Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vancouver Bike Nazis

Here's a funny take on bike lanes, from our friends up north in Vancouver, BC. It's a scene from the incredible film Downfall, which chronicles the last days of Hitler in his bunker, with a bit of bicycle Nazism thrown in the mix for ya. If only our politicians were this crazy about bike lanes, then we might actually get some real transportation improvements, jaaaa!

Via: Seattle Transit Blog

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Los Angeles Busts Out a New Chapter in Planning

California has been on my mind for quite some time now. Not only have I been envisioning what my future residence in California will look like, but I've also been scouring the Interwebs for the "next big thing" in the state's urban planning world. I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that I won't be able to make a living as a city planner, in any capacity, with only a Bachelor's degree. This, sadly, has been a delusion that I've had to get over rather quickly since graduating from UW. But let's sit back for a second and get a bird's eye view of reality. I figure that if I'm going to make a go at city planning as a career, then I sure as hell better have my finger on concrete projects I could work on when I'm finished with grad school. As they say, if you can dream it, you can do it!

The big picture is that out of California's diverse urban landscapes, the city of Los Angeles holds the most potential as a hotbed of innovative urban planning ideas and projects to engage with. Part of this is just due to the sheer size of LA as America's second biggest city, with nearly 13 million people in the metro area. There are world-class urban planning programs at both UCLA and USC that are of great interest to me. But more importantly, there is an abundance of urban planning projects ripe for the taking mostly because LA's urban planning processes and history have been so thoroughly, utterly fucked up.

The common maxim is that “if aliens were looking down on Los Angeles, they would come to the conclusion that the dominant life-form is the automobile”. Another suggests that even talking about LA as a coherent city is itself specious, that Los Angeles is a series of "72 suburbs searching for a city." How did things get to hell in a handbasket so fast? Why is LA so universally regarded as an urban planning catastrophe?

First, LA was dealt a bad hand simply by experiencing nearly all of its growth as a major city in the immediate post-WWII era. This was a time when the Interstate Highways Commission was pumping billions into brand new freeways. Simultaneously, the Los Angeles Railway, the city's former system of streetcars once among America's most extensive, was being bought out by General Motors and replaced with stinky, polluting diesel bus lines that - surprise! - no one wanted to take. The "locus" of downtown Los Angeles was beginning to become blighted long before the city entered its greatest period of urbanization from the 1960's onward. The dominant entertainment industry, where most of the city's jobs are, was decentralized and favored large studio warehouses in outlying areas, not the kind of centralized factories that solidified the urban centers of most American cities that came of age pre-WWII. These factors encouraged sprawling development patterns for both residential areas and employment centers. And LA's heavenly climate doesn't exactly discourage a car-oriented lifestyle with big, suburban lawns and white picket fences, now does it?

Of course, the suburban dream didn't quite work out as planned for LA. It goes without saying, of course, that LA has America's worst traffic, bar none. The city also has some of the worst social inequality in the US, the infamous Watts and Rodney King riots are only symbolic of this disturbing trend.

However, all is not lost! There are a whole host of new developments pointing toward a sustainable future for LA. Here's a recap of some of the most exciting ones:


LA is already ranked the 3rd best city for transit, according to US News & World Report. Even though most of the native Angelenos I know would never dream of taking public transportation, this isn't to say that there isn't public transit available. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has already pledged to accelerate the city's investment in transit, especially rail rapid transit, by building at least $13.7 billion in subways, light rail, and commuter rail in a 10-year time frame, rather than the 30-year plan originally outlined. The expansion of the Expo subway line to Culver City and eventually Santa Monica, two hubs of the perpetually traffic-choked and densely-populated West Side, is the plan's centerpiece.

Additional lines are planned for Westwood/UCLA (Purple Line), the San Fernando Valley (Orange Line), Pasadena to Pomona (Foothill extension), Santa Ana commuter rail, and LAX (Crenshaw corridor). This would be the first time in LA history that the city had three rail projects under construction at the same time.

