Ground Zero, Rebuilt

Sunday, September 11, 2011 will mark ten years since our nation was tragically struck by terror.  In the wake of the disaster, Ground Zero has re-emerged with a new memorial museum, transportation hub, and a 1776 foot tower, among other buildings set to open over the next year.  The museum in particular will open Sunday.
As we near the completion of many of these planned projects, World Trade Center Developer Larry Silverstein of Silverstein Properties has released a stunning video showcasing what the site will look like when finished.
Read On:
Six Questions on Rebuilding the World Trade Center
Cloud Computing: Google Maps, Street View Show Recovery Progress at 9/11 Ground Zero Site
9/11 anniversary: A tour around the new World Trade Center tower
Powering the World Trade Center Site
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Sustainability on Display

Is this the world’s greenest neighborhood? Kaid Benfield, Director of Sustainable Communities for the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), posed that question in an article for The Atlantic magazine in which he detailed his visit to Dockside Green.  The 15-acre community nestled in Victoria, British Columbia gets its name from its geographic location along Victoria’s Harbour.  The site, formerly used for light industrial purposes, is being redeveloped into a mixed-used community capable of housing 2,500 residents.  
The ongoing project, which broke ground in 2008, will require 12 phases of construction, forming three distinct neighborhoods, and will eventually reach completion in 2018.
Much of the chatter regarding this project surrounds its commitment to extremely high standards of environmental stewardship and green design.  The development aims to adhere to New Urbanism principles by taking into account the environment and impacts by those in the community.
Dockside Green has been lauded in its effort to obtain LEED Platinum certification, the highest such rating under the program.  Additionally, the development will utilize renewable energy alternatives like solar panels and windmills and will host a biomass gasification plant (converts waste wood into gas that is burned to provide heat).  This will enable the project to achieve carbon neutrality.  Waste water will also be reclaimed and used for irrigation needs.  A host of smart meters will allow property owners to regulate resource consumption, as well.
While the precedent it sets for future projects remains unknown, many folks will surely maintain a close eye on this model.  Is this the greenest neighborhood in the world?  Is it the greenest you’ve heard of?
Read On:
About Dockside Green
Dockside Green: The World’s First LEED Platinum Community
Dockside amenities funding escalating with the times
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The Blame Game… Who’s Accountable for Pedestrian Deaths?

Transportation advocates believe that pedestrian deaths can be prevented if there are crosswalks to connect bus stops to the apartment communities it serves.
According to Jennifer Emert of WTOC, Georgia’s jaywalking laws are tough and the penalties, if there is an accident, constitute jail time, as in the case of Raquel Nelson.
Nelson was convicted for second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct, and failure to use a crosswalk; she faced three years in jail.
Site of Raquel Nelson’s bus stop crossing. Photo courtesy of Transportation For America.
Instead of traveling to the nearest crosswalk, three-tenths of a mile away, Nelson and her three young children jaywalked on a busy roadway from the bus stop across from their apartment. Nelson’s four-year old son was struck and killed by an impaired hit-and-run driver, who served six-months of a five-year prison sentence.
Although a judge spared Nelson jail time last Tuesday, many believe that she should not have been brought to trial.
David Goldberg of Transportation for America questioned whether the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners, and land use regulators should be held accountable.
Some considered transit agencies liable for the dangerous conditions found when riders accessed the bus stop.
So who is accountable for this accident? Raquel Nelson, who jaywalked in order to avoid a three-tenths of a mile walk to the traffic signal? The impaired driver, who has a history of hit-and-runs? Or the transportation authority, who should have anticipated and planned with pedestrians in mind? Share your thoughts.
Read on:
Suburban Sprawl to Smart Growth – Shifting the American Dream
In Defense of Jaywalking
LA Times – in the news: jaywalking
Dangerous by Design 2011
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HOT Lanes Coming to Sections of I-10, 110

