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7 Reasons It's a New Day For APA

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7 Reasons It's a New Day For APA

The 2014 APA retreat led to an easy consensus around specific priorities and near-term actions designed to make visible and lasting progress in transforming the culture of the APA. Whit presents his 7 takeaways from the discussions that bode well for all of AICP members and the planning profession:

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A Tale of Two Retail Districts

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A Tale of Two Retail Districts

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As a planner whose professional experience has been focused on market analysis and real estate, I have a healthy appreciation for how the market influences the outcomes of even our best-laid plans in all sorts of ways. I often find myself needing to balance my enthusiasm for a planning vision with what my gut tells me is the market reality. For this reason I’ve been interested in the dynamics surrounding two business districts here in Orlando. The Baldwin Park Village Center is a prime example of a walkable, mixed-use town center developed as part of a very successful New Urbanist community that replaced the former Orlando Naval Training Center. The homes in Baldwin Park fetch high prices, the town center boasts lakefront views, and the neighborhood as a whole has a “just right” feeling about it that has led some here at Renaissance to call it Pleasantville. It’s a very nice place to be.

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But all is not happy in the Village Center. It has struggled to find and keep retail tenants from its start in the early 2000s, and was repossessed by the bank just a few years ago. Both local real estate experts and residents alike have weighed in on how it could be turned around but it still is trying to find sustained success. While the real estate crash and recession certainly didn’t help things, the Village Center suffers from being kind of buried back in the neighborhood away from major roads, and probably has too much retail space to fill for its location and the trade area it is trying to serve.

But one thing that Baldwin Park did succeed in was bringing a lot of new affluent and well-educated households to this part of Orlando. Check out this map of the percentage change from 2000-2012 in adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. It’s shaded by census block group, with the darker purple shades meaning higher numbers and the tan shades meaning lower or negative numbers.

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The big dark purple area in the upper right is Baldwin Park proper. But the smaller dark purple area roughly in the center of the map is part of the established Audubon Park neighborhood. The east-west street that forms the northern edge of the dark purple block group is Corrine Drive, and along this stretch of road are two strip malls that form the heart of what is called the Audubon Park Garden District. This small business district has blossomed over the past several years and has been officially designated a Main Street in the City of Orlando’s program that follows the structure and process laid out by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. While the marketing, programming, and organization provided by the Main Street approach has obviously contributed to the district’s growth, I think that the course of its revitalization has been fairly remarkable given the physical environment. We planners have gotten used to thinking that you need to have quaint walkable streets and attractive mixed-use buildings to create a successful shopping alternative to conventional auto-oriented retail. But that’s not the case here in Audubon Park.

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The two strip malls were built in the 1950s and while they’re in decent shape, they’re not going to win any architectural awards. Parking is all in the front and landscaping is minimal if not totally absent. Corrine Drive is wide, traffic moves pretty fast, and the sidewalks are marginal at best if they even exist. But this area is one of the most vibrant retail districts in Orlando. The street view photo above shows Red Light Red Light, a widely known bar with an epic craft brew selection (and a favorite haunt of noted Renaissance blogger Whit Blanton). Other distinctive businesses in this two-block stretch include Orlando Outfitters, Park Avenue CDs, Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux, and Bluebird Bake Shop. People come from miles around to shop at these unique businesses, along with others in the district like Stardust Video & Coffee and the recently opened East End Market. But it’s not all hip retail here: there are two gas stations flanking the intersection with Winter Park Road, as well as a 7-Eleven, auto repair shop, real estate office, and animal hospital among other businesses.

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So what we have here is a vibrant mix of businesses that any town center would kill for, located in a decidedly non-town center environment. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the Audubon Park Garden District has essentially become the place that the Baldwin Park Village Center wants to be, at least from a shopping perspective. Baldwin Park has the beautiful buildings, walkable streets, and lakefront views that make it a high quality place, but you can bet that higher lease rates come with that. Audubon Park offers cheaper space, better visibility, and an engaged business community (through the Main Street program) in an emerging district that still has a ways to go in terms of its quality of place. One district’s challenge is the other’s strength, and vice versa.

There are a lot of lessons to take from a case study like this and I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of the history and dynamics that shaped both of these districts. But one that stands out for me is that if the demand for the “stuff” that occupies the buildings (i.e. unique local retailers) exists, then it will naturally find places where it can thrive. And those places might not necessarily be in the well-planned town center where you want the demand to go. Baldwin Park helped bring in the target customer base for specialty shopping, but the Audubon Park Garden District is reaping most of the rewards so far.

