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Urbanising Atlanta
Historic Fourth Ward Park, opened in 2011, is the sort of urban-scale public space that many may be surprised to find in Atlanta.
Courtesy Atlanta BeltLine

Georgia’s largest city is establishing a new pattern for urban success by building density in its core and opening new modes of transit. Darin Givens tells us about the city’s aspirations and struggles as it develops in the 21st century.

A national report from 2014, “The Young and Restless at the Nation’s Cities,” found that recent years have seen a significant rise in the percentage of young and educated adults living within a three-mile radius of the Downtown Atlanta central business district. This includes intown neighborhoods such as West End, Adair Park, Atlantic Station, Midtown, Old Fourth Ward, Grant Park, and Glenwood Park. The metro region as a whole, though, has taken a loss on this demographic.

Shunning the sprawling fringes, young people with college degrees are flocking to the places that are most urban in Atlanta; the ones with transit service, density, and mixed uses. In contrast to the way baby boomers of the latter half of the 20th century reshaped the region with car-centric, low-density development, this new generation is eager to take part in the powerful trends of urbanism that are improving the center-city’s core, making it a better place to live and work.

It isn’t hard to see a geographic correlation between the location of this trend and the outline of the Atlanta BeltLine. Looping the center of the city with a series of paths and parks, it will, when fully completed, pass through 45 close-in neighborhoods that are all within a two- to four-mile radius of downtown. Even in its partially completed early stages, the BeltLine has proven itself a powerful tool for changing the way people think about Atlanta’s development.


Atlanta BeltLine

This series of multi-use paths and green space is boosting the amount of parkland in the city by 40 percent. Nineteen percent of the city’s land mass falls inside the planning area for the project. The city touts $775 million in real estate development within a half mile of the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail alone. This puts a considerable number of residents in easy access of a popular public space that is now known for its weekend crowds, while also demonstrating the ability of the city’s growth to occur in new ways. It is happening not alongside wide, multi-lane roads; instead, this part of intown’s resurgence is taking shape around the BeltLine’s shared spaces and bike lanes (and, some day in the future, planned rail transit).

The Atlanta BeltLine is a series of paths and greenspace that is boosting the city’s parkland by 40 percent.

The sea change ushered in by the BeltLine can’t be understated. In one of the least “designed” large cities in the U.S., where market trends and interstate infrastructure have had an outsized role in shaping the urban fabric, people are now excited about re-thinking how the city is shaped. Residents who seldom considered the urban environment beyond their own block have become aware of the strength of conceptualizing whole neighborhoods and the links between them. And it is having an effect on architects as well.

Ryan Gravel is a senior urban designer for the Atlanta office of Perkins+Will. His master’s thesis in Architecture and City Planning from Georgia Tech in 1999 became the original vision for the BeltLine. He said that the project is “making obvious improvements to the form and life of the city, but the consumer market that it is generating is also pressuring developers and architects to make better buildings.

“You can see this right now with the unfolding of Ponce City Market, which is raising the bar three or four rungs for quality. But you can also see it on the drawing boards for projects like the Atlanta Dairies site on Memorial Drive, which are re-introducing Atlanta to a more interesting mix of uses, like markets, music, and the arts. They’re also taking advantage of both historic and nondescript old structures to deliver more inventive designs. Along with the general upgrades in Downtown and Midtown, an emerging bicycle culture, and a fantastic culinary scene, Atlanta’s central city is coming alive in a really interesting way.”

Ponce City Market is an adaptive-reuse project that is turning a 1925 Sears, Roebuck & Company distribution center into a mixed-use destination with commercial, retail, and residential space.
Courtesy Jamestown Properties

Ponce City Market

The adaptive reuse of a hulking, 1925 Sears, Roebuck & Company distribution center is an appropriately transformative project to take place alongside the BeltLine. One point one million square feet of the structure has undergone a mixed-use conversion as Ponce City Market (PCM). The finished product includes 517,000 square feet of offices, 300,000 square feet of retail, and 259 residential units. The project has proven successful in drawing in tenants, with most of the office space already leased to a variety of high-profile companies including Twitter, and an array of shops is set to open throughout 2015.

Atlanta architect Kyle Kessler said that PCM, which sits directly beside the eastside BeltLine path, is “important as a project itself (adaptive reuse, on the BeltLine, etc.) but also because it appears to have captured the public’s imagination and is setting a new baseline for development in Atlanta.”


