors of houses all that much before, but having moved into a 1929 bungalow with a relatively intact interior, and including a 1930s Magic Chef Oven, I've become much more attuned and interested.

While I tend to prefer houses that are older, it's aimportant to acknowledge the preservation movement for houses (and buildings) of the recent past.  Publications focusing on that era include ModernismAtomic Ranch, and Midcentury Magazine from the UK.

35.  Publications on maintenance of historic houses.  Some historic preservation organizations publish good guides to maintaining "old houses."  The  Capitol Hill Restoration Society has published a number of bulletins on the architectural elements of neighborhood housing.

The Homeowner's Handbook to Historic Houses published by the Historic Macon Foundation has a chapter on "The Deterioration Cycle of Historic Homes," which explains the sub-systems (roof, exterior walls, etc.) within a house, the materials these sub-systems are constructed from, and how, with use and exposure to weather, they deteriorate.  It's followed by chapters on maintenance and historic preservation incentive programs unique to Georgia.

From Bungalow Maintenance 101.

Similarly, the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association publishes Bungalow Maintenance 101. Manitoba's Heritage Building Maintenance Manual is excellent too.  Rehab Rochester is out-of-print, but available via archive.org.

The State of Ohio Historic Preservation Office sponsors a program called "Building Doctor," which holds "clinics" around the state, where they provide training on maintenance issues and do evaluations of specific houses that have been prearranged by appointment.  See "'Patients' receive old-home remedies" from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The SAUGANASH WORKBOOK: A Guide for Building and Renovating in Sauganash is a community design guide for a historic neighborhood where many of the already large houses are targets for large-scale renovations and expansions.  The guidebook aims to help people come up with historically empathetic renovations.

There is a series of books on bungalows by Jane , which are highly recommended.  Many such books exist for the various architectural types.

Our 1930s Magic Chef stove/kitchen with a matching Venta-Hood in white with black trimWhile our stove dates to the 1930s, the hood vent we installed is modern, but uses a historic design and is color matched to our white stove.  The tin backsplash for the stove area is modern also.  

36. Books to guide renovation.  Just as there are magazines, there are relevant books too.  Too many renovations of historic houses today are being done more in tune with today's design styles, when it is possible to do renovations that respect historic character and provide a great deal of charm.

For example, we have a bungalow, and Jane Powell has authored five books on the type, with great photos by Linda Swendsen:  Bungalow Bathrooms; Bungalow Kitchens; Bungalow Details: Exterior; Bungalow Details: Interior; Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts & Crafts Home.

Before we moved in, we knew we needed to do work in the bathroom and kitchen and just using Powell's books as picture books and guides, we were able to do sympathetic renovation that was congruent with the house and the original elements that still remained.

If you ever get to Winterthur Mansion in Delaware, I seem to recall that they have a great "museum bookstore" with a lot of books relevant to historic preservation and renovation.

While focused on new construction, but applying traditional approaches the books by Sarah Susanka would be great resources for renovation of existing properties also.

37.  Parts and appliance resources.  There are companies that specialize in "historic" parts.  For example, DEA Bathroom Machineries specialize in bathrooms, especially historic sinks.  There are firms that specialize in restoring ovens, and companies like Big Chill produce new refrigerator appliances that "look old."  Most big cities have architectural salvage stores, for example in the DC area, it's Community Forklift.  In Baltimore, Loading Dock is a non-profit while Second Chance is a for profit.  Antique stores...

38.  Workshops and expos.  It would be logical to have "Preservation Expos" during Preservation Month but it doesn't seem to be the case.  Historic Chicago Bungalow Association holds workshops most months, and has building expos too, from time to time.

Historic Kansas City holds an annual Old House Expo, but in February. Last October, DC's Capitol Hill Restoration Society sponsored a similar event.

The magazine group that includes Old House Journal sponsors conferences too, including the Historic Home Show. They used to hold "editions," around the country, I don't know if they still do so.

39.  Activities for and with children.  If you have children in your life, how about doing an activity with them that is architecture-preservation related?

