Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Streetcar of the Future, Including a Mini Physics Lesson

sanderson-rail-1_525Last week, I discovered an interesting article on Design Observer, which discusses the importance that the streetcar will have in America’s future. The article explains in depth the physics that underlies the efficiency of streetcars.

And for anyone who may not understand the difference between a streetcar and a typical light rail vehicle, I have included a video that I shot in Portland two years ago showing Portland’s MAX light rail and the Portland Streetcar.


Critique of Granary Row

I love Granary Row and know that it will do great things to activate the Granary District, but there are a couple improvements that I feel could be made.  I have to admit that these suggestions are somewhat self-serving, considering my constant search for interesting places (aka “third places”) where I can sit for hours while reading textbooks on my Android tablet.

Generators: I enjoy the food trucks, but their generators are noisy. If we weren’t anywhere near the power grid, it wouldn’t be an issue, but I question the necessity of powering them using gasoline generators, when we are surrounded by the power grid. I feel it would be a good step towards sustainability (and quieter), if there were outlets that the food trucks could use.

WiFi: Somewhere in the initial plans for Granary Row, I read that there would be free WiFi. Hopefully, that’s still in the works, since it definitely makes for a more enticing third place.

Seating: There needs to be more seating and, in particular, comfortable seating. I recently discovered the outdoor couches near the fireplace at City Creek Center and have spent several hours reading there lounging on the couches. Something along those lines would be a great addition to Granary Row.

Water: If we have a typical summer, it’s going to be hot and dry and people will be thirsty. Paying $2 for a 16-ounce bottled water at one of the food trucks is a bit excessive. It would be great, if someone could encourage the food trucks to sell water that’s a bit more affordable.

Farmers Market, Instawalk, Granary Row, and the Harlem Shake

This morning I stopped by the Downtown Salt Lake City Farmers Market at Pioneer Park.

I was on my way to Instawalk SLC, where I had the opportunity to take a 45-minute walking tour of the neighborhood of the portion of downtown Salt Lake City just north of Pioneer Park.  The highlight of the tour was getting to see the private garden on the south side of Art Space on Pierpont Avenue.

This evening I went to the opening of Granary Row.  There was a good number of people there, and even more arriving as I left.

And I also edited yesterday’s Salt Lake Bike Party video into a true Harlem Shake clip.


Sugarmont Plaza, Road Respect Tour, and Salt Lake Bike Party

This was a busy evening for me and my bike.  Tonight was the opening night for Sugarmont Plaza.  This “tactical urbanism” project will run all summer.  The location is the parking lot of the former Deseret Industries building at 2230 S Highland Dr in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City.  I was there right at the start, but I heard there was a pretty good turn out later in the evening.

Then I headed over to the Road Respect Tour, which is sponsored by UDOT.

UTA was also on hand showing off the new triple bike racks, which will be installed on all future buses.  Shown here is a triple bike rack mounted on the back of one of UTA’s vans rather than on the front of a bus.

UTA Triple Bike Rack

Then, for the highlight of my evening, I joined in on the Salt Lake Bike Party.

I apologize for the crude videos shot using my Android smart phone.  Maybe one day I will have the equipment and skills to produce videos like Clarence Eckerson.

When Urban Agriculture Is at Odds with Sustainability

Today I discovered an interesting post from Zane Selvans at Flat Iron Bike that was quoted by Streetsblog.  The post discusses the downside of a proposal in Boulder, Colorado, to set aside 25 downtown acres for urban agriculture.

On its face, setting aside land downtown for urban agriculture might sound like a great proposal, but there are a couple of problems.  The site is located adjacent to a high frequency transit corridor and would be much better suited as a transit-oriented development, allowing both residential and commercial uses to benefit from the high proximity to transit.  A second aspect is the almost $5 million cost of the agricultural easement for a mere 25 acres, when the funds could be used to preserve much larger areas near the city’s periphery, a good example of which are 243 acres that were preserved by Boulder in 1993 for the bargain price of $1 million.

I agree with Zane.  The money could be better spent for preservation elsewhere, and the site could make a great transit-oriented development.  It’s also possible to develop the land in such a way that integrates urban agriculture into the design.

Nothing Says Sprawl Like Eagle Mountain

The following is the essay I wrote on affordable housing for my Green Communities class:

I have a cousin who’s married with five kids. Last year her husband’s employer relocated him from Idaho Falls, Idaho, to Salt Lake City, which obviously required that the other six family members follow along. But finding housing for a family of seven living on a limited income turned out to be difficult. Well, they “drove ‘til they qualified” and ended up in Eagle Mountain!

I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to live in Eagle Mountain. The nearest convenience store is three miles away, and the nearest grocery store six miles away. The nearest bus stop is over a mile away, and service is limited to three inbound trips in the morning and three outbound trips in the evening. The nearest FrontRunner station is twelve miles away. Life in Eagle Mountain is neigh impossible without a car. In Utah nothing says sprawl like Eagle Mountain.

