Sunday, September 30, 2007
Before Register listed his four steps to the ecology of the economy, he said that we must let natural systems be the overarching ruler of our economy. As one of the basic methods of looking at our economy, the author borrowed on, among others, Thomas Berry’s idea that “nature’s economics are primary, humanity’s economics derivative.”(p.211) Using the example of the doomed Easter Island society, we are warned not to use up all our resources on our selfish Western lifestyle.
The idea that there could be step by step methods for building ecocities sounded very comforting and easy-to-follow. Register’s steps were (1) to map out how a city’s land would be used and where it needs infrastructure, (2) next to list all the services, products and technologies that could be useful for the building and maintaining of the ecocity, then (3) to provide incentives for people and organizations to build it, and finally (4) to gather the people to live, work in and politically support the ecocity.
Our very own Joan Bokaer and the Ithaca EcoVillage were given as a shining example of how the four steps can be implemented in real life. Citing Joan’s Green Fund municipal investment strategy and the Urban Growth Boundary to help the city curb sprawl, Register points out how these two initiatives provide incentives for building the ecocity and redraws the city map to follow a more sustainable future plan. In following with step 2, Joan also named the type of work and technology required to make the EcoVillage happen. Of course, Joan also covered step 4 by getting a willing ensemble of people together to live in the EcoVillage.
In the section on economics, Register also points out that the term “post-industrial world” is a misnomer. We are blinded by the frame of our Western “office to the world” that is responsible for but never sees the heavy industry going on in other parts of the globe. With this in mind, we must remember that our resources are finite and that nothing can keep growing indefinitely, not even our economy. Less is now more.
In order to combat corporate control, buy and boycott lists are suggested as effective means toward personal empowerment. Ethical investing is another way to put your money into sustainable initiatives and keep it from funding detrimental ones. The author also thinks that we must increase taxes on fossil fuels (while we still can) in order to help fund new sustainable energy strategies. Finally, Register suggests that sustainability could even unify politics as people from both conservative and liberal parties agree that ecocities are the best future for the economy and the environment.
I enjoyed reading Chapter 8 because it was another positive and constructive approach to present and future sustainability. It was rewarding to read because it discussed some very impressive steps toward ecocity development that have been made right here in Ithaca. There were also helpful suggestions as to how both individuals and governments could make positive, meaningful changes through buying power, bylaws and political support.
In walking around Ithaca today, I saw many wonderful examples of how the community is at the forefront of the American sustainability movement. For example, I walked around (and volunteered at a booth) the Ithaca Apple Festival where I witnessed many vendors selling local products and celebrating local produce. By choosing to purchase from local vendors, people were able to support their local economy and keep their money circulating in the community, which was one of Register's strategies for personal empowerment.
Many connections were being made as droves of people enjoyed the beautiful weather and took advantage of the commons as a true center of the community. I was happy to see both composting and recycling going on during the festival, but this should be happening every day, in every home and workplace. As far as I am concerned, this is not an option but should be a legal requirement all across the nation, including the industrial sector.
Register made it clear that our economy should follow nature, and that it cannot work the other way for very long. That being said, I found plenty of examples around Ithaca where the landscape seemed forced and in a perpetual struggle against nature. Why fight nature? It seemed to be primarily in the name of aesthetics -and not usually very good ones. For example, the city plants trees in small wells in the sidewalks, but many of the wells are just mulched and then expected to remain weed-free forever. While I applaud the use of mulches and the protection of the tree root zone, mother nature seems to prefer to be covered in plants. Compare these two pictures of city tree wells:
One is covered in bindweed and the other is just bark mulch. According to the laws of weeds, plants will invade open ground whenever possible, so why not beat them at their own game and put in a cover crop of our choice. Many groundcovers are attractive and can actually harness nitrogen from the air to help build up soil nutrients. The health of our soil is very important and should be addressed as a serious issue of sustainability. Why not use deciduous vines to cover hot west and south facing walls in the summertime? Besides, soil and walls covered in plants looks better, will sequester more carbon from the atmosphere, trap pollutants, as well as buffer urban temperatures and humidity levels. This is an example of how we can use nature to our advantage instead of throwing resources away to fight an endless fight.
In keeping with the move to work with nature and not against it, reducing our car use will also allow us to reduce our need for hard, asphalt surfaces. The prevalence of concrete and asphalt throughout Ithaca and all other cities creates problems with urban heat islands and radiating heat, but it also wreaks havoc on our soils and natural water systems. Ithaca has made some move to use bricks around the commons, which is a little more permeable than asphalt. If we can reduce our hard surfaces, including our hard roof surfaces, then we may use soils and plants to capture, filter and slow down precipitation run-off, and thus reduce pressures on urban waste water systems. Hard surfaces should be minimized. All new buildings should be built with green roofs and many old buildings, such as these, could be retrofitted with green roof systems.
