Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lessons from Arlington, Virginia

Arlington, Virginia
(All images are from the film Arlington's Smart Growth Journey)

I recently watched a great documentary on YouTube (which is embedded at the end of this post) called Arlington's Smart Growth Journey. This hour-long documentary, produced in 2009, chronicles the transformation of Arlington, Virginia into a model of effective urban planning and a model for maintaining a high quality of life in the face of tremendous growth and change.

Arlington is across the Potomac River from from Washington, DC. In the 1960s they were a suburban community that found themselves in the path of proposed freeways, a proposed commuter rail line, and a lot of anticipated growth. Rather than fight change, they shaped it and controlled it, and used it to improve their community. They were really ahead of their time. They were practicing smart growth and transit-oriented development before those terms even existed.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Placemaking in the Silicon Valley

Castro Street, Downtown Mountain View
Back in April I was interviewed by the great Russell Hancock for his radio show Inside Silicon Valley. We discussed the ongoing renaissance of Downtown Redwood City and how it came to be. Russ was kind enough to invite me back for another interview. This time it was a double interview with my friend and mentor, Bruce Liedstrand. Bruce was the Community Development Director for Redwood City when things really got under way there, and he was City Manager for Mountain View, California when they revitalized their downtown.

The three of us discussed the success of Redwood City and Mountain View and what lessons they may offer for creating more nice places within the Silicon Valley. Presently, the Silicon Valley isn't known for comfortable, walkable, and vibrant urbanism; rather, it is known for corporate office parks and car-oriented suburban development. There are great places in Silicon Valley, though, and there can be more. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Will Electric Cars Solve All of Our Problems?


I recently came across an interesting post over at DC Streetsblog. It calls into question the notion that electric cars are green, and can solve our environmental problems. The article cites research that "considered the full environment costs of electric cars, including the manufacture and disposal of their batteries, which found no benefit compared to conventional cars."

Reading this reminded me of an excellent piece by the late Jane Holtz Kay called No Such Thing!  that I read in Orion Magazine back in 2001. In it, she handily dismembers the notion that electric car is "green," pointing out, among other things, that even the cleanest cars result in tremendous pollution during production, before they ever hit the showroom floor. Twelve years later, it is still worth a read.

While they are certainly cool (especially the Tesla!), and we should continue to experiment with them, it is dangerous to look at electric cars as the "silver bullet" cure to all that ails us. In America we love to solve problems by buying a new toy, but this one is not only inadequate but a distraction. 

Electric cars don't, and never will, fix following problems: