Archive | Neighborhoods

The novelty of walking to school

Students walking to St. John's School in Marshfield, Wis. Courtesy USDOT

I walked to school every day of my life, from kindergarten through high school. It was only a quarter mile to my elementary school, and it was less than a mile to the high school. And every street had a sidewalk.

But that was 30 years ago. Now, such a simple part of life seems to be a thing of the past:

In 2009 only 13 percent of K-8th Grade students were reported as walking or biking to school. That’s a huge shift from 40 years earlier when that number was 48 percent. In 1969, 89 percent of kids who lived within a mile of school walked or rode their bikes; in 2009 that figure was down to 35 percent.

That’s from a story on the U.S. Department of Transportation blog, “Indiana Schools Take Strides Toward Safe Routes to School.” Although those statistics are bleak, the USDOT congratulated Indiana for doing a good job of meeting what the Federal Highway Administration calls the 5 E’s:

  1. Engineering – Creating roadway improvements near schools that reduce speeds and potential conflicts between motor vehicles and walking students and establishing safer crossings, walkways, and bikeways.
  2. Education – Teaching children important bicycling and walking safety skills and launching driver safety campaigns near schools.
  3. Enforcement – Partnering with local law enforcement to ensure traffic laws are obeyed in school zones and initiating community enforcement such as crossing guard programs.
  4. Encouragement – Using events and activities to promote walking and bicycling.
  5. Evaluation – Monitoring and documenting outcomes and trends to gauge success.

The first point, of course, mirrors the Complete Streets movement.

But despite the accolades, it’s doubtful an Indiana child walks or bikes to school, especially here in Fort Wayne, where the Walk Score is 39 out of a possible 100. A consistent policy of building simple physical features such as sidewalks and crossable streets would make getting around on foot a lot more feasible.

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Shoaff: When building roads, worry about the people who live there

Councilman John Shoaff identified what may be the central reason the city of Fort Wayne hits opposition when it proposes a street widening project.

Shoaff has been a strong opponent of the city’s plan to widen State Boulevard through the Brookview-Irvington Park neighborhood, from Clinton Street to Wells Street. And during Tuesday’s common council meeting, Shoaff related a conversation he had with a city landscape architect about the proposal to separate the railroad tracks from South Anthony Boulevard.

The current plans include what Shoaff called very wide lanes and sloping ground that takes up “an enormous amount of acreage.” The plans were made in a way that the viewer has no idea how the street relates to the rest of the neighborhood.

Shoaff asked why the plans took this form.

“We were trying to make it a nicer experience for the drivers,” the landscape architect said.

“The drivers are going to be through there in 60 seconds,” Shoaff responded. “The people you have to worry about are the people who live there.”

Exactly. As Shoaff said, traffic engineers are very competent in their line of work, but they are trained to work on behalf of the motorist, not on behalf of the neighborhood. Neighborhood concerns should be truly weighed when road work is planned in the city.

Shoaff’s discussion on this conversation begins at about the 46-minute mark of the video.

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Poverty experts bewildered by the poor

A story in the Sunday Journal Gazette titled “Section 8 leaves poor unmoved: Efforts to scatter poverty meet unplanned hurdle” takes a look at where poorer people live,evenwhen given the chance to move:

If people living in the projects were bedeviled by crime, deteriorating conditions, bad schools, few resources and urban blight, a voucher that would let them escape to neighborhoods with less crime and fewer problems might also help them escape poverty altogether. Those with vouchers would pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, the government would pay the rest.

“There was a general feeling that there was a contagion effect,” said Ron Haskins, a poverty expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “The idea was to disperse low-income families.”

Thirty years later – despite the chance to live anywhere in the city — a map of where Section 8 vouchers are being used in Fort Wayne shows they are largely concentrated on the southeast side.

Poverty experts aside, people for the most part still like to live in the neighborhood in which they live. Read the story here, but you’ll have to get the print edition to see the map.