In learning about the factors guiding their housing decision, I discovered that they would have preferred to find a place to live somewhere closer to … well … anything. They needed to live somewhere with at least four bedrooms—preferably five bedrooms. Due to false notions about crime, they were unwilling to even consider living in Salt Lake City or nearby in West Valley City, Taylorsville, Midvale, or even Murray. They focused their search in places like Sandy, Herriman, and Lehi, but just couldn’t find anything in their price range.

A sprawling suburb like Eagle Mountain, so far from everything, certainly does not meet human needs. It does not fulfill the desperate need for compact, sustainable communities. I am puzzled as to why we are unable to provide housing and communities that actually meet the needs of a family of seven. Honestly, it makes me feel sad and frustrated that my cousin and her family have to live in Eagle Mountain. I wish they could have the experience of living in my neighborhood and of being so close to downtown. My cousin’s oldest is fourteen, and it scares me to imagine being a teenager in Eagle Mountain and to think of the deep boredom and depression that must result from having no entertainment opportunities nearby and having to rely on an adult to drive you to everything worthwhile.

My townhome is across the street from a convenience store and three blocks from a grocery store. It’s a fifteen minute walk to TRAX and then a ten minute ride on TRAX to arrive downtown. I usually take time almost every day to enjoy downtown and soak in the atmosphere and culture. I wish my cousin and her family could have the same experience. I wonder if they even have any comprehension of what they’re missing out on!

In reviewing the Affordable Housing Design Advisor, I see many great examples of communities that are being built the right way. The communities fulfill the necessity of compactness and walkability and are even attractive and aesthetically pleasing. They support transit and provide opportunities for people to meet their neighbors. When compared with sprawl, they are a giant leap forward toward sustainability. However, I do see a general lack of housing for larger families. Given Utah’s propensity for producing large families, I feel that there is a need for apartments, condos, and townhomes with four, five, maybe six bedrooms. I’m also concerned about keeping affordable, sustainable, walkable housing affordable given the huge latent demand. The popularity of Daybreak has already shown the demand for communities that try to build according to the principles of New Urbanism.

I worry whether society can break free of the habits of consumerism and resistance to change that we’re stuck in. While watching Taken for a Ride, I was struck by the collective stupidity of it all. Shortly after embarking on the sprawl experiment, many people realized that we were literally headed down the wrong road, but yet we’ve persisted in the same policies and practices for a half century.

I had the opportunity to work for the Utah Legislature during the 2012 General Session, which gave me an inside view of the political ecology of Utah. And it left me somewhat disturbed. In many respects, the Utah Legislature is stuck in the 1950s in their way of thinking about issues that face our state. Applying the immortal words of Winston Churchill to Utah, I can say that the Utah Legislature “can always be counted on to do the right thing … after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” When I think of the desperate need for state leadership in issues such as air quality and sustainability, I worry how long it will take the legislature to exhaust those other possibilities and wake up to the reality that it’s not the 1950s.

I realize that this assignment was intended to focus more on exploring the possibilities of good design in affordable housing. Unfortunately, I often get hung up on seeing the legislative hurdles that keep us from implementing the changes that are so obvious to those of us, who have a clear vision of what could be possible.

Erst kommt das Fressen!

Last week in my Green Communities class, we discussed food.  To help us gain a perspective of how industrialized food production has become, we watched the Austrian documentary Unser Täglich Brot (Our Daily Bread), which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.  The following is the essay I wrote as a follow up assignment:

Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral!  This is a German phrase that’s difficult to translate due to the lack of an equivalent English word that captures the nuances conveyed by Fressen.  The closest explanation of Fressen is to eat like an animal and expresses the deeply rooted desire to survive.  The entire aforementioned phrase literally means first comes the eating like an animal, then comes the ethics.  This idiomatic phrase is common in German conversations and points to the priority of survival trumping all other human needs, desires, and aspirations.  It also tells of the difficulty for the human race to consider ethics and morals on an empty stomach.

Most people in the developed world cannot grasp the concept of hunger.  If they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, it is simply because they haven’t decided which restaurant or supermarket to patronize.  Despite a high level of food security in the developed world, the will to survive is still imbedded in each human being.

In the early 20th century, Henry Ford perfected the assembly line.  Mass production and economies of scale became the norm, so it’s no surprise that other collective human needs have also been mechanized and streamlined.  Since it’s difficult to fulfill the need for mobility by constructing your own car, we may as well outsource auto production to Detroit.  We’ve outsourced entertainment to Hollywood, outsourced justice to the police and court system, outsourced public discourse and community collaboration to the politicians and lobbyists, and outsourced recreation to Orlando and Anaheim.  Why not outsource survival to a system of industrialized agriculture and collectively free our lives of the burden of involving ourselves in our own survival?

