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Full disclosure, I’m not actually an Illinois resident anymore so this was a bit shady – but the Midwest High Speed Rail Association sent out a general call for members to write their Illinois senators (Congressional and state) to urge support for Illinois’ HSR proposal.

Dick Durbin (D-IL), the state’s senior senator, sent an automated reply.  Sure, it’s from a politician, but I thought his statement might be of interest.  Reproduced below from the E-mail I received today.


April 27, 2010
Dear —–:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the importance of developing high speed rail service. I appreciate hearing from you and share your support for high speed rail.
Illinoisans, like many Americans, want a quick, energy efficient, cost-effective, and reliable public ground transportation system. I believe that high speed rail is an important element in achieving this goal and have supported efforts to develop high speed rail in Illinois and the surrounding states.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1) appropriated $8 billion for high speed passenger rail – 17 times more funding than the federal government has invested over the last 10 years combined for high speed rail. I have met with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors Tom Carper, and state leaders to discuss Illinois’ commitment to competing for federal dollars to make high speed rail in Illinois a reality. The Illinois Department of Transportation, in coordination with Union Pacific, has already taken the first steps by committing to developing a high speed rail connection between St. Louis and Chicago.
There has also been a concerted effort to work with other Midwestern states to develop a sustainable plan for high speed rail throughout the region. Illinois hosted the Governors of many states in the Midwest to discuss the potential of a Midwest high speed rail corridor. Also, I, along with other members of Congress from the Midwest, recently created a new bipartisan, bicameral Midwest High Speed Rail Caucus. We are helping and encouraging state officials throughout the Midwest to work together to develop a comprehensive high speed rail plan for the area. At the same time, we are actively working with federal agencies to facilitate funding for high speed rail service for the Midwest.
As we invest further in developing high speed rail in Illinois, it is also important that we work to create an efficient rail network that connects communities that do not currently have rail service. I have also supported extending branch lines to other major Illinois communities such as Peoria, Rockford, and the Quad Cities so that more Illinois residents will be able to enjoy the benefits of rail service.
High speed rail will provide new opportunities for business and individuals alike. It will make it easier to travel in a quick, efficient, and safe manner throughout the Midwest. At the same time, high speed rail will support additional economic development and growth while providing a green alternative for moving goods throughout the Midwest. I will continue to support efforts to create a new high speed rail network that will benefit Illinois and the country.
Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to keep in touch.
Sincerely,
Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator
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I’m working on – or rather, not working on because I’m blogging – a paper about parking policy.  In it I intend to talk a little bit about Columbus’ proposed zoning ordinance changes regarding required off-street parking, which is exciting.  I also pulled a couple images from Google Earth for illustrative purpose, specifically one which shows how much of downtown Columbus is now parking lots.

From what I understand, Columbus underwent a great deal of urban renewal in the 50s and 60s, hence why most of the buildings are not that old and/or became surface parking lots.  The result is that the center of Columbus, the capital of Ohio, one of the largest states in the Union, has a handful of skyscrapers surrounded by a bunch of parking lots.

You can’t really tell this from looking at the skyline from a distance on the ground, but it’s pretty visible in this Google aerial image (had to use the Flight Simulator to get a bird’s eye angle).  Disclaimer:  the 3D buildings, produced by the Planning Department, may not be a complete inventory of all the buildings downtown, so this image may be somewhat misleading in that it does not show all the buildings at their proper height.  Nevertheless, the images of parked cars on so many of the properties makes it pretty clear that it’s almost all parking lot once you go a few streets east (bottom-right) of the river.  I annotated the map with some key landmarks and an approximate outline of all the parking lots I could see (red lines):

Downtown Columbus: Parking Galore (Source: Google Earth, 2010)

And I checked the approximate area of downtown Columbus – the section pictured is roughly a square mile (maybe more to the north and south).  Think how much fits in a square mile in New York.  Or Chicago.  The Loop, strictly speaking (within and immediately surrounding the El tracks), pretty much fits in less than a square mile.

Well, at least Columbus has plenty of parking.

Exciting announcement:

I’m on Flickr!

Well, exciting to me at least – now a lot more photos can have a home, and not be uploaded in awkward lists on this blog.  I’ll try to keep this site image-friendly as well, but will probably limit to 2 or 3 max images per blog.  Travel diary stuff will go directly on the Flickr account.  I also found a WordPress widget that lets you stream your latest uploads in little boxes, which you’ll find by scrolling down the blog.  Good deal.

Enjoy:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityforward/
… and my username is mapleboughs.

