Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's the Lifestyle Options, Silly

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal Voting with Our Feet Editorial featured Joel Kotkin's article "The Rise of Family-Friendly Cities: It's lifestyle, not latt├ęs, that our most productive workers want".

Kotkin writes on the efforts of cities to lure young urban single professionals with lifestyle options (not just night life). Can you imagine, stodgy Charlotte, which still has never had a true 18-hour environment (except maybe for Plaza-Central...but that is counting mainly the Common Market) has made the posterchild list of successful cities! Maybe 18 hours are way overrated...what counts is affordability and a future with a bright forecast.

Monday, November 26, 2007


North Americans are deeply conflicted about urban politics. David Olive recently penned a brief article on the strident anti-urbanism of Canadian politics: A brief history of urbanophobia.

I blogged about this American tendency about a year ago, in a seemingly unrelated matter, the "DaVinci Code" mysticism we saw surface in pop-culture about five years ago - a phenomenon which I related to (9/11 inspired) romantic obsession with all things inherently Western, or "Metaphysical Westernism". But there is a good back-bone reason why we are anti-urban. North Americans shall always gaze suspiciously at the "system", or the even more feckless "man", the well-oiled cog in the system. Bureaucracies and gang cultures teem in the cities, and cities, to Americans, are beasts that belch shadowy systems that threaten our personal interest and control. The metaphysical romanticism of Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Jefferson and Thoreau is much better suited to our personal idealism regarding our rights and domain: we need to fence out the maddening world.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Charlotte is now all-aboard on the light rail. Check out what today's Observer reports of yesterday's first public impressions:

It looks like NOW we're worried about not having done enough for the South Corridor! Some of the comments overheard: "Do we have enough vehicles? Is there really going to be enough parking at the Park-n-Rides?" And all across the city people are asking, "So, when is the light rail coming our way?" Even people at Reedy Creek are looking enviously at the South Corridor!

Well, well, well.....Am I Hearing "Fast track the Light Rail, Charlotte!"? :)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Celebrate Buy Nothing Day!

Buy Nothing Day., originally uploaded by C-Monster.

Austin Williams, whom I can best describe as an admiringly subcultural, urbanist crank (who also happens to be Christian), pretty much sums up what I also think on the matter of "Black Friday". I had the privilige of spending time with Austin in NYC during a screening of What Would Jesus Buy? I encourage everyone to go see the film...and rescue some long-in-coming serenity for yourself this holiday season.

You will thank me for it.

This is how I'm spending Dark Friday: I'm driving my pickup aimlessly around my city's suburban malls gawking at the mayhem, not parking at all mind you...just doing drive-by finger-flipping at every Sam's Club and Macy's I see. I'm really, really taking my time in traffic, enjoying the radio, enjoying the sights. I really love it when I slow down enough to see the veins popping out of the head of the guy honking behind me. It is fun sardonically strategizing how to manuever my pickup through intersections so that I become the jerk who nudges into the tail of a lane backup, not really caring if I stall dead center in the intersection. The funny thing about jerks is that, no kidding, we actually LOVE being pain in the asses.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Why The Northeast Corridor Should Hug North Tryon - Not North Davidson

View towards Uptown over the Intermodal Yards

The Belmont-NoDa (North Davidson area) directly adjacent to the intermodal yards northeast of Uptown is an area currently experiencing rampant infill/brownfield redevelopment (and gentrification in the single-family neighborhoods). As such, CATS's strategy to plan the NE Corridor Light Rail alignment along this area might seem to make much sense at first. However, from a development standpoint, the area where I see the most development potential is on the other side of the railroad switchyard/intermodal facility along North Tryon Street. From the precedent of the South Corridor, ideal scenerios for T.O.D. (transit oriented development) spring from the availability of large, tasty brownfield morsels for developers to assemble, convert and develop easily...and this is exactly the land use fabric that lies along North Tryon Street. I have made a map diagramming the development patterns I'm observing in the city (click on the map below):

Notice all the heavy development (depicted in the map in orange) currently taking place along the South Corridor, which is opening for Light Rail service this week. Notice also that the area of Belmont/Optimist Park to NoDa in the northeast is also experiencing high development activity. Since development is already occuring along the NE Corridor on this side of the tracks, how much sense does it make to reinforce infill development (which will pretty quickly saturate from what I'm observing) with light rail service, while all the brownfield redevelopment potential lies on the North/West side of the tracks (see image below) and could probably use the generative development capacity of the light rail? It seems to me that the NE Corridor alignment needs to get over to North Tryon Street as soon as possible heading north from the 277 loop. This would open up all of North Tryon Street north of the loop for TOD/brownfield & commercial redevelopment.

