Impressive urban developments seem to be springing up all over the world, many of them designed by U.S. architects. But while American architects and planners increasingly embrace walkability, the fine grain urbanity that makes cities vibrant places is almost completely absent in newer projects abroad. In short, they may look like Manhattan from a jetliner but function like Phoenix on the ground. Julie V. Iovine, executive editor of the Architect’s Newspaper, calls on professionals to fight for what works.

…Recently, for the Korean developer aptly named Dreamhub, Daniel Libeskind created a master plan for 34 million square feet based on the concept of islands in a sea of green, called Archipelago 21. That’s for the 21 or so renowned architects—many American—each doing their own thing in the splendid isolation of their own “island” see a few of them on page 8. Even as the plan invokes sustainability, high-speed rail and green spaces, it barely addresses the street-level experience of people trying to get from, say, Murphy Jahn’s 1,050 foot double-tower with its four-story skyparks and solar shading to REXs high-performance, “mega-braced” frameless facade for a short term residence or to SOM’s 64-story diagonal tower with monumental lobby braced by what appear to be the very legs of Ozymandius… (Continue reading: Editorial> Walk the Walk – The Architects Newspaper)

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Downtown Seattle

via You Look Fab

Surprise, surprise; new research points to an inverse correlation between density/vibrancy and traffic:

Congratulations to this year’s high school, college and university graduates! The current crop includes our son, who was recruited by a major corporation. The location of his new job will affect his travel patterns and therefore the transportation costs he bears and imposes for the next few years: until now he could get around fine by walking, cycling and public transport, but his new worksite is outside the city center, difficult to access except by automobile. As a result he will spend a significant portion of his new income to purchase and operate a car, and contribute to traffic congestion, parking costs and pollution. This is an example of how land use decisions, such as where corporations locate their offices, affects regional transport patterns and costs. It illustrates research showing that where people work and shop has as much impact on their travel habits as where they live.

Other recent research offers additional insights. A report titled Land Use and Traffic Congestion, published by the Arizona Department of Transportation, is changing the way we think about congestion and solutions. It found that residents of higher-density neighborhoods in Phoenix, Arizona drive substantially less than otherwise similar residents located in lower-density, automobile-dependent suburban neighborhoods. For example, the average work trip was a little longer than seven miles for higher-density neighborhoods compared with almost 11 miles in more suburban neighborhoods, and the average shopping trip was less than three miles compared with over four miles in suburban areas. These differences result in urban dwellers driving about a third fewer daily miles than their suburban counterparts.

That is unsurprising. There is plenty of evidence that land use factors such as density, mix and road connectivity affect the amount people travel. However, the study made an important additional discovery. It found that roadways in more compact, mixed, multi-modal communities tend to be less congested. This results from the lower vehicle trip generation, particularly for local errands, more walking and public transit travel, and because the more connected street networks offer more route options so traffic is less concentrated on a few urban arterials. This contradicts our earlier assumptions… (Continue Reading: New Understanding of Traffic Congestion | Planetizen).

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Much of the exceptional infrastructure that defines America’s urban landscape was constructed in very different times. Their legacy: aesthetics, mobility and more. A historian reflects on the political lessons, in particular, offered by the story of the Brooklyn Bridge.

(New York, NY — Anna Sale, It’s a Free Country.Org) “Don’t you think this is a wonderful thing to walk across this bridge!”

Historian David McCullough has had a lot of honors in his career – two Pulitzers, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and just this week a gold medal for biography from the American Academy of Arts and Letters – but he still gets that thrill crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

(To hear David McCullough speak on the bridge, click here.)

On a bustling, bright morning this week, the 78 year-old and I started walking over from Manhattan. He is re-releasing a 40th anniversary edition of his 600-page history, The Great Bridge: the Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge… (More: Historian David McCullough on What the Brooklyn Bridge Says About Politics Today | Transportation Nation).