–Dave Stamm, Cities That Work Blog

[For regular news and updates, be sure to follow Renaissance on Twitter @CitiesThatWork]

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A Word is Worth a Thousand Images

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A Word is Worth a Thousand Images

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One of the challenges of the planning industry is that we have tons of acronyms that we practitioners toss around in casual conversation that tend to either confuse or turn off the casual, otherwise-interested observer.  By the way, a good team-building event at your next agency or corporate function is to require everyone to donate $5 into a kitty every time they use an acronym without stating its components words ASAP (as soon as possible). You’ll learn a lot about your patterns of speech and be able to enjoy a pretty nice happy hour at your local watering hole with the proceeds. It seems to me that we’re at risk of developing the same dangerous pattern with the words we are now using to describe state-of-the-practice planning.  At least those acronyms usually stand for something quite specific.  In contrast, the adjectives we sometimes use casually and interchangeably are beginning to sound like the “new and improved” labels printed in brightly colored Starbursts vying for attention on your grocery store shelves.

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The challenge we face isn’t really new; words have always been evolving to suit the common vernacular.  This how “inflammable” came to mean “flammable” and “literally” came to mean “figuratively” (and when I learned that fact, I was like, literally beside myself…).  What can we do to be more precise in our communications?  Well first, to paraphrase Yogi Berra:  Use your words carefully; someone might actually be reading or listening.  Second, don’t be afraid to do a little research; sources like Google, Wikipedia, and the old Merriam-Webster can really be your friend.  Even just quickly checking the Google hit counts on something like flammable (five million) versus inflammable (less than one million) can help you spot trends these days.

Seeking Sustainability

Sustainability is one of the terms that fascinates me the most.  I’ve been fortunate to be associated with a team of really good planners putting together an Informational Report for the Institute of Transportation Engineers on the state-of-the-practice in thinking about Sustainable Transportation systems.  The transportation planning and engineering industry has latched on to this important and valuable concept, originated by the Brundtland Commission in 1987, that we should be creating development and infrastructure that meets the needs of the current generation while allowing future generations to meet their needs as well.  The primary concept is that the three pillars of sustainability, economy, ecology, and social equity (some prefer the equally alliterative “people, planet, profit”) are often found in tension with each other and need to be balanced.  For instance, in the US, we’re not consuming vehicle-miles of travel at the rate we did five years ago; this is a good thing for the environment, but the challenge is how we can sustain that improvement while returning to a healthy economy where those who want jobs can find them.

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While on the Montgomery County Planning Board, Wendy Perdue noted in one worksession that terms can be misleading, “It occurs to me that throughout our history we’ve demonstrated that income inequality is pretty darn sustainable; but that doesn’t mean we should support it.”  So the goal of sustainability is not to perpetuate the past of least resistance, but instead to seek solutions that improve social, economic, and environmental outcomes on an inter-generational timescale.  Several analysis systems, ranging from tools like INVEST or Greenroads for highways to ENVISION for all infrastructure are now available to help qualify the definitions agencies and firms can apply to sustainable projects.

Thinking Globally and Acting Locally

The same concern that sustainability should be equated with the path of least resistance has real global implications as well.  Pedro Ortiz of the World Bank was on my ITE meeting panel on sustainable solutions in Hershey, Pennsylvania, this week.  Pedro has noted that as we move towards accommodating two billion more urban residents worldwide in the next 20 years, we frankly should be constructing 10 new Manhattan blocks every day to accommodate that growth.  However, due to resource and governance limitations, we’re not building high quality compact development, but rather are allowing new slums to expand organically across the landscape.  Part of the key in the developing world is to bring the land use to where the rail infrastructure already exists.  The same concept can be applied to thinking about North American metropolitan areas to conceive of alternative urban topologies such as how Washington and Baltimore might be organized differently if the primary connective tissue were along freight rail lines.

Source: PedroBOrtiz.com

Scenario planning today is often applied in one of two formats: either as tinkering around the edges with land use that would require some potentially challenging yet feasible policy changes or, alternatively, as considering a reaction to an exogenous variable such as sea-level rise or energy crises.  Pedro’s maps suggest a potential future that might be a blend of the two types of scenario planning; not a formal proposal, but an intriguing “what if?”

The Only Constant is Change

One of the frequent lamentations in our ITE Sustainability Task Force has been that one thing that definitely appears sustainable is debate about what sustainability means.   This, to me, is part of what makes the concept exciting; there’s no textbook or cookbook answer.  Even the developers of the rigorous sustainability ratings and certification systems note that their processes are always evolving as we get better data, improve analytic connections, and learn more about our social, cultural, and natural environment.  This one word, sustainability, has generated dozens of rating systems and influenced many more creative ideas for how we might move smarter.  What’s yours?

