Monday, April 12, 2010

Our What?

Just saw this on Facebook:

Here's a close-up:

It better be free! I'm not paying for it if they're going to make me guess one word per sentence.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dimensions vs. Aesthetics

A friend sent me the link to a page on Design Boom that catalogues great metro rail station designs from around the world. A lot of them look gorgeous, or at least zoomy. But it hit me that the dimensional aspect of design is much more important than the aesthetic aspect (and, of course, the overall "usability" of a system and its stations is more important than anything else). In the long term, once the novelty of beautiful aesthetics (or the glaring ugliness, as the case may be) of a station wears off, I think what's still going to affect us are the overall dimensions. I have to wonder if there isn't a measurable psychological impact at play – if, for example, standard signs of stress don't appear as we enter a cramped space, as compared to positive or zero signals appearing when we enter spaces that are spacious, "legible," etc.

Take, for example, the New York subway system. For the most part, all the tarting up in the world can't make it more pleasant. In New York, you will always feel like a rat fighting your way up and down narrow staircases, scurrying down cramped corridors, and inching along a three-foot-wide segment of platform next to a staircase, all the while trying your best not to bump into people. Even London, with its cramped Underground trains, has wide staircases and sometimes downright grand stations and platforms. In Paris, the entrances are almost ridiculously wide. In these places you feel like you're treated with respect!

Zoomy designs and artwork are icing on the cake. As I look at the photos on Design Boom's page, it's their spaciousness that jumps out at me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Brooklyn, IA

From my uncle Iver, who's on the road out West:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


There's an article in Sunday's New York Times about a Department of Sanitation garage being planned in what is now called Hudson Square – a formerly industrial neighborhood that is now largely residential and commercial. I'm less interested, for the purpose of this post, in the celebrity opponents to the garage – and even in the opposition – than in this excerpt:
The area east of the garage, sometimes called the South Village or West SoHo but increasingly known as Hudson Square, was once chockablock with printing and storage firms. In 2003, the city recognized its increasingly residential character by rezoning the area to accommodate dwellings.
This is a wonderful demonstration of the nature of zoning. In my view, zoning is largely a reactive action, a response, if not to existing conditions, then at least to a trend toward new conditions. The greatest point of leverage a city government has in effecting change – in being proactive – is in its public realm; and the city agency with the most power over the public realm is the department of transportation. (In the case of New York City, the MTA, which operates the subway and bus systems, also affects the character of the city.) Of course, market pressures and cultural trends play huge roles, but in terms of the public sector's control over the landscape, zoning's reputation is out of keeping with the reality. Perhaps the one major impact a city planning department has on the public realm is in its off-street parking policies, and these are determined in the zoning code.

I'm reading a wonderful book about planning and cities by Alex Marshall: How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken. Marshall argues that cities are built on three legs: politics, economics, and transportation. Zoning is secondary, at best. "The system of zoning and land-use laws that consumes so much time and newsprint in most cities can almost be seen as an elaborate ruse to hide the real decisions being made by state departments of transportation."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Teaching Newborns to Swim

This is fantastic (from I want to do it!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Crossfit Mommy

My wife recently joined CrossFit South Brooklyn, which is at the Lyceum on Fourth Avenue between Union and President. It's a fantastic space, with concrete floors, bare, brick walls, and a tall, leaky roof. Apparently, when other crossfitters see the space they go nuts about how it's exactly what crossfit is all about.

Anyway, my wife is featured on CFSB's website today as "our resident crossfit mommy." Yep, that's my wife, over 20 weeks pregnant, doing squats. Go, boo!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

UK's THINK! Campaign

The UK's Ministry of Transport has been cranking out some fantastic commercials about transportation safety. Below is one about speed limits, which I found on Streetsblog. Warning: the video is graphic and disturbing. Whether or not you watch it, there is more text further down.

I've become increasingly opposed to over-reliance on posted speed limits. Many roads are designed for speeds in excess of the speed limit as a way to account for driver error; but the exact opposite should be done on city streets. Motorists should feel constrained by the road design, and should want to slow down naturally. This can sometimes come down to a matter of feet or even inches: one simple strategy is to narrow travel lanes. An oft-heard concern about this has to do with the widths of trucks. But several existing streets accommodate trucks just fine; Lexington Avenue here in New York is a great example. Near my office the lanes on Lex are 9–9.5 feet wide, compared to the standard 11 ft. that the NYC DOT engineers prefer.

Motorists respond to their environments, and just as they go faster than the posted speed limit when a road is designed inappropriately fast, they also travel under the posted speed limit when it's the posted speed limit that's inappropriately fast. I was just in Washington State's Methow Valley, a beautiful region littered with quaint towns that, even where sidewalks exist, there is a blurring of distinction between car space and people space. I noticed that the posted speed limit in Winthrop, WA, is 25 MPH. But the cars actually go slower – and it's a good thing, since the tipping point between injury and death is about 18 MPH.

City and town streets should be designed for everyone, with preference for people on foot. The term of art in planning is "complete street" (and "naked street" or "shared space" when streets are designed intentionally to lack signage and distinction between cars and pedestrians – of course, this is not happening in the United States). This means that streets' roles as public spaces should be enabled, and instead of pedestrians fearing for their lives, motorists should be much more cautious.

In his wonderful book, Mental Speed Bumps, David Engwicht points out that, in his experience, motorists do not get frustrated when they drive through lively town and city streets (note: this is not about highways or arterials). Instead, they are engaged in their surroundings. Engwicht proposes that, as a result, motorists' sense of time even changes: rather than feeling pressed to get from A to B, they are happy to go slowly if their environment is interesting.