That Feeling of being at Home…

Urban Design

We need to be grounded in that feeling of being around friends and family… Home. Being  home is the idea that goes to the heart of what makes food (neighborhoods) great.

It is an approach to cooking (urban design) that is rooted in respect. Respect for the ingredients (people/places), respect for tradition. It gives the fancy innovations and clever deconstructions a heart and a soul. – Anthony Bourdain, 2008 (Spain – No Reservations)

He said this at the end of an episode describing why the best restaurants in the world were found in Spain. And it encapsulated succinctly how I see urban design, as noted by my parentheses mixed into his quote above. From the intended designed experiences, ingredients and elements, to the reliance on traditions for innovation.

The above photo of Anthony and President Obama eating noodles and drinking cold beer in Hanoi reminded me of my time living in Korea and Singapore in the ’90s. I traveled everywhere, designed a few interesting places, and surfed some exotic spots. It was wonderful. But when I was feeling too foreign and out of sorts with everyone around me, I would go eat at McDonald’s, seek out ex-pat friends for beers, and sit down to watch any American football/basketball/baseball game in order to ground myself in that feeling of home.

The places we inhabit should be purposely arranged and cultivated to bring both the delight of the new and unexpected along with a recognizable structure and traditions to our neighborhoods and homes. Anthony mentioned that too…

The featured Spanish chief in 2008 said he simply wanted to bring joy and order to his guest’s experiences. And to avoid being boring or too serious, because ultimately, we have to be happy.

Especially today.

[Our nation’s old values, attitudes, and prejudices that built our traditions, culture, and homes are being deconstructed today. This is meaningful and healthy, for we can pick and choose what is useful and move forward towards a braver, more just world rather taking the extraordinary risks of having reinventing everything with more failures than successes, especially with most of us living on the razor-thin economic margins. Do Well, Doubt Not!]

Pop-Up Pandemic Plazas and Parklets

Innovation Districts, Public Space, San Diego, Urban Design, Urban Planning
PopUp1

Three Types of Open Air Spaces

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Pop Up Parklet

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Pop Up Plaza

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Pop Up San Diego Scenario

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Pop Up Spaces Defined

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Pop Up Plaza, Parklet and Full Block Plaza

These illustrations and site plans are intended to assist our cities in enabling open-air markets in streets and rights-of-way. A follow up to the Podcast interview I had with Andrew Keatts this week (click here), the math shows that a full block provides the most area to enable more dining and shopping to be located in neighborhood centers located every half-mile or so apart. These ‘streateries’ would be managed and operated by local Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Main Street organizations in order to be equitable across the city without it being shop by shop and coordinate efforts and resources (money) to enable us to have a safe place to go to dine in/out, shop in/out, and communicate with others.

San Diego simply doesn’t have enough local parks and plazas to handle the excess space needed to bring small businesses back to our neighborhoods. These places are intended to help small businesses reopen, as well as provide more public space to safely re-emerge from our homes and back into our neighborhoods. These standards would mitigate for social distancing while allowing the local shops to expand their capacity with the biggest issues to be planned for are conflicts between cars and people and maintaining socializing distancing.

The state is beginning to allow shops and restaurants to reopen at 50% capacity and still offer take out service. These plazas are intended to provide that other 50% capacity to help these businesses. In these standard 3-feet by 5-feet ‘safe zones,’ surrounded by a 6-feet social distancing area, are able to comfortably provide a table with two chairs, or a merchandise display, clothing racks, and a place to sit and wait for food while enjoying beverages in the summer time. They’re a safe relief value from the past 3 months of quarantine.

Importantly, American Disabilities Act standards are maintained. Stormwater runoff at the curb is maintained. And, a 15-foot clear fire access lane is maintained through the center of the streetscape as these spaces are marked off by tape and paint. The traffic barriers and reflective tape/paint costs money by the BIDs and local municipalities. The maintenance, cleaning, and daily operation will be a public-private partnership with local shops being active participants in managing these new public spaces. The shops that front onto the space, as well as in the immediate surrounding area, are able to benefit from this extra area and enhance the experience with lighting, signage, shade, seating, and sounds.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (@NACTO) has recently shared its open Streets for Pandemic Recovery design guidelines here. And, a favorite colleague,  Mike Lydon of @Streetplans, is leading a national Open Streets effort, which can be heard/seen here.

