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What Can Knoxville Do to Improve?

April 15, 2009

One of my comments over at a local Knoxville blog, The Sunsphere is Not a Wigshop, spurred another post about what improvements Knoxville could make to make it more pedestrian, bicycle, and transit friendly. The original post showed a sketch of what downtown Knoxville looked like in 1921. What I immediately noticed was that so many of the great buildings — whole blocks in some cases — were gone now and replaced by huge parking decks and monstrous concrete buildings that dwarf the old buildings. This concerned me, because those old buildings are what I think people really like about downtown Knoxville. The old buildings are architecturally diverse, they are close to the street, each has an inviting storefront, and they are usually not more than five stories high. All those characteristics make the area, especially S. Gay Street and Market Square, very people friendly. People enjoy being there because they feel nourished by that style of urban design. Unfortunately, we lost alot of that in decades past when people weren’t forward thinking enough to realize what they were doing when they demolished these old buildings. But the past is the past and we have to move forward now and see how we can improve upon what is there now. Stop on over to the Wigsphere blog for a visit.

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Visit to Georgia Tech City Planning Department

April 9, 2009

techtowersignLast Friday, April 3, I visited the Georgia Tech City Planning department for their Spring Open House. There were about 35 people there in all and the program was very well organized and informative. It started out with short introductiontory remarks from the director, Dr. Bruce Stiftel. Then we heard short presentations from some alumni about what they did from day to day in their planning jobs. We then heard from some current students about what kind of projects they were currently involved with in the program. We then heard short presentations from the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development and the Center for Geographic Information Systems. We also got a short tour of the Georgia Tech campus lead by the Associate Dean of the College of Architecture.

Being from Atlanta and having attended Georgia Tech for my undergraduate degree, it was like being home. After the day was over, I went on to my parents’ house since I hadn’t seen them in a few months. I made the comment to my mom that I felt at home. I felt like I was supposed to be there. Part of it was that I was familiar with Georgia Tech’s campus, but part of it was also that I guess I just feel at home on college campuses. I like the academic atmosphere of university campuses.

Honestly, I was beginning to reconsider whether I wanted to actually go that route, but being there and experiencing Georgia Tech again really got me excited about the prospects of going back to school again. I still have to really think it through because it’s going to be a huge time commitment, but at least I know what I can expect more clearly now.

DIY Bike Lanes

March 2, 2009

You don’t have to worry about not having a bike lane where you want to ride thanks to two new technologies, Contrail and Lightlane. The Lightlane technology is a bike-mounted device that projects a laser-produced “bike lane” onto the pavement around your bike, so that the automobile drivers have some visible space to avoid (theoretically).  The Contrail technology allows cyclists to make their mark on the street with faint lines of chalk. The rear wheel spins a smooth trail of color onto the pavement as the bike whizzes along. This serves as a notification to drivers that this is where cyclists ride, especially when the cumulative effects of many cyclists leave their impact on the road. Either of these are great ways to improve cycling safety.

Graduate School Planning — February 23, 2009

February 23, 2009

Since my past post on January 27, I have continued to research graduate schools. I’ve broadened the list of schools that I should consider to some that I didn’t intially think I would consider, such as Iowa State, University of Iowa, and Arizona State. It seems that those schools have strong city planning programs, but may not be as difficult to get into as schools like University of North Carolina, MIT, and others.

Then, one day while I was thinking through the possibilities that lay before me, it hit me: Why couldn’t I combine my grad school experience with a little overseas travel by going to school in another country as an international student? I began thinking through that possibility and all the ramifications. Unless I went to school in one of the handful of English-speaking countries, then I’d have to learn a new language. Although I really enjoyed my foriegn language classes in high school and college, I wasn’t sure I wanted to have to learn a language and rely on that to succeed in graduate school. So, with that decision, I decided to focus only on English-speaking countries. After a little more research, I decided that Australia would be the one I’d focus on. I did a little digging and found a list of accredited planning schools in Australia. I found a few interesting things about post-graduate studies in Australia. First, Australian universities offer two types of master’s degrees: one by coursework and another by research. Second, the academic year matches the calendar year, unlike here. If I already had training in city planning, I could obtain a master’s degree by research, but since I don’t, I would need to do the master’s degree by coursework. There are several Australian universities that I could apply to, but the one that looks the best is the University of South Australia in Adelaide, South Australia. From what I’ve seen online (Google Street View is awesome!), Adelaide looks like a great city. Also, everyone says the Australians are very friendly and welcoming to foreigners. The only thing that I think would take some getting used to is the opposite seasons: Summer here is Winter there and vice versa. Oh, and driving on the wrong side of the road. 

So, that’s where I am now. I am registered to take the GRE this May and will begin pulling all my admissions materials together this Fall. I am still going to apply to several American universities but may tack on some Australian universities also. If I end up going to an American university, I would enter school Fall of 2010, but if I end up going to an Australian university, I would enter March of 2011.

A Plug for a Great Website: BicyclingLife.com

February 20, 2009

Whether you’re a regular cyclist or a novice, you will find good information on this website. BicyclingLife.com is a great resource for bicycling as a means of recreation and transportation in everyday life. Here are some examples of the great articles you will find on BicyclingLife.com:

  1. How to fix a flat
  2. How to change a chain
  3. Tips for Winter cycling
  4. Tips for Summer cycling
  5. Tips for commuting to work by bike
  6. Safety tips

Plus much more! Please take a few minutes to surf on over to this website, and pull your bike out of the garage and start riding!