–Dan Hardy, Cities That Work Blog

 

 

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You're Not From Around Here, Are You? Thoughts on Identity, Place and Public Process

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You're Not From Around Here, Are You? Thoughts on Identity, Place and Public Process

hoosier-car When I read the Sustainable Cities Collective blog post “Urban Development: The Great Gentrification” by Jim Russell, it resonated deeply on many things I have observed and experienced, both in my personal life as well as my professional life as a planner – especially when it comes to interacting with people.  I tucked away the URL and began taking notes, the assembly of which compose this reaction piece.

Where Are You From?

As someone who finds the hometown question not an easy one, I have composed a couple responses.  My short answer is “Bethesda, Maryland.”  A more in-depth response might go like this, “well, my parents worked for the State Department and we moved a lot growing up so I call many places home.”  Or something like that.  If they pry I will say I was born in the Philippines, lived eight years in India and three in Austria before returning to go to college in New York.  Despite an international upbringing, I identify as an American, but pinpointing where exactly in America is a bit harder.

How Long is Legit?

Russell’s article observed, “Hoosier, Okie, and carpetbagger. As much as Americans move, we hate newcomers.”  Americans are a nation of migrants.  Some may settle down for a few generations, but at some point someone or some group has moved from one place to another.  I have yet to work with a community that does not have some underlying dynamic at play between “come heres” and “been heres” tensions that are often revealed when discussing the future.  Consensus can prove elusive when faced with divergent opinions rooted in different perceptions of identity.  More often than not, divergent groups share more values in common than they might realize.  A well-designed public process should nudge the conversation towards positive shared values and goals.

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In 2012 and 2013 we conducted a number of small town revitalization workshops. In nearly every town we worked there was an underlying tension between an old guard (the “been heres”) and more recent arrivals, aka “come heres.” The way we worked through this was to get both groups to the table early on and focus on shared values and outcomes that all could agree on. For example, the community workshops were successful because they focused on a number of simple concepts that all groups could agree on – creating great public spaces, building connections between old and new business owners, advertising the community as a great place to live and visit, and fostering a new group of community leaders that included both new and legacy residents.

I recently had the good fortune to assist the historic Town of Front Royal, VA with a visioning process.  In the simplest terms, the town has an industrial past, but has become in recent decades a bedroom community for people travelling to jobs elsewhere.  The industry that used to employ thousands is now gone and has left in its wake some properties that will be a challenge to reuse and repurpose.  The process identified the need to clarify and focus on defining a community identity for the future, recognizing they are transitioning.  Rather than focusing on differences, the process yielded a vision comprised of a number of well supported themes:  a lifelong community for all ages; a town with well-preserved assets; a popular and vibrant destination to live and visit.

Pet Peeves

Okay – I'm going to vent.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard at a public event something along the lines of, “my family has been here five generations and (insert position statement).”  What bothers me about these preambles are that they imply that a longer tenure is more worthy or legitimate.  To give a long-term resident more credence than a more recent arrival is a slippery slope – such statements undermine the spirit of moving forward together.

The inverse of the argument above can be found in people who move to an area and then discount or overlook those that have been there all along.  This NPR story on gentrification and Houston’s Third Ward speaks to this example, most notably in this quote by State Rep. Garnet Coleman: "Don't come into the community, renovate your house and then act like the people that have been living there forever have no standing…If somebody's going to move into the Third Ward — I don't care who you are — just become a part of it."  I like the last 12 words.

FR061413-272-bannerTakeaways

Questions of identity and place get to fundamentals of who are we, what do we want to be, what will be the same, what will be different, and how might it all happen.  Here are some of my own concluding observations or realizations (some are personal while others are more professional):

  •  This summary sentence of Jim Russell pretty much sums up my views: “instead of questioning the intent of people (outsider or resident), the claim to citizenship is the central concern.”
  • How many years you have lived is not as relevant as your intention to be part of something positive and productive going forward.
  • Communities are more likely to succeed when plans are made in a spirit of inclusion and tolerance.
  • Encourage people to practice thinking ‘we’ before ‘me.’
  • Don’t let the words, “we tried that, we did that and it did not work,” disrupt progress.  Conditions and opportunities change.
  • Though we strive for win-win solutions, realities are such that communities may not return to glory days of old, or may involve more austerity than prosperity.  The important question in the win-lose dynamic remains: have we provided equal access to opportunity?   Have we made decisions that benefit most and minimize harm or unintended consequences? Have we maximized the potential of our assets?
  • Finally, self-identity and perception are not permanent. Communities can adopt less than healthy perceptions of themselves and languish in despair, or they can work for change.  I am energized to work with people whose intent and energies are focused on positive change.