Though the idea has been talked about for quite some time, High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes are soon coming to two Southern California freeways.  Construction is underway on a $290 million project on I-10 from I-605 to Alameda St. and I-110 from Artesia Transit Center to Adams Blvd. in order to improve the two roadways so that current High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes can be converted to HOT lanes.   This strategy is known as “congestion pricing” and will be a trial, one-year project overseen by Metro and Caltrans, among others.
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Richard Katz and Mayor Villaraigosa pose for pictures during a recent HOT lane groundbreaking ceremony. Photo:L.A. Weekly
According to Metro, on I-10:
The budget will cover the toll technology, toll infrastructure and operational improvements required to complete the conversion. This project will also provide additional ExpressLanes capacity on the El Monte Busway between I-710 and I-605 through re-striping and buffer changes. No general purpose lanes are taken away to create the second ExpressLane between I-710 and I-605.
And over on I-110:
This project will convert existing HOV lanes from 182nd Street/Artesia Transit Center to Adams Boulevard into ExpressLanes (38 lane miles). The budget will cover the toll technology, toll infrastructure and operational improvements required to complete the conversion.
Along with a projected easing of traffic congestion, Metro expects to see a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in these areas.  Other benefits include travel time savings and trip reliability.
Just how will pricing work?  Well, dynamic pricing will be in effect.  That means:
Tolls are continually adjusted according to traffic conditions to maintain a free-flowing level of traffic on the HOT lanes. (General purpose lanes are not tolled.) Prices increase when the HOT lanes get relatively full and decrease when the HOT lanes get less full.
In order to collect tolls smoothly and efficiently, this new system will utilize electronic toll collection methods via a transponder in your vehicle which communicates with the roadway in order to figure your toll and link to an online account.  There will be no toll booths associated with the HOT lanes.
However, not everyone is excited about HOT lanes making their way to Southern California.  Detractors argue that the new system creates an unfair playing field of “haves and have-nots.”  This school of thought maintains that our freeways are a  taxpayer-financed public resource and should be left open and available to everyone in full.  In short, lanes are not for sale.
So, where do you fall on the continuum?  Will this pilot program work?  Will we be seeing more HOT lanes on our freeways in the future?  Weigh in below in the comments section.
Additional reading:
Metro ExpressLanes
Toll Lanes Coming To 10 And 110 Freeways In Los Angeles County
Metro Experiments With Toll Lanes On 110 And 10 Freeways
Both Sides Of Congressional Aisle Hate Metro Congestion Pricing Plan
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A New Vision for Downtown L.A.

Photo: Downtown Los Angeles: What Was, What Is, What is to Come
An incredible work of art surfaced on the World Wide Web recently.  The aesthetically pleasing film created by three Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students in conjunction with mega Architecture firm Gensler, showcases the past, present, and future of Downtown Los Angeles through a carefully crafted stream of data and imagery.
The project, Downtown Los Angeles: What Was, What Is, What is to Come, takes a look at population growth and transportation demand, among other interesting tidbits.  The film dissects the arrangement of downtown infrastructure, culminating with various suggestions for transforming the area in the years ahead.
Early on, the video takes a crack at the whopping 36% of land used for parking and parking infrastructure.  The proposed solution:  move all parking to the perimeter.  Doing this would compact 36% of land currently used, down to just 1%.  Among  other ideas depicted: the incorporation of locally grown food, reorganization of districts, and the revival of the Alameda Corridor.
So who’s with them? Can you envision such changes in downtown? Watch the video and comment below.
Read On:
Downtown Los Angeles: What Was, What Is, What is to Come
Ban Cars In L.A.’s Downtown? An Idea That Just Might Work
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The Scarlet Word, ‘Affordable’