 Villaraigosa's proposal is probably the most ambitious one for rail/subway transit in the US today. When California voters passed Measure R in November 2008, they agreed to a half-percent increase in sales tax to fund $27 billion in transit in thirty years. So how will LA accelerate these projects when Measure R is only supposed to generate about $3 billion in ten years? Ask the feds for money, and then pay it back when Measure R's funding kicks in completely by the end of the 30-year window. If  this deal is packaged the right way, the federal government could get a significant benefit by lending LA this unprecedented sum of money. Not only will the local economy get a boost (leading to increased federal payroll and gas taxes from the thousands of construction jobs that will be created), but the federal government will also play a hand in solidifying LA's future as a progressive, transit-based city of innovation. Loans to fund this new infrastructure could lure hundreds of thousands of jobs and new residents to the city, whose growth would pay back the loans. China's Special Economic Zones of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and others have been given a similar treatment over the years, with great success.

LA's ambitious plan to building 30 years of public transit in only 10 years

The Los Angeles City Council in March approved a plan calling for 1,680 miles of interconnected bikeways. This is a huge event equivalent to building 50 miles of bike lanes per year for thirty years! And it will go a long ways to encourage would-be cyclists previously terrified (with good reason!) by the city's traffic-choked and unfriendly streets, to take to the streets safely.

Map of LA's new system of 1,680 miles of bike lanes and boulevards planned by 2038
This heavy dose of bike infrastructure is also being funded by Measure R, 10% of which was dedicated to bicycle transportation. Here is a link to the full bike plan and more details from GOOD magazine:

The plan promises several changes for L.A. bikers: the Citywide Bikeway System will introduce three new interconnected bike path networks—Backbone (long crosstown routes on busy streets), Neighborhood (short connectors through small streets) and Green (along recreation areas)—throughout the city, a new pledge for Bicycle Friendly Streets will make streets more pleasant for riders and walkers, and a series of education programs and safety policies will help cars and cyclists co-exist. 
Of course, the LA Citywide Bikeway System is still in its conceptual phase and will require a great deal of commitment from the city to actually become a reality. Even so, the plan makes clear and definite the policy choices that Measure R will be allocated into, so even producing this long-range plan is a huge step forward for LA.

So what kinds of infrastructure could the bike plan lead to?

The plan will begin with bike accommodations we regularly see here in Seattle, like "sharrows" and dedicated bike lanes. Later on, bigger projects will include "bike boulevards" and traffic-separated bike lanes that until now have been almost exclusively the domain of cities like Portland, OR and Amsterdam, which I covered here.

Rendering of a "bike boulevard" planned for downtown Los Angeles

Some of the first traffic-separated bike lanes in Southern CA just opened in Long Beach a few weeks ago, and they provide a glimpse (hopefully) of what is to come to the rest of the metro area.

Bike lanes in Long Beach, CA


Figueroa Street, which runs through downtown and connects with the USC campus, is one of the streets identified as a Backbone corridor, which means its bike and pedestrian improvements will be given highest priority. In all, the street is nearly 30 miles long and is without doubt one of LA's longest and least pedestrian-friendly streets. Copenhagen-based Gehl Architects, of Cities for People fame, are already working on providing bike lanes, improved sidewalks, mixed-use development that embraces street level uses, and what to do with the nearly 545 acres of parking lots within a half-mile of the Figueroa Corridor. More info from GOOD:

The proposals for Figueroa Street are divided into "good," "better," and "best." The entire street would be configured to the "good" specs, with the protected bike lane, more trees, new paving, and general improvements to the pedestrian experience with crosswalk striping and mid-block crossings. The "better" and "best" schemes would be seen at more high-traffic intersections, like near Staples Center and USC's Galen Center.

Vision of a future Figueroa Street landscape. Doesn't it remind you just a bit of Las Ramblas?

An even more groundbreaking proposal comes from three architecture students at Cal Poly: why not ban cars from downtown LA entirely? A baffling 36% of the space of downtown LA is used for parking lots and garages for in-coming commuters. What if that were replaced by more housing, parks, plazas, transit, and all the other things we actually love about cities? Have a look at the slick video they produced for more info:

Downtown Los Angeles from tam thien tran on Vimeo.