While I was walking around, I noticed that many of the older (pre-airconditioning era) houses had wonderful porches that encouraged their inhabitants to sit outside and be a part of the community. Porches also give people a place to go to escape the heat of the summer while still feeling sheltered.
New homes should include porches in their designs whenever possible instead of just having yards that are focused on the backyard and privacy. Many Ithacans in Fall Creek seem to enjoy being out on their front porches. This is good for them, and is good for the neighborhood at large because it makes it safer when there are more people watching the streets.
As an additional incentive, if we had less radiating heat from all our asphalt roads and driveways, then houses like this might be able to reduce their need for so many airconditioning units:
I took over 50 pictures on my walk around Ithaca. I intended to post as many as possible to create a photojournal, but I am finding blogger.com to be very long and tiresome when it comes to importing photos. I got some of my group members to try to help me with this, but it seems like blogger doesn't have the same functionality with macs as it does with pc computers.
“You can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created the problem.” ~ Albert Einstein
Register begins by outlining the concept of biomimicry as not just a good idea for sustainability, but an inherent necessity for survival of all things living. The foundation of everything we create is nature, and Register illustrates that we should carry it through as the structure.
Register’s strategy to build an ecocity, which he calls “Four Steps to an Ecology of the Economy,” includes:(1) the map: the planning of the land use and infrastructure.
(2) the list: an inventory of sustainable technologies – creation of green-collar jobs
(3) the incentives: shift from incentives to drive to incentives not to, and similarly switching to all other new green technologies
(4) the people: solidarity, participatory planning, first recruit the willing to give an example to the skeptics
Register talks in length about Joan Bokaer’s building of EcoVillage and vision of a sustainable city of Ithaca! He mentions that a successful element of Joan’s strategy was starting with the 4th step; by gathering the people Joan used community inspiration to fuel the sustainability fire in Ithaca. He describes the economic model of Ithaca’s Green Fund.
Register make specific suggestions for financially supporting ecocity building.
- no shopping at any place that has a gigantic parking not or is served by freeway off-ramps
- no shopping on-line for what you could buy in a walkable neighborhood
- no more new cars, and no old ones either as soon as possible
- no buying into gated, suburban communities
- yes to buying so your money circulates locally
Registers vision of creation of an Ecocity is far easier to imagine in terms of starting from scratch, as opposed to instilling the an ecocity-revitalization within an existing city. Ecovillages’ success as models of civic sustainability is based largely on self-selection of residents. There are so many elements of change that would have to occur on so many levels in a nearly simultaneous highly flexible manner to have a matching example of success within existing city limits. I am NOT saying it’s not possible, I am just wishing, much the same as Register is, that there were examples to show the skeptics who are perfectly happy to keep waiting “until we have all of the answers” to their criticisms (which, of course, as Register says, will never happen).
Observations of Ithaca through Green-colored glasses
I walked from my house on South Hill along State Street to highway 13 and back along Green Street. The “800-pound gorilla” car-based-culture-reality Register forces us to recognize and evaluate was painfully obvious as I walked around Ithaca comparing what I saw to what I could envision based on Joan’s and Rob’s presentations. I have no doubt that Bokaer’s estimation of one-thrid to two-thirds of most US cities surface space being devoted to the car is true in Ithaca’s. Everywhere I looked I saw another aspect of the city that supported the car and the vicious cyclical exponentially increasing investment in the auto industry. Our “unnegotiable life style” (to quote George W. Bush) of consumerism with the car on the pedestal.
Trying to role-play as a local Ithaca small-business merchant, looking at the city if it were to become mostly car-free, I felt very nervous about how the change might hinder my business’ growth. I took on the roles of the owners of the various businesses I walked past. For example, thinking of myself as an owner of a restaurant, and seeing the loading docks made me think of all the huge deliveries that come in transported in semi-trucks to support the amount of food I sell. If I were to switch to only buying from local vendors, they would still need a way to get hundreds of pounds of food to me every week. And I couldn’t help but notice that many of the local businesses would risk becoming obsolete if they were not able to bring in huge shipments from around the globe. It did not make me opposed to the idea of the change, it just made me realize that the change may have a beneficial effect on the city as a whole, but is likely to have a catastrophic effect on many individual’s way of making a living, at least initially.