Well, this is nice and meta

I found an article today (via Planetizen) that made me happy.  Ed Glaeser, the Harvard economist, writes that in addition to the traditional economic explanation for cities – agglomeration, in which it is more efficient for manufacturing firms to share resources by being physically near each other – there is an information component to agglomeration as well.  While the manufacturing version of agglomeration becomes less relevant as transportation costs have decreased in recent decades, Glaeser asserts that information- and knowledge-based productivity increases along with density:

via NY Times

Glaeser, "Why Humanity Loves - and Needs - Cities" (NYTimes)

One of the issues I have with the traditional agglomeration argument is that it does not sufficiently describe individuals’ desire to be near other people.  This isn’t quite that argument, but it’s getting closer!

Is this the new economic model for twenty-first century cities?  Or does it over-estimate the influence of the knowledge-based economy on urban form and our settlement patterns?

[Read the article here]

Our class discussions about race, cities, and various forms of residential segregation (both systemic and self-perpetuating) got me thinking about my own hometown, Columbus Ohio.  Growing up, we lived in a primarily white neighborhood in the city limits.  Then we moved to an even more white suburb on the west side, where my parents still live today.

I think it’s safe to say that Columbus considers itself a pretty “white” city.  It’s the capital city in a Midwestern state surrounded by suburbs and farms, and has long been primarily white-collar, unlike its neighbors to the north and south (Cleveland, Youngstown, Toledo, and Cincinnati).  Sure:  Ohio State University, with about 60,000 students from all around the world, is a major source of diversity, but one which remains somewhat concentrated around the campus itself.  And sure:  Columbus actually has a three-term black mayor, Michael B. Coleman (1999-present).  But he is Columbus’ first black mayor, only a few decades behind other Ohio cities like Springfield (Robert C. Henry, 1966) and Cleveland (Carl Stokes, 1968).

That said, however, it should also be said that much of the political and social power in the Columbus area (apart from the University and state politics in the Capital) lies in the suburbs, which are pretty uniformly white.  I dug up some demographics from the Census in the American Community Survey and found some interesting results:

Columbus (City)
Total population:  729,369
67.5% White
27.9% Black
4.5% Hispanic (of all races)
4.6% Asian
1.7% Other

Columbus (Metro Area)
Total population:  1,752,870

81.9% White
14.9% Black
2.9% Hispanic (of all races)
3.5% Asian
1.1% Other

(ACS 3-year estimates, 2006-2008)

This seems typical for an American metro area, but that’s the point!   The city population is 28% black, but only 15% in the whole metro area.  Compare the numbers themselves:  there were 203,493 black residents in the City of Columbus counted (out of 730,000), and 261,422 black residents in the entire metro area (out of 1.75 million, more than double).  That says to me that the suburbs must be pretty white.  Here’s the data for Hilliard, a city I would consider to be predominately white but with some pockets of diversity.  The numbers suggest I’m even overestimating the latter point:

Hilliard (City)
Total population:  31,556

91.0% White
3.0% Black
2.7% Hispanic (of all races)
6.2% Asian
0.9% Other

(Interestingly, the percentage of Asian residents is slightly larger than the average for both Columbus proper and the metro area).

All these numbers are to say, there is a discrepancy between perception and reality here.  It got me thinking about my own experience growing up:  I attended a racially-mixed public (arts) elementary school, and was bussed a fair distance to get there; I briefly attended a public middle school in which I was in the minority; but otherwise most of my friends, neighbors, and classmates were white.

Then I started thinking about all the areas of town I didn’t go to, for one reason or another:  Franklinton, immediately west of downtown; the east side, south of the campus area and out by the airport; in fact, much of the east side, period.  I had the perception, particularly in Franklinton and east of campus, that these areas were “bad” or unsafe; these areas are also, I know now, predominately black neighborhoods.

Furthermore, a lot of the “desirable” places to go–the shops along Grandview Avenue, shopping at Easton Town Center mall, the boutiques along the Short North, and pretty much all of the northern suburbs–are very “white” places.  White not only in terms of their typical patrons, but also in that very intangible, subjective set of assumptions you make when you hear the description “white neighborhood” or “black neighborhood.”

I don’t know enough about the history of housing and politics in Columbus to talk more specifically about residential segregation, whether it was a large-scale project like in some cities (Chicago) or more of an informal sorting-out of the real estate market by income and racial groups.  But in evaluating my own experiences and perceptions about Columbus, I feel suddenly aware that race was an unspoken issue in the area, despite the fact that it is clearly an issue nonetheless.

