Currently viewing the tag: "Sprawl"
It somehow always seems that when Transit/Development news flares up, so do events in our personal lives. In any case, here are some of the top news stories this week, some of which we’ll get around to commenting on:

Local:

  • The next phase of the Metrorail extension hasn’t even broken ground and already the cost overruns have begun. This time Parson’s is looking for an additional $13 million in “Consultant fees.” I’m not specifically implicating that Parsons has something to do with this, but, I find it intriguing that nearly every project they’ve worked on locally (Miami Intermodal Center, MIA North Terminal, MIA South Terminal, PAC, Boston’s Big Dig, etc.) has come in way over budget. Is there something we don’t know, or is it really that easy to bilk the county out of money once you’re hired to do contracting/engineering/management work? I guess choosing the French construction giant Bouygues Travaux Publics, wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
  • Top issues for Kendall this year? Forget Cityhood, how about congestion, lots of it. It’s only getting worse too as years pass and opportunities for real transit come and go (Tri-Rail Kendall link anyone?) If the Kendall community fears Tri-Rail trains traveling down an existing ROW behind their houses or an “unsightly” elevated rail down Kendall drive is going to lower their property values, just wait and see the nose dive congestion will cause. At least the recent efforts have paused (momentarily) foolish FDOT hopes of expanding Killian to 6 lanes west of 137th Avenue. Perhaps Kendall residents are beginning to realize that the car isn’t a viable solution…
  • Like him or not, Manny Diaz has a Vision. We’ll dig into this much more in depth soon…
  • I’m liking the looks of a final panel report on the UDB. Key part of this would require 3/4 of commissioners to move the line for projects and would bring in an outside firm to redraw the line.
  • Live Nation is set to bring yet more events to Bayfront Park. Can’t a Park just be a Park? I’m not arguing against the Museums, those are neccessary, but why does Bayfront need so many attractions to make it successful? I think the park would induce more local use if there was less cement and far more shade trees, just a thought…
  • The Federal DOT has given MDT a grant to purchase 16 hybrid express buses for the new HOT lane project on I-95. The buses will travel from downtown Miami to Ft. Lauderdale. Now can we please modernize the system and implement farecards (and new machines) that are transferable on all 3 local agencies?
  • Don’t ride Transit, Buy a BMW…No seriously, Norman Braman wants you to buy a BMW and skip out on urban life…Oh, more on this soon…However, please follow this link for some laughable signs of hypocrisy…
  • Gasp! This first paragraph says it all: “The [Palmetto Bay] Village Council approved a special permit allowing a new commercial development to put all of its parking spaces on the street at a zoning hearing Monday.” Note: A special permit. I know this is a young, incorporated bedroom community and all, but seriously, can we get some logical planning oversight around there? (In Case you missed it, we’re glad to see the use of on street parking in this and other bedroom communities…This shouldn’t be a special instance, but, rather the norm….)
  • Watering rules in effect now till forever. Green lawns aren’t a necessity folks…
National:
  • Cape Cod wind farm moves one crucial step closer to disturbing a bunch of rich folks’ “pristine” views…
  • Northern Virginia (and Atlanta) is getting closer to funding a new streetcar. Not enough BMW dealers in the area I guess…

We haven’t learned from our mistakes, that’s for sure. Henry Ford launched the model T, in an effort to make vehicles affordable to more people. Recently, Indian carmaker Tata Motors launched the world’s most affordable car, whatever that is, with a base price tag of just $2500. Shocking, I know. Ratan Tata touts the Tata Nano, pictured above, as “The People’s Car” and as MSN said, it is bringing “car ownership into the reach of millions.” There is a fundamental problem here: we are continuing down a path of unsustainable practices and living. There are clear lessons that still have not been learned from our past mistakes and will only become further compounded with vehicles that facilitate car ownership. This statement, an excerpt from a Forbes article, really irks me most:

“Most of all, it would give millions of people now relegated to lesser means of transportation the chance to drive cars.”

No Comment.

“The potential impact of Tata’s Nano has given environmentalists nightmares, with visions of the tiny cars clogging India’s already-choked roads and collectively spewing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

Industry analysts, however, say the car may soon deliver to India and the rest of the developing world unprecedented mobility.”

I would like to ask these industry analysts what sort of mobility do they expect if India’s roads are already overburdened and suffering from extreme congestion.

