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Walker Wells is director of the green urbanism program for Global Green USA and a lecturer at Pomona College and UCLA.
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When will Earth Day come for the APA?

Typically I have fallen into the “every day is earth day” camp. But this year, April 22nd offered a moment for reflection, although of a more professional than personal nature.

Green is everywhere these days – from Vanity Fair to the Wall Street Journal. The decades long debate about the validity of climate change appears to be over – as the discussion seems to be quickly shifting to either: a) how do we make it less dramatic, or b) how we prepare for the inevitable.

Planning Lessons from an Olympic Beauty Contest

Last week, my home city, Los Angeles, lost out to Chicago for the right to represent the United States in the international competition to host the 2016 Olympics.  Since an Olympic city selection represents the ultimate inter-urban beauty contest – dare I say, a kind of urban “International Idol” – what did this process tell us about the state of urban planning in two of America’s largest cities? 

The Market for Transit Oriented Development: Niche or Mainstream?

In 1996, my professor at the University of Colorado introduced a new concept – Transit Oriented Development (TOD). An emerging group of professionals that included New Urbanists were advocating the idea, but few on-the-ground examples existed. The debate within the planning field during those years focused on the marketability of a mixed-use product. TODs would have to overcome large obstacles. Banks were hesitant to finance an “unproven” product. Developers wondered if they could pass on higher construction costs to buyers, retailers questioned if there would be enough customers to fill their stores, and planners questioned if TODs would lead to changes in travel behavior. A decade later, many continue to ask the same questions about TOD although the difference today is that there are many successful examples to showcase and study. TOD is gaining popularity and widespread appeal but an important unanswered question remains – will TOD remain a niche product or will it become a mainstream development concept?

Beauty and Function? We Should Expect Both

On the Sunday that the April Nor’easter dumped the second highest rainfall ever recorded in Central Park, I waded to the New York Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center. I wasn’t there to see the mighty floor show of preening cars inside the convention center, I went to see the Taxi ’07 exhibition outside on the wind and rain swept lower roadway. For anyone who has tried to hail a taxi in a Manhattan rainstorm, visiting the exhibition on that Sunday raised a familiar feeling: nearly a dozen yellow taxis in sight, not one of which was going to pick me up and whisk me away to dry land.

Moving Pictures of Planning History: Education Online

Constantly updated, the internet has created an important tool for accessing up-to date information—text, still images, and video. Increasingly it also provides a window into aspects of history, including planning history, that have previously been difficult to find. Documents, indexes to archival materials, and the photographic and map collections of historical societies are accessible online. Less well known are film and video resources—resources that can be played online or downloaded. The Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division now boasts an outstanding collection of hundreds of videos relevant to urban issues.

Some examples illustrate the range:

Where were the planners?

This post is a few weeks after the fact but the recent APA conference only solidified my resolution to say something.  In early April Teddy Cruz gave a lecture here in Philly at the School of Design.  For those of you not familiar with his work, he has a unique and thoughtful perspective on the relationships between culture, planning and design. 

An Inconvenient Map

What is wrong with this map?

“I Want TOD, But I Don’t Want Transit”

Last week I was at an interview for a potential real estate developer client who wanted transit-oriented development (TOD), but weren’t sure he wanted transit. This was a progressive developer who wanted more density, a mix-of uses and walkability. How could it be he wasn’t sure he wanted the planned transit line? Is it possible the developer had it right?

Tips from Your National Park Service

In my hometown—and yours, too, I'm sure—a small, one-story house was for sale, and then it was gone. The guy who bought it promptly tore it down and then, because the new house he had designed was too big for the site, let the hole sit there for a year, a broken tooth in the 1950s neighborhood. Of course, the house he built was still too big for the lot, but there it stands, three feet from his seething neighbors: a McMansion.

Boomer Megacities: Tokyo As a Barometer for the Developed World?

I had heard stories about this the last time I visited Japan in 2004, but this month's Tokyo city briefing from The Economist brought this trend back to my attention. It seems retiring boomers are abandoning their suburban bedroom communities to return to the metropolitan core - presumably to be near friends, cultural attractions, and other amenities (health care? education?). I've seen rumblings of this as well in the New York metro area.

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