Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ecocities, Preserving Community in the Face of PRTs: Case Study - State Street

I had several experiences this weekend that combined nicely with the assignment. I chose to read Ch. 8 in Ecocities because I felt that reading Register's summary of Joan's work would help to prime me for the second part of the project. I also attended the Apple Festival, which several people have mentioned for its community togetherness (and delicious funnel cakes). And lastly, with my Urban Co-op block group I attended the Ecovillage free community tour on Saturday afternoon. It was interesting to contrast the peace and quiet of a trip to Ecovillage with the hubbub of the Commons on the busiest day of the year. Taking into account Elan's questions and directions for the assignment I decided to focus on the block of State Street directly before the Commons as my space and to look at the viability of incorporating PRT's from a preservation stand-point. Rob offered some renderings of the space as it could look in the future, and made several important observations about the area.

The buildings on this portion of State Street have a maximum height of 3 stories. There are about half and half historic buildings and "new" construction. There is a vacant lot, as well as the State Theater, a historic resource the community has put significant effort into restoring. There is an Ithaca Downtown Historic District, which does encompass this portion of State Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Districts are often seen as a hindrance to new development as well as some of our sustainability ideals such as density. However, preservation is undertaken to protect the quality of our built environment. The Urban Renewal of the 50's and 60's destroyed thousands and thousands of buildings - and through that - thousands of neighborhoods. It also displaced many thousands of people, many of whom where low-income minorities. I think it is important to bring up here because what is paramount to remember when talking about city transformation is that the planners and politicians who designed and implemented Urban Renewal projects believed passionately that they were transforming cities which were no longer functioning as healthy environments for their inhabitants. I bring this up because many Urban Renewal projects did little to help the people they displaced and additionally provided high density public housing built on green-space: a Corbusian design which I am not alone in contending simply does not work in addressing affordable housing issues.

To return to my project space, I will say that I would not want more than 3-story buildings on this pleasant "Main Street" type area. And to be honest, I'm not sure I want to see Bladerunner-type PRTs whizzing above my head. I do believe that public transportation is a huge concern for the city but it is important not to rush into something under the guise of sustainability that will drastically alter people's environment without other factors being considered. While standing along State Street I thought a lot about underground transportation systems. Of course, I would imagine this would be prohibitively expensive in Ithaca. Additionally, it seems to me that some of the benefits of an above ground system would be increased safety and visibility. My conclusion is that it will likely be extremely difficult to get a PRT system supported by preservationists, but it is clear that the automobile is also detrimental to our neighborhood character. So I don't really have any answer, as usual I see my preservationist self grapple with my sustainability self and I still don't think those passions have to be exclusive.

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