Why does this matter?  Beyond the obvious political implications for the neighborhoods in question and the city as a whole, I think it’s really too bad that Columbus continues its self-identification as white for this reason:  its story is actually more complex, and it has a lot to offer!

  • Columbus is the capital of a large and influential Midwest state;
  • Columbus has the largest single-campus university in America, and attracts smart and interesting people from all over the world to do what I can only assume is helpful research and study;
  • Columbus hosts an annual International Festival, in which for a small price you can sample international foods, music, and purchase small wares;
  • Columbus also hosts an annual Asian Festival, a Greek Festival, a Jazz Festival, an Arts Festival, and a bunch of other interesting events year-round;
  • Columbus is home to a significant Japanese population, due in part to a nearby Honda plant; a growing Somali refugee population; a growing Hispanic population; a sizable (but clearly not visible) African American population; an active gay/lesbian population; it’s the historic home of a Native American population (though I’m not sure what those numbers are now); and of course a variety of ethnic and cultural groups which we generally lump together as “white.”
  • At the risk of sounding superficial, Columbus also has a great variety of ethnic restaurants, given that it’s in the middle of some cornfields:  Blue Nile (Ethiopian), Udipi Cafe (South Indian), a bunch of North Indian places, Central Asian Market and surrounding Japanese restaurants; Thai Orchid (Thai); Greek; Italian; Chinese; Mexican; and a host of things I’m forgetting.

Based on conversations I’ve had with those from elsewhere in the country, Columbus is either seen as a lukewarm place, or it’s not on the radar at all.  And that’s really too bad.  Columbus needs to improve its image, and part of that should be more closely evaluating its own self-image in regard to its diverse population.  It’s not that Columbus needs to become a more diverse (and international) city; it’s that it already is, but doesn’t think of itself that way.  I don’t want to gloss over the social problems of segregation by saying it’s enough to do an image makeover, because I think those problems are made worse by their invisibility.  But perhaps even before we (the collective residents of that area) can be in a place to address and improve those problems, we–city AND suburbs–need to think about where we live a little differently.

1,752,870
81.9%
14.9%
2.9%
3.5%
1.1%

I need to reflect on this later, but Planetizen and Discovering Urbanism have both recently called into question the need for planning, as compared to the organic, decentralized system of Emergence.

After reading Daniel’s post, I was curious to read Steven Johnson’s book Emergence (2002).  And just today, Planetizen relayed a Slate article on the same theme.  Both the book and the Slate piece argue that cities are formed by the aggregate of a million decisions of residents, companies, and other stakeholders – not by comprehensive planning (understood to be the attempt to direct and control growth or development with certain goals in mind).

With the increased recognition of urban planning as important in cities and regions, there seems to be a parallel trend of anti-planning sentiment in favor of emergence.

Whence this criticism?  Whither planning?


Update:  I responded in a comment, but realized that this blog theme does an excellent job of burying comments in tiny text that no one will find.  I’m copying my response to Daniel’s point that the Slate article seems to conflate top-down central planning with all other types of planning, ignoring the participatory and community-building aspects of contemporary planning practice.  See Comments for original post.

The anti-planning (or I should probably say pro-market or pro-emergence) arguments tend to set up the dichotomy between absolute planning and free-market principles, while at the same time talking about “putting some mechanisms into place” regarding land use and economic functions and the like. So… is planning good AND bad, then?

If they’re reacting against Soviet-era planning, it’s certainly not fair to lump anything we do in the U.S. into that category. Even if that much centralized authority is effective in making change, there is no legal framework OR popular desire to engage in that project in America. Their argument against central planning, as you said, is valid, given the value we place on democratic principles and on the basic equality and rights of all people. But to push their argument further, their responsibility is to clarify what *type* of planning they’re talking about, and not to accidentally (or deliberately) conflate those ideas.

It seems to be, in part, a case of people getting really excited about 1) nature and/or 2) the Internet, and trying to relate those metaphors to the rest of modern life. The problem with using either is that everything humans do has become artificial, so it’s hard to sort out “natural” behavior; and of course, that the underlying structure of the Internet allows the apparent front-end chaos to thrive.

I think it’s also a case with some – but not all – proponents of incrementalism or free market or emergent systems, of setting up “planning” as a straw man to knock down, then espouse their principles. The confusion between city planning and central/master planning, as we generally understand those terms, may be a deliberate political move. I’m opening myself up to further criticism by making that generalization, so I stress that it’s not always ideological manipulation! But for some, it decidedly is. Whenever you move from observation of a system, to declarations about how it or other systems SHOULD behave, you’re out of the realm of science, and into philosophical or policy questions.