Another view of downtown Detroit
Another week is soon approaching. With the end of the month and the holiday weekend looming at the end of the week, it’ll be a mostly quiet seven days, but there will be couple of worthwhile events. Also, there are interesting opportunities queuing up for the weeks after the holiday. And, with the long warm evenings settling in, many of us will also have a chance to chat with neighbors about urbanism. As always, it’s a great time to add your voice to the urbanist discussion.
Meetings this Week
Petaluma Planning Commission, Tuesday, June 28, 7:00pm, Petaluma City Hall, 11 English Street, Petaluma – This meeting has been noted in these weekly posts several times. The meeting has finally arrived.
The Adobe Road Winery is seeking to establish a wine-making footprint in downtown Petaluma. But the permitting and construction steps toward that goal will be long and slow. To make the Adobe Road name more familiar in Petaluma as the bigger project creeps ahead, the winery is seeking approval for a tasting room in the Great Petaluma Mill, at the corner of Petaluma Boulevard and B Street.
While a wine tasting room may not seem urbanist, any land uses that pull people downtown, creating a sense of activity and place, are urbanist. A wine tasting room meets that standard.
A.G. Spanos Companies, Thursday, June 30, 6:00pm, Petaluma Women’s Club, 518 B Street, Petaluma – Spanos has been working on a development plan for the land between Petaluma Boulevard North and the Petaluma River at the current terminus of Oak Street. In February, Spanos offered a draft plan for public review. They’ve taken the comments they received, along with the earlier comments from the Petaluma Planning Department, and revised the earlier plan. The plan is now ready for renewed public review.
I worked for several years on a project previously proposed for the site, a project that eventually fell victim to the recession. It’s a challenging site, but if done well can jumpstart walkable urbanism north of E. Washington Street, perhaps helping to connect downtown to the north river district by making the walkability impediment that is E. Washington Street seem less of a barrier. Continue reading
Campus Martius Park in the heart of downtown Detroit
Since my return from CNU 24, the annual gathering of the Congress for the New Urbanism recently concluded in Detroit, I’ve written about minor but inconvenient challenges of getting around town on foot and by transit and about a walk through the heart of downtown. There is more that I can, should, and will share about the reality of Detroit in 2016, but now it’s time to sample the content of CNU 24.
I’ll begin my reporting with the first day of the congress.
In recent years, the first day has been presented in parallel tracks, one of which is called is called Urbanism 101 or the Core Sessions. The target audience for the Core Sessions is first time attendees, with the goal providing a broad overview of urbanism for those whose prior introduction to urbanism might have been more limited.
However, the speakers lined up for the Core Sessions were among the leading lights of urbanism, making it hard for many, me included, to bypass the sessions. The once-a-year chance to listen to Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, and Kaid Benfield holds too much attraction to be easily ignored. Joe Minicozzi, who many in the North Bay heard speak on the finances of urbanism during the Urban Community Partnership meetings in Santa Rosa back in January, was also in the line-up
The first speaker on the first morning was Andres Duany, long-time partner in DPZ from Miami, an original signatory of the first Charter for the New Urbanism, and a seminal figure in the history of urbanism. (As a local tie, DPZ was the firm that developed the form-based SmartCode, an alternative to zoning codes that better implements urbanism. Petaluma was the first city in the country to adopt the SmartCode and Petaluma’s downtown continues to be governed by a later version.) Continue reading
Broderick Tower and Peoplemover track
I love living in the North Bay. Walkable downtowns. Nice people. Comfortable Mediterranean climate, at least until climate changes progresses further.
But living in the North Bay presents challenges when I attend the annual gatherings of the Congress for the New Urbanism. The recent CNU 24 in Detroit was no different.
There are some fine urbanists in the North Bay. To my pleasant surprise, there was a handful in Detroit. We had a casual assembly during the CNU 24 closing party.