–Jason Espie, Cities That Work Blog

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Take Me Way Out to the Ballgame

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Take Me Way Out to the Ballgame

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Pic1 Ah, spring, when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of glove.  And bat, and ball.  And a place to get together with thirty or forty thousand of your closest friends and root, root, root for the home team.  But where should that place be?  And how does that choice, and its ripple effects on other land use and transportation system elements, affect the sustainability of a community or a region?

The Good Old Days Are Now

Source: http://tigger.uic.edu/depts/ahaa/imagebase/chimaps/Chgo1900.gif

The best cities seem to be those that have a mix of public and private sector investments, and while there’s plenty of room for debate about the wisdom of subsidizing private sector entertainment, there’s definitely a historic synergy between an urban ballpark and its environs. The oldest two surviving examples, venerable Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, were transit accessibile from the get-go, but that was practically a necessity in those days to connect them to the rest of their cities.  On Wrigley Field’s (then Weeghman Park) opening day, Chicago Tribune columnist Ring Lardner, noting the park’s location just south of the end of the line at Wilson, wrote wryly that “many of our citizens will today visit the North Side for the first time”.  And Fenway Park, while closer to town, was built on drained swampland (the fabled fens; seems the practice of naming something new for what’s no longer there anymore is also a long standing practice).

Ebbets Field, although smack in the geographic center of Brooklyn, was also at the periphery of the borough’s developed area when it was built and included the site of a garbage dump called Pigtown.  And the fact that the local club was known as the (Trolley) Dodgers demonstrates that today’s concern for safe, multimodal, complete streets is really also nothing new.   (Amazing how transportation infiltrates sports names:  Trailblazers, Spurs, Mariners, Pistons, Flyers, Jets, Supersonics, and arguably the Pacers and Colts as well just among the big four major leagues.)

Source: http://chibdm.tumblr.com/post/23096720752/trolley-passing-by-ebbets-field-in-brooklyn-new

The Dodgers’ move from Ebbets Field to Los Angeles in 1958 was a symbol of the transportation revolution engendered by the jet age, shattering the outer limits that had been marked by that famous southwestern outpost called Saint Louis.  The new Dodger Stadium also marked the beginning of the movement of stadiums from downtown (or at least arguably urban) neighborhoods to sprawling complexes where the parking and noise associated with special events wouldn’t be thought of as so annoying to the neighbors.

But times change. Los Angeles is now known less as the kingdom of sprawl and more for its high population density (even when considering population-weighted density as opposed to average metro area density).  And Dodger Stadium is now part of baseball’s old guard; the third oldest Major League Baseball (MLB) park after Fenway and Wrigley.

Not all the cookie-cutter stadiums of the ‘60s and ‘70s were out in the ‘burbs, but even those with an in-town address like Fulton County, Veterans, and Riverfront, really only boasted a skyline view – and that was only from the parking lot or the topmost row. Then the pendulum swung back to retro stadiums with a placemaking element beginning with Camden Yards in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  Many of the new stadiums are built adjacent to their predecessors, but are nonetheless viewed as a redevelopment anchor.  But Coors Field, AT&T Field, Target Field, Petco Park, and Nationals Park are all examples where baseball was introduced within an urban fabric in or near the city center.  And hopefully the linkage between baseball and transportation planning has been strengthened by the relocation of the United States Department of Transportation to their New Jersey Avenue headquarters a couple blocks to the east of the Nats’ ballpark.

Do You Have to Park at the Park?

Our oldest ballparks are still located along their legacy transit lines.  For the newer parks, it’s a pretty mixed bag.  Not surprisingly, if you want to attract fans to use transit, it helps to be centrally located in a major metro area.  In 2007, Dan Boyle and Tom Larsen examined transit access and use at the 30 MLB parks.    At that time, the championship went to the brand new Nationals (36 percent), with strong showing from other teams in centrally-located homes, including the Yankees and Mets (both at 27 percent), the Cubs, Red Sox, A’s and Giants (all at or above 20 percent), and the Cards, Jays, Padres and Twins (above 14 percent).  About a third (12 out of 30) of the teams have less than 1 percent transit mode share.