The letter “A” symbolizes a badge of shame in the famous novel, The Scarlet Letter.  Known to stand for the act of adultery, the “A” could easily represent that of “affordable” or “affordability,” which some will argue, evoke equally negative sentiments. 
 A recent study making the rounds reveals that in the wake of the recession, millions of Americans are facing an uphill battle when it comes to paying their rent.  Vacancies are down, supply is dwindling, and the cost of renting, along with utility expenditures, continues to rise.  The report, America’s Rental Housing: Meeting Challenges, Building on Opportunities, identifies an affordability crisis at hand.  Those who rent are applying a greater share of income towards rent, leaving less money for other necessities – at times forcing them to make a decision between shelter or food.
A common standard of affordability is that rent and utility costs together require less than 30 percent of household income. Above that limit, renter cost burdens are defined as moderate (between 30 and 50 percent of income) or severe (more than 50 percent of income). In 1960, 24 percent of renters were at least moderately burdened, including 12 percent that were severely burdened. By 2000, these shares had reached 38 percent and 20 percent.  And by 2009, the share of at least moderately cost-burdened renters soared to 49 percent while the share of severely burdened renters jumped to 26 percent.
The report cites weak gains in income and rising housing costs as contributing factors to the statistics.  Additionally, the report highlights the fact that housing affordability pressures have begun to creep up into higher earning brackets.  The findings consider this a long-term issue that will continue to grow,
What does seem certain is that—absent a dramatic expansion of federal assistance to help defray the costs of renting, or a shift in state and local land use and building regulations to allow expansion of modest, high-density rental developments— affordability problems will remain at staggeringly high levels, if not worsen.
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan responded to the findings in an interview with CNBC.
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How has your rent been affected? Your lifestyle and spending habits?
Read On:
Affordable rental housing scarce in U.S., study finds
Soaring Costs Force Some Renters To Choose Between Shelter And Food
Report: America’s Rental Housing: Meeting Challenges, Building on Opportunities
Editorial: Affordable housing At last, let construction begin
HUD’s Shaun Donovan aims for a more balanced market
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A Case for Public Art

Public art, yay, or nay?  Well the people over at the Dirt Blog recently made the case for public art by pointing to the cost-effective way in which it drives economic revitalization.  Indeed, art work has the potential to improve quality of life, promote livability, and create positive workplace environments.  Yet, while art has its strengths, the debate about its value still lingers. 
There’s still a raging debate over whether art has more intrinsic or instrumental value.  Intrinsic value relates to the aesthetic value of any work of art, its own value as a piece of individual expression. Instrumental value relates to the ability of art to educate, create jobs, increase real estate value, build citizens, increase tourism, and provide other benefits. (Dirt Blog)
Below are a few examples of some controversial art projects.  What’s your take on their intrinsic and instrumental value?
Photo: BBC News
Back in 2010, an illuminated river art project got the boot in part because many thought it was silly.  When artwork goes public it invades people’s space and challenges their thoughts.  Jonathan Jones of the Guardian said last year that those who campaign against public artworks, as in Wales recently, promote a mindless, cultureless vision of Britain.  Just recently the Governor of Maine ordered the removal of a mural depicting the state’s labor history.  Governor LePage argued that the mural was one-sided and out of line.  Opponents said the mural held historical value.
Photo: San Francisco Chronicle
Just a couple weeks ago, the City of Los Angeles ruled that a mural painted on the property of a homeowner was considered advertising and needed to be removed.  The project was originally commissioned to high school students as way to support young artists.
Then finally there is Banksy.  His existence is shrouded in secrecy with his artwork generating tremendous buzz.
While the lines are often blurred between intrinsic and instrumental values, perhaps a distinction also needs to be drawn between street art and public art?  Is there a difference?  I tend to think of public art as murals depicting a place, season, or iconic image related to a location.  So what is it? Is street art vandalism, graffiti, or public art?  Additionally, why does public art evoke so much angst, or is it overblown because of  a few case examples?
Read On:
The Many Benefits of Public Art
Public art? Not in my back yard
Maine governor attacks public art as “one-sided”
Commissioned Mural Painted Over After City Claims the Art is Advertising
Banksy Street Art
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