(Photo: Neighboring Concepts)

If it isn't feasible to get the light rail alignment over to North Tryon before the Intermodal/Switchyard facility, then the next best option is to use the existing 30th Street/Matheson bridge (see image below) to get the light rail over the tracks and on to N. Tryon (of course, you will have to put a signal on the bridge to allow the vehicles to cross the traffic lanes). This would create ideal TOD potential on either side of Little Sugar Creek north of the bridge. I actually see a potential to land on either side of the creek, depending on development scenarios (option one - land on the west side of the creek to get more directly to N. Tryon; option two - passing closer to NoDa by landing on the east side of the creek, heading thence to 36th street and from there on to N. Tryon). Notice that there is already a flyover being proposed for getting the alignment over to N. Tryon across Sugar Creek Road, so this would immediately remove that issue. Utilizing the existing 30th Street bridge could potentially save CATS headaches up the line and tons of money, while at the same time enhancing the redevelopment capacity of North Tryon! The TOD site might also help contribute to the greenway trail expansion along the Little Sugar Creek greenway, a huge plus for the Carolina Thread Trail effort.

Image of the 30th Street Flyover Proposal, Looking North

(photo: Neighboring Concepts)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Our Future...Here We Go!!

The excellent, full-spread cover article in today's Observer has me absolutely giddy with excitement as we near next Saturday's inauguration of our light rail system here in Charlotte.
Checkout the interactive guide, the graphic describing the design components, and the video.
Can I just say that our (Neighboring Concepts) stations are looking really smart now that all the finishes are complete?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Touching the Earth Like a Leaf

Image by WhiteDesign

Our office is attempting an exciting new project: Our own office! Architects designing their own spaces are always fun commissions. Today at lunch we discussed our beginning ideas for the sustainable design to be built on a tight site located adjacent to the floodplain along Stewart Creek in the Belvedere Business Park on Rozzelles Ferry. The generative component of our design will be the leaves of trees. Above is an example I found of a building designed by WhiteDesign in the UK that touches the ground as lightly as a leaf.

I discussed using the capillary action induced by the transpiration of leaves as a concept we could carry into the building's solutions for the movement of air (and heated water?) through our building...Can we perhaps come up with an innovative structural/material analogue?
Here are some potential images for inspiration:
What can leaves do?
Of course, shade and refract light, much like these screens (we discussed the elegant veining structure of many leaves in the images we saw at lunch today):

Image also by WhiteDesign

What can leaves do?

Roast Quails (envelop and retain moisture even in the face of drastic changes of temperature):

More later! This shall have to be series for this blog...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oh Gaza!

I'm actually seriously considering getting into development in areas of conflict as a result of this article. If shit can be inspiring, Sharona says, that's a good sign that providence is at work . ')

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Congratulations Tam!

This Tuesday, my friend and intrepid travel companion Tamara Park finished writing a travelouge of our zany backpacking "Sacred Bench Pilgrimage" from Rome to Jerusalem with Krista be published (next year?) by IVP. Congrads Tam for not just hanging in there that last excruciating stretch trying to wrap up the last chapters but for keeping it together with your quirky and insightful thoughts throughout. A true pilgrimage, truly, never stops teaching you. I'm glad that I kept renewing my learning and appreciation for our shared experiences in life through your thoughts as I read your drafts.
Sorry if I added stress with my wordy prooftexts/teaching sections but I too have a lot to learn from you careful insistence to strike straight to the hearts of your audience...I truly appreciate your gaze and talents. Enjoy your hardearned rest and take a moment now to revel in and breathe in deeply the clear air of accomplishment!

Friday, November 9, 2007

India: Don't follow us, leapfrog us!

Thomas Friedman's excellent clarion call for mass transit. He argues convincingly for mass transit in India but I think there is a prophetic lesson here for the US:

Recently the Greenlands Flyover in Hyderabad opened to traffic to relieve some of Hyderabad's congestion. The summary result? Total gridlock at the bridge. Friedman writes,

"So what should India do? It should leapfrog us, not copy us. Just as India went from no phones to 250 million cellphones — skipping costly land lines and ending up with, in many ways, a better and cheaper phone system than we have — it should try the same with mass transit...The cost of your cellphone is a lot cheaper today because India took that little Western invention and innovated around it so it is now affordable to Indians who make only $2 a day. India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for itself and the world.