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Jack Black once demanded “get the scientists working on the tube technology immediately!” on his rock-comedy Tenacious D album. It would seem, no kidding, certain scientists have been busy. Architizer recently posted about a transportation concept that seems more science fiction than serious science. For more, here’s the post on the series of tubes that could be an in-real-life superhighway:

This might be the closest that we’ll ever get to teleportation. In what sounds like the hyper-accelerated modes of travel as theorized (and popularized) by sci-fi, the Evacuated Tube Transport could send commuters halfway across the world in as little at 2 hours! The irrevocable social and cultural changes this would effect on all global systems, not to mention the toll it would take on the formation and growth of cities–you could live in Sioux Falls and commute to the office in Chicago–would be innumerable. “Destination dining” could very well become a viable option for bored couples and eccentric retirees

These claims, of course, seem preposterous, if not downright polemic. The thinkers behind the project, et3.com, have devised a schematic system comprised of cross-continental airless vacuum tubes lined with frictionless maglev (magnetic levitation) tracks, on which are mounted 16-foot capsules capable of achieving speeds ranging from 350 mph to a staggering 4000 mph. There would be different models of capsules, each one suited to a specific type of cargo; those ferrying commuters could carry up to six passengers, who would not feel any “discomfort” that would accompany travel at mach speeds. The company says that the construction of the tube transport would be a tenth of the cost of a high-speed rail system and a quarter of that of a freeway. Without wind turbulence or storms to worry about, you’d literally be able to fly faster than Superman… (Click to continue reading: Fiction? Transport System of Tubes Claims Can Cut Commute from New York and Beijing to under Two Hours).

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Our friends at Futurewise are looking for a few good folks to join in the fight for our future.

Farms, forests and the families who love them will all benefit from the skills you’ll build working with this great organization.

AdvocacyCorps is an intensive ten-week summer bootcamp for aspiring urban & environment advocates. It is organized by Futurewise, Washington State’s premier advocacy group for saving farms and forests, protecting rivers and lakes, and building strong cities and towns for all.

AdvocacyCorps is exclusive to 12 outstanding young leaders between the ages of 19 and 26 who can dedicate their summer to leadership development and political organizing to make a difference for Washington State’s communities and environment.

The 2012 program will run from June 15 to August 24; the last week is optional for students returning to school. Participation is paid in serious experience, not in dollars.

Applications are due by May 15. Review and acceptance of applicants as applications are submitted.

Learn More via Futurewise.

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An interesting assertion, and question, from Transportation Nation:

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user Leo Reynolds)

Even in the worst traffic jam, our roads are still mostly empty. That’s if you think about the car seats, not the just the cars. For commutes, the average number of people per car in the U.S. was 1.1, according to 2008 data. That’s a lot of unused capacity.

Or, as Odile Beniflah sees it, a millions of idle assets, wasted resources. She is working to launch Carpooling.com in America. Europe’s largest ride sharing company used by 2 million people each month in 45 countries. And that’s just through one website. It’s cultural,  she says.  “People [share rides] first for the money, but they come back to it because they enjoy the experience, they enjoy the social aspect.” …More via Europe Loves Carpooling, Why Don’t We? | Transportation Nation.

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Governing.com talks about the use of advanced data analytics to more efficiently deploy government services, thus saving money for longer term investments or capital repairs that are also urgent:

…Richmond was the fifth-most-dangerous city in the country in 2005, before it began using analytics technology to sift historical crime information and predict when and where crimes were likely to be committed. In 2010, the city deployed police based on the data on New Year’s Eve, when crime usually spiked. As a result, random-gunfire incidents dropped by nearly half and the number of weapons seized more than doubled. Crime has plummeted, and Richmond is now the 99th most dangerous city in the country.

But advanced analytics aren’t just about helping officials make better public-safety decisions. For example, they can tell us what the likely impact of building a new road would be not just on mobility, but also on police response times and access to green space. Officials could then compare the results to the likely effects from building a new park or another potential investment. Armed with this data, leaders can compare the relative return on investment for various expenditures.

Of course, cutting local-government spending on a scale that would bridge the infrastructure funding gap would require political will…

More via Finding the Money for Infrastructure.

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