Colonial Revival Cottage, coloring book page, RoanokeMany preservation organizations have produced coloring pages or books for children as well as offer educational activities, such as the Architectural Styles Coloring Book from Roanoke.

Perhaps there are similar kinds of houses in your community and you could do a field trip to houses with similar styles, and then the child could color the pages.

-- Architecture for Young Children webpage, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation
-- Center for the Urban Built Environment

The National Park Service publishes Junior Ranger Guides on Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

40. Television programming.  There are some HGTV/DIY network shows that are sympathetic to historic preservation, although the bulk of the shows are not.  Even the heralded "Fixer Upper," even if they renovate vacant houses, tends to homogenize the interior of a house into a gargantuan "open concept" house with a massive kitchen. 

But shows like "Rehab Attic," to some extent "Stone House Revival," and "American Rehab: Charleston" generally are pretty empathetic on historic preservation and can be a great source of ideas.  Lately I've been enamored by "Restored," featuring Brett Waterman working on houses in Riverside County, California.

Obviously, "This Old House," on PBS is the grand-daddy of all shows.  In my opinion, it's great for historic architecture and detailing, but the program tends to be more about supersizing houses, but doing a great job while you're doing so.  And they seem to let it slide when homeowners make decisions that somewhat cavalierly rip out historic elements in favor of modernization.

41.  Researching the history of your house.  There are people who will research this for you, but many city libraries have usable information and even may offer seminars on how to go about this.  Census records are one place, but more current records aren't accessible.

-- How to Research the History of Your House | This Old House
-- Internet Public Library: Research the History of Your House
-- Houses - The National Archives

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

DC proposes ride hailing tax of 6%: It's not enough--car share users pay 10%

The Washington Post reports that DC ("D.C. Council would hike tax on Uber and Lyft more than Mayor Bowser"), like other cities are considering or have instituted ("Council Passes Ride-Share Tax to Fund Transit, CTA Announces $23M in Cuts, Reforms," Streetsblog Chicago; "Uber, Lyft taxi rides into Manhattan get slapped with a new surcharge," The Drive) a tax on ride hailing. 

DC charges a "gross receipts tax" of 1% on these services now.  This is not a per trip tax.  The Mayor proposed a raise to 4.75%, while the City Council is aiming for a 6% tax.

It's reasonable to regulate and tax to shape more desirable outcomes. Ride hailing imposes costs on transit by capturing riders, and also increases traffic congestion.

-- "When Calling an Uber Can Pay Off for Cities and States," New York Times
-- "The false promise of ride hailing as a pro-city transportation mode," 2018
-- "Public fees/taxes/charges on ride hailing trips," 2018

As new mobility services come into play, taxation and regulation may vary compared to legacy services, often in ways that are seemingly less fair to users of the new modes.

DC imposes higher taxes on car share users.  For example, as a car share user in DC, it seems unfair that each trip comes with a 10% local tax charge when we are already paying a good chunk of the minute or hourly use fees indirectly to the city for licensing and access to street parking.

By comparison, DC car owners pay a minimal annual registration fee (from $72 to $155, depending on the weight of the car) and if they live in an area of the city requiring residential parking permits, a $35/year fee.

-- "Car share users are getting abused by the cities that ostensibly support car sharing as a form of sustainable mobility," 2016

Considering the impact of ride hailing services on transit and congestion, of course the rides should be taxed.  And they shouldn't be taxed at a rate less than what car share users are forced to pay, when research shows that each car in a car sharing system ends up "removing" 7 to 11 cars, thereby reducing demand on parking inventory, rather than increasing demand for road space, like ride hailing.

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May is National Bike Month and tomorrow is Bike to Work Day in the Washington region

Bike to Work Day promotion banner on the Metropolitan Branch Trail at R Street NEI have been remiss in writing about National Bike Month, with the aim of writing a bunch of "reflective" pieces, book reviews, etc.  My aims about writing are always greater than what is realistically achievable.

Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day in the Washington area.