"To do that it must leapfrog. If India just innovates in cheap cars alone, its future will be gridlocked and polluted. But an India that makes itself the leader in both cheap cars and clean mass mobility is an India that will be healthier and wealthier. It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big problems — rather than cheap copies of our worst habits."

...Very apt and well put. A great analogy for how the developing world can excel in technological and industrial innovation (and teach the US something in the process).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Why I am happy we are nearing $100 per barrel

Terry Prather/The Ledger-Independent, via AP

Some people see an economic slump...I see a fruitful ground for opportunity. Americans finally beginning to seriously consider finding reliable and sustainable transportation options...And why not be a stylish, fleet-footed, bucking rebel while you are at it like David Davenport in Maysville Kentucky above? Seriously, think of the possibilities for new (and ancient) forms of public conveyance/expression. ')

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wow Charlotte!

Now thats a WORLD CLASS City!
Huurah Charlotte! I love living in a city with VISION.

With a margin of 70% against the repeal, transit supporters got a royal vindication last night in Charlotte. My advice to the "grass roots" anti-transit nutcases: scat your skulky asses out of Charlotte and stay the heck in Raleigh and wherever else you really are from. With a voter turnout in favor of the repeal (38,000) drawing 10,000 people less than the petition signatures (48,000) you collected to get the referendum on the ballot, this tells us just how "grass-roots" your underhanded petition drive was. But, heck, stay around if you like...Let the results of Charlotteans forward thinking and positivity blow you away. Who cares really what you do from now on. Charlotte is irreversibly joining the ranks of high-spirited cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, and Dallas 100% sold on light rail.
Even we pro-transit folks are stunned by this margin. Very impressed with my Wilmore friends(precint 22) showing up with 90% plus margin!
Vision Plans, CATS! Where are the vision plans!?

Ron Tober said it best this morning: planners have learned how crucial the tool of communication (and communicating a VISION) from this ordeal...Of course, get that light rail up running this month Ron. The REALITY is the best vision of all. ')

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Get out there and VOTE people!!!

We need more of these!!!

"This is the city and I am one of the citizens, Whatever interests the rest interests me." W. Whitman

If you care anything about the direction of transit and our quality of life vote AGAINST the repeal of the half-cent transit tax. (Unless, of course, you want to be the kind of jerk who wants to take away yet another source of transportation funding out of our city of 35 newcomers every day!)

My Endorsements:

Beverly Earle for mayor: She has a vision for neighborhood revitalization, is pro-transit and will get the things done that need to get done for that vision...not veto them like our current mayor!

School Board:

Trent Merchant
Liz Downing
Joe White


Susan Burgess
Anthony Foxx
Edwin Peacock (I'm impressed with his vision for transit)
Jack Flynn

Vote for all of the Bonds!! Quality of Life, people. Capital investments to support our (smart) growth and economy! If we don't get land bonds passed we may lose our prime natural areas to development and degrade thus not just our local beauty but our drinking water sources...We need to develop with urban infill and urbanism. And that's why I'm here and what will keep me here! ')

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

photos by Fred Askew

I didn't think I would live to see the day when Camp and Activism (as I like to call it, the "Avant-Camp") would come to Christianity.


Check it out yaw:

Join the Movement! ... Check out the link to how to stage your own 'retail intervention'.

Among the things matthews house project list as things you can do:

• Incorporate Advent into your preparation for Christmas day.

• Consider not buying gifts this year for Christmas, and, instead, spend time in preparation - in advent - for the coming of Messiah.

• Spend time reading the Scriptures or working in a local charity during the time you would have shopped.

• Search out a better place to permanently buy your clothes and other goods:
Ten Thousand Villages
A Greater Gift
Global Exchange
Co-Op America

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Saving Land

Panorama from Catamount Mountain, originally uploaded by retropc.

Very interesting post over at BLDGBLOG over the Nature Conservancy recent purchase of prime wilderness in the Adirondacks.

I just finished a plan at Huntersville, the Beatties Ford Road Corridor Small Area Plan, to try to mobilize public and land conservancy efforts here to save our prime natural areas in the Mt. Island Lake watersheds. One of the things we did was identify all the threatened properties.