I grew up in a small, rural community in southeastern Idaho.  Although I never worked on a farm or even rode a horse, I had friends who did.  I feel blessed by having had the association with those whose work provides food for others.  Conversations with those friends gave me an understanding of the reality of farming and ranching.  Crops are not planted to beautify the landscape, and livestock are not raised to be pets.  The purpose is to harvest when the season is over, and hopefully there’s enough of a profit to provide for one’s own family.  Understanding this has left a lasting impact on me.  I learned early that a cow’s purpose in life is to provide a profit for the rancher, so I have never had any moral conflicts about harvesting livestock.  However, I have come to realize the disconnect between the farm and our dinner table.

My dad has a favorite story, which illustrates that disconnect.  He grew up on a farm, and one time, while he was a teenager, his aunt, uncle, and cousins from Salt Lake City came to visit.  His cousins, who were young girls at the time, were really enjoying playing with the chickens.  As dinner time approached, my grandpa told my dad to go fetch two chickens for dinner.  The cousins were still playing with the chickens, and without even thinking about the implications, my dad snatched up two chickens and headed for the chopping block.  The cousins were still clueless as they watched my dad stretch out the chicken’s neck and raise the ax.  As soon as the ax fell, the cousins let out a scream, which probably could have been heard throughout the entire state of Idaho.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I visited my dad and heard him retell this story.  This time though, I thought about the fact that, with the exception of catching and gutting fish, I have never killed and slaughtered an animal.  I honestly feel like my life is incomplete because of never having raised and slaughtered my own food.  This leads me to wonder whether there is a human need to be more involved in one’s own food cycle.  Is it emotionally and psychologically unhealthy to outsource the act of slaughtering one’s meat to others?  I can’t help but wonder, if the propensity towards violence by many people might have something to do with the lack of taking an animal’s life.  In other words, maybe we have a need to kill, which can be satisfied by the act of slaughtering livestock.  Maybe we gain a greater appreciation for life, when we get our hands covered in blood as we dismember an animal that we’ll cook to feed ourselves and our loved ones.

Watching Our Daily Bread and seeing the industrialization of food production also caused me to think of how industrialized our daily human lives can be.  We deprive ourselves of the opportunity for interactions with other people and with nature and thereby deprive ourselves of opportunities for interpersonal growth.  In the name of simplicity and efficiency, we settle for bland lifestyles devoid of variety.  Seeing the bulls harvested for their semen caused me to think about the pervasiveness of pornography in our society and the loss of interpersonal growth resulting from seeking sexual fulfillment through artificial means.

In closing, I am reminded of a quote from a presenter at CNU 21, who said: “Let us not confuse the ethic of work for the ethic of plunder.”  I worry about the moral and religious implications of avoiding getting our hands dirty in the work of providing food for ourselves.  The Old Testament sums up the concept well in Genesis 3:19: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Limits of Transit

Tonight I actually had to drive, because I had to pick up one of my roommates from a late meeting.  His car broke down, so he’s been riding UTA to get around, but his meeting tonight ended too late for him to ride UTA home.

One complaint that we share is the lack of late service by UTA.  I realize that the problem isn’t UTA’s, but rather the limited funding provided to UTA.  However, I do have issues with how UTA chooses to explain service cuts to the public.  UTA’s default response for reducing service is to cite a lack of ridership.  In the past, I have been a frequent rider of late bus service, which was eventually cut due to a lack of ridership.  But I can testify that ridership was not lacking.

I feel that it would be benefical to UTA’s riders and potential riders, if UTA would tell the full story behind service cuts.  UTA’s simplistic, canned explanation is harmful, as it insults the intelligence of its riders.  The full story is that UTA’s budget is limited, and it must make tough decisions and put its resources where the largest number of riders can be benefitted.  Additionally, UTA should encourage riders who are dissatisfied with service cuts to ask elected officials to provide more funding to UTA.

Air Quality and the Utah Legislature

I thought for today that I’d post a letter to the editor that the Salt Lake Tribune printed back in March:

I have been a Salt Lake City resident for ten years and am currently a grad student at the University of Utah working on a Master of City and Metropolitan Planning with a focus on sustainable transportation and development. Improving air quality is a hot topic at the U, and the consensus among professors and students is that improvements are possible. However, public policy can stand in the way of implementing change. Therefore, I honestly feel that the biggest threat to improving air quality in Utah is the Utah legislature (generally speaking). Just when I think they couldn’t be more backward-thinking, they go and pass some crazy piece of legislation that makes me embarrassed to live in Utah. For example, HB148 “Transfer of Public Lands Act” from the 2012 General Session, which has the potential to waste millions of taxpayer dollars litigating for something that the legislature’s own attorneys have warned is unconstitutional. As air quality worsens and we face more federal sanctions, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear some legislators suggesting that we sue the federal government to relax air quality standards! The “Bagley cartoon: Legislation Culmination” illustrates my concerns.