Indeed, even the high rental prices announced for the residential units have not soured the city on it. PCM has become a symbol of what Atlanta can accomplish in terms of reusing structures of the past, and re-aligning them with modes of transportation other than cars, and opening them to public space.

Immediately south of PCM lies Historic Fourth Ward Park. Opened in 2011, it offers 17 acres of green space, walkways, an amphitheater and event lawn, and numerous water features. A stormwater detention basin forms a two-acre lake, surrounded by a carefully landscaped park. Several recently constructed mid-rise apartment buildings overlook the park, which boasts a popular playground and splash pad that draw in families from surrounding neighborhoods. The sight of children playing in a carefully designed park, in the midst of human-scale residential development and a multi-use path, conveys a very European sensibility in its overall aesthetic; something many may be surprised to find in Atlanta.

Struggling to find connections

In a city that is sliced through its core several times with interstate highway infrastructure, as well as large arterial roads that serve highway entrances and exits, finding pedestrian-friendly connections from place to place can sometimes be a challenge. In many cases the urban fabric can be repaired, but sometimes the city seems content to develop islands of activity set apart from each other.

Atlantic Station is 138 acres of a former brownfield site that became a master-planned, mixed-use city within a city. Opened in 2005, it has an impressive six million square feet of office space that sits among a varied array of housing, including townhomes, apartments, condos, and detached houses. Its central retail area is an outdoor shopping mall outfitted with gridded streets that host popular shopping destinations, with levels of parking stacked directly underneath.

But despite being walkable in itself, there is a rough transition between Atlantic Station and surrounding nodes of activity, from which it is separated by a combination of interstate highways, car-centric corridors, and freight rail lines. Without a safe pedestrian connection to the rest of Midtown to the east and west, or to Buckhead to the north, it is largely a car destination.

KDC Real Estate is developing a 2.2 million-square-foot office building, designed by Cooper Carry & Associates, which will connect to MARTA’s Dunwoody Station.
Courtesy MARTA

Car destinations are also a big part of the landscape of Atlanta’s affluent Buckhead section, on the north end of the city. The commuter congestion on its central Peachtree Road corridor is known by locals as something to be avoided as much as possible. One attempt to link Buckhead’s destinations for human-powered transportation is PATH400 Greenway Trail. This north-south multi-use path will eventually link up with the BeltLine on its south end. Its first phase opened in January 2015, and the full 5.2 miles of trail will eventually connect a series of parks, schools, and neighborhoods to the urban center of Buckhead.

The fact that the Buckhead community business district has shown major support for the PATH400 project is telling; even in the most challenging places, Atlanta is focused on developing in a new way.

Perhaps the most challenging location of all is Underground Atlanta in the south end of Downtown. With lower-level storefronts that used to be at the main street level in the earliest days of Atlanta, before the viaducts were built over them (hence “underground”), this is the historic birthplace of the city that eventually morphed into a financially troubled mall.

Even the presence of a MARTA rail station next door has not been able to draw enough foot traffic to make the mall profitable. One probable culprit is geography: It is disconnected from the popular neighborhoods of the city by crisscrossing highways, a railroad gulch, and a series of enormous events facilities and their adjacent parking structures.

The city decided in 2014 to end its ownership of Underground Atlanta. Making the sole bid for purchase, developer WRS Inc. has submitted concepts that would transform it into 12 acres of mixed uses, including a grocery store, additional retail, and residential development. Instead of only trying to draw in visitors from other neighborhoods in the city, this new plan for the space could end up some day serving as the centerpiece for the South Downtown neighborhood.

Atlanta Daily World Building: big gains from small packages

This is a modest building, physically, by any standard. Comprising 4,756 square feet of space on 0.11 acres of land, this simple two-story structure built in 1930 is not visually striking. But true to its placement on Auburn Avenue, which served as the epicenter of African American commercial and cultural life for several decades in the early-to-mid 20th century, it has a prominent place in the city’s history.

It served as the headquarters for its namesake publication for many years, which was the nation’s first successful black-owned daily newspaper. Threatened with demolition after being damaged by a 2008 tornado that hit Downtown Atlanta, it was spared thanks to the voices of local preservationists. A real estate professional purchased it and has carefully renovated the building for apartments on top and two retail spaces below.

