Thursday, January 17, 2008

Urban News Vol. 2

Despite anticipating writing about my home search today, I'll not be able to do that until I receive more feedback from the listing agent of the unit we visited last Sunday. Instead, this edition of urban news takes us around the country for redevelopment news and energy commentary.

I'll start today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with Rich Lord of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Arena Plans Get Go-Ahead; Hill Group Still Lobbying

Article Key Points:

  • City planning commission voted 5-3 to approve layout of new Pittsburgh Penguins arena site
  • Neighborhood leaders insist on having input into overall development planning before adoption of master plan
  • Neighborhood organizations and Mayor want to ensure the neighhood is not forgotten the way it was sections of it were torn down for building of original arena
  • Team has pledged $1 million toward a grocery store, matched by $1 million from the city

It's good that anyone is even paying attention this time around as one gets the feeling little to no public input was seeked last time in the interests of 'progress.' These residents are doing a valuable thing by organizing and refusing to buy that those in power know whats good for them. As related in Chapter 6 of Death and Life of Great American Cities (see: Urban Resources, right sidebar), the organization of not just neighborhoods, but larger distinct recognizable districts of a city must be employed to 'take on city hall' with numbers.

Studying a map of Pittsburgh, and more specifically the Lower Hill/5th-Forbes corridor, shows a great disconnect in what I call 'city fabric.' The routing of Interstate 579 to transfer traffic to the South Hills via the Liberty Bridge and Tunnel coupled with the placement of the 'Civic Center' Arena and its massive parking lots serves to isolate this large district surrounded on all other sides by exclusive Universities and unforgiving terrain (as you see to the North, the Strip District is distinct and possibly hundreds of feet lower in elevation). An inconvenient bottleneck for pedestrian traffic between the Lower Hill and downtown is funnel through a fairly dangerous interchange at Centre Ave/6th Ave and the junction of most crosstown on/off ramps with no bordering commercial or residential properties to give a sense of melding with center city.

It would appear that the county/city are somewhat tuned in to the concerns of what could be described as a troubled part of the city. Let's just hope its not lip service.

We return to Rochester for this next one and the oft-discussed Renaissance Square Project. Here's some short, somewhat biased background on the project which is taking more and more criticism as weeks go by, facets are trimmed, and cost estimates rise due to building costs. From Stuart Low of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:

RenSquare May Shrink to One Theatre

Article Key Points:

  • 250 seat theater seemingly removed from plans, was most popular amond local performance groups
  • 2,800 seat 'roadhouse' theater for traveling broadway shows and other productions only theater left in what was partially billed as a performing arts center
  • Theatre availability expected to shrink next year with renovation of Nazareth College Performing Arts Center
  • Decision awaits a study on local parking needs, City may demolish Mortimer St. garage
  • Subsides likely for large theater, economic impact diverse however

Renaissance Center plans to replace a dilapidated city block on Main Street between Clinton and St. Paul with a combination central bus terminal, community college satellite campus, and performing arts center. The most vocal opposition naturally comes from the privileged suburbanite who cares little or not at all about the current state of the Rochester bus system (RGRTA/RTS). If you're brave, you can read on in the reader comments which are rife with ignorant statements to "take back out(sic) streets and sidewalks" from bus riders who jaywalk. I feel that car owners who feel like they own the streets is the bigger problem in our society. All aspects of the projects are worthwhile to me in general, though I feel two smaller theatres are more worthwhile to this community than another huge one. Independent of all of that, the bus terminal is a pressing need. Right now, all buses meet downtown, but not at a central destination. There are spottily arranged shelters lining St. Paul, Clinton, Main, and a dropoff point near the inter-city bus terminal at Midtown Plaza on Chestnut street. In addition to making connections semi-difficult for the occasional rider (and discouraging them from ever wanting to ride again), said shelters are open air and not heated, a significant issue during the winter. I'd postulate that these naysayers will be singing a different tune (or just bitching louder) when the price of gasoline hits $5 per gallon.

This sentiment is a perfect segue to Falls Church, VA and Tom Whipple of the Falls Church News-Press who postulates that high oil prices will have an effect on more than just commuting habits.

The Peak Oil Crisis: We Are Starting to Dim

Article Key Points:

  • Electric grids are shutting down for long periods each day in underdeveloped countries
  • Already high oil prices are making petroleum based generation too expensive in much of the world
  • China has become a net importer of coal, with imports increasing 34% in one year
  • May impact the advent of electric cars

A somewhat dour look at electricity generation capacity that stops just short of saying people shouldn't reproduce. That's another debate for another time and this piece is speculative opinion, but I think the message to take from it is that the energy conservation effort needs to ramp up faster than it currently is and that electricity conservation isn't just something you do to make yourself feel better about the environment or save money on the electric bill. It is a necessity to maintain standard of life. To put a city spin on it, I'd say that city living is more efficient on its face due to shared resources. To spread goods and services over larger regions can only mean price increases so you don't want to be stuck too far from a city in the event of a real energy crunch.

Rather than end on that note today, my wife sent me an article that speaks to one of my extra-cirricular interests, ice skating. Kate Appleton of Budget Travel in association with presents:

Top 10 Ice Skating Rinks in the United States

Locales Represented:

  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Minneapolis
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Sun Valley
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Yosemite National Park

I haven't skated at any of these rinks. The most unique ones I've been to are the triangular famous Wollman Rink at Central Park in New York City along with the seemingly defunct Lackawanna County Stadium on Ice which was set up on the field of a baseball stadium during the winter. The Houston (bi-level?) and Minneapolis rinks on this list look particularly intriguing. Unfortunately this list did not extend into Canada and include Ottawa's Rideau Canal which I will attempt to navigate on February 9th.

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