During my walk I saw two elderly women pushing grocery carts up the hill towards Ithaca College collecting cans and bottles from people’s recycling bins. You know what they say about assuming things – but I went ahead and assumed that these women were poor, and tried to look at the proposed-sustainable-city-changes from their eyes. I was sure that a city that provided walkable proximity from home to commerce/places of employment and to other community services would have been beneficial to anyone struggling to get on their feet financially. I also felt that if everyone, from all levels of the Socio-economic spectrum, were forced to use public transportation, then there would be a status-quo for the quality of the transportation experience. However, I worry that with out much American-dream-mentality we put into our cars, that even sustainable transportation-companies would pop up offering “elite”/first-class transportation that would be faster and more comfortable and separate from that affordable to the poor. And on a 95 degree day in July when a single-mother with 3 kids is trying to get from work to school to pick up her kids to the grocery store and home, she might just feel desperate enough to pay for the faster, more comfortable service to get home and sacrifice something else in her expenditures, such as her dinner. But there I go looking at it without my systems-thinking-hat on. :) Of course, in a systems view of a sustainable city, she would have a job that would pay enough for her to not make either sacrifice. I hope so. I’m just so worried about likelihood of people in this country letting go of “the capitalist dream that we can all get rich,” which contaminates the promise of equity in this green picture.
For my previous assignment I chose to read Plunge on In! I found it really interesting yet I lacked some basic elements as chapter 8 built on chapter 7: What to Build. After reading chapter 7 this week I got fixed on Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. I think the patterns contrived are very interesting and plan on pursuing their content. For Ecocities sake, Register devised his own eco city principles which I found to be the most important content. They included: Build the city like the living system it is, Make the city’s function fit with the patterns of evolution, follow the builder’s sequence – start with the foundation, reverse the transportation hierarchy and build soils and enhance biodiversity. These principles were all-encompassing and really are some interesting points to creating the eco friendly city.
What I found most interesting are the issues that were left out in chapter 7. These include how??? How do you go about “reversing the transportation hierarchy”. This is an impossible job. Transportation is the sole of this country and is what makes everything work together as well as it does. Reversing transportation would potentially bring a country like
The people are already converted; it is now the government that must be too. Sometimes I feel as if there is so much outreach going on with activists trying to convert the public. The public can continue to be “converted” yet more action steps must be taken to get the government involved in subsidies for renewables and alternative resources. Without this support no matter how much the public cares I don’t think much can be done. This may seem like a far-out conclusion from where Register was coming from but I am tired of hearing all the great things that can be done, let’s hear how we can get the “big guys” interested.
This weekend I went with Carlos to the commons to explore the area. We noticed one general attribute as we walked around. Everything was very green and friendly. The commons is a model for a green city as the commons is a city in itself. The commons is probably the most attractive meeting area in
Ways that the commons could be improved included adding some bike racks to make it more bike accessible. Despite the walker-friendly attitude the commons holds, there is a severe lack of bike racks. If the commons were ever to be expanded (which would be a fantastic idea) there would definitely need to be better access. One of the most fun and interesting parts of the commons is the alley next to cinemetropolis. This charming place allows access to a major road, yet successfully hides the big city feel that the road represents.
Finally, we felt that the commons would benefit more from more events like AppleFest. This was a fantastic community gathering opportunity that allowed Ithacans to get out and see how great their city is. If there were more events such as this
Honestly, I was quite disappointed with Chapter 8. I feel like Register makes a lot of ethical and moral judgments about the types of behavior that people should adopt yet offers very little data, fact, or objective observation to back his judgment calls. For example, he claims that “the capitalist dream… contaminates reasonable voting” and that “we need to begin voting for what’s best for the great majority” (225) instead of “thinking as little as possible” (223). He also divides the American public into two categories: those who subscribe to “a false construct based on denial” and those who “shop at the corner store rather than Wal-Mart… because they want to see their money circulate in the community rather than go to Wal Mart owners out of town” (221). If Register wants to encourage people to adopt behavioral changes, he should stop exalting his belief system above those of other people. Moreover, he should also acknowledge that his belief system is not the final authority nor does it represent the absolute best way to live.
As for my journey into Ithaca, I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I spent thinking about the city’s future. I decided to go to the intersection of Cascadilla Street and Cayuga Street—a site that Connect Ithaca describes as a potential urban village. Now that I have seen the site, I agree fully with this description.
When I arrived at the site at 11:30 Friday morning, the area was bustling with activity. The site hosts a wide range of mixed use development which draws people into the urban environment. A small coffee shop sits at one corner of the intersection, while various commercial establishments occupy two of the other corners. A public park rests in the remaining lot. All of these facilities are surrounded by residential development and connected by roads.