Small projects like this tend to slide under the radar, missing out on the coverage afforded to mega developments. But these are the ones that make neighborhoods feel authentic. According to Kessler, this project is important because “it’s on the opposite end of the scale as Ponce City Market. Much of what has stifled development in Atlanta’s urban core is that developers can’t get the property assemblages together to make a project big enough for the pro forma to work. This building was a goner, but the project proves that a small developer can make the numbers work. Hopefully this is a model that can be repeated throughout downtown and the rest of the city.”

Challenges for furthering Atlanta’s good urbanism

Urbanists have much to celebrate in the strides Atlanta has taken toward building places that are more walkable and that echo some of the best practice of good urban form. Though the city government has supported efforts at reshaping the city for the better, it has not always taken the reigns when it comes to leading those efforts and fostering a cohesive vision. Matthew Garbett, a community leader who is currently working with the city on a tactical urbanism project, said, “I think urbanists share a vision for the city, but I don’t think we’re effectively sharing that vision in a way that is shaping the city. We lack an advocate at the city-wide level who really has the people and the press’s attention, someone willing to speak about the bad and the real, sometimes difficult measures that need to be taken to improve.”

And even with the addition of planned public spaces such as the BeltLine, the market economy still has the biggest say in what gets developed. As Kessler noted: “Yes, architects are taking part in the vision, but I wouldn’t say we’re leading the vision. As has been proven with the new Falcons stadium, Civic Center, Turner Field, Underground Atlanta, etc., the vision has been put forward by a developer who’s worked with a particular architect, but architects serving as design advocates have not been out in front of the process.

“There have been calls in the media and from new organizations such as the Architecture & Design Center to raise the level of discourse regarding architecture, but I think Atlanta needs more architects advocating for better design and not just allowing developers, bankers, and other participants that don’t have an obligation to serve the public to dictate what gets built.”

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Plans for 30 miles of protected bike lanes in downtown Minneapolis put bike plans in your city to shame
A plan to add 30.7 miles of protected bike lanes to city streets by 2020 goes before Minneapolis City Council this month, potentially bringing the total of dedicated bikeways to 44 miles over the next five years. Bike infrastructure in the Twin Cities is nationally recognized, but not everyone in the region is convinced it's a wise investment, reports the Star-Tribune:
Protected bikeways represent a victory for cycling activists and are a gamble that at least $6 million in new taxpayer funding will increase ridership.
Most of the new bike lanes are proposed for the downtown core. None of the protected lanes scheduled to be completed by 2017 lie north of 26th Avenue North or south of East 28th Street—a decision transportation officials said makes sense if the goal is to increase ridership and improve access to the greatest number of people. Government financing at the city, county, and federal levels has topped $6 million. All of the protected bikeways recommended through 2020 are estimated to cost somewhere between $6.4 million and $11.6 million, but the Star-Tribune pointed out that the city estimates the cost of reconstructing a single mile of major street for general traffic at more than $8 million. Another 12 miles are proposed for construction after 2020. PDF: [planned long-term bicycle network]
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Bus Only
Bus only lanes downtown, seen here on Washington Street, are expected to ease congestion.
Courtesy CDOT

On a busy day it can sometimes be faster to walk across the Loop, Chicago’s downtown transit hub, than to take a bus. That could change next year once construction on the $33 million transportation infrastructure project dubbed “Loop Link” is complete. City officials say that the project to bring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to the Loop will eventually increase bus travel times by 25 percent on six separate routes. Construction began in earnest on March 16, with the city’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) closing lanes on westbound Madison Street and southbound Clinton Street.

In total, the city will be installing two miles of express lanes, marked by red pavement and the words “bus only,” on Washington, Madison, Clinton, and Canal streets, which cut through the city’s busiest commercial district and bypass the Ogilvie Transportation Center and Union Station. The street redesign will also include the addition of pedestrian islands separating car traffic from the bus lane, and a new protected bike lane on Randolph Street to replace the westbound lane currently on Madison. Washington and Clinton streets are also slated for new protected bike lanes.

Rendering of a BRT station.

While the Loop Link requires eliminating a lane of traffic on some of the city’s busiest streets, advocates say the results will be more than worth it. “We’re taking away a lane of traffic, yes, but these buses are carrying half of the people [on the roads],” said Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, which has been a proponent of BRT in recent years. “If you can do a single improvement and affect 30,000 people a day, that’s huge.”