The car culture of the United States has sadly been exported to nearly every developing nation. The devastating effects this will undoubtedly cause cannot be quantified economically or ecologically for the world as a whole…

Remember the debacle which erupted in Palm Beach when attempting to identify a location for the massive Scripps Institute? Mecca Farms and Boca Raton were all suggested as alternative sites for the massive Bioresearch center, however in the end, a location in Jupiter near FAU’s campus was selected. In the end, here is why the Mecca Farms site fell apart:

The plan came to a halt two years later when a federal judge sided with environmentalists and ruled that the project’s potential environmental impacts hadn’t been adequately studied. Under deadline pressure, commissioners moved the Scripps Florida headquarters to a smaller, urban site at Florida Atlantic University‘s MacArthur campus in Jupiter.

Somehow, the voice of reason prevails over absurd westward development, even if it was for a monumental institution; this project had absolutely no reason to pave over thousands of acres of farmland. Palm Beach County paid $60 million for the Mecca Farms complex and is now trying to figure out what to do with the rural designated land. Considering the reasons why the institution was blocked from building here, their “ideas” may surprise you:

More than four years after the county bought the 1,919-acre property with a sprawling Scripps Florida science campus in mind, commissioners are taking steps to usher in a new reality: suburban home development.

Suburban home development? How is this environmentally friendly? Well, it isn’t but they have some ideas which are actually worse:

County administrators want to use about 100 acres for a landfill, set aside land for water marshes and environmental improvements and package the rest for home builders.

Palm Beach County has the unique opportunity to conserve thousands of acres as farmland, able of producing enough goods to satisfy the needs of much of the South Florida area. This is a pristine opportunity to make our region sustainable, by actually producing food locally and Palm Beach County commissioners are looking to throw it away on yet another ridiculous sprawled out single family home compound. With oil recently reaching $100 a barrel, I am shocked to see still autocentric development mindset…

“A hundred years after we are gone and forgotten, those who never heard of us will be living with the results of our actions.”

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

I’m assuming everyone would have figured out what city was featured in yesterday’s Pic o’ the Day had I placed this picture up instead:I’m surprised nobody could realize that was Duck Creek Park sitting right smack in the middle of all those housing sectors. The point of the Pic o’ the Day was to illustrate just how drab and boring our suburban lives in suburbia have become. As rd commented in the previous post:
“I still believe it’s somewhere in Miami visible by plane. I’ve seen Miami out of a plane before and it looks just like that photo.”

I’ve seen it too and it’s revolting. I can guarantee you (and I will) that I can find pictures of thousands of suburbs across the country that all look like they could be here in our own backyard. Kendall, most of Broward, South Dade, nearly all of Palm Beach, etc. is quickly becoming a mass of featureless suburban plight. Cookie cutter houses, laid out on arbitrarily curvy streets which connect to a few major connector roads, all of which are littered with drive-thru everythings and strip shopping centers. There is no sense of place or community because this isn’t a place (or a community!) just a soulless blob stretching out radially from every former nucleic city center…

To be continued…

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Last week’s Pic o’ the day featured a very memorable, walkable, and livable neighborhood in Philadelphia. Today’s picture is just the opposite, exemplifying much of the construction occurring all across the American landscape. Try and see if you can figure out where this blandness is located. The point of this photograph is to illustrate the lack of creativity associated with urban sprawl. Developers are creating homogeneous housing areas which completely lack a sense of space or community. The available public space is poorly distributed, houses are sectioned off in quadrants inaccessible to pedestrians, and the whole neighborhood suffers from the lack of any memorable structures. I’d be surprised if anyone can guess where this place is…

First we brought you the incredibly useful Walk Score, a program geared to determining how navigable neighborhoods are for people

Today I’d like to introduce Drive Score, the anti-walking, pro-sprawl, and guaranteed laziness application which uses incredibly flawed methods to create a map of vehicle accessible areas. One would think if you ranked poorly on Walk Score, you’d rank high on drive score, right? Not necessarily. Just for fun, I entered a highly walkable Manhattan address to see how “drivable” this program claims the city to be and came up with an 88! You know, never mind the bumper to bumper traffic, lack of dedicated parking, or any sane analysis, this program spews out pure gibberish…

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We some how bypassed this article last week, but, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez vetoed commission recommendations to approve a number of projects outside of the UDB. The veto will likely stand given that the commission lacks the 2/3 majority to override the mayor, presuming that none of the commissioners switch sides…


“If Miami-Dade moves outside the UDB, it will affect our delivery of services and strain already taxed resources,” Alvarez wrote. “Police and fire rescue services would be spread over a greater area, resulting in longer response times due to greater distances and road congestion.”