We rarely go out shopping and dining to stimulate the economy. The quality of these dining or shopping experiences will entice us to spend time and money because we go places for the experience. Opening streets to businesses involves a plan and design outcome that makes being there worth the time spent. I hope these are useful in starting that plan and beginning the design of our brave new world… outdoors!

Leon Krier and our Cayala Conversations

Leon Krier, Urban Design

I am fortunate to have a relationship with my urban design hero, Leon Krier. In 2003, while working for the County of San Diego’s General Plan 2020 update, I was denied a vacation request to work on a charrette in Chico, California led by Leon Krier. So, I quit my job, drove to Chico, and sat right across the ’table from the Leon (and my eventual life partner, Geoff Dyer) for a week and walked away from the experience a more inspired and humbled designer.

Over the years,  we met at New Urbanism Congresses, and he visited San Diego a couple of times. We drove in a convertible across the desert, gave a riveting lecture to a packed house in Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Art theater. And, I’ve watched him formulated the ‘Tuning of Architectural Settlements,’ (Chico), the ‘San Diego Quartet’ (American Four Corners),  and the Coronado Gates (different column heights would appear to ‘turn’ as you drive across the curved Coronado Bridge and land in its ceremonial entrance). Fortunate.

During this Covid-19 spring 2020 shut down, a young University of Texas student, Adam Bell, and I sat down with Leon and recorded a series of conversations on a wide variety of topics while he was stranded in his new urban district in Cayala, Guatemala. So, these are the #CayalaConversations, that we’ll continue until Spain reopens and he can go home… Watch them here:

With more to follow…

My opinions on our Post-Covid future…

Public Space, Uncategorized, Urban Design, Urban Planning

I got a blog, I’m an urban designer, and I got opinions… so let’s do this!

This epic pandemic moment will resonate in two scales. First, at the global scale:

  1. Easily identified our global economy as being very fragile and forgetting the trickling down part…
  2. Every nation now has the experience to work collectively to… limit Greenhouse Gas emissions. We can all stop driving and we will survive. When our Climate Change Pearl Harbor or asteroid moment occurs, we’ll have practice in how to collectively work on surviving it. This is the hope we were looking for.
  3. There are always people on the wrong side of history. The anti-vaccine groups, hate groups, and libertarians are not helping us collectively survive and thrive as citizens.
  4. Today’s cities exist because of jobs. With the local economies collapsing, big cities will continue to provide the most available jobs to any region, and will continue to grow as long-standing local economic jobs in small towns will be late to the economic recovery cycle. We must prepare for continued big city housing crisis.

Second, at the local scale:

  1. We are sheltering-in-our neighborhoods (place). We are seeing our local streets, right-of-ways, and parks as the health, welfare, and safety valves they actually are. Mindful of San Francisco’s parks post-1906 earthquake and fire, where people lived until they were able to rebuilt their homes.

Camp_1906_SFearthquake

2. Pre-Covid trends will be accelerated:

    1. End of Class A office park pods (retrofitted w/urban amenities);
    2. More outdoor dining/entertainment (pop up container parks)
    3. More online shopping & music concerts/events;
    4. More bike/walkable streets;
    5. More parks for our health, welfare, and safety (See point #1).

3. (Stolen from Bill Fulton) New Office Space as a place more specifically for meetings, sales, showroom, model building, virtual touring (gaming), lectures, parties, and fun and less as a dedicated production work space, allowing for more of that to happen at home. This more mixed-use flexible workspace will help retention of parents who are raising young children, and people who love working from home. It’s a retention program.

4. The neighborhood is the Rosetta stone of understanding how to build cities, which are very complex. And, at this moment, we are collectively learning more and more about our neighborhoods because we are driving less and walking more which is a good thing.

Plus, we’re learning how to respond to a global scale crisis, which is another good thing when the comet (climate change) hits.

More later.