Finally, I leave you with an inspirational passage from Tim Halbur of GOOD magazine:

I live in a beautiful old apartment in an historically preserved neighborhood filled with trees. Most mornings, I walk three blocks to the nearest rapid-transit stop and take a 10-minute ride past a major art museum, a couple of beautiful art deco theaters, and several busy shopping and office districts. On alternate days, I bike the four miles, stopping at any one of the many sidewalk cafes along the route before settling into my desk on the fifth floor of a 10-story office tower. 
Would you believe I live in Los Angeles? 
Most people picture sprawling suburbs with deteriorating lawns, framed by minimarts and overshadowed by the Hollywood sign. The corner minimarts are there, but they border old neighborhoods thick with duplexes and other lowrise multi-family dwellings, the kind of dense living quarters that are all the rage among urban planners. In fact, Los Angeles has more people living closer together than Portland, Oregon, the current poster child of urbanism. And depending on where you draw the lines, L.A. is denser even than New York City.

But where Los Angeles differs from those urban cities is that it is really, really big. While the County of New York is less than 23 square miles, Los Angeles County stretches across 4,083 square miles, larger than all of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. And while walkable neighborhoods like mine flourish in many cities across the county, the last 70-odd years of history have decimated the relationships between them. When talking about cities like Cleveland or Pittsburgh, city planners and architects refer to the dead or under-used areas as “broken teeth.” Well, Los Angeles might as well be a washed-up prizefighter, because there are a lot of gaping holes between those pearly whites. 
But all is not lost. Before we revert to old stereotypes about Los Angeles as a Blade Runner-esque dystopia, I’m here to report the good news: The City of Angels is turning away from that imagined future and heading toward a much brighter past.

So even though I'm not chomping at the bit to move to LA just yet - San Fran wins in so many areas it's not even funny :) -  it's good to know that even the most recalcitrant, stubbornly car-oriented cities can still be reborn into somewhere we would actually want to live!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Song of the Day - Legiao Urbana - "Ha Tempos"

I came across this song today on Pandora and it just completely hooked me! It sounds like a Brazilian version of The Cure. 80s-style post-punk sung in the most beautiful language on planet earth, Portuguese. I like :) Doesn't it just make you wanna kick back on a tropical beach somewhere with a few margaritas or, ahem, caipirinhas. Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

CEP Senior Project Night!

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to relive some of my academic glory days in the little hippie conservatory of ideas known as CEP, or Community, Environment, & Planning, the undergraduate urban planning program at UW.

As an academic major, I'm not aware of any program that even scratches the surface of what CEP can offer its students. It's a completely unique interdisciplinary program that allows you to customize your education around a series of core seminars that focus on, you guessed it - community, environment, and planning. But that's not all -:) it's also the only major I've ever heard of that is almost completely student-governed.

Everything from student admissions to graduation ceremonies and colloquia are 100% run by the students themselves. Nothing can really prepare you for your "admissions interview", a graded discussion with current CEP students, but that's just part of the magic of it all. At the end of the day, it's your Individual Study Plan (ISP) that's your ticket to admission. In it you articulate your vision not just for coursework, but for study abroad, volunteer opportunities, community engagement, and the course of life you envision for yourself. You are a citizen first, a student second. It's basically the academic vision of gemeinschaft. As far as I know, the only academic programs that come close are at Evergreen State and UC-Santa Cruz - but right here in the middle of the best school in the Northwest - count me as a proud alumnus!

One of the best descriptions I've heard of the program is that it's like a major in direct, participatory democracy. Every Friday we would have what we CEPsters call "governance," a several hour-long forum on the structure and content of the major, share student news, career connections, and community events, collaborate with subcommittees (and you thought I was kidding), and host guest speakers. Granted, many of us CEPsters are of the granola crowd - or perhaps the Critical Mass crowd - so we weren't exactly talking about Robert's Rules of Order, here...let's just say our dialogues sometimes got out of hand. You can only debate your own graduation requirements for so long without getting truly tedious. There were many cases, however, when the ability to truly take charge of your education in a program like CEP was without equal.

Our professors liked to say that their often hands-off approach to the direction of their seminars (as opposed to a "sage on the stage" approach), was a method of incubating organic student discussions. Often times what this meant was that the professors may only be speaking up to 10% of the class time, the rest is all student input. With a very engaged group who has done the readings, this approach can work marvelously. Otherwise, it's a recipe for disaster.

The crowning jewel of the CEP education is the Senior Project. Together with the several project-based classes and required internship, this is where the pedal meets the metal. In my experience, a program like CEP is either a very good fit for you or a very bad one, with very little in between. You either need a lot of direction in charting your uncertain academic course, or you simply need the time, space, and resources to make your plans a reality.