The last couple years I've written a couple pieces using Bike to Work Day as a goad to explore where we are and where we need to go with bike planning. Last year's pieces were:

-- "Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 1
-- "Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale

Probably these recommendations need to be reorganized. The second piece should make some mention of infrastructure too, not just facilities, which I define as the support infrastructure for biking (parking, air, repair, etc.) as opposed to lanes and trails. And the first piece should have more overarching recommendations, along the lines from these past entries:

-- "What should a US national bike strategy plan look like?, 2014
-- "Are developers missing the point on eliminating parking minimums?: it's to promote sustainable transportation modes," 2012
-- "More bikes: elements of a Bicycle Friendly Community," 2015

Not included here, the first BTWD piece includes links to a number of best practice bike planning publications.

In the first piece, I made these recommendations:

1. From Bike to Work Day to Bike Month. Here my concern is too much focus is on "the day" and not enough on creating a wide range of activities that promote biking as transportation throughout the month. Such as Bike to School Day on May 9th, which I neglected to mention as it happened.

2. Transit agencies should have a set of model practices for participating.

Bicyclist with a child in a rear seat carrier, Pennsylvania Avenue NW cycletrack3. In the DC area specifically, there needs to be greater focus on the opportunities to work with large employers, especially the federal government, and college campuses.

4. Bike Month should be used as the "launch month"/target date for the launch of new infrastructure and facilities, and bike map reprintings.

5. Sustainable mobility street closure event.  Every major metropolitan area should have open streets events.  In the US, CicLAvia in Los Angeles County is the most successful.

6. There should be a bike/sustainable mobility expo during National Bike Month.

7. (revised slightly)  All metropolitan areas should develop a metropolitan bikeway network.  In the DC area, the Capital Trails Coalition should be organized as a formal function of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

8. Membership for the League of American Bicyclists and local and state bike advocacy groups should have special pricing during Bike Month.

9. Special pricing for subscriptions to biking magazines like Bicycling, Momentum, Bicycle Times, etc. should be offered during Bike Month.

The second piece focuses specifically on the creation of a metropolitan scale secure bike parking network that is cross-jurisdictional and it has a number of items which will be addressed in a second piece.

But here are some items to add to the first list:

1. Transportation departments need to take a more active role in promoting biking as transportation, with more and specific programs and initiatives designed to support people through the transition.  Many communities in the UK have programs where people can use a bike with helmet and lock for up to a month for a low fee (or free) to test biking for transportation without having to first buy a bike.

2. This should include systematic initiatives to increase bicycling for transportation usage with specific demographics.  See "Eight "mutual assistance programs" that can build support for biking as transportation on the part of low income communities."

3. If we really want to promote reductions in car usage, let's get serious. Paris is now providing incentives to buy bikes, cargo bikes, and e-bikes as a car reduction strategy ("Paris to offer subsidies to those who buy bikes, give up cars," Smart City Dive).

15th Street Cycletrack, Washington, DC4.  There need to be systematic initiatives to increase bicycle access for the disabled ("You can rent tricycles, tandem bikes in Detroit: Here's how," Detroit Free Press). Unlike the new Detroit program, I think these programs should be offered at no charge, using various programs in the UK, such as All Ability Cycling clubs as a model.

5. Bike sharing programs should offer special promotions for National Bike Month and Bike Work Day. For example, the MoGo program in Detroit is offering free rides on May 23rd, the program's one year anniversary.

6. Licensing for dockless bike share should include requirements for participating in transportation demand management programs, National Bike Month, Bike to Work Day, and other activities.

And maybe there needs to be a list of national recommendations.

1. The first would be the creation of a National Bike Strategy, as is the case in many countries. Here's Denmark's Denmark - on your bike! The national bicycle strategy.

2.  The second would be requirements for lights, including turn signals, on OEM bikes made for transportation use (hybrids, etc., not mountain bikes and racing bikes).

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Historic Preservation Month: house in Scranton, Pennsylvania

This article in Old House Journal is more than six years old, "A Craftsman Restoration in Scranton, Pennsylvania," but it's highly inspirational.  (And an example of my belief that a lot of the information presented in books and magazines, and even newspapers, is highly valuable for a long time.)

Note the decorative tile in the master suite bathroom.

The article discusses the 30 year period over which the author restored a grand arts and crafts style house in a streetcar suburb of Scranton and how his appreciation for historic preservation, craftsmanship, Stickley furniture--which he began to collect to furnish the rooms in appropriate style, and the value of place grew during the process.  From the article:

I came to appreciate the streetcar suburb the Scrantons had selected for their home. Just as they had done, people still strolled along the sidewalks, chatting with neighbors as they passed. Neighbors borrowed tools, shared information about schools and politicians, and referred one another to the carpenters, plumbers, and other building tradesmen old-house owners depend on. While the automobile had altered the social life of adolescents, the large church hall where local teenagers had once bowled, played basketball, danced, and just hung out still stood beside the church down the block. The ideals of the Garden City movement, an extension of the Arts & Crafts movement, were still being realized here.

Over time, I came to realize that the house I inhabited had opened a window for me into an otherwise vanished lifestyle and aesthetic. As the years passed, I grew to admire the Arts & Crafts movement—not only its commitment to good materials, craftsmanship, and simplicity of design, but also its belief in the creative potential of every human being. Living in a home inspired by it, the movement’s legacy had come to touch and enrich my life. It was much more than I had ever expected of an old house in Scranton.

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A great example of why it's worth subscribing to historic preservation related magazines like Old House Journal.

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integrating payment systems in the Sustainable Mobility Platform

There is an article, "D.C. Metro's New App May Need a Pre-Launch Update," on CityLab, about WMATA's forthcoming phone-based payment system, and the author makes the point that by "merely transporting" the current card-based SmarTrip contactless fare payment and stored value system to an e-commerce app, it may be less innovative because it's not likely to include payment capabilities for modes not currently part of the payment system.

This is an interesting point that's been a concern for a long time, dating to c. 2001, triggered by the launch of (for profit) car sharing, followed by dock-based bike share a few years later. 

Sustainable mobility platform/TaaS and MaaS.  As the types of mobility (modes) available become broader and more diffuse, and the discussions of what I call the sustainable mobility platform but in the trade is referred to as transportation as a service/mobility as a service (TaaS/MaaS) it's deserving of more attention, as it raises some interesting issues.

-- The rise of mobility as a service, Deloitte

Unless the IT and access systems are designed from the outset to be compatible, it's difficult to have an integrated fare card that works on local transit as well as car sharing and/or bike sharing. 

But I am not sure that is as big an issue as I thought, because there are various standards systems that ensure access and interoperability.

More importantly, more mobility providers, including the car sharing firm Car2Go and all the new dockless bike and scooter providers, don't use card-based access systems, doing everything through phone-based applications.

Plus, firms operating programs on a multi-city footprint probably see it as a waste of time to integrate payment systems into local fare media programs when people are paying directly through their apps, linked to a credit/debit card or bank account.

Mobility as a service platform
Finland Ministry of Transport and Communications graphic.

Regional transit fare payment systems.  With a few exceptions, like Greater New York City, by now most major metropolitan areas with multiple transit agencies have developed an integrated fare card system.

Transit CardsExamples include SmarTrip in DC, the Oyster Card in London (the first major example actually), the Orca Card in the Puget Sound region, etc. where it is set up as a master fare card that works across transit agencies in a defined region.

At the time, it was a great accomplishment for transit agencies to pull this off. 

Because most metros have a primary transit agency and a number of secondary systems, usually the primary transit agency takes the lead on creating a fare card payment system for its own use, and then opens up the platform to other agencies.  In some areas like San Francisco, the lead was taken by the area transportation planning agency.

Aren't necessarily usable on all forms of local transit.  But most of these fare collection systems don't cover every service.

In most places, railroad commuter trains aren't included. For example, in the DC and Baltimore region, while the SmarTrip card works in Baltimore and the CharmCard works in DC (actually the CharmCard is merely a branded SmarTrip card), it only works on bus and subway in the DC area, and bus, subway and light rail in Baltimore.  It doesn't work on railroad commuter services.