Meanwhile, on the losing end of the veto, Lowes’ attorney Juan Mayol laments about not having short drives to buy plywood:


“We are hopeful that the county commissioners will continue to recognize that these hard-working families are tired of overcrowded schools and long drives to buy such simple things as plywood or a garden hose.”

How often are people in Kendall buying plywood or garden hoses? Are these necessary commodities in suburbia? Does anyone else appreciate how he combined critical issues (traffic and education) with such an asinine comment? In any case, I’m glad to see the line will be held till 2009 at the earliest, expanding the UDB, contrary to Mayol’s belief, will further strain our transit infrastructure, water resources, and economy to impermissible levels.

A recent report conducted by Tufts University paints a very grim picture of Florida’s future if we don’t take swift action to fight climate change. According to the report, South Florida will be particularly vulnerable to warming effects.

Throughout the report, the researchers discuss two scenarios; the first, known as “rapid stabilization”, is the most optimistic scenario in which global emissions decrease at least 50% by 2050 and U.S. emissions decline at least 80% by the same period. The second scenario, referred to as “business-as-usual”, is a pessimistic scenario that projects the damages to our state if we continue to take little action.

Some of the reports noteworthy conclusions in the “business-as-usual scenario”:

  • Within vulnerable zones:
  • residential real estate now valued at over $130 billion
  • half of Florida’s beaches
  • 99% of Mangroves
  • Sea level could rise by as much as 23” by 2050 and 45” by 2100
  • 70% of Miami-Dade would be under water
  • 99.6% of Monroe would be under water
  • The Everglades would be almost completely inundated by salt water, and effectively destroyed
  • Heat waves will become more severe and more common, with new record temperatures and a gradual decline in nighttime cooling. The average heat index in summer will increase by 15-20% in much of the state. Miami will become several degrees warmer than Bangkok (probably the world’s hottest, most humid major city today) and daily highs in many Florida cities will exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit for nearly 2/3 or the year.
  • Annual statewide economic losses (that’s right…this is per year)
  • $92 billion by 2050
  • $345 billion by 2100
Of course there are those within the rapidly dwindling skeptic community that feel the negative effects of climate change are nothing that good ‘ol human ingenuity can’t solve. Such a reliance on technology to fight nature’s fury is such a dangerous and fleeting philosophy. The Miami-Dade County Climate Change Task Force’s Science and Technology Committee had this to say in the Tufts Report:

“The highly porous limestone and sand substrate of Miami-Dade County (which at present permits excellent drainage) will limit the effectiveness of widespread use of levees and dikes to wall off the encroaching sea.”

However, even if levees and dikes did present a viable option for fighting rising sea levels, it would be inordinately expensive to build such infrastructure in a state with over 1,200 miles of coastline (this doesn’t even factor in Lake Okechobee and other vulnerable watersheds).

This is serious business we’re talking about here. If we don’t start taking swift action to fight climate change, we all lose. Environmentalists lose for obvious reasons, business interests suffer as insurance rates skyrocket, tourism declines, and billions of dollars tied up in real estate become threatened. If you’re indifferent, you’ll still suffer from unprecedented heat and humidity, extremely high costs of living due to insurance and energy price hikes, and more frequent major hurricanes that threaten the lives of us all.

This makes the recent vote to move the UDB line all the more disgraceful. If there is any place that should be leading the fight on climate change, it’s South Florida and Miami-Dade County. Few places are as vulnerable geographically and no other region on Earth can lay claim to an ecosystem like the Everglades. However, this hasn’t stopped self-interest and incompetence from making South Florida one of the most sprawling, unsustainable regions in all of North America.

Click here to download the full report, “Florida and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction”.

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Alrighty folks, I think I’ve started to crack the Miami-Dade County Commission’s playbook for planning and it’s not pretty; looks like the Dolphin’s offense, running in 20 different directions and effectively getting us nowhere. The best choreographed transportation network couldn’t support the kind of cross county movement commuters will likely be doing once 600,000 square foot office compounds are completed on the western fringes of the county (keep in mind the recently approved Kendall project is one of many, others are “planned” further north along the turnpike around Doral.) It appears that our makeshift planners on the commission (in addition to believing that bridges over avenues in sprawl ridden neighborhoods will alleviate traffic congestion) are deciding to essentially sandwich residential development between two opposite commercial “hubs”, one vertical and on the coast, the other sprawled out and mosquito ridden over former wetlands in the west.

