Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Nature & Green Space are not Synonymous

"Nature" and "green space" are not synonymous.
"Green space" can better be understood as nature band-aids, such as berms, pointless setbacks, and ornamental shrubbery ensembles meant to shield or "soften" hopelessly bad urban design. You know you've encountered "green space" when it is meant to be seen only through a windshield or when using it gets you ejected by security.
A city (or, more likely, a suburb) with lots of "green space" might well be a city with very little actual nature."

The insightful commentary above was a reader's response to this article at the Atlantic's City Lab. The full article by Eric Jaffe is well worth a read.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Agriculture is the New Golf

Agriculture is the New Golf: Rethinking Suburban Communities

There is new movement to plan suburban communities around farms instead of golf courses. Can it catch on?

It has often been observed that suburbia is a place where the developer displaces animals and rips out trees, and then names the streets after them. 

Whether you see that as destruction or reinvention, the tendency is nothing new. All of America was built on this sort of land transformation, some of it smart, much of it not. But the devastation wrought from decades of intervention by heavy equipment has manifested itself in a range of ills from economic collapse to loss of biodiversity. So today we’re faced with a strange scenario: Our relentless pursuit of the American Dream now has us scrambling for a return to Eden.

Practicing golfer at Mary Hayes Barber Holmes Park in Pittsboro, NC

“We’re at a watershed in terms of reaching the limits of sustainability both environmentally [and in] time and expense,” says June Williamson, coauthor with Ellen Dunham-Jones of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. “There are many dynamics pushing and encouraging a rethinking of our development patterns. The opportunity is there to reshape those settings in a way that will reflect changing demographics, recognize climate change, and acknowledge the need for new suburban development patterns.”

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Tale of Two Planners: Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses

Click here for this concise by insightful article by Lauren Walser for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The article highlights two very different approaches to city planning, one was top-down and closed-door, the other inclusive and embracing citizen participation. One approach was automobile focused, the other focused on the scale of pedestrians and neighborhoods. The author argues that despite their different approaches they both worked to create their conceptions of a better city.

Illustration: Library of Congress/Prints & Photographs Division/LC-DIG-ppmsca-24382; New York Public Library Digital Collections; Library of Congress/Prints & Photographs Division/LC-USZ-62-137839

Monday, May 2, 2016

Trail-Oriented Development

WASHINGTON (March 29, 2016) — Cyclists, take note: real estate developers and cities are becoming more responsive to your needs by creating an increasing number of communities tailored to those who would rather bike than drive. A new Urban Land Institute (ULI) publication, Active Transportation and Real Estate: The Next Frontier identifies this trend as “trail-oriented development,” the latest phase in the evolution of urban development from car-centric to people-friendly design.

Similar to transit-oriented development, trail-oriented development takes advantage of and leverages infrastructure that supports active ways of getting around in urban areas. “Communities big and large are now investing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Their efforts are reshaping destinations across the globe, and have the potential to benefit people of all income brackets, as biking provides mobility for those needing or wanting a less expensive alternative to automobile ownership, maintenance and use,” the report states.

The report, written by ULI Senior Vice President Rachel MacCleery and ULI Senior Resident Fellow Edward McMahon, examines the impact of the growing interest in active transportation on economic development, public health, air quality, community design and real estate design and investment. “At its core, the bicycle boom is about people choosing a lifestyle that gives them more options and requires less dependence on motor vehicles,” it says. “Through supporting bike infrastructure, real estate professionals can play a significant role in creating healthier, more sustainable communities. They can also help position their projects and communities in a marketplace that increasingly values active transportation.”

The report, written by ULI Senior Vice President Rachel MacCleery and ULI Senior Resident Fellow Edward McMahon, examines the impact of the growing interest in active transportation on economic development, public health, air quality, community design and real estate design and investment. “At its core, the bicycle boom is about people choosing a lifestyle that gives them more options and requires less dependence on motor vehicles,” it says. “Through supporting bike infrastructure, real estate professionals can play a significant role in creating healthier, more sustainable communities. They can also help position their projects and communities in a marketplace that increasingly values active transportation.”

