30.7.05

the dream.

j got her tickets for her work trip in October. She'll have about 5 days in Chisina├╗ and Krikova, Moldova plus a bonus 4 day side trip to Istanbul, Turkey.

Plus they've got layovers in Deutschland, which I'm sure will be cool for her. We haven't been back since we moved.

She's going to be working to set up a program between Northeastern University and the Moldova State University to help the Moldovans with retaining more of their intelectuals after graduation (think Moldova=Iowa and you'll understand).

So, I've got to say, this here, what I'm talking about, this is the dream. A good job, not super high paying, but enough, with high degrees of intelectual stimulation and satisfaction where you get sent all over the world to do stuff. That's all we're asking for.

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25.7.05

Der Widerstand

A friend gave me an interesting book called Resistance by Barry Lopez that I've been reading today. It's a series of short stories showing the deep connection between each "writers" personal and political life. I find it interesting to try and think of what events, what single moments in my past, have formed my beliefs. Here are a couple of little pieces I really liked:

"We reject the assertion, promoted today by success-mongering bull terriers in business, in government, in religion, that humans are goal-seeking animals. We believe they are creatures in search of proportion in life, a pattern of grace. It is balance and beauty we believe people want, not triumph. The stories the earth's peoples adhere to with greatest faith - the dances that topple fearful walls; the ethereal performances of light, color, and music; the enduring musics themselves - are all well patterned." -Barry Lopez, writting as Owen Daniels

"None among my friends has turned his back on the ideals of justice, which seemed so much more plausable when we were young. We've not lost faith; but for some the years have beeen very discouraging. Many of us can't see beyond the boundries of our own difficulties. We're like a tribe of naked people caught suddenly in a freezing climate, men and women gathered in some sheltered hollow who have located a fire, and now spend their time in forays over a barren land scrounging for wood.
Beyond writing my briefs and arguing my cases, beyond reinforcing my friends' plans and lifting their hopes, I don't know what i am to do. What keeps me from giving up is seeing some young woman pull over to drag a dead animal off the road. Or meeting a reporter, as I just have, who has seen in the streets of Calcutta hundreds of the untended dead, curled up like leaves, who's interviewed the sleepwalking miners of Rond├┤nia, the warlords of Somalia, the mujahideen, the president of the World Bank, and then sits without comment while her father complains about the price of gasoline.
What holds me is the faith of the others. What has troubled me is the exhaustionn that overtakes me, the way I no longer want to be responsible."
-Barry Lopez, writting as Edward Larmirande

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24.7.05

Anniversaire dans le Connecticut

J and I had a good day down south of the border for our aniversary. We took a Honda Element from Zipcar for the day, and proceeded to New Haven, CT, home of Yale, and more importantly, the closest Ikea store until the new one opens up up here this fall. We did a bunch of shopping, getting some stuff to finish up our office and the living room. Afterwards, we drove up the coast as far as Mystic, near the Rhode Island border. Mystic is a little New England fishing and shipbuilding town, and they've got a huge open air museum of what a port town like that would look like in the 19th century. It's somewhere in between Plymouth Plantation and Murphy's Landing. It was a good museum. Afterwards we went to dinner in town and then headed back to Boston. Not a hugely eventful day, but a nice one. We also both have a three day weekend, so there is no complaining there. This week we are looking forward to Shakespeare on the Common. They are doing Hamlet this year. Last time we saw them do The Twelth Night we were on our honeymoon. Funny how that worked out, huh?

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21.7.05

It's Between Romainia and the Ukraine.

J just found out that she gets to go to Moldova for work in October. I'm a little green eyed.

but I can't hold it against her because...

tomorrow's our 4 year aniversary!

Year three was a good one. For the first time, we were both working towards something that we like, neither of us were depressed, and life was clicking. Here's to year four. May it be just as great (even if we will only see each other 7 months out of it).

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19.7.05

Living Through Gentrification

Something kind of strange has been going on around here lately. Our neighborhood has been improving. I think there must be some city money going into beautification, because pretty randomly all of the shops along the main streets replaced their hand painted tarps with actual signs. It’s not just that though, in a few more months, a great big park that will connect the neighborhood to Airport T-Station will open along with an old industrial warehouse that is being converted into a brand spanking new YMCA. The MBTA will be remodeling Maverick Station as well, along with new landscaping at Maverick Square. And it seems like the demographics are changing as well. Taking into account that everyone in Boston moves in May and September, it already seems like there is a huge spike in the student population. These are the people that we know as the “risk-oblivious,” people without kids who can choose wherever they want to to live and have the money and support systems to leave if anything ever gets too bad.