Senior Project Night is the final showcase for the graduating seniors' projects that many have spent thousands of hours working on. My own Senior Project is, in fact, the origin of this very blog. It's the catalytic experience that awakened so many of my interests in green fleets, electric cars, bikes, transportation planning, and so much more. So much time is spent on these projects, in such a tight-knit environment (there are 80 students in the program) that your project teams often become like family. I'm a firm believer that if you want to envision the trajectory of a CEPster, you need look no further than their Senior Project. So one year out from my own departure from the CEP universe, I was thrilled to be able to see this year's round of projects.

Here's a few of my favorites of this year's projects!

Roosevelt: A Living District
Cristina Haworth and Jenn Robinson-Jahns

With current forms of urbanism placing undue burden on environmental systems worldwide and eroding traditional community bonds, there is an urgent need for new methods and theories of citybuilding, methods that not only promote the development of functioning, healthy, and liveable cities, but also help create cities that exist in harmony with the surrounding environment and serve as ecologically restorative forces.  This project explores the concepts of the International Living Building Institute’s Living Buildingsand Living Cities design contests, using a literature review and case study framework to apply the ideas to a site slated for redevelopment within the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle, Washington and envisioning it as a Living City in 2035.  A contextualizing paper identifies a few of the components critical to the establishment of a Living City, including the concept of a Living Building and existing examples; the expansion of the concept to the neighborhood and city scales; and initial applications of the Living Cities concept. This work also introduces a few of the key components to Living Buildings and Living Cities: technology that can provide a decentralized and sophisticated power grid, eco-districts that create economies of scale, and systems for the on-site treatment and recycling of waste. We then use site analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Roosevelt neighborhood, including renovation and re-use opportunities, potential opportunities to use natural systems processes such as solar or water circulation patterns, and connections to the surrounding community.  Within this context, we visually apply the concepts introduced to the Roosevelt site in order to envision it as a thriving Living City and provide a hypothetical representation of what is possible for the future of the area within this framework.  It is our hope that this work will serve as a catalyst for conversation within the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association and challenge its members to think about urban systems and what may be possible within the urban framework in a new way.

Best Practices of the BIM Modeler
Justin Jameson
A BIM is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. As such it serves as a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its lifecycle from inception onward. (National Institute of Building Sciences 2011)
One of the challenges in a design group is creating unambiguous construction documents. In order to avoid such ambiguity, designers may establish a methodology for local best practices. Unfortunately in some cases best practices are established by routine and are often not documented. With the advances in technology the best practices procedures of the past are quickly becoming obsolete, while the procedures of the best practices of the future are becoming much more complex. Therefore the need for documentation of the best practice procedures becomes imperative. In this project I confront these problems in the case of a local design group. Specifically, the challenge was to document the local standard Building Information Modeling (BIM) practice and submit a Quality Management System (QMS) report. Utilizing the information gathered from the QMS report, I created a manual of standard practice which is now available as reference for all employees. I completed this project using multiple methods in multiple phases. Phase 1: building the information foundation; I conducted online research exploring what Building Information Modeling (BIM) is. I also reviewed other districts’ best practice manuals for traditional drafting. Phase 2: analyze and compile; throughout the review process I analyzed the information which I considered to be current best practices. Analysis consisted of referencing how the suggested practice complied with the National CAD Standard and the A/E/C CAD standard. Phase 3: the committee; to ensure that the QMS report was accurate and useful to the design group I organized a multidisciplinary committee of practicing professionals. The committee reviewed my initial information, then provided input about the BIM process. Phase X: refining the process; the final phase of the project is intended to repeat. In this phase the committee will periodically review the document; as procedures become more defined the document will be updated and become more defined as well. The outcome of the project is a documented best practice manual for BIM users.