Conservation of Culture Conversation

Public Space, San Diego, Urban Design

In the past, our culture (music, socializing, celebrations, food, worshipping) had secure foundations in public buildings, streets, squares and plazas (church, concert hall, theater, pub, halls, and markets), and in the private home.

Our parents added television, cars, the highway, and suburbia to these public and private places (drive-in theaters, drive-thru diners, freeway overpass protests, tv movies, tv evangelist, tv news, home theaters, homes cafes, home entertainment, backyard pools), shifting our culture towards a more private life.

Today, we are adding smart phone technology to these public and private spaces while shifting away from insular private suburban culture and towards a more balanced public and private life. These smart phones are our 21st century version of urban renewal, allowing us to re-inhabit and re-animate public buildings, streets, squares, and plazas cheaper, faster, and with more friends and family.

Within a century, everything has changed with how we share music, socialize, celebrate, eat, worship, and share our selfies with smartphone technology in our daily lives/culture. And, with this pandemic… it’s dramatically changing again. See you on the other side!

In reference to Roger Scruton’s article, https://www.futuresymphony.org/why-musicians-need-philosophy/

Innovation Districts… in San Diego?

Innovation Districts, San Diego, Urban Design, Urban Planning

Innovation Districts are a contemporary economic development model focused on geographic areas where medical institutions (Med), research universities (Ed), and technology industry companies (Ted) are purposely clustered and connected with entrepreneurs, start-ups, accelerators, and incubators. These new era economic generators are a market shift from previously isolated suburban research parks towards mixed-use, walkable, amenity-rich places. These Med-Ed-Ted hubs, innovation districts, are useful tools to provide a competitive advantage for large swaths of a city over a single, isolated, private development project.

A question is when is an Innovation Districts more of a big picture policy/vision organizing and fundraising tool or a more refined geographical place defined by its regulatory structure?

THE IDEA DISTRICT – East Village, San Diego

In downtown San Diego, California, Local developers, David Malmuth and Peter Garcia of IDEA1, have identified and marketed their project in East Village as an Innovation District as an ‘education corridor’ from Balboa Park to Petco Park. These types of districts are well documented by urban scholar Bruce Katz here in 2016 and 2019. And a great model of success is found in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, one of the 20 or so of successful innovation districts across the nation.

Innovation District success is found, as Mr. Katz has written, “… in their complexity and integration of what was previously separated and ‘siloed’— people, quality of place, and innovation.” One of San Francisco’s Mission Bay accomplishments is found in its governance, which is evolving from the alignment of strategies and tenants to more sophisticated interventions around place-making. Another of its successes is found in attracting anchor companies, such as Dropbox in Mission Bay, as well as Quicken Loans in Detroit, Comcast in Philadelphia, and Amazon in Seattle’s South Lake Union.

Important urban design elements listed by Mr. Katz include providing a platform for various activities. This means its jobs and work, R&D and education, the arts and transportation. This variety provides the necessary critical mass to support each other. Scientist and creatives, teachers and residents, artists and employees, entrepreneurs and students. The scale and intensity cultivate an ‘eco-system’ that grows innovation and creativity that competes from the local to national scales. These plug into the existing economic infrastructure and governance, which infuse it with civic champions, business entrepreneurs, and leadership. And, finally, Mr. Katz says these big moves led to many small wonders that creates interest and complexity to what is replacing the conventional Class A Business Park model.

While the education anchors (City College and UCSD International Studies) are found in San Diego’s East Village today, it lacks a few of the key ingredients listed above to form a successful Innovation District. Importantly, an important portion of downtown’s governance is transitioning from Civic San Diego to the City of San Diego Development Services Department (DSD) with Civic San Diego still retaining some its economic development functions, such as Tax Credits, but losing its planning, permitting, and parking district oversight.

While a very real shift with intended and unintended consequences, this change appears to be an opportunity to better align the city’s planning/permitting of private property with its traffic, transportation and parks duties. Historically, these services have been ‘siloed’ and this shift might be an opportunity to better align the implementation of the Downtown Mobility Plan with new projects being entitled in East Village to craft a distinctive Innovation District to strategically attract anchor company tenants.

