Archive for December, 2010

Urbanism Triumphant: New Year’s Hope?

Neil Peirce - Washington Post Writers Group

“Urbanism” isn’t a word that races many peoples’ motors. But think again. It might just be the key — not only to enrich community life but to achieve a safer energy future and efficient and livable metro regions and insure our place in the larger world.

That’s the case that famed New Urbanist architect Peter Calthorpe lays out in his book, “Urbanism in the Age of Climate Age,” just published by the Island Press.

Fighting to reduce our oil and coal burning and combat global warming, much of the buzz surrounds such new “green” technologies as solar and wind power, industrial efficiency, and fuel efficient cars. But add up all the potential carbon savings they promise, argues Calthorpe, and we’ll still fall far short of reducing the United States’ grossly disproportionate use of fossil fuels and contribution to globe-imperiling climate change.

The only answer, he argues, is to start correcting the spread-out, energy-profligate patterns in how we use our land. In other words, a return to true urbanism, the historic patterns of relatively compact, more energy-efficient growth we once practiced in our cities and towns, but lost in the decades following World War II.

That means a radical turn from the post-World War II pattern of throwing up clumps of subdivisions, isolated office parks, commercial strips and shopping centers, strung together by arterials and highways, all accommodating the automobile but rarely if ever walkable or encouraging of civic life.

It’s as if, Calthorpe alleges, we’d gone on a “fast food, high-carbon diet” that let our metropolitan regions, where most of us live, “become obese” through our heavy dependence on oil — “a high-sugar and high-starch diet,” expanding the urban waistline, ballooning our output of carbon into the global atmosphere “without nourishing strength or resilience.”

The only cure, he argues, must be return to a robust urbanism of efficiently shaped and planned cities and regions.

So what’s urbanism? You can recognize it by what it delivers, suggests Calthorpe. It is places that feature a diversity of uses — homes, shops, libraries, parks, schools — mixed closely so they’re walkable (or easily bikable). It balances cars with public transit. It supports a rich public life. And it’s cities and other urban places that create, on a per capita basis, the least carbon emissions. (New Yorkers, famously, emit a third of the greenhouse gas emissions of the typical American).

Urbanism, Calthorpe insists, can come in many forms, scales, or density. It’s not just a big city model. Many of our traditional small towns, village centers and streetcar suburbs, with their mixed uses and walkability, are as “urban” as historic city centers.

Our big need now, he’s suggesting, is to focus on the co-benefits of carbon reduction and more sustainable urban form. Examples abound. For heating, an adjoining wall (as in an apartment houses and townhouses) is more effective than a detached house’s solar collector. A small neighborhood cogeneration electrical plant that reuses its waste will likely save more carbon per dollar than a distant wind farm (with its inevitable heavy power loss in transmission cables). A walk or a bike ride costs less, generates less carbon, than a hybrid car covering the same ground.

What we need to do, Calthorphe contends, is to expand urbanism’s historic qualities of compactness and civic connectedness to the metropolitan scale, the citistate regions of our time. Rather than the old model of a city/suburb schism, we need to see regions as interconnected, interdependent networks of places.

Neighborhood becomes the metaphor of choice here. Just as a neighborhood needs a vital center, its crossroads, the citistate needs a strong center city that’s its cultural heart, its center of trade, and symbol to the greater world.

But that’s not to eclipse other regional towns and cities. In fact, the pedestrian scale of successful neighborhoods has a mirror in regional transit networks, the lines focusing growth in the vital towns and cities in a region just as main streets focus a neighborhood.

And there’s an associated big value, Calthorpe argues, in diversity — mixes of all manner of people, the reverse of standard suburbia’s habit of separating us into subdivisions by age and income.

Is all this a touch Pollyannish, wishing for goodwill and collaboration when the natural tendency among towns and places (not to mention businesses and individuals) is so-often “us-first” competitiveness?

One might think so. Except that the old formula — easy mortgages, pro-sprawl land patterns, almost total auto dependency enabled by cheap energy — was overturned by the Great Recession. The excessive resources aren’t there to go back to.

Calthorpe’s substitute — more prosperity for all by smart regional strategies that are civic-, asset- and carbon-conserving — isn’t guaranteed. But it would be a thousand times smarter.


December 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm Leave a comment

DeKalb school workers could lose jobs to outsourcing

By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

More than 700 DeKalb County school workers could lose their jobs to outsourcing.

The school system is considering privatizing custodians and maintenance jobs, including grounds-keeping, painting, window glazing, heating and air-conditioning, equipment repair and pest control.

“The objective is not to eliminate employees, but to save taxpayer dollars,” DeKalb schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

School officials said the outsourcing is still a proposal and the amount of potential savings was not available this week.

However, the proposal could mean layoffs. Dickerson said about 700 jobs would be impacted. Board chairman Tom Bowen said the proposal impacts 900 jobs – 600 custodians and 350 at the school service center.