But there aren’t a lot of urbanists in the North Bay. We may be only an hour from San Francisco and Oakland, two hours by transit, but personal obligations often make those journeys awkward or impossible. As a result, I often feel starved for large gatherings of urbanists of differing perspectives where the intellectual ferment can be set at a rolling boil. Exactly the kind of setting that CNUs provide.
At the same time, CNUs are held in interesting cities, the kind of cities that demand closer inspection. In my four years of attending CNUs, I’ve been to Salt Lake City, Buffalo, Dallas, and now Detroit, each of which offered lessons to the inquiring and the observant.
All of which creates a series of dilemmas when reviewing a CNU schedule. Do I listen to walkability expert Jeff Speck or do I go on a field trip to a neighborhood revitalization effort? Do I attend the keynote address by cutting edge traffic planner Janette Sadik-Khan or do I join a walking tour of local parks? Continue reading
Theatre district in London
Another week is nearly upon us, with yet more chances to publicly advocate for urbanist-oriented solutions. It’d be a great week to get involved.
Meetings this Week
Rohnert Park Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Monday, June 20, 5:30pm, Rohnert Park City Hall, Conference Room 2A, 130 Avram Avenue, Rohnert Park – The BPAC will consider the ongoing construction of the SMART multi-use path and the potential for a bike-share program, along with parking and sharrow design decisions.
Petaluma City Council, Monday, June 20, 7:00pm, Petaluma City Hall, 11 English Street, Petaluma – The Council will consider appointments to several bodies, including the Planning Commission and the Pedestrian Bike Advisory, bodies that can facilitate or impede urbanist concepts. It takes a real geek to watch as Council appointments are made. I’ll be there.
Meetings Further Out
Petaluma Planning Commission, Tuesday, June 28, 7:00pm, Petaluma City Hall, 11 English Street, Petaluma – The Adobe Road Winery is seeking to establish a wine-making footprint in downtown Petaluma. But the permitting and construction steps toward that goal will be long and slow. To make the Adobe Road name more familiar in Petaluma as the bigger project creeps ahead, the winery is seeking approval for a tasting room in the Great Petaluma Mill, at the corner of Petaluma Boulevard and B Street.
Petaluma has long been perceived as on the fringe of the Sonoma County wine scene, although the pending approval of a Petaluma Gap appellation could change that perception. The proposed tasting room, to my knowledge only the second winery-branded tasting room in downtown Petaluma, would be another step on Petaluma’s path to the wine mainstream.
While a wine tasting room on its surface may not be urbanist, any land uses that pull people downtown, creating a sense of activity and place, is urbanist. A wine tasting room meets that standard. Continue reading
Downtown Detroit and the Detroit River
Being newly returned from the annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism, CNU 24, I have pages of notes to review, with the goals of extracting the best quotes and stories to share and also of reminding myself about the subjects into which I should dig more deeply.
But CNUs are more than four days of chatting with other urbanists and listening to speakers expound, often eloquently, on topics of city-building interest. It’s also spending the better part of a week living in a city and learning its quirks. Not having visited Detroit since 1999, I was particularly interested in wandering about the city that has become the focus of much debate about the functions and failures of cities.
So, before I get to the content of CNU 24, I’ll write about my experiences as a visitor to Detroit. Today, my topic will be mobility, both as a pedestrian and a transit rider.
Crossing the Street: I was slow in making my reservations for CNU 24. As a result, all of the hotel rooms set aside for attendees had been claimed by the time I began making plans. After casting about, I found an acceptable hotel near the other end of downtown from most of the conference venues but connected to the center of CNU activity by the Detroit Peoplemover, about which I’ll write below.
I arrived in Detroit on a Monday night, two days before the conference was to officially open. I was there early to partake in a bus tour elsewhere in the state, which is another story I’ll eventually share. Being in town early and at a distance from where I might bump into other early arrivals, I had a free evening. After a day of flying, I was also hungry.
I have an aversion to hotel dining rooms, but Yelp quickly came to rescue, alerting me to a brewpub directly across the street. It seemed a perfect solution. I tidied up, headed downstairs, charged out the front door, spotted the brewpub no more than 100 yards away, and then came to a halt. There was an eight-lane high-speed arterial between me and the brewpub. And there was no crosswalk, at least not a direct crosswalk.
In the aftermath of elections in three Marin County supervisorial races where incumbents prevailed handsomely and West Marin’s Al Dugan notched a dismal fourth place, behind progressive third-place finisher Wendi Kallins, it is worth asking whether the coalition that birthed them still has steam.
Citizen Marin and its coalition – Community Venture Partners, MAD, Larkspur Strikes Back, Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans, and Sustainable TamAlmonte, among others – came to Marin in a splash back in 2011 and has notched up significant victories halting plans that would have allowed Marin’s affordable housing supply to expand in Strawberry, Tam Valley, Larkspur, Terra Linda, and Marinwood. They elected Damon Connolly to the Board of Supervisors and fought hard against new bicycle lanes, transit infrastructure, and zoning reforms throughout the county.
This year seemed like a golden chance for them to solidify a majority on the Board of Supervisors, allowing them to not just block reforms and homes but also entrench car-oriented policies and push against regional planning efforts from a position of power. In Kevin Haroff, they had a Larkspur councilmember; in Susan Kirsch, a longtime activist with name recognition; in Al Dugan, a resume sure to appeal to pension reformers.
They also had time. Talk of the supervisorial races was active in anti-housing circles as early as two years ago, with Susan Kirsch penning a coming-out Marin Voice in 2014. They even felt confident enough to campaign against Measure AA, with Kirsch calling it taxation without representation.
Yet each, sticking to the familiar talking points about housing, regionalism, and traffic, lost big, with incumbents Katie Rice and Kate Sears beating challengers by double-digit margins and Dugan not even notching above 10 percent.
In the absence of solid data, it’s tough to say exactly why the three failed, but it’s likely the anger that propelled the anti-housing coalition to prominence is subsiding in the population at large. Dick Spotswood, for what it’s worth, agrees, writing, “Much of America is angry. Not Marin.”
Even if this is the case, housing advocates and other progressive reformers have only started to win a conversation set by Citizen Marin. They have yet to really start a new one. Supporting the progressive vision of Marin as a collection of welcoming, car-optional and quiet suburban towns is quite a different thing than just disbelieving Citizen Marin’s fearfulness.
And there are real problems that have languished as progressives have fought a drag-out fight for better affordable housing, especially the utter mismanagement of Golden Gate Transit.
There is no guarantee that the conversation will shift or that the coalition is on its way out. It still has elected supporters throughout Marin, and the upcoming Plan Bay Area meetings offer it an opportunity to reignite the anger that launched its march. Dick Spotswood still occupies a powerful soapbox. Yet the tide that nearly shifted Marin’s political landscape certainly feels as though it is ebbing. It simply remains to be seen whether the coalition will be able to launch another successful anti-incumbent challenge.
Walkability in the Soho District of London
I’ve returned from CNU 24, the annual gathering of the Congress for the New Urbanism. As always, the conference was inspirational and motivational. I’ve come back flush with new connections, eager to broach new ideas, and primed to suggest new initiatives.
But it’d be a strategic mistake for me to step too far too quickly. Given its often narrow base within North Bay politics, urbanism can’t be implemented in broad strokes. Instead, urbanists must edge toward the inevitable tipping point with persistent incremental steps, finding pivotal moments to weigh in with urbanist perspectives on issues that have already found their way onto North Bay agendas.
Thus, my weekly summary of upcoming meetings and other opportunities with urbanist angles follows below. Perhaps because we’re moving into summer, it’s a light week, but hopefully readers will find something that stirs them to action.