City officials are touting the scope of the project, which could improve the commutes of thousands of regular bus commuters and reduce confusion among motorists, cyclists, and bus drivers, who currently must navigate shared lanes on some sections of those streets. Michael Claffey, a CDOT spokesman, points to the Jeffrey Jump—an express bus that runs from downtown Chicago to the South Side neighborhood of South Shore—as a prime benefactor. “During the evening rush-hour, it currently takes the Jeffrey Jump about as long (16 minutes) to get across one mile of the Loop as it takes to make the seven mile journey from downtown to 67th Street,” explained Claffey in a statement.

Funded through a combination of federal grants and local Tax Increment Financing, Loop Link is one in a series of ongoing projects to modernize the Loop’s transit systems and accommodate its continued residential and commercial growth. The Chicago Transit Authority is currently building a new “superstation” to replace the now-defunct Madison and Wabash train stop, as well as the stop at Randolph and Washington. The local community group the Loop Alliance is spearheading an effort to increase business development on Wabash Avenue and increase tourism. The Loop is also one of the few Chicago neighborhoods to see a significant population increase over the past decade, with more residential high-rises being constructed or redeveloped.

“This is the economic hub of the region,” said Skosey. “We cannot grow that employment base if we’re allowing everybody to hop in their single-occupancy vehicle and go to work. The economic future of our region depends on having efficient mass transit downtown.”

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Innovation in Sunset Park
Courtesy Industry City

Before the artisanal ice cream shop, “eco-chic” gourmet food purveyor, and the 3D-printing lab moved into Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the massive industrial complex was a hardscrabble emblem of the borough’s old working waterfront. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the six-million-square-foot complex, first known as Bush Terminal, was described as an “industrial city within a city.”

As the trajectory of manufacturing changed course, so did Industry City. Today, the halls of the once bustling “city within a city” are quiet, occupied by a few light manufacturers, small companies, and food suppliers that have set up shop over the last year or so. The recent activity in the building—850,000 square feet of the property have been leased—was spurred by a $100 million investment in 2013 by the team behind Chelsea Market: Jamestown Properties, Belvedere Capital, and Angelo, and Gordon & Co.

The massive Sunset Park complex is slated to become an “innovation hub,” reinvigorating the industrial strip along the waterfront.

Now, the development team has announced plans to pour an additional $890 million into the complex, turning it into a so-called “innovation hub,” creating more than 13,000 on-site jobs over the next 12 years. To bring the century-old buildings back to life, the development team will replace 18,000 windows, 144 elevators, and spend $30 million in electrical upgrades. There will also be new raised sidewalks at the complex, and a walkway that runs through and between all of the buildings.

When complete, two-thirds of Industry City will be geared toward “innovation,” while the rest of the complex would house academic institutions, warehouse facilities, and retail. There are also plans for a hotel and a significant new surface level parking lot at the site.


As the plan has been rolled out, Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball and his team have been touting their plans to hire locally, create an on-site employment center, and offer technology training. The plan could help ease concerns that the $1 billion project, with its high-end stores and companies, would not benefit Sunset Park’s working-class community. Crain’s, for example, dubbed the Industry City overhaul a “hipster mega-project.”


Kimball dismissed this characterization. “It is an amazing time for New York in the sense that people care about making things, a lot of those people tend to be young, and if you want to call all young people hipsters, that is a pretty easy thing to do,” he said. Kimball reiterated that he is working closely with local partners to get the community involved and hired at Industry City, where jobs, he said, will pay significantly more than typical service sector positions.

The plan is being privately funded, but the developers are looking for over $100 million in public funds for infrastructure and transportation upgrades, including new bike lanes. Kimball also wants the city to invest in public realm improvements underneath the Gowanus Expressway, which separates Industry City from much of Sunset Park.

For the massive project to move forward, the site—which is still zoned for heavy manufacturing—must go before a public review process and receive a zoning change from the de Blasio administration to allow for certain commercial uses.

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Strolling the Strand
Among the recommendations of the Brooklyn Strand concept is a market beneath the Brooklyn Bridge viaduct.
Courtesy WXY

For most of the last century, Downtown Brooklyn’s streets have formed a tangled knot that has confounded urban planners. Urban renewal beginning in the 1930s ripped out vast swaths of the borough’s urban fabric, putting back disconnected parks and plazas. Highway building campaigns tore at the street grid and ramps to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges complicate access to and from the waterfront.

