Christian Madera's blog

People Like Cars, And There's Not Much You Can Do About It

With climate change on the mind of the world's policy makers, the auto-oriented design of our cities has been singled out as a major culprit -- and understandably so. Cars burn a lot of fossil fuel, so getting people to walk, bike and use public transportation more would help cut down on pollution and green house gases.

But how to get people out of their cars? The key, many agree, is to redesign cities. Right now cities are designed for people moving around in their cars, so it's unreasonable to expect people to use any other means of transportation. But give them a city that's planned for walking, biking and public transit -- and it could be a whole new ballgame.

A City The Car Built?

When talking to people about Los Angeles, one comment I often here is that L.A. was the first city to be built around the automobile. This statement certainly makes sense when you look at the current landscape of Los Angeles – with its freeways and strip malls and crowded parking lots – and lack of a widespread rail transit infrastructure when compared to other dense American cities.

The problem with this statement is that it’s not really true. While the car has definitely left its impression on the region, Los Angeles could actually be considered a textbook example of a city built around transit – albeit one that no longer exists.

Planning Schools: To Rank, Or Not To Rank?

Professor Lance Freeman's recent post about Planetizen's rankings of graduate planning programs does an excellent job of summarizing some of the thorniest problems with school rankings. The editors of Planetizen certainly agree with Professor Freeman when he states that rankings cannot accurately predict whether a particular program will provide a particular student with the type of education he or she would deem best. There are far too many individual factors involved, and any student who makes their decision primarily on the basis of such rankings would be doing themselves a great disservice. This point is also the reason why most of the 142 pages of the 2007 Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs consist of detailed profiles of programs -- not rankings.

However, we continue to believe, as Professor Freeman also acknowledges, that rankings do provide a useful measure of comparison for students who are evaluating a graduate program of study in planning -- something that is likely to be the largest single investment in their educational career. Therefore, we are planning to publish a new edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs in the spring. In addition, we're working to improve our rankings process to help address some the concerns that Professor Freeman and others have raised.

Won't You Conserve? Pretty Please?

During my commute this morning, one of the segments on the piped-in TV news that repeats endlessly on the bus mentioned that the City of Long Beach, California, had decided put new water restrictions in effect due to an impending water shortage. The city is advising residents to refrain from watering their lawns and taking long showers – while urging restaurants to only serve water to diners who request it. According to the Los Angeles Times story on the new restrictions, residents and businesses who don’t heed the call to conserve will receive a warning from officials, while repeat offenders may face a fine.

Could Your Rent Pay For More Transit?

An acquaintance of mine is trying to decide whether to move to Los Angeles or New York. Having spent most of her life in the Northeast, New York is a familiar city where she has good friends and job connections. However, she can’t help but feel the draw of the West Coast, and on a recent visit to Los Angeles, she was rather keen on settling down in Southern California, especially when she was comparing the rents in L.A. to those in New York. While rents in New York are increasingly stratospheric, L.A.’s are just exorbitantly high.

Once Again, Planners Descend On New Orleans

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating – the reconstruction of New Orleans is both a planner’s dream – and a planner’s nightmare. Even before the flood waters subsided, planners and architects from around the globe descended on the Crescent City to give their take on the road to recovery. Close to two years later, a host of plans lay in the wake of the constant ebb and flow of professionals in and out of the city. Local residents are exasperated with the proposed plans and the progress of the recovery. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has seemingly lost interest.

The Future Of Smart Growth In A World Gone Green

This week, I came to the Planetizen office to find that I had received a package in the mail containing a matching set of men's and women's athletic socks. After opening the box, I learned that these were not ordinary socks – which are manufactured from petroleum derived synthetic fibers – but from a new type of fiber made from corn (which, along with soybeans and bamboo, seems set to become one of the most versatile substances of the 21st century). I'm not really sure why I someone thought I should receive a few pairs of corn-fiber socks (perhaps they knew I'd blog about it), but it did seem to me to be another symbol of how the world is slowly but steadily entering a bold, new, eco-friendly future.

Homelessness In The City Of Angels

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has visited Downtown L.A.'s Skid Row that the city has a serious homelessness problem -- with more people living on the street than any other city in the nation. A recent article in the Economist focused on the recent crackdown by the city's police on the homeless population of skid row. With more and more residents moving into the area, and city officials keen to clean up downtown's streets, police chief William Bratton committed additional police officers to patrol the area to round up criminals (and presumably break up the population of street dwellers).