If we were to eliminate cars from Ithaca, this intersection could potentially grow into an even more energized commercial and residential hub. I drew several sketches of the site to demonstrate how much space is taken up by roads. If these roads were closed to cars, then we could expand the existing urban block into the street and increase density by a significant amount. The coffee shop already sits inside of a three story building, so I imagine that we could build as high as 5 or 6 stories without disrupting the cohesiveness of the neighborhood. I also think that an elevated rail would fit fine within the context of this neighborhood.
If I were a low income resident, I might not feel completely comfortable in a trendy urban village like the one that we are proposing. Consequently, we must make a conscious effort to preserve the public park at the intersection and to incorporate other public spaces into the plan of the development. We might also provide some sort of affordable housing in the immediate area to ensure that all Ithacans have access to this hub. The proposed improvements to this site will certainly increase land value and attract college students, professors, and professionals to the area (especially with such amazing access to the transit line) so we will have to fight hard to make sure that low income people can claim some part of this project.
Chapter one starts by laying out the framework for the title of the chapter "As We Build, So SHall We Live." The author talks about the odd dichotomy of people being extremely interested in sustainability and ecocity design and yet the trend is flowing in the opposite direction. This seems to be occurring because people are only thinking in piecemeal ways and not in a comprehensive way. The thinking follows that society no longer has to be at war with nature, we should be able to understand it and use nature's cycles as inspiration for our designs. Register critiques cities with a western influence because the greenspace afforded in european cities is over manicured and essentially only there for visual appeal, as opposed to multiple purposes. The idea that "a man's house is his castle" is harshly critiqued and the dynamics of a european castle city are contrasted to a native community's city. The native city is designed as rooms within one house, while a castle imposes a division of tasks that reduces efficiency. Essentially, if we design on a human scale we will be set for life.
I think that I will have to stop reading the beginning chapters of these books because I keep being frustrated by the romanticism and repetition that flows through these types of books. Register over romanticizes the native style city and his optimism for the optimal eco-city also adds to be urge to reject his other more insightful parts of his writing.
I can connect to this reading and to the critique I'm making to it with the ecovillage at Ithaca. There are numerous assets to this form of community, but at the same time it's residents are disproportionately upper-middle class, middle aged, Caucasian families-- which is certainly no representation of any non-intensional community.
In this chapter Register fleshes out some ideas on how to go from imagination to reality with regard to ecocities. The main tools discussed are ecocity zoning, transfer of development rights, an ecological general plan, and the International Ecological Rebuilding Program. The ecocity zoning map creation necessitates a complete rewriting of the future, a move away from the current zoning practices of separating uses to layering uses one on top of the other in a wonderful jumble of existence, much like the ecology of nature. Building upon the use of the ecocity zoning would be the ecological general plan, which would essentially be the master plan for a community, just with a different focus. The ecological general plan would incorporate ecological health as one of its imperatives, to stand along side the imperative for the health and safety of its people: essentially, taking a whole systems approach to planning.
A tool to achieve the goals of the ecocity zoning and the ecological general plan is Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Currently in use, TDR allows for sending zones and receiving zones, whereby land can be permanently divested of the right to build upon it. TDR represents a unique and forward thinking way to guide development.
On a broader scale, the International Ecological Rebuilding Program aims to place at the fore a whole system approach to world development. It requires cooperation of world nations, as well as investment in a long-term future rather than short-term returns.
The tools of Register’s ecological city seem grounded in existing frameworks. Zoning, general plans, TDR, and world imperatives all currently exist in today’s world. Register hopes to tweak their uses to better suit his agenda, and he is successful in explaining their relevance to creating ecocities. But it seems as though Register breaks down when it comes to explaining how and why an ecocities future will be adopted. This chapter helped solidify a truth that Register holds self-evident:
“With an ecocity zoning map in hand, supplemented by descriptive explanations, you don’t need to worry about whether anyone supports you initially. What you are saying makes sense.” (259)
Does it? To whom? And for what reason? Register explains: “…you have the logic of the human body’s needs and dimensions and the logic of ecology on your side” (259). It seems like Register is creating an ideology of the ecocity, and that everyone should eventually come around to your (his) way of thinking because it is clearly a superior interpretation of reality. I am a bit concerned by the lack of logic exhibited by Register. Though his ideas are timely and, well, good, I don’t think I could create an ecocities zoning map, present it to a group of concerned community members, and have my argument boil down to “it makes sense because its ecologically logical, you see.” Maybe I am distilling his reasoning too much, oversimplifying the nuances of text, but nuances fall by the wayside in movements much less radical than Register’s.