My neighborhood is hundreds of years old. We started out as an island (Noodle Island) and the British had a garrison here. The island was slowly connected by landfill to the town of Winthrop-by-the-Sea and to form the south shore of the Chelsea River. We are surrounded by water on all sides, the Atlantic to the east, Boston Harbour to the south and west and the Chelsea to the north. Development was relatively slow compared to much of Boston, which sprawled south due to geographic constraints. In the eighteen hundreds East Boston became the center of the clipper ship building industry. Housing sprung up for the immigrants (mostly French-Canadian) who came to work on the ships. Development typically followed this pattern: industrial and warehouses two blocks deep along the shore line with housing (typically Victorian triple-deckers) filling up the inside. Over the next hundred years, the Canadians were gradually replaced by Italians and then by Salvadorians. The city used additional landfill on the east side to build Logan International Airport, but other than that, the fabric of the city has remained mostly the same over the last hundred years. At some point in the last ten years, someone realized, “holy crap, there are at least 20 square blocks of unused industrial sites (or brownfields, as it goes in the lingo) that have the best possible views of downtown Boston… and it’s only one subway stop from downtown and the financial district… and it’s cheap as yo mama.”

The city started a few years ago by replacing some old train tracks with parkland right on the harbour, and now the redevelopment is starting. The project that I described in my last post is only the beginning of the new work. One other big example is called “Pier One” (I can’t even write that without imagining Kerstie Alley yelling). It’s a development of 505 luxury apartments, 80 condos, 380 boat slips and 150,000 square feet of restaurants and retail and office space. It’s hard to imagine this without thinking of how it will change the shape of the neighborhood. Although, if anyone has an extra 50 million lying around, I’ve got some great plans for a fish gutting factory.

Gentrification is scary when it happens to your neighborhood. I know my landlords well, and I don’t see them doing anything to make it hard for me to live here, but you have to wonder if you are going to be able to afford to stay in your neighborhood when the professionals start moving in. There are, however, big winners as well. The Italian lady in the building behind me has had her place handed down to her from her grandparents. Her family has owned it for almost 100 years. In a few years she should be able to sell it for four or five times what it was worth a year ago (and in Boston’s housing market, we are probably talking a million.) Not bad for something that your poor immigrant grandma left you.

I think that is the thing about gentrification. Cities go through cycles. Neighborhoods will regenerate and decline. Right now, the inner cities seem to be significantly improving, but at the cost of first and second ring suburbs, especially ones that were built post-war and turned out poor places for communities. In the words of James Howard Kunstler, “To demand an end to these processes would result in the death of the city.” We just need to remember those that are being pushed out.

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13.7.05

Ausbildung

I got the internship i wanted.

I'm going to be doing research relating to a Hope IV grant for the revitilization of a public housing project for a think-tank called The Center for Urban and Regional Policy (I added a link as well)

It's very interesting work, and includes some very cutting edge theories. For example it mixes market rate and public assisted housing together. Architecturally it's New Urbanist and consists of a couple of midrises (which are already completed) and about 6 blocks of nice town houses. It's got a great harbourside park and a bunch of social programs (ESL, GED, Day Care) There are also some interesting renewable energy projects: the midrise powers itself using solar power collected on the roof. I'm excited. More later.

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12.7.05

Highway Removal and a Proposal for Mpls

I felt that I had to write some on San Francisco’s Octavia Boulevard project. This seems like one of the most important projects in urban America right now, up there with the Big Dig and the work at the WTC site in New York. Ever since the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco collapsed in 1989, SF has put itself on a path to remove many of its highways. The project that is going on now will remove Interstate 80 and turn Octavia Street into a beautiful six-lane boulevard. Octavia will go from this:


Into this:


One of the most interesting parts of this project is that it was driven not by a forward thinking urban planner, but by the people of San Francisco themselves. Essentially, the voters have drawn a line in the sand, both figuratively and literally, in saying that there will be no highways beyond this line (in this case Market Street). In doing this, San Francisco has kept thier place on the forefront of American urban design.