AND (which is a massive failure), SmarTrip cards can't be used on the bus between Dulles Airport and the Wiehle-Reston Metrorail station, even though the service is run by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, a public agency.

By contrast in both the San Francisco and Puget Sound regions, the fare card systems work on railroad trips, as well as ferries.  In other places, railroad passes may provide free access to certain local transit services.  That is the case with MARC railroad monthly passes, and the Metrolink system in Greater Los Angeles.

Access to nonprofit mobility services that aren't traditional transit: bike sharing/car sharing.  With a couple exceptions, mostly in Montreal, access to car sharing and bike sharing hasn't been integrated in contactless fare media systems.  The bike sharing program in LA has been integrated into the TAP card system for access, but payment is separate from the stored value system used for transit.

The major exception is Montreal's STM transit system, where the Opus card can be used to access Bixi stations as well as card readers for cars in the Communauto car sharing program.  I think the difference is that both are local systems and the transit agency saw the value in integration.

What happens when for profit businesses enter the mix?  The problem with the thesis of the CityLab article is that for profit businesses engaged in transportation--car sharing, dockless bike and scooter sharing, taxis, etc.--may not be interested in participating in local transit fare media systems, especially when they operate on a national scale.

A dockless bike share bike from Lime Bike.

They're likely to see the cost of developing software integration applications for dozens of different transit fare collection systems as being greater than the benefit.  Similarly, they're not likely willing to pay collection and transfer fees, which are likely to be significant.  For them it's a lot easier for you to just use their phone-based app.

(Similarly, it's why firms develop specific e-commerce apps to better control their interaction with customers, rather than rely on web browser access.)

How to integrate for profit transportation service providers into the planning and operations mix? Regular readers know that in places like the DC area, with a balkanized set of transit agencies, I advocate the creation of collaborations equivalent to the "transport associations" of Germany. 

-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017
-- "Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model," 2017

These pan-metropolitan organizations integrate planning and operations into one body, provide integrated services and fare collection systems, regardless of what agency provides the service.  Note that Transport for London and the transit agencies in Greater Paris operate similarly.

But how do you integrate for profit entities into the mix?  Many transit agencies are working with ride hailing programs like Uber and Lyft on "microtransit" services.  Mostly, dockless systems have been more a matter of being foisted on local communities.

Theoretically, from a planning and operations standpoint, if the planning and transit operations paradigm was shifted to the German transport association model, it would be possible to bring the for profit sustainable mobility providers to the table.

I'd argue that the licensing regime for new mobility services should require participation in a metropolitan transport association coordinating and planning body.  But the problem is multi-fold. 

1. Most places don't have transport associations even though they have required transportation planning organizations--transport associations integrate planning and operations.

2.  The planning systems that exist aren't set up to deal very well with non-government entities. 

3.  The planning systems are often jurisdiction specific and don't function well at the metropolitan scale.  This is a problem even for government provided services like bike share that aren't transit.

4. For profit entities are competitive market-based organizations out to maximize their success and economic returns at the expense of others, without regard to the impact on parts of or the whole of the sustainable mobility platform.

Parking and tolling as another example.  Like traditional bike share, even though public parking and tolling systems are run by public agencies, their payment systems aren't integrated into one master fare, mobility access, and payment system. 

I did see an article a few years ago that a tolling organization in Texas proposed moving towards that kind of system.

EZ Pass is an interesting model because it operates on a multi-state scale covering dozens of metropolitan areas.

Would it make a lot of difference if transit media fare payment systems operated on a comparable basis, beyond that of even a metropolitan area?

Information versus payment.  Because most people are comfortable using debit card based payment systems, I no longer think that integrated payment systems with transit fare cards as the base are that important. 