Despite such a hiccup, Register has inspired in me a path to ecocity-dom. Though change will come slowly, unevenly across the globe, in fits and starts, the major ecological disasters(?) that will undoubtedly transpire in the next +-100 years may do more to force this radical change than the most concerted efforts in the calm before the storm. It may just be human nature to not fix something until it is unquestionably, unavoidably – and most of all annoyingly – broken. I don’t think we are at that point yet.
In the community
I spent the brunt of last semester thinking about the Southwest Area and its future existence. It was a love/hate relationship, one that still lingers in my memory when I look out over Libe slope, drive by on Route 13, or even visit the nearby retail (Lowes, not Wal-Mart). I soon realized, working in the trenches running numbers and facing reality, that the hopes and dreams of ecocities are not easily transferred from paper to product. I think of the decision the city made to move forward with Lowes and Wal-Mart, to effectively cut off the southwest area from true integration with the city, and lament the lost opportunity to create a much better designed segment of Ithaca.
In this chapter of Ecocities Register suggests different tools for reshaping cities, some of which have existed for a long time, and some of which are already being used effectively but should be used more widely. He also suggests that completely new tools need to be created to “fill out a whole new tool box for ecocities.” The suggested tools are as follows:
Mapping of Ecocities. Register acknowledges that it is difficult to gather support for ecocity zoning, but suggests the construction of maps that are “centers-oriented” which is thought through publicly. These maps are overlay “shadow zoning maps,” as they do not represent the actual zoning of a city; “they start from what actually exists and therefore are partially implemented already.”
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). This is a real estate transaction tool that makes it possible to buy and transfer the rights to develop from one piece of property to another. Double TDRs remove structures at a “sending site” as a condition of the developer being able to build more elsewhere at the “receiving site.” Register suggests that restoration taxes would help to encourage the transfers that open up nature. A revolving fund would be helpful for “rolling back sprawl” through Double TDR, as it would be used to buy land and sell development rights that can be shifted to other parts of town.
The Ecological General Plan. A master or general plan is one of the most important instruments in shaping cities; it is made up of different elements and is a framework for public decision-making… “any ecocity General Plan worthy the name would have to adopt an ecocity zoning map; a very major step would be the establishment of an Office of Ecological Development.”
Register also suggests tools for rolling back sprawl and the foundation of an International Ecological Rebuilding Program. There is also the recommendation for having ecocity organizations that do not focus on one particular problem as many organizations do, but that examines the “truth about the relationship of the physical community to ecology and evolution.”
This weekend I spent several hours walking around the Commons during the Apple Festival and the surrounding area. After walking through the Commons I continued down W. State Street, onto N. Geneva Street, onto East Buffalo, and finishing in Dewitt Park across from Greenstar Cooperative Market.
One major asset of the Commons is the fact that it is a commercial pedestrian plaza which is conducive to business growth. It appears as though it may be mixed-use, with residences above the restaurants and shops. It is clear from being on the Commons for five minutes that it is a place which encourages sustainability, with compost bins alongside trash containers (I'm not sure if these were always here, or were just placed here for the festival). It has a very family-oriented cultural atmosphere, with children running and dancing around musicians/street performer without the threat of automobiles and abundant plant life. I was particularly interested in the fact that there are small "malls" and movie theaters tucked into/under large buildings and they are not obvious to a passer-by.
Once you walk onto W. State Street and N. Geneva though, businesses becomes less dense and metered parking calls to cars. West State Street appears to be a promising extension of the Commons, sans cars and more densely populated with businesses and housing. Although cars would not be allowed in this area, one car parking space could be given up to five bikes, a seemingly popular mode of transportation in the area. It should also be noted that in the Commons (on a regular weekend) businesses and restaurants are bustling with pedestrians, and they are not as much so on W. State Street (auto-centered).
Continuing onto Dewitt Park, the streets north of the Commons are mainly residential. The park itself was full of people gathering to relax and socialize, probably due to its proximity to the Commons. The park has potential to have more natural elements; right now the center of the park is a war memorial. Not to say this is not important, but the addition of maybe a garden or fountain might attract even more people, especially if some of the surrounding homes were converted to multi-family/low-income housing.
This chapter outlined four sequential steps to start the progress toward an ecocity. The steps help focus and direct energy in a positive direction. Step one is the need for a comprehensive map. The importance of a map/plan is a recurring theme in all the literature we have read so far. The map would need to contain the framework for the city’s zoning, physical anatomy, future development and non development sites ect. Also, the plan should only serve as a guideline for the city and expect considerable changes. The question that continually arises for me when the idea of a comprehensive map is brought up is how can a small struggling city with limited resources fund the creation of this type of map , like my hometown.