It’s interesting to see such a dramatic commercial development juxtaposition occur within such a confined region. While the equivalent of 3 600,000 square foot, LEED certified office skyscrapers (Met 2, 600 Brickell, and 1450 Brickell) rise in our transit accessible downtown core, our commissioners believe it is sound planning to offset them with at least 1 sprawling complex.


West Kendall Baptist Hospital plans…

What irks me most is the marketing ploy to promote the Kendall complex as a commercial center. Central to who exactly when it’s located on Kendall and 167th is beyond me, but I’m assuming that pretty soon the commute from Naples will be quicker than from within some other parts of the county.

Martinez fought for the plan — arguing that developer David Brown promised to build a long-sought road connecting Kendall Drive to a nearby residential complex. It was a job, Martinez said, that the county couldn’t complete.

Sorenson took exception: “Should we make policy decisions based on what developers are going to do for us? Seems to me we ought to be making the policy.”

Forget what is in the best interests of Citizens let’s fight for developer’s rights to exploit our land, water, and natural resources to make a quick buck!

West Kendall Center will likely resemble this aerial from a complex in Birmingham. You can spot the telltale signs of sprawl easily. 1) Squat, warehouse-like buildings covering near acres of land each. 2) Enough surrounding surface parking to accommodate the one day of the year where parking might become an issue. 3) Like a tree, all branches of the sprawl connect to one main arterial road, forcing all visitors to the “mixed use” development to enter and exit through this one opening. 4) A highway nearby (bottom right) to accommodate the hordes of vehicles coming off from the already clogged arterials roads. 5) Trees are confined to medians not sidewalks because the sidewalks (if they exist) won’t be used anyway.

Obviously, Lowes is a good fit for the Sprawl environment with its massive horizontal structure and acres of parking…

The Lowe’s vote commanded the most attention. Twice since 2003 representatives of the home improvement giant have tried to convince commissioners to let them build outside the UDB; both times they were denied.

Tuesday they cracked through — even as dozens of people lined up to speak against the plan to build on 52 acres at Southwest Eighth Street and 137th Avenue.

Said Julie Hill: “Further sprawl will exacerbate climate change in South Florida.”

Added John Wade: “We should have a water recycling program working before there’s any attempt to move the UDB.”

But Humberto Sanchez, who lives about 25 blocks from the proposed Lowe’s site, told the story of a recent shopping venture to buy light bulbs. “It took me an incredible amount of time to buy light bulbs at Home Depot.”

Oh Boohoo…

Interesting side note: you would not believe how difficult it is to find pictures of Sprawl and suburban office complexes despite how common they are in the American Landscape. Just further proof that we keep building places that aren’t photographic, let alone even livable. Finding a decent picture of a Lowes parking lot was just as difficult because as common as they are, who the heck would want to photograph one?

MVB’s Thoughts

Uh Oh, apparently there is a UDB vote today

”If we’re starting to get serious about water, climate and environmental issues, the most important thing we can do is prevent urban sprawl,” [Katy Sorenson] said.

The debate will surely pit opponents to further development in Florida’s most populous county against business interests that say the projects are needed.

One applicant wants to build a Lowe’s retail store near Southwest 138th Avenue and Eighth Street; another plans to create office and industrial space in an area in Doral near Beacon Lakes; two others aim to convert agricultural patches off Kendall Drive near Southwest 167th Avenue to business and office space.

These projects are needed? How you justify business and office space along the western fringes of civilization when you have a CBD that mainly looks like the picture below is beyond me. Commissioner Sorenson is right, we simply cannot continue to grow west and expect to become a sustainable, ecologically conscientious community, but then again, why should we expect the business interests coming up with these projects to give a damn in the first place? The Commission needs to force the greedy developers trying to push the line further west to reinvest their efforts in our blighted neighborhoods…Just look at all the empty lots sitting within our allegedly dense urban environment…

But then again, who are we trying to kid when the ideology of the commission is:

But Martinez, the county commissioner who oversees a large portion of Kendall, believes some of the applicants have an upside. Though the Lowe’s would be built just outside his district, he said the company has promised to build a bridge over Southwest 139th Avenue that will actually “alleviate traffic.”

Alleviate traffic? Thanks Martinez! we weren’t aware of your experience in traffic engineering, do you care to elaborate how sprawl will reduce congestion throughout the county?

Via CM

Too often our society seems to overlook one of our most important modes of transportation- our own two legs. A new website, Walk Score, aims to change our dependence back to our own legs for personal mobility and seeks to help homebuyers find homes with many destinations within walking distance.