The City of San Diego’s Economic Development Department, and local Non-Government Organizations, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and Downtown Partnership, provide incentive programs for new businesses to locate downtown. And, this may be an opportune time to advocate for a dedicated Innovative District with additional incentives and municipal services available to private development, possibly via a Joint Power Authority consisting of a combination of City of San Diego Economic Development Department (Christina Bibler), EDC (Mark Cafferty), Civic San Diego (Andrew Phillips), SD City College (Ricky Shabazz), UC San Diego (Mary Walshok), and California State University (Adam Day) agencies, or some other enabling tool post-redevelopment to purposely provide a competitive advantage for East Village over San Diego’s rival innovation hubs across the US West and beyond.

Why Design (still) Matters!

San Diego, Urban Design

I have running dialog (troll) with a pessimistic friend about the value of our jobs and which of us is cumbersome to this world (yes, I’m listening to Rock Hits ’96 on iTunes… it’s Friday afternoon). And, I had been on the losing end of the troll on the value of urban design in the midst of our coastal cities long-standing housing crisis. His contemporary point is that designing for highest and best use raises existing land values and because everything is already too expensive good design is framed today as an agent of gentrification, and something to avoid.

Times have changed. My past assumptions are regularly challenged in this early 21-century new socio-political context. And, in my circle (social class) of friends and colleagues, I see increasing anxiety as we feel left behind economically and ‘good design’ is only valued by the wealthy to create investor opportunities. See, I was losing!

Searching, I found this terrific article on What makes a beautiful place, by Tristan Cleveland, a researcher at Happy City. And his point on the value of beauty beautifully translated to my points on the value of urban design, which I’ve restated from Mr. Cleveland’s brilliant prose with the following turn:

At the human scale: Design makes a difference in our lives by helping us feel safe and comfortable while walking and socializing in our neighborhoods, which helps us feel happier and experience a deeper sense of belonging to places and people.

And,

At the city scale: Design makes a difference in enabling cities to more easily attract and retain residents and businesses with inviting public streets, civic spaces, and interesting places. Well-designed places are a practical and essential way to bring vitality and dignity to city living.

I think I’m winning… what do you think?

A Better Transit Network in San Diego

Climate Action Plan, San Diego, Transit, Urban Design

(Original Post: https://sandiego.urbdezine.com/2019/01/26/walkable-transit-san-diego/)

At last week’s State of the City address, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer enthusiastically stated, “I want to radically overhaul the system itself. The bureaucracy has been set up to empower anti-housing forces that delay or deny projects at every tum… We need to build more housing near employment centers and transit.”

This is a rejection of our long-standing, auto-oriented, one-size-fits-all approach to city making. Fortunately, in 2008, our City of Villages plan began to shift the standards of new construction of private development from single-family, single-use land use outcomes towards more mixed-use buildings and blocks filled with offices, shops, affordable housing, and market-rate homes. This proclamation officially transitions San Diego from focusing on suburban outcomes, as we have for the past 60+ years, to building within our urban neighborhoods.

Now it’s time to do the same for our transit services.

With the Mayor’s emphasis on using transit to connect our employment centers to new housing construction, it is time to shift our transit modes from its one-size-fits-all, over-reliance on Light Rail Transit (LRT – The Trolley) to a mix of transit modes. The problem today is that our Trolley acts like Commuter Rail by linking downtown to Santee and the border, as well as acting like a Streetcar by linking downtown’s Little Italy to Gaslamp. No matter where it is in the city, the trolley stops every 15 minutes at over 56 stations. Plus, it is limited in its ability to climb hillsides to access and serve the neighborhoods and districts located on our mesas.

With its one-size-fits-all use, our Trolley does not really perform to its fullest LRT function, nor is it capable of being a true Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Streetcar. LRT is a fixed-rail system intended to serve city-to-city, such as connecting Chula Vista to La Mesa to Santee. BRT is intended to serve community-to-community, such as North Park to City Heights to Rolando. And, Streetcars are intended to serve neighborhood center to neighborhood center within each community, such as from North Park’s 30th street from Adams Avenue to Upas.