Not that they are the first to remove an urban highway. Milwaukee, Boston, Portland, OR and New York have all also led the way. The unfortunate thing about these projects is that they shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. All along the planners of the Interstate Highway System have known that they highways should not pass directly through cities. Norman Bel Geddes, the person most responsible for the U.S. Highway system said in 1939, “Motorways must not be allowed to infringe upon the city.” Unfortunately, unlike the systems in Canada and Europe, we did not follow our own rule. As such, our traffic problems have been, by and large, much worse then those of the other developed countries.

As we continued to develop new highways, we were shocked to find that no matter how big we built them, they still filled up. Our response has typically been to build more lanes and more highways. Unfortunately, we haven’t been willing to look at the statistics of what we are doing. Building more lanes simply brings more traffic. Some studies have shown that by adding a lane in each direction to a highway will cause increase in traffic that will require additional lanes within 4 years. To paraphrase a famous quote, adding more lanes to fix traffic problems is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.

So what happens when a highway is removed? When the West Side Highway collapsed in 1973 in New York, NYDOT conducted a study that showed that 93% of the car trips simply disappeared. The reasons for this are more sociological then technical. The easiest way to say it is that most car trips are simply unnecessary. When we decide whether or not to take a trip in our car, we, consciously or unconsciously, weigh what we know about traffic patterns and distances to decide if a trip will be worth it to us. If we know that traffic will be bad or that the distance is too far, we will postpone our trip or find a replacement trip that will be closer. We will find a doctor or used bookstore in our neighborhood instead of across town. Over time, people will even change homes or jobs to be closer to their homes if their commute becomes too difficult.

So, let’s imagine for a minute what this could look like in Minneapolis. Let’s turn four lane 35W into a six-lane boulevard along with an elevated light rail line in the middle starting at 62nd and running into downtown. Additionally there would be space for a block on each side of development.

The lightrail in this position would be fantastic. If you take a quarter-mile to a half-mile in each direction (let’s say Lyndale in the west and Chicago in east) and you have some of the most densely populated blocks in the Twin Cities. This would end up being more of a line for the population of Minneapolis then the Hiawatha line has been and it is already a proven transit way. I would envision a new transit station in the development blocks towards the end of the Boulevard (let’s call it Central Boulevard for the sake of giving it an easy name), maybe around 60th. All of the express busses that run on 35 could be discontinued and instead we could have several new bus routes to the suburbs running from the 60th St. Station. Additionally, the 18 bus that runs on Nicollet and the 5 that runs on Chicago and Portland (2 of the busiest in the city) could be discontinued. The central divider that would be home to the elevated lightrail would also be prime space for bike paths.

Although I’m sure that there would be many people who would complain of the longer amounts of time that commuting to Minneapolis would take, I’m pretty sure their would be little or no difference. As is, when I was working in Richfield and living downtown, I usually took city streets home, and can personally testify that it took about the same amount of time to get home. The problem with 35W is, once you are on, you are trapped. If I’m taking Nicollet and it’s too busy, I can change my mind and take Lyndale or Portland or Park or Xerxes or Penn instead. Central Boulevard would give people yet another choice, plus, with a divided roadway with dedicated turn lanes, it could support a slightly higher speed limit, say 40 mph, safely.

As far as the development blocks, I’d imagine continuations of the development that is already there. Namely, condos and apartment blocks closer to downtown; single family or duplexes (possibly row houses) farther out interspersed with retail all along. All along the boulevard there should be a height requirement of at least 2 stories, become 3 stories at 36th and 4 stories by Franklin. There should be on street parking all along the Central and a restriction of parking lots that are within sight of the street (however a pair of park and ride ramps would be nice, say at the 60th street Transit Center and at Lake, perhaps instead of that stupid Kmart). Wide sidewalks would give space for both pedestrians and street cafes. There could be several areas left open for parks, including an expansion and redesign of Kingfield Park, which already borders 35W. Another possibility would be routing the boulevard or the light rail a little bit farther west once it is past lake to put it along the east side of the Institute of Arts while keeping the other along 35W’s path to connect to the Honeywell and Wells Fargo developments in Phillips. The great part of all of this open space throughout the middle of the city would be the opportunity to create a showcase of architecture and design that would define the city, much like Berlin's development through the corridor that was left in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, including Potsdamer Platz, the new Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Pariser Platz and the new government buildings (Berlin also just edged out Rome to became the third most visited city in Europe, showing the potential economic benifits of this type of development).