The second step is the compilation of a list of technologies. This data base would serve the community by providing education and information for its future growth. Step Three is incentives for the growth of ecocities. This would be new package of incentives that builds “a society at peace with nature.” The laws, regulations and subsides would have to change from cars/sprawl and oil to a set of regulations that promotes ecocities. The last step is people. It is important to organize people with a common goal, who are “ready and willing” to pick up their lives and make change happen. The next part of the chapter gives the real life example of ITHACA, NY and how the city is using the four steps to accomplish its goals.
The last part of the chapter gives the typical recommendations of how we can support the green cause by, buying locally, getting rid of our cars, boycotting Wal-Mart, and supporting Third Parties in government. The main gist of this chapter was to start planning and more importantly begin to take action. The perfect conditions for change don’t exist so the only way to start change is to just jump in and then adjust as you go.
I tried to picture the light rail running through the Downtown Commons. One of my major concerns is the way the light rail would look and how it would fit in with the aesthetic appeal the Commons now have. Is there a way to change the way the rail or train cars would look in order to make them fit in with the charm of the commons? Or maybe a mixture of light rails and trolley cars. Also I’m not familiar with light rails but I assume they make some kind of noise, which could be a major annoyance. It is estimated that around 20% percent of the population has some type of handicap; I assume the trains would be accessible, but how? I really like the idea of slowly shutting down streets to cars. When you slowly shut down a street to cars it gives people the chance to get used to the change and find other ways to get around.
This chapter was alot about creating an ecocity zoning map, transfer of development rights (TDR), restoration tax credit, and the need for an Ecological General Plan. I thought Register managed to make alot of sense as to what should happen and why. Still he himself mentioned some of the barriers that exist to keep such 'utopian' things from happening. The bottom line seems to be that the people in power do not want this and so it will not happen. This chapter only made me realize how silly and idealistic this class makes all our hopes seem when viewed from outside of our jolly bubble of hope. Register states that it is policies that we are lacking, and I agree. When, as he pointed out, someone who claims to be so environmentally concerned reaches a certain amount of power, is the vice president of the US, and still these policies do not pass it does not make me optimistic. Still I agree that tools such as the ecocity zoning map are steps to be taken ahead of time, now, in order to be prepared for our great hope should it come, "the awakening". This chapter made me realize that although I do not tend to be as quickly believing as I used to be I still await in the "shadow". Trying to educate myself for that day when we will need to take over.
I’m not certain how much we are expected to write concerning our walk for there were plenty of questions. I picked a place I often walk through at all hours, that is The Commons. I noted that there are dwellings above the stores. That many of the stores are local. The area seems to be relatively shady and many sorts of people gather in it to mingle. The structures could be taller, something at least one store worker would not mind after inquiry. I also noted that the Commons is relatively short, and could easily be extended across Cayuga Street. It seems there is more walking, business, and residential potential there. Only the stores across there now don’t seem to be quite so visited. Also, although the trees are great to have it would be nice to see the sun in The Commons. The concrete walks look rather filthy and something like grass would make a huge difference in making the environment seem more clean and refreshing. I know that there is already work being done to try to get a monorail or PRT through this area, and I think that it would look fine and I could only hope that with it would come many more businesses. It seems the Commons is good for perhaps a bit of Ithacan culture, but as far as practicality it is lacking. Most people wouldn’t go to The Commons for a pair of pants, for a heater, for groceries, or toilet paper. The area seems to cater to only a small group of people, those with money and those that would be called “Hippies”. Bringing in a more affordable grocery store, more residences above the stores, an actual theater playing big movies, an arcade, some more ‘restaurants’ (not expensive!!, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘fastfood’ either), clothes stores (clothes everyday people would buy), and a supply store (with towels, dishes, etc). All these things would bring all sorts of people as long as the prices weren’t extraordinary due to location. The artistic stores that are already there would be great as well, offering a bit of exoticness. Another really neat thing would be a few fresh fruit and vegetable stands. All this, with prices all could afford, would bring Ithaca together.
Last week I read Chapter 10 in Ecocities because I was eager for some practical tools. This week I decided to back up a bit to Chapter 7 and actually read about Register’s vision for an ecocity. It’s not exactly what I expected. The chapter has been summarized several times since last week, and I had similar comments and criticisms as other bloggers. While I appreciate the fullness of his vision and can see how the EZ map, the Ecological Plan and other tools introduced in Chapter 10 could pave the way for making his vision into reality, it’s a long way from the creation of an EZ map to his futuristic bike ride through an ecocity.