Our city’s new Rapid Bus service is essentially an Express Bus, or BRT-Lite, that flows with traffic, stopping at streetlights, and merging with all traffic on the freeways with 15-minute waits between buses. We do have a short segment of BRT, but it is located on a half-mile stretch on Park Boulevard in Hillcrest. And, we have one historic Streetcar circling a downtown loop on our LRT tracks. These limited modes are our best opportunity to quickly expand access to our city with cheaper and lighter forms of transit.

We need a mixed-modal, walkable to/from transit network to compete with the auto-oriented infrastructure we’ve built over the past 60+ years. It is easier to drive a car around than to take transit because we purposely designed and invested to do. San Diego needs to add BRT on major corridors and local neighborhood Streetcars to connect our mix of surface street buses and fixed rail trolley network.

Since 2013, San Diego has been a member city of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), who state in their Transit Street Design Guide (Island Press, 2016, page 178)  “Cities with both buses and a dedicated right-of-way rail system (LRT) have historically structured the former (bus) as a feeder service to the latter (LRT). Bus Rapid Transit can be used to upgrade new parts of the network into trunklines… Streetcars and Buses can also form a multi-hub network.” Just last month the City of San Diego’s Development Services Department stated that it, “is allowing the incorporation of NACTO design concepts as presented in the Urban Street Design Guide (Island Press, 2013),” to plan and design projects. These new rules will permit more dedicated BRT and Streetcar lines throughout the city.

The hierarchy of San Diego’s full-range of public transit service modes are as follows:

  • Heavy Rail (Amtrak) – Connects San Diego to Los Angeles and the nation a few times a day;
  • Commuter Rail (Coaster) – Connects three coastal cities at peak hour times;
  • Light Rail (Trolley + Sprinter) – Connects Santee, San Ysidro to San Diego (with a new line up to University City next year) and Oceanside, San Marcos to Escondido with frequent stops every half-mile or more. Our bus networks feeds into our main LRT lines;
  • Bus Rapid Transit – Easily retrofitted into our wide streets with dedicated bus lanes, separated from traffic, and given priority at intersections to be competitive timewise with local car trips. These connect our canyons (Mission Valley) to our mesas (Clairemont Mesa and Rolando);
  • Express Bus (Rapid & Breeze) – These run faster schedule by not making as many stops as than normal bus services between the same two commuter or destination points on quicker routes;
  • Local Bus – The bulk of our transit service with stops every quarter-mile throughout the city;
  • Streetcars – Modern and historic cars that run on rails that usually flows with traffic on main streets and connects neighborhood to neighborhood;
  • Shuttles (Paratransit, Flex & Lift) – Connects people with daily service and those of us with physical, cognitive, and visual disabilities throughout the city.

The hierarchy of San Diego’s full-range of private mobility modes are as follows:

  • Shuttles (Airport Shuttles, Van Share) – Connects people with daily service and those of us with physical, cognitive, and visual disabilities throughout the city.
  • Bicycles & Jitney facilities – Connects people up to three to five miles comfortably at a slower speed;
  • Pedestrians & scooter facilities – Connect us up to a quarter to half mile distance at a walkable pace.

To support our Mayor’s vision for San Diego, we need to build a more sustainable transit network that focuses on connecting job centers to neighborhood centers with BRT and interconnecting Streetcar lines. Our zoning requires our new housing to be constructed as mixed-use and accessible by pedestrians. The new BRT study investment our City Councilmembers, Georgette Gomez and Chris Ward, announced this week is the right start to building the right mix of transit types to connect new housing with job centers.

 

Love vs Hope

Leon Krier, Public Space, San Diego, Urban Design, Urban Planning

In the middle of reading Dan Solomon’s new book, Love versus Hope, and think he’s beautifully addressing the issues of how to build a more socially inclusive city.

He posits that cities based on Love are a ‘continuous city’ that is manifested in terms of timeless traditions as well as buildings conjoined to form streets/squares. This traditional city has a far better track record at building cities than those based on Hope, which he calls the ‘ruptured city’ that is designed for revolution derived from naive modernist optimism that has destroyed urbanism/cities to implement their hopeful vision of the future that is greener, safer, accessible, whatever.

