Recent Posts

  • Density on U Street?

    I got my first taste of local politics last month by attending the Dupont Circle ANC meeting. DC is divided into a number of regions each with an Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a group of unpaid local elected representatives. They do have certain powers, such as reviewing and approving liquor license applications, though most of the board’s actions are advisory, like giving…  Keep reading…

  • The soul-crushing emptiness of downtown DC

    410,000 people enter Washington, DC each weekday (as of 2005), the second-largest increase of any American city. But if you walk around large parts of downtown in the middle of the day, you might not think so. So many buildings face inward, with their public spaces in central courtyards cut off from the fabric of the city,  feeding their workers in indoor cafeterias, leaving the…  Keep reading…

  • Metro actually works (sometimes)

    Reading the Washington Post and local blogs, it’s easy to think that Metro hardly works, with numerous reports of delays when trains must single-track due to equipment failures or sick passengers. And I’m sure these things do happen, and are very disruptive (this weekend, a train we were riding waited for ten minutes at Dupont Circle for some unknown reason, without…  Keep reading…

  • Is Red Hook de-gentrifying?

    SoHo, Alphabet City, Cobble Hill, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick. One after another, New York neighborhoods full of gritty industrial buildings and unsafe streets have turned into yuppie meccas. Red Hook was next… but then it wasn’t, argues an article in New York Magazine. Despite a Fairway and beautiful riverfront views of Manhattan, would-be gentrifiers…  Keep reading…

  • Soaring gas prices are slowing sprawl

    With gas prices over $3 a gallon, drivers are changing their driving habits. Those who already live in car-dependent areas are locked in to driving and have few alternatives beyond carpooling and buying more fuel-efficient cars, but in the housing market, it’s clear people are choosing their communities with the new costs of driving in mind. Speculators out in the exurbs are…  Keep reading…

  • Visualizing different modes of transportation

    Driving down a busy street, a bus seems to be about twice the size of another car, and a little bit harder to pass. But that bus is also carrying about the same number of people as all the other cars for several blocks combined. In other words, you could replace all the traffic with just two buses. If the whole lane were replaced with light rail, it could carry 18 times as many people per hour.  Keep reading…

  • The Upper West Side of the future

    What if Upper West Side streets devoted more space to pedestrians and less to cars? StreetFilms created a series of photo simulations re-imagining Amsterdam Avenue, 81st Street, and Broadway.   Keep reading…

  • Ramp spaghetti on the Potomac

    The National Mall in Washington DC is an American icon, visited by millions of tourists, but also somewhat threadbare-looking; since 2001, increasingly choked with security barriers; and gradually becoming overbuilt with memorials for every group with clout in Congress. The National Coalition to Save Our Mall is fighting these disappointing trends.  Keep reading…

  • Brooklyn puts retail in municipal building

    “From the street, [Brooklyn’s Municipal Building] looks like ‘dead space,’” writes the Brooklyn Paper. “‘People have just accepted that government buildings are only for government,’” says Joe Chan of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Downtown DC is even worse, with back to back Federal buildings each of which…  Keep reading…

  • Hope for DC’s waterfront

    DC’s Southwest Waterfront neighborhood is a classic example of failed urban renewal - old row houses and tenements (some nice, some less so) were razed, replaced with a freeway and 1960s/70s-era buildings where cars enjoy more square footage than people. The dinner cruise on the Potomac Stefanie and I took for our six-month anniversary departed from a pier in Southwest, and…  Keep reading…

  • Drive-through apartments

    In Robert Heinlein’s (fairly bad) book I Will Fear No Evil, cities have become so dangerous that residents drive their cars directly into their buildings, up car-sized elevators, and right to the doors of their apartments. Early in the book a significant figure is murdered because she tries to use the pedestrian entrance. Now, via Streetsblog, such a building is under construction…  Keep reading…

  • The federally tilted playing field on transportation

    The Washington Post recently ran an article exploring the impact of the Federal Transit Administration on transit projects. Fierce competition for the FTA’s limited transit funding and strict criteria mean that states are forced to make many changes, wise or unwise, to their projects to qualify. Virginia had to drop plans to put the Tyson’s Corner segment of the planned…  Keep reading…

  • “We Are Smart Growth”

    You know Smart Growth—the philosophy of building “compact, transit-  Keep reading…

  • Charleston

    Last month, I visited Charleston for the Democratic debate. Here are my thoughts on the debate itself. The next day, I got to walk around historic Charleston. It has some beautiful old Southern houses, and some great commercial streets with historic brightly colored townhouses. For a small city, it has some pedestrian activity in the evenings, though the jobs aren’t downtown…  Keep reading…

  • Calculating walkability

    The walkability of a neighborhood is an intangible quality that doesn’t appear on real estate listings like the number of bathrooms or the square footage. But living in a place where you can walk to grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, hair salons, and other amenities makes life in certain places enormously different (and, I believe, better) than those where driving…  Keep reading…

  • Island Plan for new villages?

    Martha’s Vineyard’s regional land use agency, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, is conducting a broad participatory planning proccess, Island Plan, to solicit input and devise a long-term plan for the future of the island over the next 50 years. Still in its early stages, it covers topics such as housing affordability, year-round employment opportunities,…  Keep reading…

  • Washington’s good streets and bad streets

    Washington, DC is a city with some of the most magnificent public spaces and some of the worst at the same time. The Mall is mixed; it’s a huge tourist attraction with great, free museums and monuments, but many of the buildings present blank stone walls to the streets and there are too many cars, rendering it more of an empty grassy space between attractions than a destination in…  Keep reading…

  • Yglesias on urbanism

    Matt Yglesias wades into the debate about cities versus suburbs, and which is the future of America.  Keep reading…

  • The Triboro RX

    In the heyday of the railroads, rail lines crisscrossed the country and ran right through major cities. Some lines are commuter railroads today, others were turned into transit lines or highways, but many were abandoned. A few still exist, relatively unknown to most people, because they were either abandoned but never completely turned over to other uses, or because they carry some…  Keep reading…

  • “Saving” a neighborhood in order to destroy it

    Many neighborhoods in New York City have their local NIMBY civic groups, which believe that all development is bad and frequently use phrases like “preserving the low-rise character of the neighborhood” as arguments for resisting all development and all change. A group in and around the Bowery has such a petition now, which a friend forwarded to me, but I had to reply…  Keep reading…

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