As I felt myself getting more and more cynical, I turned back to page 184 and reread the sentence, “Let’s say we land on Earth about 100 year (sic) from now.” Well, maybe we’re aliens, whatever. The key to my buying into this vision is the time horizon: In 100 years, I think some very dramatic events (peak oil, climate change, perhaps more war) will have wrought profound change, and we cannot begin to predict what shape the urban form will take. In that respect, I believe that Register’s ecocity vision is not just compelling, but feasible. Also, keep in mind that the modes of transportation and the organization of space may not come about by popular choice, but by necessity. If that’s the case, then I hope the new urban form is as vibrant as he describes it.
Still, how do we get there from here? I think it’s possible—and desirable—to create an urban palimpsest wherein buildings and patterns are not discarded but modified, emergent forms and functions superimposed, old materials juxtaposed against new ones. I considered this as I observed the Commons, thinking about how it might look in 10, 50, or 100 years. Below are my flaneuristic observations, in discrete thoughts so that this doesn’t turn into a five-page narrative:
The Commons is already mixed use, and could be more so: In the corridor along State St., build multi-story apartment, retail, and office buildings, give the first two or three floors to commercial use. Maybe the south side of the street has a height limit of six stories to allow southern exposure to the street, while the north side can be taller.
Build more Seneca Places (but deep-six the Starbucks—this is Gimme! Coffee territory).
Build a hydroponic greenhouse that can be the home of FingerLakes Fresh. Put a multistory grocery store and greenmarket next door (or where Center Ithaca is—someone tear down that eyesore—please!).
Speaking of urban infill, build into the pedestrian space of the Commons. Build buildings that connect one side with the other, leaving the bottom two stories permeable to people and a streetcar. Create an arcade like the ones they have in Paris—a big glass dome spanning a city block or two. It could have operable louvers to take advantage of convection and natural heating and cooling. All the buildings' roofs could be year-round gardens. (Picture at top is a famous arcade in Paris. For more info, google Walter Benjamin Arcades Project)
Speaking of streetcars: I don’t love the idea of the overhead rail—it’s way too expensive and not necessary. But Ithaca’s downtown is perfectly configured for a streetcar. The main branch could run up and down State St. and auxiliary lines could cut across Aurora, Cayuga, and Plain. We don’t have to wait for a car-free world to do this; just eliminate one side of street parking, or have all one-way streets downtown (already a near-reality in Ithaca).
And last, about the car-free street or streets. I would strongly caution against this effort. Fall Creek, Northside, and now Southside are enjoying a renaissance. There was a time when this wasn’t always the case. We are lucky to have strong downtown neighborhoods like these and should view them as the building blocks of Ecocity Ithaca. If one of the streets were made car-free anytime soon, I fear that those blocks would suffer from declining population and property values in a dramatic and severe way. Until we have a speedy, convenient, well-connected system of public transit (and TCAT does not exactly fit the bill), it is unwise to deprive residents of a primary mode of transportation. You really expect someone living on Cayuga St. to bike up to the office park at the airport? To take a bus that only runs every 45 minutes and takes 45 minutes to get there? No. People would just park their cars on Tioga or Geneva, which would increase traffic and car presence on those streets. It’s patently unfair and rash, in my opinion. Get the streetcar, get the network. Do it in order. Do it right.
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.
For the fieldwork assignment, I made observations of the southwest development site. The obvious asset here is that it gives planners a (relatively) blank canvas with which to work. Some of the limitations include the Wal-Mart bordering the site, the train tracks, and the marshlands spotting the area. Provided that a rail system is built connecting downtown/Cornell with the big box developments, this site could help to bolster the sustainability of Ithaca. The ideas I have laid out below are all things that can be incorporated into a contract made with the developer, whereby the city sets certain requirements that must be met by the company winning the bid. A required insurance policy purchased by the developer would guarantee that the company follows these guidelines (this was discussed by the Caroline group, I forget the actual name of the insurance though).
I would locate a town center in the middle of the city (something like a circular open space), surrounded by high-density mixed-use development (not to exceed eight stories). Yes, there will be car access- this is necessary in order for businesses in the center to receive shipments, to allow disabled patrons to be dropped off near the center, etc. However, any roads close to the center will be single lane, with parking on one side to serve as a traffic-calming device and to discourage car use in general. Pedestrians will have easy access to the center through a vast network of sidewalks, and because traffic will not be as heavy bikers will feel safer riding to the center. The more heavily forested area located near the southwest side of the site will be preserved to provide residents with a natural area and to promote greater bio diversity. Linking the development to the water system will be more difficult though because of the train tracks.
