Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Shrinking cities, 'shovel-ready' and more

That great Web site, Planetizen.com, and writers Nate Berg and Tim Halbur offer their take on the biggest planning issues of 2009. Top o the list, you'll not be surprised to see, is the Great Recession.

Next is "Shrinking Cities," followed by "The 'Shovel-Ready' Conundrum," and "High-Speed Rail."
Except for the high-speed rail, this region experienced all those travails.

The Planetizen recession article has a link with this woeful headline: "Architect Tops List of Hardest-Hit Jobs." Carpenters came in at No. 2. I think the devastation in the architure profession may be one of the great underreported stories of 2009.

The section on Shrinking Cities ends with a link to an LA Times report that a large commercial farm is buying abandoned land in Detroit with hopes of establishing a large-scale commercial enterprise. Here's another link, to a Fortune magazine piece on the same topic. It may sound crazy, but if so, a lot of respected planners are crazy. The Fortune piece notes: "After studying the city's options at the request of civic leaders, the American Institute of Architects came to this conclusion in a recent report: 'Detroit is particularly well-suited to become a pioneer in urban agriculture at a commercial scale.' "

The high-speed rail section includes this paragraph, quoting the always quotable author and dystopian James Howard Kunstler: "James Howard Kunstler, who famously said that America has 'a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of,' commented that high-speed rail is overspec'd and unnecessary. In 2009, Kunstler wrote that 'Californians (and the U.S. public in general) would benefit tremendously from normal rail service on a par with the standards of 1927, when speeds of 100 miles-per-hour were common and the trains ran absolutely on time (and frequently, too) without computers (imagine that!)'

There are a wealth of links. Happy reading.


consultant said...

This is what we need:

Commuter rail, light rail and electric buses (in addition to current buses) in our top 25 metro cities, and electric buses in metro areas 26 to 50.

Since we're throwing money around, we could fund initial construction with a federal, state, local split.

We could develop more park & ride locations for the edges of our urban areas and the goal within 5 miles of a city center should be no one has to walk more than 5 blocks to catch a train or bus.

A great shovel ready project is reviving passenger rail in this country. But since we are no longer a serious country, none of this will happen.

If Hubbert's calculations are correct, we've already passed peak oil (Dec. '05). And if Dr. David Goodstein at Cal Tech is right, that means by 2015, we'll need to find substitute energy for half the oil we use today (that's a lot of energy. Goodstein's estimate: 10 to 15 billions barrels of oil per year). We currently use about 7.5 billion barrels of oil each year; two-thirds of it on transportation; most of that personal).

Do you see where this is heading?

By the way, welcome back Mary.

Anonymous said...

Passenger rail might have a chance if there were any private companies doing it instead of government (and yes, Amtrak is a government agency, since Amtrak wouldn't exist without the government money they get every year).

There's also the issue of convenience. As long as taking the train is a longer trip than taking the car, Americans aren't going to use it.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be poetic if GM, Shell Oil et al. diversified into passenger railroads? They're going to need to find some other product to sell other than the cars and gasoline when we run out of oil.

Anonymous said...

If they can find a way to do it and make money or at least approach a break even point, more power to them. But as the railroads themseleves never made a dime on passenger travel and them lost millions after the movement of mail was switched from passnger trains to trucks and airplanes I don't hold out much hope.

consultant said...

In a few years-not 40, more like 3 or 4-we're not going to have ANY options.

We won't be without oil, it will just be too expensive for most people most of the time.

At $3 a gallon, buying gas really starts to hurt people. We're at @$2.50 a gallon right now. It's been going up steady the last few months.

By the way, this up and down movement of gas prices is what Hubbert said would happen when oil production had reached peak.

It's already too late to build out or rebuild massive rail transit systems in most of our cities. Same thing with passenger rail. If we started right now, we might get some projects completed in places that are fully prepared right now to do it, but just lack the funds. But the fact is many places, especially in our suburbs, or going to be without cheap ways to get around.

2whls3spds said...

I have yet to understand why people think mass transit has to turn a profit? Do roads provide a profit to municipalities? NO! Roads and the current personal automotive transit system is heavily subsidized. Use THAT subsidy to pay for mass transit. But as others have pointed out it is probably too late.