Cities

Sweet nothings

Obama says the right things about transportation infrastructure: We'll see what happens when the transportation bill comes up later this year.

Whose plaza is it anyway?

Improving on the ambiguity of privately owned public spaces

This article is part of a collaboration with Planetizen, the web's leading resource for the urban planning, design, and development community. Cities are filled with spaces intended for the public -- but many of them are clearly owned and operated by the private sector. Though cities bend rules to get these spaces built, the public benefit is often outweighed by the cost. The challenge now is to make them better. The difference between what is public and what is private is usually pretty clear. A city park is available to everyone. Your neighbor's living room is not. But the line dividing public and private can blur, and when it does, spaces get ambiguous, and questions arise. Who can use them? What are they for? Who's in charge?

Local warming

Looking at climate change from a regional perspective

"Climate change poses a tremendous threat to the Puget Sound and Georgia Basin area." Clear. Concise. Depressing. The quote comes from Patty Glick, senior global warming specialist at the National Wildlife Federation, but it was echoed in the words of all the speakers at the three climate-change panels held Wednesday at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference in Seattle. Scientists of varying disciplines from all over the region shared their research and forecasts for the future. But one big question for the day arose: How do we take all of this climate change science -- which is primarily based on predictions that are global in scale -- and translate that into local management decisions?

Service first

Using stimulus funds to make mass transit free

Irwin Kellner, chief economist for MarketWatch, suggests a better use for the billions contained in the economic stimulus legislation: Right now federal money for states and local governments is aimed at big capital projects such as buying new trains or busses. But what is the point of buying new transit equipment if the local systems are mothballing their fleet because of service cuts?Better to use these funds to help eliminate fares and maintain or increase service. It also avoids the government giving people tax cuts with one hand while taking them away with the other.

Radiant Cities: Waterworld

A floating city takes shape in NYC

Take a good look at your plot of dry land now, folks, because according to the latest projection, the oceans could rise up to 21 feet in some places. Already, island nations being sipped up by the sea are investing in water-hugging houses (or land suitable for relocation), and flood-prone places like the Netherlands have been working on their aqua-adjusting floating homes for years. Now a group of New Yorkers is at work on another water-top habitat that will embrace the rising waters. The Waterpod Project. Rendering by James Halverson of Lux Visual Effects Enter the Waterpod, a "floating, sculptural eco-habitat designed for the rising tides" that will set sail from New York City in May. The pod is to be a "triple-domed island," 80 by 25 feet, made from recycled and found materials: wood, fabric, plastic, metal, and whatever its creators can salvage from elsewhere in the sea, all plopped atop and next to an industrial barge. Apparently, out on the maritime edges of Brooklyn and Queens in the Rockaways, about 300 boats are in various states of neglect and sunkenness, wasting perfectly good usable materials and leaching all manner of nasty chemicals into the water. The Waterpod does double duty, ameliorating that situation and launching, literally, a new model of housing.

Don't encourage the curmudgeon

Seattle Times editor wants to stick it to bicyclists

My wife snipped an editorial out of the Seattle Times for my perusal a couple of weeks ago. James Vesely, the opinion page editor, thinks that Seattle bicyclists should be taxed and licensed. My wife, a bleeding-heart liberal who never saw a tax she didn't like, was incensed that the Times editorial page editor would waste print space on such a petty issue.

Get a Zip

Zipcar partners with city of Seattle, opens downtown location

Some 10,500 employees of the City of Seattle will now have access to a car at the office for personal errands or business trips, thanks to a new partnership with car-sharing provider Zipcar. Part of the city's Commute Trip Reduction effort, the Zipcar partnership is aimed at "encouraging more climate-friendly commutes," says Mayor Greg Nickels (D), because employees will be able to walk, bike, or take mass transit to work without worrying whether they'll need to, ahem, zip off to an appointment. Within a 10-block radius of City Hall, there are more than 60 Zipcars parked at curbs and in garages. City employees (and other Zipcar members) can reserve these vehicles and then take them out for several hours, or even a whole day, returning them to their original parking spot. Zipcar then takes care of all maintenance, insurance, and fuel for the vehicles. And for naysayers who think this will just encourage people to drive around unnecessarily, a 2008 survey of Seattle Zipcar members suggests otherwise, with half of the respondents saying they've increased their public transit usage since joining. And national surveys indicate that 50 percent of members sell their car or avoid buying one in the first place, reducing vehicle miles by almost 40 percent. For those of you in Seattle, Zipcar is opening up a storefront-style office downtown (in the old Department of Licensing office, actually). They're hosting an open house today, and if you stop by before 5 p.m., you can join Zipcar for no annual fee (a savings of $50).

The Transit Authority: A looming crisis

Transit budget cuts are disasters in the making

Here is the lowdown: Transit fares generally don't cover operating expenses. Transit systems do not, unfortunately, turn a profit. In many conservative circles, this is considered a damning indictment of the whole idea of public transit -- which is itself a damning indictment of the analytical powers of the guilty conservatives. We should expect those who benefit from a technology to pay for it. This is the basic idea behind a market economy -- people aren't in the habit of giving away something for nothing, and the best way to allocate scarce resources is to let buyers and sellers agree upon a price, which is then paid by the buyer who, we expect, will benefit from the purchase. But sometimes, when a buyer decides to spend money on a good or service, other people benefit as well. If I build an exceptionally attractive house in a neighborhood, I benefit, but so too do my neighbors, who get to look at the house and whose own homes may appreciate thanks to their location in what is now a more attractive neighborhood. When I pay college tuition and get a degree, I benefit, but so too do future colleagues, who will enjoy greater success as part of a highly educated labor pool. If government does nothing in such situations, then we will get the level of attractive homes or college educations that suits the direct beneficiaries of such investments -- but that doesn't mean that we have provided the number that maximizes the benefit to society as a whole.

Sims city

Obama taps green Seattle-area leader as deputy secretary of HUD

Ron Sims. The Obama administration has tapped Ron Sims, the county executive of King County, Wash., to serve as deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Sims has earned a national …

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