The key with the sustainable mobility platform/TaaS/MaaS is integrating the modes at least in terms of information and awareness.  Yes, there is "consumer pain" at the outset of creating an account for a particular service, but after that initial touchpoint, access and payment isn't much of an issue.
Transportation as a service landscape
Image from "The Road to Transportation-As-A-Service," Nokia Growth Partners.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Rebuilding Place writing trip to the UK/Go Fund Me campaign

I have launched a Go Fund me campaign to raise money for a trip to Liverpool and London. Below is the text from the campaign webpage.

I'd appreciate your help and if you think it's appropriate, sending the link to others who may be interested.

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Me riding a Bixi bike share bike in Montreal in 2010.  I went as a vacation after my bike planning job ended in Baltimore County, but I ended up writing a bunch of articles about Montreal, including "Is Montreal the number one city for bicycling in North America?."

I write the Rebuilding Place in the Urban Place blog on urban revitalization, which has been picked as a top 100 (or better) urban planning blog by a number of sites.

Based in DC, I do write about other places and I always write about the places I visit. I've been blogging regularly since 2005 and have published more than 10,000 articles totaling millions of words on all kinds of issues and concerns.

A few years ago I wrote a series of articles about culture based revitalization in eight European cities for a EU National Institutes of Culture Washington Chapter project here, and among the places I wrote about was Liverpool.

Lime Street Train Station, Liverpool.

I get a lot of e-letters and one is from the Place Brand Observer . They are holding a conference on city branding, called the International Place Branding Event in Liverpool and offered some free registrations to people who made a good case.

As a lark, I submitted my Liverpool article and said it would be great to see in reality what I wrote about from afar without ever seeing it in person. And they picked me.

The conference is May 31st and June 1st.

But being underemployed, I don't really have the money to go. I've organized a trip to Liverpool and London and in return for financial support, I promise to write a number of articles in my blog on what I see and learn and specific items that I plan to follow up on that I've already written about. Topics will include:

-- City branding, which is the focus of the conference, and a subject of one of my earliest blog posts in 2005
-- Liverpool waterfront revitalization
-- culture based revitalization in Liverpool in the face of severe cuts in local government funding by the national government
-- the bike hub at Heathrow Airport and other bike hubs at railway stations in England
-- London Cyclist Campaign
-- railway stations in London and Liverpool
-- transit in London and Liverpool including wayfinding and design
-- especially the use of double deck buses which I think we should use in the US to rebrand transit
-- London Transport Museum
-- Museum of the City of London
-- retail in neighborhood commercial districts (High Streets)
-- the Idea Store Libraries in Tower Hamlets Borough (I want to try to interview someone there)
-- an interview hopefully with a former product design manager at Transport for London
-- and undoubtedly many more topics.

I didn't plan out everything before I made the plane reservations unfortunately, and I might need to change my flight back in order to be able to try to check out bike hubs at train stations such as Cambridge, which has free bike parking spaces for 3,000 bikes (but I might not be able to get to it if I can't raise enough money).

The expenses include airplane, rail trip to Liverpool from London and back, transit, lodging, food, a transit pass, temporary International phone coverage, entry fees to some museums, etc.

Besides the conference and travel, the idea is to spend 2.5 days each in Liverpool and London. I know that's not enough time, but it's enough time to learn a lot with plenty of things to write about.

I know that many people read my blog and apply ideas to their own situations. In recognition of my "giving back" I hope people will see fit to help.

ALSO, if you have suggestions for things I should try to see and articles I should then write about, please let me know.

Thank you.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Pogue's Run Grocer food cooperative, Indianapolis

Serendipity.  While looking up a story, "These 10 classic, historic Indiana buildings are on borrowed time," in the Indianapolis Star on the 2018 Indiana Landmarks list of the state's most endangered historic properties, I clicked on a what happened to the stores article about the buildings that had once been Double8 Markets, a local African-American small grocer firm.

Pogue's Run Grocer Food Cooperative, Indianapolis.  One of the images was for Pogue's Run Grocer, and I am a sucker for murals, so I searched it out.  It turns out it's a food cooperative in a food desert section of East Indianapolis. 