Bridging the Gap: Increasing social sustainability through a community-university farm partnership
          Michelle Venetucci Harvey
The UW Student Farm membership base has grown exponentially over the past three years, and involved students have quickly exceeded the capacity of the current farm space. Furthermore, the UW Farm’s presence on the University of Washington campus has become firmly entrenched in the University identity over the past two years, and student farmers want to extend their connection to the larger community of Seattle and address issues of food justice. In order to accomplish our goals of expansion and social sustainability, I participated in a farm expansion process for the past two years. After identifying an expansion space at the Center for Urban Horticulture, we decided to partner with the existing Seattle Youth Garden Works (SYGW) farm in order to create a community connection and share resources. I became the liaison to SYGW and helped build a partnership through meetings, communication, and collaborative writing sessions for organizational documents. After doing background research on nonprofit partnership models and youth empowerment theory, I wrote an organizational document for future UW Farmers and participated in SYGW youth recruiting and a mentorship program in order to gain some perspective of the SYGW program itself. I also participated in the discussion and creation of a legitimate governance structure for the UW Farm, which will increase the farm's legitimacy and ability to work with partner organizations. Ideally, this project and partnership will help both the UW Farm and SYGW become more financially and socially sustainable through shared resources and workforces. The established governance structure as well as partnership document will help maintain institutional memory for this expansion project and transition leadership to future UW Farmers.  

Congratulations and best of luck to this year's CEP Seniors! You guys rock my world!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Will Microsoft Be the Google of EV Charging Stations?

Cellphone apps and other corporate tech partnerships are quickly filling the void of governments to provide information to the public about where to find an EV charging station. In an industry so heavily subsidized by the feds (you can get a $7,500 rebate for buying just about any EV model on the market), you would think the associated infrastructure for cars would get attention from the public sector.

However, if you take a look at the recent budget cuts that were approved in Washington DC several weeks ago, it's becoming clear that projects dependent on federal funding for green projects - this runs the gamut from high-speed rail, electric vehicles, public transit, and other sustainable urban planning methods - are facing a grim future.

The highlights from the impending doom scenario?
  • $34 million cut from the Renewable Energy Program (Agriculture)
  • $80 million gone from the Environmental Quality Incentives program (Agriculture)
  • about $900 million cut from FEMA - God help us if when we see another hurricane like Katrina (Homeland Security)
  • $50 million from Climate Change programs (Interior)
  • $25 million from FTA Energy Efficiency Grants (Transportation) that funded much of California's EV charging infrastructure
And....the big ticket items:
  • $2.9 billion eliminated from high-speed rail (HSR) funding, before even a single mile of it has been built in the US! The "flagship" line under construction between LA and SF might well be the only one at this rate. This comes as many of the more idiotic Red States are having the gaul to reject HSR funding and return it to the feds! No thanks, Obama :) You can take your cutting-edge infrastructure and thousands of construction jobs, because WE DON'T NEED THEM! Is it just me, or do Republicans have a near-perfect record of laying waste to the projects big cities need for their economic survival?
  • $3 billion gone from highway construction - part of these cuts make sense, there is definitely a solid argument that highways encourage poorly-planned, sprawling development patterns. But do Republicans hate both trains and highways, or just hate any kind of movement in general??? I just don't get it.
  • $600 million gone from public housing programs like HOPE VI and Section 8
And things looked so good for environmental projects back in 2009 when Obama passed the ARRA. So this is the funding void we're dealing with for EV infrastructure.

Thankfully, big corporations like Microsoft and Google are seeing the tremendous opportunity that investing in EV infrastructure holds.

The database is called the Microsoft Utility Rate Service (MURS), and it will be available via subscription to government agencies, power providers, auto makers, and electric vehicle charging equipment companies. It will allow consumers to search the full range of EV charging utilities to find the best deal on charging electricity nearest them.

More info from the Inhabitat story:

According to Warren Dent, director of business development at Microsoft, MURS will be offered in at least 17 different markets — mostly on the East Coast and West Coast — but also including cities like Detroit, Denver, and Chicago.
To get going, Microsoft is collaborating with one-to-three utilities in each region to get access to the data, and is expecting that its partnerships with companies like Duke Energy, Xcel Energy, and Portland General Electric will provide it with more relevant information. The pricing information will then be sent from the utility companies to Microsoft, which will relay that information to MURS subscribers. MURS sends the data directly to the plug-in vehicle, eliminating the need for interaction with drivers.
Currently, Ford is utilizing on Microsoft’s service to allow its drivers to charge their cars when utility rates are lowest. kind of like a Craigslist for where to plug in your EV batteries? Hopefully this will level the playing field as far as EV charging networks are concerned and allow more innovative companies enter the market and offer cheaper alternatives we can take advantage of. Microsoft may be a dinosaur among the high-tech world, but here its program sounds like a winner!