Dickerson said the district “strongly encourages vendors to give preference to existing employees,” and it is too early to determine who would retain employment.

That’s not enough for the Organization of DeKalb Educators, which represents about 4,700 school employees.

“It’s a huge concern for us,” said David Schutten, the union’s president. “People in the schools are very upset that privatizing custodians will take away the family feel in schools.”

Outsourcing is one of several suggestions that came up earlier this year as part of budget cuts. Facing an estimated $50 million shortfall in next year’s budget, the proposal is back on the table.

Last week, the school system received several bids in response to Requests For Proposals advertised for custodians and maintenance positions. School staff are now reviewing those bids to determine if the move is cost-effective and will make a recommendation to the board over the next two months.

“This is purely an investigation of a possible cost-savings measure. If it turns out that it does not materially benefit the district, it won’t be pursued,” Bowen told the AJC. “It is a good idea to understand what other school districts across the country have done to cut costs in the area of support services.”

Schutten said he too needs more information. He plans to ask questions about employee pay, benefits, seniority and job security at Monday’s school board meeting. Other school employees have suggested a protest.

“Over the long haul, privatization will hurt us far too much,” Schutten said. “They think privatization will save money, but that’s not necessarily true.”

Last week, more than 100 employees attended an organization meeting to express concerns about the proposal, Schutten said.

Earlier this year, DeKalb cut about 250 jobs as part of budget cuts, including nine custodians and 19 maintenance workers. DeKalb schools have already outsourced its communications department to Dickerson and Cohn & Wolfe.

The Atlanta Public Schools has touted savings by using both contract workers and school employees for food services, maintenance, custodians, security and construction. In May, APS officials told the AJC that a contract with Sodexo-Jackmont, which operates 70 percent of the district’s food services, resulted in a $1.3 million surplus last year. Prior to outsourcing, APS’ food services department operated at a deficit.

Earlier this year, Cobb schools considered outsourcing transportation, but killed the idea after complaints.

For years, Fulton County schools have outsourced some of their custodians to cut costs, school officials said.

DeKalb officials insist they are not looking to outsource cafeteria workers or bus drivers.

December 30, 2010 at 9:48 am Leave a comment

Durrett named MARTA chairman

Jim Durrett

Jim Durrett has been elected Chairman of the MARTA board of directors.

Prior to being elected chairman Dec. 28, Durrett, the Buckhead Community Improvement District’s (BCID) executive director, has served on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority board since November 2009.

Durrett’s one-year term will begin Jan. 1, overseeing a 12-member board.

He will also represent the authority on the Atlanta Regional Commission’s regional transit committee, which is headed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. The committee is currently working on a proposed expanded regional transit governance framework.

“I am honored by the position and look forward to using my many relationships with the business community, the transportation community and state and local government officials to the benefit of MARTA, the next generation of regional transit and the region,” Durrett said.

“Jim’s new position will greatly benefit the Buckhead community and all of Atlanta, promoting transportation options and the smart growth of metro Atlanta,” said David Allman, BCID board chairman. “MARTA will be well-served by Jim’s leadership skills and expertise, and BCID is proud of his continued commitment to strengthening our community through civic involvement.”

Atlanta Business Chronicle

December 28, 2010 at 5:28 pm Leave a comment

City of Atlanta Launches 2011 Comprehensive Planning Process

Setting the direction for major planning initiatives for land use, housing, economic development, community facilities and historic and natural resources is a primary purpose of the City of Atlanta’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP). The Department of Planning and Community Development’s Office of Planning has started the process of creating the new CDP, which will be completed in three phases.

“When the new CDP is complete, we anticipate that the City of Atlanta will have a redefined set of priorities for improving the quality of life for our citizens and businesses,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “This process helps us address current challenges and identify future opportunities. The city’s population is expected to grow by 19.5 percent between 2010 and 2030, and the city needs to be ready to accommodate these new residents.”

The Office of Planning has announced the Community Assessment and Community Participation components are now complete and a draft has been transmitted by City Council to the Atlanta Regional Commission. Input and comments from the public and private sectors are required to help formulate the City of Atlanta’s new CDP.

“Our 2011 CDP will have more emphasis on sustainability, communities, and brownfields than our previous plans,” said Department of Planning and Community Development Commissioner James Shelby. The City of Atlanta’s current CDP was created in 2008. The plan will help the City of Atlanta outline opportunities for developable land, improved vehicle and pedestrian circulation, economic development, increased public services and additional infrastructure.

A public hearing for the first two phases was held in November. The final phase of the City of Atlanta 2011 CDP, the community agenda component, begins in January 2011. Creation of “character areas” and a future development map are new State of Georgia requirements for the CDP.

“We will be working with communities to identify their community character and incorporate it into the future development map,” said Office of Planning Director Charletta Wilson Jacks.