In the summer of 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined a series of initiatives aimed at positioning the borough’s civic core as a technology hub called the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. Part of that plan—redeveloping a 21-acre expanse of parkland called the Brooklyn Strand—has come into focus with a new concept plan by WXY Architecture + Urban Design that gives shape to the community’s recommendations from more than 40 stakeholder groups and nearly a year’s worth of public input.

A parking lot at Borough Hall would be replaced by a retail pavilion with a park-like green roof (left). Existing structures in Cadman Plaza would be repurposed for education and retail (right).

The Strand links together a series of disconnected and underutilized green spaces to form two unified corridors—the Cadman Connector and the BQE Connector—between Downtown Brooklyn and the waterfront in DUMBO, creating safe and visually appealing streetscapes and parks from the heavy-handed planning mistakes of the 20th century.

“We want to rectify the mistakes of urban renewal,” WXY principal Claire Weisz told Curbed after a recent community board meeting. “We want to create a sense of identity for the Strand so it doesn’t feel like no man’s land. There are many opportunities to reimagine streets… And that would become the brand of the Brooklyn Strand.”

Redesigning streets around Borough Hall would bolster pedestrian and cyclist safety while adding new park space. One idea calls for burying a parking lot to create new park space on the surface. The ground plane rises up to form a retail space with an occupiable roof above. The design pedestrianizes the narrow Cadman Plaza West, bringing in a new streetscape and porous edges to the Korean War Memorial Plaza and the new Brooklyn Public Library designed by Marvel Architects.

The Brooklyn Strand concept calls for better connectivity between Downtown Brooklyn beginning at Borough Hall and the DUMBO waterfront.

In Cadman Plaza, significant renovations to another War Memorial creates a glassy learning center, overcoming accessibility challenges with a carved out entry plane incorporated into the landscape. At the tip of Cadman Plaza, dramatic earthworks create the “Brooklyn Eye” overlook space with dramatic vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Left to right: The Brooklyn Strand would provide a unified landscape plan for a number of disconnected green spaces; An elevated berm would provide vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge; new streetscapes in Downtown Brooklyn would make the neighborhood more pedestrian friendly.

Where the grid erodes at the foot of the bridge, the Strand improves pedestrian flow to and from the waterfront with lighting and new retail at underpasses. A signature open market occupies space beneath the bridge viaduct’s enormous stone archways. These pedestrian corridors weave through small remnant spaces to create a legible path between the bridges. Five major new bike lanes are proposed, including implementing key portions of the Brooklyn Bridge Gateway Area Plan to remake bike lanes along Tillary Street.

In April, the plan’s BQE Connector portion will begin a round of community engagement initiatives with arts group Superflex, including public art installations. Before the larger plan can be implemented, however, the Strand must run a gauntlet of approvals from various city agencies and raise significant funds.

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Detroit breaks ground on Motor City's first protected bike lanes
Work is underway on Detroit's first protected bike lanes, which will shelter cyclists with buffer zones and bollards along Jefferson Avenue in the historic Jefferson-Chalmers business district. According to Streetsblog the project will start with only seven blocks, but a second phase will extend it three miles to Grand Boulevard. Parked cars will block bike riders from traffic along the busy street, which is the target of a road diet funded with public money and led by Jefferson East, a neighborhood-based community development corporation. The city gathered money from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, the Community Foundation for SE Michigan, the Kresge Foundation, and the DTE Energy Foundation. The project is part of broader plans to update to Detroit's transportation infrastructure, which include buffered bike lanes in Midtown and millions of dollars in non-car “enhancements” funded by Michigan's Department of Transportation. The Motor City added 50 miles of bike lanes in 2013.
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London to invest $140 million to boost cycling in the 'burbs
As we've been reporting, there are some pretty big urbanism proposals being pushed in London right now. Next month, the city is expected to break ground on a massive cycle superhighway that will give cyclists about 20 miles of new protected bike lanes. Mayor Johnson is also supporting a plan to bury parts of major thoroughfares to boost walkability and development. But now, something even bigger is brewing in the London suburbs. People for Bikes reported that the city's regional government is investing $140 million into cycling, which could be "the biggest municipal bicycling investment in the history of Europe." This amount, which represents 10 percent of Transport for London's (TfL) ten-year bicycle infrastructure budget, will be used to turn three suburbs into what the agency calls "mini-Hollands." The goal in each of these three 'burbs (Kingston, Enfield, Waltham Forest) is to get people out of their cars and onto bikes—especially for short trips. To bring Holland to outer London, TfL is proposing to redesign town centers, build new suburban Cycle Superhighways, and create "Dutch-style roundabouts and rail superhubs." The TfL sees huge potential for bike transit growth in these areas where mass transit tends to be less convenient than what is offered in denser urban environments. "More than half of potential cycle journeys in London are in the suburbs," said the agency on its website. "This programme will aim to target these journeys, moving significant numbers of short car trips to bike." The agency said the boroughs are currently working on detailed designs and timelines for their plans.
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Minneapolis takes a cue from the Netherlands with city's first woonerf shared street
A residential development in downtown Minneapolis is set to give the city its first woonerf, a road type developed in the Netherlands that integrates vehicle traffic and parking with pedestrians, bicyclists and public amenities. The BKV Architects–designed Mill City Quarter housing breaks ground later this year, starting with a six-story building that will include up to 150 rental housing units priced to be affordable for those making 60 percent of the metropolitan median income or less. Later phases will add more units, say developers Wall Cos. and Lupe Development Partners, including 45 units for those with memory problems and 105 for assisted and independent living. Taking up the block at the northwest corner of 2nd Street and 3rd Avenue, the development hopes to connects the Mill District—home to the popular riverside Mill City Museum, Guthrie Theater, and soon a massive mixed-use development in the shadow of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium—with the rehabbed warehouses and thriving cultural scene of the North Loop neighborhood. Bisecting that block is a former rail corridor leading toward Mississippi River trails and a riverside visitor center that Minneapolis' Park Board has proposed for just downstream of the 3rd Avenue Bridge. Mill City Quarter's developers have agreed to make that side street into a woonerf with 80 diagonal parking spaces flanking colored pavement demarcating reduced-speed vehicle traffic, green space, bike lanes and pedestrian zones. Minneapolis' Park Board approved plans for the “amenity-rich plaza street,” through the $73.8 million development, but expressed concerns over developer and former City Council member Steve Minn's plans to install a gate at the park end of the woonerf, which he said he'd keep closed during park off-hours, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. By exempting the development from a new parks law that would require them to donate land to public space, the Park Board gave their agreement some teeth—if the developers restrict public access to the land they could be on the hook for $61,400.

Eavesdrop> Sunny Apple: Cupertino HQ makes a big buy for solar power We have given Apple flack for the suburban nature of its new campus in Cupertino. But we’ve been impressed with the company’s recent attempts to make things more eco-friendly, adding shuttles, bike lanes, a bus transit center, and walking paths. Now we hear Apple is purchasing 130 megawatts worth of energy a year from First Solar. The purchase will power the new HQ as well as all of its other California offices, a large data center, and the 52 retail stores in the state.
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London expected to break ground on massive "cycle superhighway"
London is ready to one-up its bike-friendly European neighbors by building the longest, continuous protected cycleway on the continent. Mayor Boris Johnson has been emphatically endorsing the plan that would create two "superhighways" of bi-directional, curb protected bike lanes. The longer of the two paths would run 18 miles, past some of London's most iconic sites. This truly ambitious plan has been in the works for some time, but is expected to pass its final hurdle this week when it goes before the Transit for London (TfL) board for approval. If it is approved, which is expected, construction is slated to start this March with completion in 2016, according to Dezeen. The creation of the cycleway would not just be a major win for cyclists, it would significantly improve pedestrian safety as well. According to the mayor's office, the superhighway includes “22 new crossings and 35 shortened crossings and 41 crossings fitted with pedestrian countdown.” Given the scale of this plan, there of course have been some detractors—mostly drivers who don’t want to see their roads handed over to cyclists. Mayor Johnson said that the final plan takes concerns about increased car traffic into account while maintaining a continuous, curb-segregated cycleway. “We have done one of the biggest consultation exercises in TfL’s history. We have listened, and now we will act,” said the mayor in a statement. “Overwhelmingly, Londoners wanted these routes, and wanted them delivered to the high standard we promised. I intend to keep that promise.”
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Montreal to transform expressway into multi-modal urban boulevard
Urbanists rejoice! Montreal will tear down a major piece of one of its expressways and replace it with a multi-modal urban boulevard complete with parks, dozens of new trees, bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, a dog park, and art installations. The Montreal Gazette reported that crews will start dismantling the city’s Bonaventure Expressway this spring, and that the entire $141.6 million project should wrap up as soon as 2017. “At the centre of the massive project, which was subject to public consultation in 2009, are 42-metre wide public-park spaces, totalling more than 20,000 square metres, that will separate the north and southbound roadways,” reported the Gazette. An original plan would have placed new buildings on the sites now slated for parks. Montreal’s mayor said that the city’s independent inspector will monitor the project for possible corruption. [h/t Planetizen]
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Look to Lindsay
New York City in 1967.
John Atherton / Flickr