Via: Inhabitat 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

California Dreamin'

All right everybody, it's time I leveled with my readers for just a bit. One of the main constructive criticisms I've gotten on this blog is that it's not very personal - there's not enough David-ness about it. I will admit this is true, it's mostly not my style to actually blog about my personal life and way easier to geek out about news, culture, or current events. Guilty! I also worry about the long-term consequences of having a LOT of personal information permanent published to the web. As many folks have discovered, your Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot, and many other profiles leave an indelible residue online even long after you've closed your accounts. Countless hapless people today are in lawsuits over termination from their jobs due to some of the less-than-professional behavior they've posted to the Interwebs. So let's just say I try to err on the side of caution, with some exceptions, and not reveal anything I wouldn't in a job interview or conversation with a stranger in the grocery store. 

Now for a change of pace! Time to get fucking personal for a second. I've been gearing up for a move to California this August for several months now. Part of my motivation for doing so is career-related - I'll just leave it at that :). 

I started looking fiendishly for jobs last year in the run-up to my graduation from UW for two reasons: 1) I wanted to gain a year or two of solid career experience before going back to grad school; 2) I simply didn't know how else to support myself independently. I wasn't comfortable with doing some of the things many of my friends had done post-graduation. Travel the world for a year? Sure, who wouldn't love to do that? I had just studied abroad for six months of '09 in Spain and I honestly didn't want to leave :D But after graduation, when the premise of "academics" (using the term loosely) is gone? How would I justify that to my parents, or to my depleted bank account? In some respects, I regretting rushing into the career world with such intensity and wish I had been more thoughtful about the choice I ended up making. Just because a company wants recent college grads and sounds good in its offer letter doesn't mean it's the right fit. This doesn't mean that my company is a bad company, just perhaps not the right fit at this point in my life. Bottom line: I'm starting to realize I want a bit more excitement and, frankly, danger,  in my life than any 9-5 career-oriented job can give me.

At 23, I have already accomplished a full-time, salaried, managerial position at a major facilities corporation. Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that I'm still young and have many more years of working drudgery ahead of me. Many of the people I meet in a professional context are flabbergasted when they realize my age, as if stunned to see that I've made it to the level of being their perceived equal so quickly. "How did you become a Safety Manager?" (at 23) is one of my favorite questions I could be asked, and there is a long and juicy story behind it for those who are interested. My point is that I've already achieved a lot of what I had intended to when I first entered the career world after graduation last year. So there is no real rush to that next promotion, or even a "lateral move" to another company. Many people who are in their late 20s or even 30s are still waiting tables, temping, "interning", or otherwise indulging in the life stage that's coming to be known as "adultolescence"

Which brings me to California...Ah, yes - magical, sunny, clusterfuck California! Matt and I are looking at California not just because of its weather and for a change of pace - it's the chance to have the freedom and yes, perhaps just a bit of "edginess" that life in Seattle seems to have exhausted itself of. Our friends are intimate and well-established, we have good jobs and a great apartment in a great neighborhood. Everything is pretty much as it should be for we future members of the bourgeoisie :) Perhaps we are already there!

We now have our sights set on San, let's take a second to let that sink in. SAN FRANCISCO!!! First, San Francisco is almost impossible not to love. It's an intimidatingly gorgeous place filled with exciting, walkable, unique neighborhoods. I want nothing more than to simply be a part of it in this time and place in the world. It is also very expensive, but not nearly as bad as I first thought. A decent two-bedroom apartment in a good area can be had for about $2,000. With Matt and our future roommate (shoutout to my favorite Jewbaby, Rachael Mammen!), this is very do-able even if I were to get a temp/admin job or work as a server. Hell, I could work at a Trader Joes and still afford $700/month! Part of my motivation is to establish in-state residency for when I begin grad school in fall of 2012. My hope is to get into a Masters of Urban Planning program at either UC Berkeley, UCLA, or USC, though I'll also be applying to Hunter College, Columbia, Harvard, UTexas at Austin, and several programs in Europe. I've already taken the GRE's and am working on letters of rec, and I'll be finishing up applications this fall.  California is probably the place cursed with some of the worst urban planning systems in the world, yet also some of its most innovative centers of knowledge. The upscale foodie-industrial complex of San Francisco/Berkeley and the decayed suburbia of the Inland Empire might as well be on different planets. Both have something to offer in terms of unique planning challenges.  Fingers crossed! But grad school won't start until a year from when we move in August. So the way I see it, I have a year to establish residency, work, and make connections. Matt is just returning from interviews this weekend, so he could conceivably move within the next few weeks, in which case I would hold out in Seattle until our lease is up in August. I already have contacts at several very good temp agencies who will be getting my call soon :) And then the next chapter begins!