MTC/ABAG, Monday, June 13, 6:00pm, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa – This is the Sonoma County edition of a series of meetings that have been seeking input into the Bay Area 2040 plan on growth scenarios and resulting transportation funding strategies. I attended the Marin County meeting and, having another meeting on the same evening, will pass on this one. But I suggest that anyone with an interest in growth and transportation in the North Bay make time to learn how MTC and ABAG have framed the issues. Continue reading
Detroit skyline (from Dreamstime)
I’m still in Detroit, soaking up the lessons that the Motor City can give because any city that believes what happened to Detroit can’t possibly happen to it doesn’t understand how the world works. Ugly fates are always lurking near those who don’t learn from history. History may not repeat itself, but it can certainly rhyme.
To keep you on the Detroit learning curve along with me, I’ve collected a tidy set of links about the Motor City. Enjoy. And learn.
Quick Overview: The New York Times provides a compact quintet of articles on the reasons behind the fall, including over-reliance on a single industry, race relations, too many mayors with dubious ethics, lack of a transit system that melded the city and its people, and the impact of poverty.
If for no other reason, you need to click on the link for the photo of the Michigan Theatre. In a single shot, it shows much of how and where Detroit went wrong. (And please note how, even in the most glamorous parking lot in Michigan, one driver ignores the striping.)
Longer Overview: National Geographic offers a more expansive trilogy on the current state of Detroit, from a look at the people to a tour of residential neighborhoods to the prospects for recovery. The highlight is a quote from one subject, “You can’t save Detroit. You gotta be Detroit”, a sentiment that applies in some way to most cities. Continue reading
Detroit skyline (from Dreamstime)
In my previous post, I wrote about my personal draft history of the fall of Detroit. I also noted that I’d established and partially completed a Detroit reading list before traveling to CNU 24 in the Motor City. Today, I’ll give pocket reviews of the books read, partially read, and still to be read.
“Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff: I started here because this was the key point I wanted to study. Why had Detroit died, or at least gone into a profound and startling decline? After all, that is what “autopsy” means, right?
Well, apparently not to LeDuff or his editor. Although imminently readable, the book is about the dysfunction within Detroit after the fall. The images are often haunting and the book remains worth reading, but it’s more a study of decomposition than an autopsy.
“A Detroit Anthology” edited by Anna Clark: Like any anthology, this volume has high points and low points. But some of the high points will long remain in my memory, affecting my view of Detroit. Perhaps the most poignant was a memoir by a young African-American girl who made the gradual acquaintance of a white boy, new to her neighborhood and of roughly her age.
Their growing friendship wasn’t demonstrative, but quietly comfortable until the day the boy arrived, apparently newly educated on race relations, deliberately urinated on her porch, and disappeared from her life.
There is much of Detroit and of life in that story. Continue reading
Detroit skyline (from Dreamstime)
There was a time in the history of this blog when I had an antagonist who spent much of his time submitting adversarial comments. I’d wake in the morning to find six new comments. Urbanism was about creating neighborhoods for illegal immigrants. Climate change was a government fraud to take away our cars. Someday we’d all be marched downtown at gunpoint to live in bare concrete boxes. Agenda 21 was about promoting communism. Name your favorite conspiracy theory and it was part of his gospel.
I generally tried to respond to his comments, not because I thought he was educable, but so that other readers wouldn’t see his rancor go unanswered. But some of his outbursts were so incoherent that all I could do was reply that I had no idea what he meant.
Before you go digging into my archives looking for his trail of inchoate animosity, don’t bother. He never found either my personal blog site or the Vibrant Bay Area site. Instead, his only presence was on Petaluma Patch, further back than the Patch archives seem to go.
He finally disappeared during one of the occasional quiescent periods to which Petaluma Patch has been prone. I never learned his real name and refuse to write his screen name, fearing that I might call him back into existence, much like Beelzebub.
I mention my old foe because one of his favorite themes was Detroit. How the fall of Detroit was proof that urbanism didn’t work. How all big cities would follow the same path. How the folks remaining in Detroit were incapable of re-establishing a working city. Yes, he often veered close to racism, although that never seemed to concern him. Continue reading