The new CDP must be adopted by Atlanta City Council members by October 2011, as mandated by the State of Georgia. The CDP allows the City of Atlanta to be eligible for state and regional funding. The 1990 Georgia Planning Act requires all local governments to develop and adopt a comprehensive plan.

December 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm Leave a comment

High-speed-rail will be our generation’s legacy

By Ray LaHood for Orlando Sentinel

It is difficult to imagine what America would be like without its interstate highway system. For decades, our state-of-the-art roadways have been the world’s envy – and rightfully so. They deliver products of agriculture and industry to market. They link people with schools, jobs, family, and health care.

America’s highways will remain a crucial component of our national transportation network well into the future. But we can no longer rely exclusively on roads as a strategy for economic growth over the long term. That is why the Obama administration has begun the heavy lifting of building a national high-speed-rail system that will spur economic development and job creation along its corridors.

For years, we have watched other countries pass us by as they build faster trains. Indeed, the benefits of high-speed rail are tough to ignore. It will seamlessly integrate large metropolitan communities and economies through a safe, convenient and reliable transportation alternative. It will ease congestion on our roads and at our airports. It will reduce our reliance on oil as well as our carbon emissions. And it will provide a much-needed boost to America’s hard-hit manufacturing sector during a time of economic struggle.

Since the president proposed his vision for high-speed rail last year, enthusiasm around the country has been overwhelming. To date, states have submitted applications for $64 billion — more than six times the amount of money available.

Interest in the program has come from the public and private sectors — from state governments, rail advocates, workers, environmentalists and a broad spectrum of businesses eager to help get America’s high-speed-rail industry moving. In fact, last fall, 30 foreign and domestic rail manufacturers committed to employing American workers and locating or expanding their base of operations in the U.S. if selected for high-speed-rail contracts. And the administration’s 100 percent Buy America requirement is sure to generate a powerful ripple effect as manufacturers buy supplies and as workers earn and spend their paychecks.

Recently, some naysayers have argued that we are moving too slowly. Others contend that states are laying track in the wrong places. Two governors-elect declined to move forward on projects that their predecessors initiated.

The fact is this kind of monumental endeavor must take place in a deliberate, thoughtful manner. As with interstates during the 1950s, we have neither drawn every single route on the map nor reached final agreements on every single financing arrangement. Few states are in a position to quickly spend billions of dollars without detailed planning. Building a nationwide network of high-speed rail lines is not as simple as repaving a road. This is hard work.

Nevertheless, signs of progress are clear. In Vermont and Maine, workers are installing track that was manufactured in Columbia City, Ind. Other states, such as North Carolina and Illinois, are laying groundwork for major construction in 2011. Florida is poised to become one of the first states with a true high-speed-rail line. And President Obama has committed to creating or improving 4,000 miles of track as part of his plan for America’s next major six-year transportation legislation.

The reality is that we cannot build our high-speed-rail network overnight. This sort of undertaking requires leaders of all parties and persuasions to come together. It requires states to work in concert. And it requires Congress and the administration to maintain focus and commitment.

By staying on track with President Obama’s vision, modern, high-speed passenger service could connect 80 percent of Americans and restore the United States’ economic competitiveness.

When we look to America’s past, it can be easy to forget that America was never predestined to have the world’s best highways. Progress only became possible because generations before us dreamed big and built big — because they imagined, invested and sacrificed for the infrastructure on which we rely to this day.

Like our parents and grandparents, we, too, must exercise the foresight and courage to invest in the most important infrastructure projects of our time. If we work together, a national high-speed-rail network can and will be our generation’s legacy.

Ray LaHood is U.S. secretary of transportation. // //

December 21, 2010 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

Find a park along South Fork

Use this map link to find a park near you along the South Fork of Peachtree Creek:,-84.319382&spn=0.107127,0.2635&t=h&z=13

December 21, 2010 at 1:13 pm Leave a comment

Design Guidelines for Emory University’s Clifton Community Partnership

Recognizing that traffic from Atlanta’s regional growth was strangling quality of life, a major university convened a collaborative partnership (“the Partnership”) as a platform where the university, residents, civic and business leaders, and local governments could explore ways to work together to improve the area within three miles of the university’s core campus. The Partnership focuses on four key concepts: Live Locally; Walk Anywhere; Alternative Transportation; Enhance Vibrant Neighborhoods.

Olmsted‘s office laid out a plan for Druid Hills, the neighborhoods south and west of campus, that evoked the spirit of the City Beautiful movement. Graced by a network of parks that line streets whose curves celebrate the area’s hills and streams, the heavily wooded residential neighborhoods are highly sought addresses. Over the years, however, intersections of arterial streets have become strip shopping centers, and the narrow winding streets are today choked with heavy traffic. Moreover, the metropolitan region is expected to add another million people by 2025, roughly one-fifth of who are expected to settle in this quadrant. The number of cars on local roads and the number of hours lost to congestion have grown even faster than the population.


December 20, 2010 at 1:57 pm Leave a comment

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