To clarify: Much of Chapter 11 proved useful, interesting, and empowering. I enjoyed the discussion of zoning as a means, rather than a structure with which to agree or not. It is like math, I think, or maybe more like statistics. It can be really useful for creating a picture, for shaping our built environment, for protecting people and the environment, if it is well understood and used properly. But it can also do a lot of harm if it isn't understood within its specific context. As much as we want to know where the numbers come from, so do we want to know why a zoning ordinance exists or doesn't.
The idea of "balanced development" also seems useful and I like the way we can really take a systems approach through this to understand how we can, well, balance development.
Some of my concerns included de-development. Bluntly put, what does he recommend we do with all that junk? Another was the equity question. This all might be nice for people in a place like Ithaca, where there are more PhDs per capita than who knows where, and maybe people have the time and resources to make nice zoning maps, and probably have the connections they need to get represented. Now, my complaint is not that none of this should take place, more that I wonder what's going to happen in the rest of the world?
And again, like before, I am concerned about saying how things "should" be. I don't know, I don't have the answer. I just wonder if this isn't Step 3 or Step 4, and maybe we should go through the steps of providing things like education and health care that would make it possible for more and more people to have a hand in creating society (built and social). Then, we can see what a sustainable, equitable, beautiful city might look like and feel like.
I spent a lot of time walking around Ithaca in the last few days. Starting from my house, on Stewart Ave, on Saturday morning, I walked up through the frat ghetto to Collegetown to do my laundry and have a bagel at CTB. I was interested in the possibility that the block from CTB to Starbucks could be made into a pedestrian zone. The road is already narrow and it would have been a more peaceful morning if I had not been dodging speeding cars and trucks. But then I wondered where all the cars would go if not down that road. So I thought about the possibility that maybe there could be car-free times of day, like Saturday when lots of people want to walk to breakfast or brunch. Or maybe if the Connect Ithaca public transit works out, there would just be less cars.
Then I walked down to the Apple Fest. It was great, as Carlos already described in his post. There was a real sense of community, and it was a joy to be able to walk on State St without fear of death by car or worse, bus. So what if we extended the Commons one more block along State St? It might enliven the block around State Theater. Of course it was the same question, and came with similar answers. What about the cars and buses? Redirect them or make car-free times.
And then, this morning, I walked to the Farmer's Market. It was a long walk, which was fine, I was planning on that. But once again, I was forced to face my own mortality. Crossing Route 13 is asking for it, I'm telling you. So what about some crosswalks there, what about engaging the residents in the low-income housing so that they can enjoy the famous Farmer's Market? It was interesting to walk down Third Street, and observe how quickly it stops looking like the Ithaca I know, the one that's advertised. And it's something you don't have to see if you can drive your car to the market. But if you can't, because you don't have a car, you get a chance to see what lies between the Gimme! Coffee on Cayuga and Route 13.
I think cars are not only seriously affecting the environment, but they are making it possible for us to live in our own reality. I don't think that's very healthy, for anyone.
There are several tools that are useful in creating ecocities. As the chapter emphasizes, an ecocity zoning map can prove to be very useful in guiding development and conveying to people what the basic beneficial features of an ecocity are. An ecocity map shows the natural areas in and surrounding the city, the places of potential high-density centers, corridors where agriculture and forests or shrubs should be in place, and clearly point out where areas of accessible transportation would have to go. In addition to this, the ecocity zoning map allows people, especially policymakers and residents, to see what the city could look like in the future if the correct actions are taken. The ecocity zoning map is therefore the framework by which cities can be redesigned and envisioned for a sustainable future.
One of the barriers, however, is better access. For people who wish to bike to that area, there aren’t enough bike racks distributed around The Commons. The ones that exist are towards the ends; perhaps these are not necessary because the demand for them is not there, but that’s something to be explored. Also, the heavily trafficked streets around The Commons need to be, over the long-term, opened for pedestrians. During AppleFest, one of the streets was closed for cars, and it was wonderful to walk in the street and see people selling their products. An affordable overhead mobility system would allow for this to happen. Such a system would increase access to The Commons and allow for people to come more often to the center area to sell their products, like they did during AppleFest. This, in turn, would increase economic growth.
Finally, The Commons would benefit from more regular events like AppleFest. It would be great to see events featuring green products, school projects, local foods (farmers market in The Commons), and celebrating community assets. These features would attract people to live in the city center and would make businesses more vibrant. A fast, radical redesign could start with the construction of the affordable overhead mobility system, followed by the eventual partial or complete closedown of some surrounding roads.