Ten real estate developments projects are profiled: Bici Flats, a multifamily development in Des Moines, Iowa; Circa (multifamily) in Indianapolis; Flats at Bethesda Avenue (mixed-use), Bethesda, Maryland;  Gotham West (mixed-use), New York City; Hassalo on Eighth (mixed-use), Portland, Oregon;MoZaic (mixed-use), Minneapolis; Ponce City Market (mixed-use), Atlanta;Silver Moon Lodge (mixed-use), Albuquerque,  New Mexico; 250 City Road (mixed-use), London; and Westwood Residences (multifamily) in Singapore.

Amenities in the projects include bike storage; extra-wide hallways and bike elevators; a bike repair room; bike cleaning stations; a bike valet; shower and/or locker room facilities; bike parts or a mechanic on site; on-site bike rentals or a bike-share system; a bike park-and-ride system, and direct access to trails.

The projects show that “leading development practitioners are recognizing the competitive advantage of investing in active transportation amenities,” the report states. “By leveraging and enhancing access to walking and bicycling facilities, they are helping to initiate a win-win cycle of mutually reinforcing private and public sector investment in active transportation in communities around the world.”

Active Transportation and Real Estate also profiles five catalytic active transportation infrastructure investments, such as trails, bike lane networks and bike-sharing systems, which have supported real estate development opportunities. Infrastructure projects profiled are: The Circuit Trails, an off-road trail system winding throughout Greater Philadelphia; cycle superhighways in Copenhagen and London; Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis; and bike-sharing systems in Paris, Montreal, and Hangzhou, China.

Shared themes among the projects include:
  • Active transportation infrastructure can catalyze real estate development — Trails, bike lanes and bike sharing systems can improve pedestrian and cyclist access to centers of employment, recreational destinations and public transit, as a result boosting the appeal of development near the infrastructure.
  • Active transportation systems encourage healthier lifestyles – Convenient access to active transportation systems makes the healthy choice the easy choice, helping to improve the fitness and overall well-being of community residents.
  • Investments in trails, bike lanes and bicycle-sharing systems have high levels of return on investment — Regions and cities have found that relatively small investments in active transportation can yield high economic returns, due to improved health and environmental outcomes.
  • There is evidence of a correlation between access to active transportation facilities and increased property values – In urban and suburban markets, studies have shown that direct access to trails, bike-sharing systems and bike lanes can have a positive impact on property values.
  • There is a reciprocal relationship between the private and public sectors in terms of maximizing investments in active transportation – Developers are benefiting from access to sought-after locations that are close to publicly financed active transportation routes; but they are also making direct investments in active transportation by helping to finance improvements to the systems.
The report points to evidence indicating that proximity to bike trails raises property values. For instance, the value of properties within a block of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail have soared nearly 150 percent since the trail’s opening in 2008; and the value of properties near the Katy Trail in Dallas have increased 80 percent. Homes close to Atlanta’s BeltLine have started selling within 24 hours; before the trail project began, homes in the same area stayed on the market for two to three months. And in Minneapolis, every quarter-mile of proximity to an off-street bike facility raises the value of a home by an additional $510.

The study also cites examples of the positive impact of bicycle access on commercial and economic development. In New York City’s Time Square, building rents rose more than 70 percent following the addition of bike lanes in 2010; in both Salt Lake City and San Francisco, the replacement of some street parking with protected bike lanes along specific corridors resulted in higher retail sales in those areas. Meanwhile, in Sydney, Australia, the government concluded that building 124 miles of bikeways would generate more than $350 million (US dollars) in economic benefits.

In terms of health and wellness benefits, the report points to savings of $103 million (US dollars) in Sydney due to the increase in bike trips and reduced traffic congestion. Also, in Philadelphia, a 2011 study found that residents’ use of biking trail system avoids $199 million per year in direct medical costs and $596 million in indirect costs.

The increase in trail-oriented development “is indicative of a worldwide trend of civic and private sector investment in active transportation facilities, and the growing demand for walkable and bikeable places,” the report says.

Active Transportation and Real Estate was published as part of ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative, which seeks to leverage the power of ULI’s global networks to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities. The report was made possible with support from the Colorado Health Foundation.

In addition to the Foundation’s support, the Randall Lewis Health Policy Fellowship Program provided research assistance for the report.