The City of New York that John Lindsay governed in 1966 was a very different one from the one we live in today. It was still reeling from the loss of its middle class to government subsidized suburbs, its infrastructure was crumbling, and there seemed to be few new ideas about how to deal with these issues and move forward. But the Lindsay administration, as Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in 1974, “occupied the historic moment when the [planning] profession was beginning to make itself felt,” when the city was “lavishing care, quality, and sophistication on the design of new buildings and urban landscapes.” He founded The Urban Design Group, one of the first design-led organizations that attempted to come up with public policy for urban space inside a government agency. The Group, for example, organized and catalogued the city’s complicated and overlapping infrastructure for the first time in a series of beautifully designed books. It made public service compelling for the first time for professional designers. It is hard to imagine any of the design-led non-profits that proliferate in this city without the early efforts of the Group.

Before the Lindsay administration, the last urban agencies in the United States to attempt to plan or design urban space was Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the multiple agencies under the direction of Robert Moses. Moses’s idea about transportation in the city, for example, was to make its city streets as accommodating as possible for the automobile. The thinking was that everything should be done to allow the car to move through the city as quickly as possible. This model has had a vice grip over New York transportation planning since the 1920s, but Lindsay’s administration began carving into it with bicycle lanes taking over the streets for the first time. It was an obvious example of designers thinking about how to make a city with cleaner air and one that is fitter and more livable. There are many photos of the glamorous mayor biking around town in his suit and tie. But when Lindsay left office in 1973, the following administration, as critics like Yonah Freemark pointed out, slowly strangled many of his and the Urban Design Group’s ideas. The first bicycle lanes were removed during the Beame, Koch, and Giuliani administrations. These mayors, who knew that businesses did not like them blocking their curbside pick up and drop off lanes, went back to the Moses model of thinking and acting only for the automobile. Even city parks, on which Lindsay had published a white paper in 1965 in which he promoted them as sites for happenings and anti-war speeches (some of which he delivered), were slowly disregarded and left to flounder. Who can ever forget the ham fisted redesign and closure of Tompkins Square Park under Mayor David Dinkins that led to days of rioting in the East Village?

Its is fair to say that this lack of thinking about public space and infrastructure that marked the post-Lindsay administrations of New York came to a dead stop under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Not only did he hire public officials who made the connection between policy and actual physical design, but he allowed them the freedom to make changes based on a newer model of urban living that tried to tame the automobile and think about the act of living in the city. The streets, for example, were rethought, and where there were triangles of leftover, barely used carriageways, they became hard-surfaced parklets. Bicycle lanes were laid down all over the city and, of course, the bike share program took off like a rocket.  Streets were no longer only for the automobile, but became shared spaces for pedestrians and bicycles, and sometimes places for tables and chairs. But what about Bloomberg’s urban design legacy of improved parks, streets, and infrastructure? Will it go the way of Lindsay’s?

It seems clear that Mayor Bill de Blasio sees many of the Bloomberg initiatives as having only benefited the wealthy, and especially Manhattanites. But we have reported on the urban design issues surrounding de Blasio’s quick agreement over the Domino Sugar plan and Henry Melcher has written about de Blasio knocking Bloomberg’s parks legacy—a legacy that is widely respected in the city and beyond. De Blasio said, “I think [fighting inequality] is front and center in the philosophy of this administration and it applies to everything we’re doing—doesn’t matter if you’re talking about schools or job creation, or parks—it’s the way we see the world,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say the previous administration didn’t see the world that way.”

We have been critical in past editorials on the funding mechanism for spaces like the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park, but now they are there and should at least be maintained and improved. And as former New York City parks commissioner Adrian Benepe wrote, the Bloomberg administration put money into parks all over the city—not just Manhattan. It may be that de Blasio needs to stay focused on equity and affordable housing and to meet his laudable goals for this city, but lets just hope that he also thinks about the impact that construction and these improvements will have on the future livability of the city.