Looking East from Castro towards the Mission

View from Buena Vista Park in the Haight

Alcatraz - view from Telegraph Hill

Sunset on the Golden Gate

North Beach sunset

Coit Tower
Needless to say, California and its opportunities, its culture, its problems have been on my mind a lot lately. I came across this documentary via GOOD magazine. GOOD  has been an invaluable resource to me on California because the whole magazine is pretty much like a place-based Bible circumscribed to fit my interests. They have sections on urban planning, politics, culture, the environment, and economy that seem to predict my interests before I even think of them! They also have great resources on up-and-coming non-profits, movements, and the sorts of under-the-radar issues that end up defining the mainstream news media agenda when it finally pulls its head out of its ass. 

I found this short documentary on California's economic woes and opportunities via the GOOD website. It's a Dutch-produced short film tracking people of varying economic and social backgrounds and how they are tackling life's challenges post-recession in the city of Los Angeles. Subjects include homeless (formerly lower-middle class) families living out of their RV's, ex-gang members, immigrants, and new bohemians in Silver Lake and Los Feliz. Some of the hipsters / bohemians featured around the 39:00 mark really struck a chord with me. The subject is an architect who starts an urban communal farm in the middle of the city. She has much to say about "the way forward" out of California's mess, even giving a shout-out to bike infrastructure, food systems, and other topics my fellow CEPsters would find intriguing. Very interesting stuff, the video is about 40 mins long, I highly recommend you check it out and post your thoughts!

Here's the intro:

"California is a strong brand, the state of new beginnings, dreams and movie stars, of surfers and a wonderful climate. But the Golden State is bankrupt and the city of Los Angeles is running out of cash. Public services are being cut and unemployment keeps rising. At the same time, optimism, entrepreneurship and the belief in the power of America are stronger than ever.
In Los Angeles, we meet five people who are going through a transformation in their lives during this crisis. Justin and Christine lost their jobs and are now living in a van with their two young sons. Charles has gotten out of prison after fourteen years. Mizuko prepares her children for the future by making them at ease in virtual reality. Laura has taken advantage of the crisis by buying land cheaply and starting an urban farm and artists collective Fallen Fruit maps the abundant free 'public fruit' available in the city. Who are the pioneers who are reinventing the new America and how do they see the future?"


Ode to the Metropolis

Timelapse - The City Limits from Dominic on Vimeo.

Dominic Boudreault: "a motion photographer, recorded five cities in over a year to create a time-lapse video showing the bustling nightlife of metropolitan areas. From late 2010 to early 2011, the artist documented the cityscapes in Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Manhattan and Chicago. The video is a series of images from a high vantage point gathered to display the duality of city and nature."

Music: Hans Zimmer

Watch the HD version on full-screen with the volume full-blast for the full experience!

Via: The City Fix

Friday, May 6, 2011

Blog Spotlight - Street Art Utopia

I've written recently about how graffiti - excuse me, hipsters - "street art" has inspired me in my travels around the world. I really think there's no other artistic medium as innovative, fresh, and in-tune with the spirit of the moment, the zeitgeist, that can really capture a sense of place. I'm dedicating this week's post to the blog Street Art Utopia for having introduced me to some of the most fantastic graffiti scenes I've ever witnessed. Here's just a few they've featured from the month of April. I'm sorry these murals did not have location info - otherwise, I would've uploaded them into Google StreetArt View :)

Graffiti as imagined by five-year-olds!

Medussa oblongata....

The priests at this cathedral might wanna ask for their money back!


Garden-themed mural

I love the 3-dimensionality of this one - reminds me of an Escher painting

Hard to tell where the painting ends and reality begins!