Brave Consequences

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But being near downtown and near transit may not be enough.  In Atlanta, the decision of the Braves to abandon their second stadium near downtown since moving from Milwaukee fifty years ago has generated a wide range of reactions; with even commentators sympathetic to the business decisions faced by team ownership lamenting the abandonment of a central location and the apparent public/private consensus that a stadium lifespan may now be considered only 20 years long.  In this case, a big question for Atlanta is whether or not the departure of the Braves will create a revitalization opportunity in the Summerhill neighborhood that the stadium site (and its demand for parking) never catalyzed.

One of the Braves’ stated reasons for the move is to get closer to their suburban fan base, indicated by a dot map of season ticket holders.  This map has served as an interesting Rorschach test; one can arguably suggest that the new stadium site would reduce total vehicle miles of travel, which is a key goal of balancing land use and transportation.  But it raises the interesting question of whether an improved geographic match between a product and its customer base is better for society when fiscal and social considerations are included.

Rebalancing the Books

Switching from backstops to backboards, major league sports are also moving the ball forward regarding the evolution of transportation and land use planning in California.  The amendment to the California Environmental Quality  Act (CEQA) implemented by SB 743 allows jurisdictions to rethink the definition of transportation impact in transit-oriented or infill development.  SB 743 was passed with the intent of streamlining the development of a new downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings.  In this case, an analysis of the Kings’ fan base indicating that the new downtown site would result in a 20 percent reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) was a key element in helping win public support.

Professional sports is big.  It’s big business, big politics, and a big part of regional pride.  The big issues associated with developing a sports venue aren’t really new, although the details keep evolving.  In fifty years, we’ll have a new perspective on baseball in Atlanta and basketball in Sacramento.  What do you think we’ll be thinking then?

–Dan Hardy, Cities That Work Blog

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Outcomes and Outputs

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Outcomes and Outputs

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vlad1I took the above photo of a disconnected crosswalk in Hampton, Virginia a couple of years ago.  The photo nicely demonstrates the difference between outputs and outcomes, showing a crosswalk that ends up a few feet to the left of the new depressed curb that was built.  To be fair, perhaps the crosswalk marking program hadn’t yet caught up with the depressed curb construction program and they will one day connect.  Notice, however, that the pedestrian who is actually crossing doesn’t trust either the curb depression or the crosswalk but is striking out on his own. How does this demonstrate outputs versus outcomes?  An output is simply a quantity of goods or services produced by an individual, a business or an agency.  An output measure in this case could be defined as the number of crosswalks marked or the number of curbs depressed to meet ADA standards.  Let’s say a transportation agency had a performance measure of the number of new crosswalks installed in a given year.  This would be an example of an output measures.  An outcome, on the other hand, is the ultimate goal or purpose towards which we strive.  If this same transportation agency had instead a performance measure of the reduction in pedestrian accidents at intersections, then this would be an example of an outcome measure.  It would measure progress toward an ultimate goal such as pedestrian safety, but it wouldn’t measure anything that is actually produced by the agency.

A Matter of Control

In the realm of performance based planning and programming (PBPP) the key difference between output and outcome measures can become confused.  The main functional difference in this context is that outputs are within the realm of control of the agency, whereas outcomes are beyond the full control of the agency.  The classic example is in the case of safety.  If safety is the goal of the agency, then some of the outputs that the agency may control to meet that goal might be things like the number of road miles repaired or the number of crosswalks added.  However, there are other factors that influence safety that are not totally within the control of the agency.  To name a few, driver attention, skill or weather conditions are totally outside the control of a transportation agency and yet they influence overall safety.  Therefore, measures such as the number of car accidents or pedestrian injuries are really outcome measures since they include factors that are beyond the agency’s control, whereas measures such as roads repaired or crosswalks installed are output measures since they are wholly within the control of the agency.  The chart below illustrates some examples of output versus outcome measures for transportation:

vlad2In God we trust, all others bring data (W. Edward Deming)

The world of transportation planning nowadays is positively drenched in performance measurement.  With the passage of MAP 21, USDOT will now be establishing a set of performance measures for implementation by states and MPOs in the spring of 2014, and we can all anticipate greater prominence of performance measurement in funding and policy decisions.  In transportation planning, confusion among output and outcome measures can result in a lack of connection between policies and their desired results.  As some have pointed out, this confusion can often be complex and hard to sift through.  For example, should TOD be expressed as an output measure (increase in square footage of development around transit) or an outcome measure (greater economic vitality as a result of transit expansion)?  In either case, an awareness of the key difference between outputs and outcomes will help planners avoid obvious pitfalls.  We can at least learn to distinguish between measuring an output such as the number of crosswalks as something we can control, versus measuring an outcome such as overall safety as something we can only influence but not fully control.

–Vlad Gavrilovic, Cities That Work Blog

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