The store has been open for 8 years and spent 4 years organizing before opening ("Pogue's Run Grocer: 5 years of fighting food deserts," Nuvo) and is considering moving to a different but nearby location as part of a development owned by a local community development corporation ("Pogue's Run Grocer explores expansion," Indianapolis Star).

PRG is relevant to the piece proposing community health initiatives be integrated into the rebuilding program for the United Medical Center in Southeast DC.  That article mentions co-ops and a grocery inside a different hospital in Indianapolis.

The PRG website is interesting.  They have a blog.  The section on suppliers indicates all the vendors they buy from within the state.

There is an organization in Indiana called CraftedSpoon, which produces videos on the artisan food movement in that state.  Of their 27 videos, one is on Pogue's Run Grocer, and it's quite good.


Separately, revitalization initiatives in the Eastside district of Indianapolis leveraged interest, support, and monies relating to the 2012 Super Bowl in that city, and the Super Bowl Legacy Fund, where the NFL puts up a modicum of money to spark local projects as a "legacy" from the event. That included some support for the food cooperative organizing initiative that became Pogue's Run Grocer.

-- "For Host Cities, the Super Bowl as a Carrot," Next City
-- "Indy Neighborhood To Get $7M 'Super' Boost," TheIndyChannel.com/NBC
-- "Legacy Project' Swings Indy's Super Bowl Bid," LISC Institute for Comprehensive Community Development

It's not much money considering the hundreds of millions of dollars going to the NFL from the event, but it's better than doing nothing. Fortunately, the money from the NFL tends to motivate the local Super Bowl Host Committee to do much more. That was the case in Indianapolis, and also in Minneapolis this year, where the Legacy Fund for this year's Super Bowl game in Minneapolis supported 52 projects, totaling $5.5 million in donations.

-- Legacy Fund Final Report, Minneapolis

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Leadership etc.

1. An article by Lord Bilimoria ("Why the Lords are right to apply the brakes on a train-crash Brexit," Guardian) in discussing why the House of Lords wants more say in the "executive branch's" decision-making on Brexit, discusses the difference between managers and leaders with this quote:
Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing.
I like it. Not that it's unlike discussion by Max Weber about "bureaucracy" or Friedmann's Planning in the Public Domain, but it is succinct.

Although I seem to write more about managers doing things wrong and leaders doing the wrong thing too, than about managers doing things right and leaders leading.

2. There is an interview with University of Chicago Professor Richard Thaler in McKinsey Quarterly. Thaler is one of the co-founders of "nudge theory" and a leader in the field of behavioral economics. One of the points in the piece is distinguishing between bad decisions and bad outcomes.

-- "Debiasing the corporation: An interview with Nobel laureate Richard Thaler"
I think strong leaders, who are self-confident and secure, who are comfortable in their skin and their place, will welcome alternative points of view. The insecure ones won’t, and it’s a recipe for disaster. You want to be in an organization where somebody will tell the boss before the boss is about to do something stupid.

Figure out ways to give people feedback, write it down, and don’t let the boss think that he or she knows it all. Figure out a way of debiasing the boss. That’s everybody’s job. You’d like it to be the boss’s job, but some bosses are not very good at it.
Although I would argue that a lot of what I write about is about "bad decision making" which leads to bad outcomes, or at least satisficed outcomes, and much less in the way of optimal returns.

The other point that is at the foundation of how I look at the world is about is processes.  When processes such as how zoning approvals work,  yield as a matter of routine, mostly undesirable outcomes, than there is something wrong with the process. 

In a form of business process redesign (Thomas Davenport's Process Innovation has been a big influence on my thinking, excerpts), when I get to do plans, it's something I try to do, looking backwards at the process with recommendations "for fixing" so that the routine outcomes become desirable rather than products that aren't all that great.

3. You wouldn't think a magazine and website on Pizza stores would have a great article about leadership, but Pizza Marketplace does, "The key quality of great pizza brand leadership: It's probably not what you think." It makes the point that great leaders hire people better than them, rather than mediocre people which protects fearful "leaders" who can always outshine the less skilled.

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