Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cities

As anyone who's talked to me at all in the last 6-9 months (or followed this blog pretty closely) knows, I've kind of become obssessed with urban planning. In fact, this time 2 years ago, before I decided definitively to go back to school for psychology, I briefly considered (very briefly) looking into some kind of degree having something to do with urban planning or engineering. Obviously, just because I'm interested in something doesn't mean its my forte, or what I'm good at, but even figuring out a way to apply my psychology (and theoretical doctorate) to urban planning would be exciting (the Psychology of Urban Density? - I think that's already been done, and quite well, but maybe teaching a college course around that book might be really cool).

Anyway, I digress. I've been very closely following Austin's "urban density" craze the last year or so, and while I have no real context with which to judge it, it seems like, for the most part, they're trying to be fairly smart about it (though not pursuing an aggressive public transportation initiative makes me furious, but I guess that's to be expected in a city where people think they're progressive just because they shop at Whole Foods, even though they drive SUV's and live in the suburbs). I got into an argument about this once with someone at the hospice (a volunteer there) who was a fairly elderly man who had just purchased a condo in the new Spring Condominiums that just broke ground (and killed an incredible art space next to the railroad tracks, just BTW), who said that Austin was actually modeling its urban plan after Vancouver's, who went through (and is still going through) tremendous growth in the 60's, I believe. Their physical space is limited by ocean and mountains, but they adopted a strictly vertical plan to do away with sprawl, with tons and tons of provisions, including low-income family housing (which is my second biggest gripe against Austin's plan, and why I think it'll never work in the way they claim it will). But Vancouver has been so successful, its designer regularly travels all over the country giving presentations to city planners about the best ways in which they can accomplish the same things. Portland is often cited as being the North American city that has most successfully implemented anti-sprawl measures set forth by Vancouver, and the two cities have even started competing with one another to "out-denisfy" the other, with Portland most notably building whole neighborhoods out of delapidated industrial areas and connecting all of them with sky pods, making each neighborhood no more than a 15-minute ride away from any other neighborhood. (How fucking cool is that??!?!)

Portland's ariel tram!

Anyway, very long story short, I was doing some Googling tonight, researching what Vancouver has done, and how they did it, and what the results have been, and I came across what is to me, a totally fascinating blog called All About Cities, written by a young professional woman living in Vancouver who loves the "economy, society, communities, people, businesses, organizations, infrastructure, civil society and government of cities." And it's a great little blog. Really smart, fascinating stuff (her latest entry on immigration in Detroit is interesting). Anyway, from her blog, I found another seemingly cool one (though not nearly as frequently updated) written by a guy right here in Austin, with much of the same focus. It's called The Austin Contrarian.

Crowded Vancouver waterfront.

And starting Wednesday, I really am gonna start riding the bus to school. I picked Wednesday kind of arbitrarily (I had my reasons, but they're both complex and dumb, so I won't get into them), but it needs to happen. That commute everyday is ridiculous, my car is getting old, I hate traffic, and according to Cap Metro, the ride is only about 30 minutes. That's only marginally longer than it takes me to drive it. And on the bus I can read.

Amen to that!

1 comment:

Mike said...

Ironically, our transportation model is one of the sprawliest metros out there - South Florida. (Tri-Rail is the same sort of commuter rail + shuttle bus scheme that we're imposing here instead of light rail a la Portland).

Keep writing about urban stuff. We need more folks doing that out there.

And if you're going to UT, there's definitely no reason to ever drive during the week. Take that free bus, please! (I'll be using the IF shuttle this afternoon).

Regards,
MD (M1EK)