Artile written by Richard Cox and posted on March 29, 2016 at ULI Triangle News

Monday, April 11, 2016

Pop-Up Public Art

Pittsboro PARKS has organized several pop-up, spontaneous art projects done at low or no cost to add some vibrancy to our artistic town.  

Pittsboro's Page Vernon Park needed a little more life this winter, so French Connections was kind enough to let Pittsboro PARKS borrow their resident dinosaur, for free, to spark interest, discussion and add some fun. 
Dion @ the French Connection (click to enlarge)
The Dino was there less than two months but it was able to span through two First Sundays, which are mini street festivals featuring music, food and craft vendors, occurring every First Sunday of the month during warm weather months in Downtown Pittsboro.  These events are organized by the Pittsboro Business Association.

Here it is trying to blend into the crowd, somewhat successfully:

The park is being used to host First Sunday vendors; this helps draw people north of Salisbury Street, psychologically extending the downtown core.

The next project, a public street piano, was the idea of Angela Crisp-Sears, who had seen street pianos in other cities.  She even donated a piano to the Town for this purpose.  Samantha Birchard of Pittsboro Toys recommended local artist Barbara Hengstenberg of WildesArt, who was excited about painting the piano pro bono. It was moved today to its temporary home in front of Pittsboro Toys.  

Feel free to come by and tickle the ivory.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

How Urban Parks are Bringing Nature Closer to Home

This article from National Geographic on Urban Parks is a feast for the eyes - enjoy.

Photos of Mary Hayes Barber Holmes Park -
photos courtesy of David Blevins or Paul Horne
(Needless to say, the professional looking ones are David's!)
rights reserved

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hidden Stormwater Features of Page Vernon Park

When designing Page Vernon Park, it was determined early on that a brick paver hardscape would be a particularly appropriate surface for this tiny, urban park.  Native North Carolinian brick requires negligible maintenance, can accommodate high volumes of foot traffic in the concentrated space (less than a tenth of an acre), and provides a safe surface for patrons with canes, baby strollers, or wheelchairs.  The brick hardscape also blends well with our existing downtown brick sidewalk network.  

One might assume that a brick surface equates to an impermeable park with stormwater flowing directly into the Town’s stormwater system — that assumption would be mistaken. 

In fact, rainwater provides water to the park’s many trees shrubs and flowers via stormwater features hidden underfoot.  About twenty two percent of the brick surface is actually porous brick, with engineered gaps between them that allow rainwater to filter between the bricks into layers of substrate containing aggregate and sandy loam soils which manage stormwater onsite.  Also, almost forty four percent of the park actually remains as either grass, trees or planting beds.  This means that 56% of the park remains porous to rainwater, despite the brick hardscape. 

Innovative stormwater management, however, is nothing new for Pittsboro’s Parks. Mary Hayes Barber Holmes Park contains several parking spaces with permeable pavers, a rain garden, and a living roof gazeebo.  There are rain gardens at the tennis courts and the Community House and we used a compost sock during construction of Rock Ridge Park.  Compost socks use long bags filled with hardwood mulch instead of a silt fence during construction for sedimentation and erosion control purposes.  

Concerns about stormwater runoff are rightly placed because sediment is the number one pollutant for streams, lakes, and rivers in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina.  Features which slow stormwater’s rapid dispersal to streams reduces sediment pollution. Raingardens not only address sediment, but also help to manage concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous (nutrients which are detrimental to our water bodies in excessive quantities). Harmful metals which often collect on parking lots can also be filtered through raingardens. 

Many Pittsboro Park’s stormwater features were funded through the tireless efforts of Dr. Karen Hall, a Pittsboro resident who’s committed to improving the water quality of our community.  She also spearheaded the major efforts at Town Lake Park to improve the water quality of Robeson Creek.  Pittsboro is also lucky to now have a Town Engineer, Fred Royal, who has launched several initiatives to protect our Town’s water Quality. 

So, when you’re eating your donuts from Phoenix Bakery, enjoying your tea from Cafe Diem, and reading your purchase from Circle City Books in the park, know that you’re sitting in a space which has considered environmental sustainability into its design. Social and fiscal sustainability, the other two pillars of sustainability, have also been considered, but that’s a topic for a potential future blog post.  
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