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The stubborn neighbor

You’ve heard of the woman who lived in this house, haven’t you? Here’s the lead to the story in the Seattle P-I:

Edith Macefield died at home, just the way she wanted.

The Ballard (Wash.) woman who captured hearts and admirers around the world when she stubbornly turned down $1 million to sell her home to make way for a commercial development died Sunday of pancreatic cancer. She was 86.

No one knows exactly what will happen to the house now. She left no heirs.

– Hat tip: Andrew Sikora

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‘Is America’s suburban dream collapsing into a nightmare?’

The above is the provocative headline on a story on cnn.com. After some description of the foreclosures in suburbia, the story focuses on the shifting attitudes of homeowners.

“The American dream is absolutely changing,” (Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution,) told CNN.

This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars.

Instead, they are looking for what Leinberger calls “walkable urbanism” — both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything — from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters.

The so-called New Urbanism movement emerged in the mid-90s and has been steadily gaining momentum, especially with rising energy costs, environmental concerns and health problems associated with what Leinberger calls “drivable suburbanism” — a low-density built environment plan that emerged around the end of the World War II and has been the dominant design in the U.S. ever since.

We don’t want to wish ill on the suburban dweller, but times may get tougher out there before they get better.

Read the whole story here.

– photo by respres on Flickr

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Melborne: A Pedestrian Paradise

In preparation of Wednesday’s talk about walkable communities, take a 10-minute stroll through Melbourne. Go here to watch the video. Here’s a paragraph about Melbourne:

There is an invaluable lesson here. In the early 90s, Melbourne was hardly a haven for pedestrian life until Jan Gehl was invited there to undertake a study and publish recommendations on street improvements and public space. Ten years after the survey’s findings, Melbourne was a remarkably different place thanks to sidewalk widenings, copious tree plantings, a burgeoning cafe culture, and various types of car restrictions on some streets. Public space and art abound. And all of this is an economic boom for business.

Check out StreetFilms, the producer of this and many other short films about cities.

photo of Melbourne courtesy of surfergirl143

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What does it cost to live in your neighborhood?

The Spaulding brothers do a great service by pointing us to the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, which shows the affordability of your Fort Wayne neighborhood based on housing and transportation costs. As you can guess, everything’s cheaper the closer you get to the core of the city.

As the Spauldings say over on their Web site, be sure to click the Advanced link for more data.

And you can go to the home page and examine the other metro areas the index covers. Chicago is among those included, but not Indianapolis.

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Traditional neighborhoods and modern architecture

Scott Greider, over on his personal blog, quotes a portion of the San Jose historic design guidelines that addresses the role of modern architecture in older neighborhoods. (If you’re adventurous, you can download the entire 95-page PDF.)

What does San Jose say? It says, “Bring it on”:

Rather than imitating older buildings, a new design should relate to the traditional design characteristics of a neighborhood while also conveying the stylistic trends of today. New construction may do so by drawing upon some basic building features — such as the way in which a building is located on its site, the manner in which it relates to the street and its basic mass, form and materials — rather than applying detailing which may or may not have been historically appropriate. When these design variables are arranged in a new building to be similar to those seen traditionally in the area, visual compatibility results. Therefore, it is possible to be compatible with the historic context while also producing a design that is distinguishable as being newer.

A modern-style home can be a wonderfully contrasting complement to a historic neighborhood. It certainly beats decay and vacant lots, and it also beats a hundred suburban neo-Colonials with three-car garages in front.

I can’t say the modern home above is my style, but frankly, plenty of older, classical homes aren’t my style, either.

The style of the structure is not the main point. Urbanism is site plan more than architecture. If you bring the house close to the sidewalk, put the parking or garage in the back and make the front wall permeable (that is, not a blank wall), you are strengthening a neighborhood, no matter the style of architecture.

– photo of modern townhouse in Lincoln Park, Ill., by Scott Greider on Flickr

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