This is all of course without regard to costs. I don’t claim to be an economist, so I can’t say for sure anything about costs. What I do know for sure is that a large portion of a smaller city's budget comes from building permits. The amounts of money that would come in from the development of 120 brand new blocks would definitely help off set some of the costs. Not to mention the new property taxes. We could also make it Honeywell Boulevard, Target Boulevard or General Mills Boulevard if we wanted to bring in a few million extra. Maybe even all three if we named it in different chunks. The development on the blocks would, of course be mostly private money, and the lightrail should be able to get transit subsidies. To take a look at Milwaukee’s work, the replacement of an elevated road way in downtown Milwaukee with a surface street was estimated at about a fifth the cost of what repairing the roadway in the first place would have cost (25 Million as compared to 120 Million). This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be high cost, however one must weigh the potential for good to the city, an increase in tourism, better neighborhoods, a reduction in sprawl and increase in population and density within Minneapolis proper would all be possible results. Both Milwaukee and San Francisco have reported a revitalization of the neighborhoods bordering their smaller scale projects. It’s all a bit out there, I know, but this is a vision of what a city can become with just a little work.

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8.7.05

As a part of our goal of visiting more of Boston's tourist sites that we'd never been to, Jessica and I went to the JFK Presidential Library a couple of days ago.


The library is in Dorchester, which is the neighborhood just south of Southie, on the campus of UMass Boston. It's got a great location overlooking the harbour. J and I have never lived anywhere with an ocean before, and we were kind of surprised how inaccessible the ocean actually is from Boston. I kind of expected it to be more like Lake Michigan is to Chicago, but Dorchester actually has some nice views. The library was designed by IM Pei, the architect who did the Hancock tower in Boston, One Bank Place in Minneapolis, the Holocaust Museum in DC, The Deutsches Historischen Museums in Berlin, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the renovation of the Louve in Paris, to name a few of his more famous works. The library falls right in the middle of his career, and although I don't like it as much as some of the newer building, it's a testament to the forward thinking of his design how it looks as if it would have been built just last year.

More so then the facade, it's the interior and the display spaces that are really interesting. It's very much the twenty-first century museum. Instead of having lots of displays with stuff to read, each section of JFK's presidency has a few thinks to read and look at, but at the center there will be some monitors that are showing video from the time. For example, in the part about the election, you actually had video of Walter Cronkite reading off election results. It's the type of place that a teenager (in saying teenager, I actually mean adults who can't understand why I would go to a museum for fun. you know who you are.) wouldn't get bored or overwhelmed. My favorite area was probably the temporary display of gifts that had been given by foreign heads of state. There were some wonderful pieces of silver from the Shah and the King of Cambodia as well as several beautiful African tribal masks. Also, out of the twenty or so displays, there was one devoted to the Peace Corps, which I think is really one of JFK's best contributions, so I was glad to see it there. There were also films about JFK's life prior to the presidency and on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Overall, the museum is worth a stop if you are in New England. It's one of the better ones i've visited.

I also just finished uploading a bunch of photos from my last trip to canada to flickr. It's going to take me a few months to upload the entire trip. You can click the photo below to take a look. I should also mention that it was Mikee Caron who took most of these photos.

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7.7.05

Sorry about not posting for awhile. I lost my internet connection in a storm and it took awhile to get someone out to fix the wire.

So, yeah, had a great time in Minnepolis. As someone who studies city planning, it is kind of fun to have a place that i know so well, yet that I visit so infrequently that I can see what development has been going on. I see a lot of good signs that traditional planning is winning in the city, for example, boulevards are actually boulevards, and the landscaping along Hiawatha shows a traditional street layout. All three of the new developments in Loring park looked great. The construction along franklin was a good start, but there is still a lot of infill that needs done. The development along Washington also looked like it was doing well. The lightrail was also extreamly busy everytime I used it, which was great to see. Build more!

Who knows, maybe in 15 years minnepolis will be the type of place i'd be willing to live again.

Also, contrats to Luc and Michelle on the wedding and Ryan and Bethany on the baby!

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