Charter of the New Urbanism

February 19, 2009

Reprinted from the website of The Congress for the New Urbanism.

The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.

We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.

We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.

We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.

We represent a broad-based citizenry, composed of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.

We dedicate ourselves to reclaiming our homes, blocks, streets, parks, neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities, regions, and environment.

We assert the following principles to guide public policy, development practice, urban planning, and design:

The region: Metropolis, city, and town

  1. Metropolitan regions are finite places with geographic boundaries derived from topography, watersheds, coastlines, farmlands, regional parks, and river basins. The metropolis is made of multiple centers that are cities, towns, and villages, each with its own identifiable center and edges. 
  2. The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality.
  3. The metropolis has a necessary and fragile relationship to its agrarian hinterland and natural landscapes. The relationship is environmental, economic, and cultural. Farmland and nature are as important to the metropolis as the garden is to the house.
  4. Development patterns should not blur or eradicate the edges of the metropolis. Infill development within existing urban areas conserves environmental resources, economic investment, and social fabric, while reclaiming marginal and abandoned areas. Metropolitan regions should develop strategies to encourage such infill development over peripheral expansion.
  5. Where appropriate, new development contiguous to urban boundaries should be organized as neighborhoods and districts, and be integrated with the existing urban pattern. Noncontiguous development should be organized as towns and villages with their own urban edges, and planned for a jobs/housing balance, not as bedroom suburbs.
  6. The development and redevelopment of towns and cities should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.
  7. Cities and towns should bring into proximity a broad spectrum of public and private uses to support a regional economy that benefits people of all incomes. Affordable housing should be distributed throughout the region to match job opportunities and to avoid concentrations of poverty.
  8. The physical organization of the region should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.
  9. Revenues and resources can be shared more cooperatively among the municipalities and centers within regions to avoid destructive competition for tax base and to promote rational coordination of transportation, recreation, public services, housing, and community institutions.

The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor

  1. The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor are the essential elements of development and redevelopment in the metropolis. They form identifiable areas that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution.
  2. Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways.
  3. Many activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, especially the elderly and the young. Interconnected networks of streets should be designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy.
  4. Within neighborhoods, a broad range of housing types and price levels can bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.
  5. Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, can help organize metropolitan structure and revitalize urban centers. In contrast, highway corridors should not displace investment from existing centers. 
  6. Appropriate building densities and land uses should be within walking distance of transit stops, permitting public transit to become a viable alternative to the automobile.
  7. Concentrations of civic, institutional, and commercial activity should be embedded in neighborhoods and districts, not isolated in remote, single-use complexes. Schools should be sized and located to enable children to walk or bicycle to them. 
  8. The economic health and harmonious evolution of neighborhoods, districts, and corridors can be improved through graphic urban design codes that serve as predictable guides for change.
  9. A range of parks, from tot-lots and village greens to ballfields and community gardens, should be distributed within neighborhoods. Conservation areas and open lands should be used to define and connect different neighborhoods and districts.

The block, the street, and the building

  1. A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use. 
  2. Individual architectural projects should be seamlessly linked to their surroundings. This issue transcends style.
  3. The revitalization of urban places depends on safety and security. The design of streets and buildings should reinforce safe environments, but not at the expense of accessibility and openness.
  4. In the contemporary metropolis, development must adequately accommodate automobiles. It should do so in ways that respect the pedestrian and the form of public space.
  5. Streets and squares should be safe, comfortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities.
  6. Architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, history, and building practice.
  7. Civic buildings and public gathering places require important sites to reinforce community identity and the culture of democracy. They deserve distinctive form, because their role is different from that of other buildings and places that constitute the fabric of the city.
  8. All buildings should provide their inhabitants with a clear sense of location, weather and time. Natural methods of heating and cooling can be more resource-efficient than mechanical systems.
  9. Preservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society.

Copyright 1996, Congress for the New Urbanism. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce the Charter in full or in excerpt, provided that this copyright notice remains intact.

Smarter Transportation Economic Stimulation

February 4, 2009

Over at Planetizen, Todd Littman posted a report that was just published entitled “Smart Transportation Economic Stimulation: Infrastructure Investments That Support Strategic Planning Objectives Provide True Economic Development.” It discusses various factors to consider when evaluating which transportation initiatives will stimulate the economy. This paragraph provides a clear reason why Congress should focus more money on transit than on highway expansion.

…automobile travel will no longer grow as it has during the last century (it declined last year), while transit demand is increasing. During the last decade transit travel grew 24% compared with a 10% increase in vehicle miles of travel. Many transit systems now carry maximum peak period capacity, constraining further growth. Increasing capacity and improving service quality would allow even more shifts from driving to transit. Although public transit serves only about 2% of total U.S. trips, it serves a much larger portion of urban travel. Transit share is even higher for travel to large commercial centers, and so has relatively large economic importance.

Please take moment to read it…and send a copy to your Senator and Representative.