That said, the ‘walled city’ is a continuous city in an exaggerated/extreme form that moves away from being socially inclusive and just and towards being based on fear to some extent. This leads to a vision of Yoda whispering about how fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

This also leads us to Leon Krier’s Albert Speer conundrum… for it is possible to be insanely scared and criminal towards others while designing great cities/buildings and being very civil to your own tribe? These are questions about the ambiguity of humankind. And of our ethical responsibilities to build cities civilization (towards a less suffering society).
San Diego was mostly built in the ruptured city model. We are moving towards a more continuous city. And as a major border city, today I am proud of San Diego’s leadership because we  haven’t succumbed to the fear and loathing espoused by our immoral federal leadership intended to anger us this holiday weekend. Thank you San Diego Mayor, City Council, State Assemblyman Gloria, State Senator Atkins, Congressman Peters and Congresswoman Davis, for endeavoring to keep us from being an even more walled off city as we close 2018.

How do You See the City?

Urban Design, Urban Planning

I see every city for how it was built when it got rich. Economies move around, cities rise, fall, and some rise again, reinvent themselves, die off, or sit stagnate waiting for its revival. But, at some point every major city got really rich, and that’s when its public streets, parks, buildings, and private buildings set the bar/tone for the next century or so.

grayscale photo of high rise buildings

Photo by Ross Richardson on Pexels.com

For example, in San Diego, it got rich in the early 1950’s, when its population double as military R&D rose/located near its military installations. High wages, lots of jobs, and land for suburban growth with great state/fed spending on highways and our pending car culture. Spending its money during our mid-century modernist era has formed/shaped the context for the city of today and beyond.

It was a trip to Buffalo, and seeing its turn of the century opulence, that showed me how to ‘see’ a city.  Every great American architect of that time, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Frederick Law Olmsted, were building in Buffalo at that time and it generated two Presidents. This view translates to seeing our old European cities, such as Venice and its well-preserved mid-millennium opulence still valuable today, as well as in seeing our Asian cities, such as ShenZhen and its booming wealth (with every architect in the world, Steven Holl, BIG, and Gensler working there), and so on…

Vancouver got rich as Hong Kong shifted hands from English to Chinese rule 20+ years ago. That era’s neo-conservative ‘free market’ architectural expression of almost urban, but not quite, townhouse wrap of a small footprint, single-core tower was urbanism-lite at time when suburbia ruled our west coast north American landscape. And, it was the right architectural form for transitioning from suburbia back to urbanism… but, its already dated and in transition again, and towards a more urban pattern.

assorted labeled signage

Photo by Arnie Chou on Pexels.com

This new era is beholden to the ‘got really rich’ era in Vancouver and will still be subservient to that context, which wasn’t true 20+ years earlier when that great flush of wealth easily overwhelmed its past and context. Meaning, the wealth generated today in Vancouver is simply the by-product of yesterday’s economic boom. Same with Venice and its tourist value today for preserving its past opulence.

We’re watching the political anxiety in the face of this urban shift playing out across the world as the last throes of that 80/90s neocon intellectual culture are desperately holding on to the last of their structured power. Those  neocons who are voraciously holding onto power today also hold the counterculture of the 1960s in great disdain as their political radicalism and animus against authority, custom, and tradition is rising and an obvious threat to the old leaders. I believe this disdain is one of the reasons for the angry, resentful, punitive political furry expressed in Washington, DC and beyond… because the neo-counterculture is being repeated by today’s younger generation but this time with their own value system/context.

The millennials are choosing to spend their money in cities that are getting rich right now. These are San Jose, Oklahoma City, and in rebound cities, such as Austin, Seattle, and maybe Detroit (an anomaly in this group of relatively ‘new’ towns as it got very rich in the 1940s and may keep its Art-Deco patterns) will be reshaped with their values. I’m looking forward to ‘seeing’ how these cities express themselves as they grow rich over the next decade (with Vancouver’s ubiquitous point towers with a townhouse wrap in mind).