The premise is simple, you enter an address and the system characterizes the neighborhood on a 0-100 scale based on how many destinations are within a reasonable (less than 1 mile) walking distance. Essentially any ranking below 25 is is impossible to walk around while scores above 90 signify dense easily accessible neighborhoods. The website takes schools, restaurants, grocery stores, shops, parks, and libraries among other items into consideration when calculating the neighborhoods walk score.

Walk score allows people to quickly find homes in areas where car ownership let alone full dependence on a vehicle is not a requirement. In playing around with the program for a little while you’ll quickly see the disparity between automobile based/designed sprawl areas and true urban neighborhoods. The importance of walking to destinations daily cannot be emphasized enough from a planning perspective or as new research shows as a matter of your health.

President Bush’s Crawford Ranch somehow attained the dubious zero rating. Let us know how your neighborhood compares…

The Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) recently came out with a report that, like so many other reports the last few years, illustrates the relationship between sprawl and obesity. The report argues that if planners are to reverse this crisis, they’ll need to find ways to get people out of cars and auto-centric communities and into denser, mixed-use neighborhoods where things are closer together. From the Toronto Star:
There’s no question there’s a connection between obesity, diabetes and heart-related diseases and the built environment, specifically sprawl, said co-author George McKibbon. Air quality is an issue, too, especially for those who live near highways. We also found that if you’re in a car four to five hours a day, social cohesion is at risk.

The report’s authors go on to say:

Good urban form is functional, economically and environmentally sustainable, and liveable, in a way that promotes public health. These communities offer a variety of housing options, facilities and open-space systems. They are walkable, cyclable, and include transit-oriented development, and promote alternatives to the single occupancy vehicle.

The report takes a close look at the issue of childhood obesity and how patterns of large, spread out schools have contributed by not allowing kids to walk to school. According to OPPI traffic engineer, Nick Poulos, simply by letting kids walk to and from school, we’d be healthier, pollution would be reduced, and neighborhood traffic would be reduced by 15 to 20 percent.

This is just one more reason why Miami needs to become denser and more transit-oriented. Do you know how much money per year is spent on obesity-related illness in the U.S. right now? Over $100 billion, including $60+ billion in direct medical costs and $50+ billion in lost productivity. That, my friends, is the very definition of a health and spending crisis.

You are where you live — think about it.

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Energy and oil is the dominant theme this week, however the articles about the Everglades and affordable housing in Miami are very troubling.

  • NY Times: Efforts to save the everglades are faltering
  • Newsday: Gas prices affecting community, car use
  • NY Times: Rising demand for oil provokes new energy crisis
  • KITV Honolulu: Gas prices have reached $5 per gallon in parts of Cali
  • Miami Herald: Housing crunch (lack of affordable housing) hitting low-income residents hard
  • NY Times: High gas prices and long commutes having an impact on the sprawl market

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Congratulations, Miami, you’ve just been honored by another dubious countdown. Forbes magazine recently came out with a list of the Top 20 Sedentary Cities in America, and Miami sits right at number 10. According to Forbes, was collected on body mass index (BMI), physical inactivity, and tv watching habits for America’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. Data for BMI and inactivity was primarily collected from the Center for Disease Control, while Neilsen data was used to determine hours spent watching television.

More specifically, Miami came in fifth with an average of 35 hours of television watched per week. If that isn’t bad enough, 60% of residents are obese or overweight. Really no surprise here - this is what you get when you live in sprawl. Let’s take a look at the the other cities and see if there is a prevailing theme here:

1) Memphis
2) New Orleans
3) Las Vegas
4) Detroit
5) Birmingham
6) Louisville
7) San Antonio
8) Jacksonville
9) Nashville
10) Miami
11) Houston
12) Tampa
13) San Diego
14) Pittsburgh
15) Oklahoma City
16) Indianapolis
17) Atlanta
18) Richmond
19) Cleveland
20) Philadelphia

Well, in case you didn’t notice, most of these metros are located in the Sunbelt/South and are famous for their sprawling/auto-centric growth patterns (especially the Top 17). Richmond, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Philly have all been hit hard by out-migration to the suburbs. Plus, these cities aren’t exactly famous for their healthy diets. Though it’s fairly obvious, there is a fast-growing body of studies addressing the link between land use and obesity/inactivity. Low density sprawl isn’t just bad because it’s unsustainable and costly - it’s killing us in our waistlines and hearts.

Photo courtesy of Forbes.com

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