Monthly Archive: July 2015

New This Week: 3 Barely There Kitchens (5 photos)

Call it the Age of Openness. No, it’s not an enlightened period of history in which people share their feelings. It’s a time when homeowners are increasingly requesting more open spaces. Walls are coming down, ceilings are going up, and cabinetry is getting so clever that you almost don’t even know it’s…

Shop Houzz: Living With Andy Warhol (52 photos)

Decorating around the iconic style of Andy Warhol may seem daunting at first, but in reality his attitudes about art and life in general allow for mixing seemingly incongruous elements easily. In fact, he is quoted as saying, “Art is what you can get away with.” So there you have it: carte blanche to…

U.S. Cities Keep Flirting With Casino Dreams

Massachusetts’ gambling commission met in Boston last week after a New Bedford casino plan collapsed. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Despite little evidence to support casinos’ ties to significant economic growth (and studies that show such venues can be harmful to a neighborhood), cities and states across the U.S. continue to hear the siren song of gambling moguls. But this week’s casino news shows how urban officials are increasingly taking a more nuanced view of gambling.

Georgia Considers Casinos for Atlanta and Beyond
Lawmakers in Georgia are deciding on an amendment that would allow voters to choose whether or not casinos have a place in the Peach State. House Resolution 807 would allow six casinos in the five licensing regions throughout the state. According to Georgia’s WMAZ, the region that includes Atlanta and Fulton County could have two casinos.

The resolution would first need to pass with a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate, but so far, lawmakers seem torn. Some supporters, like Rep. Nikki Randall, a Macon Democrat, are making the argument that it will keep money in the state that would otherwise be spent elsewhere.

“In my district alone, several buses leave here and go to Alabama and to Florida and Mississippi to visit casinos two or three times a month,” Randall said.

Skeptics and those on the fence are curious about where the money from the casinos would go. Some think it’s up to Georgia voters to decide. At any rate, lawmakers still have some time to mull things over. The 2016 legislative session for the General Assembly convenes January 11th.

Economic Adviser Tells Atlantic City to Think Entrepreneurship
In Atlantic City, where dependence on a gambling economy has led to a long, slow decline, officials continue to look for a turnaround solution. The Press of Atlantic City reported this week on a call from AngelouEconomics (economic consultants to the city) for the private sector to take action.

“This is going to have to be private-sector led and funded, with some support from the public as well,” Angelos Angelou said. “Economic development is done best by local businesses, not in the hands of the state.”

Angelou, whose firm has worked with many cities, pointed to Atlantic City’s unique problem, that it has too long been completely reliant on casinos: “There has been no discernible industrial cluster here to build on.”

Angelou argues that in times of economic distress, it’s best to focus on entrepreneurship. He’s advocating for the creation of a nonprofit Atlantic County Economic Development Corp. to implement a strategy.

Another vision for Atlantic City’s future was also recently floated: Daniel Windsor, a senior urban designer at Perkins+Will, proposes that A.C. repurpose sprawling casinos as research labs and spaces that could support the tech industry. He thinks that Atlantic City is uniquely positioned to become an innovation hub with a primary focus on combating the negative effects of climate change given its seaside locale.

“We saw a need not only due to its vulnerability to storms such as Sandy,” Windsor told Curbed, “but also due to the failing, gambling-based economy. We could find a new niche, a new economic catalyst and reposition the entire city.”

Boston Region Hopeless for Casinos?
Though Massachusetts voters have ruled in favor of allowing casinos in the state, rollout is proving to be tricky for industry developers. Last week, the much-hyped plan for a New Bedford casino collapsed. Lack of funding and confidence in its future were the final nails in the coffin for the $650 million proposal.

One thing keeping investors wary: In an attempt to ensure that casinos do in fact deliver the jobs and economic growth promised by the industry, the Massachusetts law requires that casinos receive a minimum of $500 million in investments. That’s a tall order for developers and a big risk for investors.

Steve Wynn, chief executive of Wynn Resorts, has complained that while Massachusetts residents voted to let casinos into the state, they have yet to roll out the welcome wagon. Wynn is behind the $1.7 billion proposal for a casino in Everett that was originally planned for East Boston — where the community rejected it.

“We’re hopeful that in Massachusetts at some point in the near future, we’ll be treated with a little softer hand considering that we’re the largest single private investment in the history of the state, and that we’re bringing to that town non-casino attractions that have never been around,” Wynn said on a call with investors.

According to the Boston Globe, the no-go on New Bedford:

… is a market signal that the gaming commission can’t just ignore. A failing casino would be a huge headache for the Commonwealth. …

5 Modern Homes in Oakland

In the kitchen and dining area, Shoup used ipe wood and installed an energy-efficient hydronic radiant heating system in the concrete floor. “There’s a minimalism that drives the basic design gestures,” notes Shoup. “I tried to temper that with a compleme

Stephen Shoup is the kind of person to see potential in things that others might miss. In 2005, looking for a property that would house himself and his design/build firm, building Lab inc., he happened upon a roughly 6,000-square-foot lot in north Oakland, California. Undeterred by the condition of the building (it had served as a shop for the late master woodcarver Miles Karpilow), he instituted a creative live-work space that can evolve with his needs. 

For 2024 Olympics, Are Two U.S. Cities Better Than One?

Los Angeles, above, and San Francisco could make a joint bid for the 2024 Olympics. (Photo by Nserrano)

After Boston bowed out of the running for the 2024 Summer Olympics earlier this week — with Mayor Marty Walsh saying he didn’t want to put taxpayers at risk in pursuit of the Games — speculation over potential U.S. host cities quickly centered on the West Cost. And the buzz was all about a joint Los Angeles-San Francisco bid.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer received a call about a joint proposal on Tuesday from L.A. sports executive Casey Wasserman.

“I’m not saying we are going to do it, but we are certainly open to discussing it,” Baer said, according to the Chronicle.

NBC reports:

Baer and Wasserman helped lead their respective’ cities finalist bids last year to be the 2024 U.S. Olympic bid city. Boston beat Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to be the U.S. bid in a Jan. 8 announcement.

In an L.A. Times op-ed today, Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes, writes about why Los Angeles might be better off without the Games:

A recent Oxford University study of 17 Olympics from 1960 through 2012 found that every single one had busted its budget, on average nearly tripling initial estimated costs. That’s a big reason why, despite the flood of ticket money and corporate sponsorships washing around the games, cities are often left with seas of red ink.

The cross-California partnership’s far from a done deal, but we’ll soon know for sure. A new U.S. host candidate would need to be submitted by a deadline of September 15th.

Tracing the Urban Transportation Revolution

CicLAvia participants cross the Fourth Street Bridge, with a view of downtown Los Angeles in the background. (Photo by Downtowngal)

Over the last 30 to 40 years, a tectonic shift has occurred in the way Americans think about urban transportation networks, especially the streets and roads that are their backbone. After decades of designing streets as low-grade highways designed to move cars as quickly as practicable, officials in a growing list of cities across the U.S. have changed course and implemented policies and design standards that emphasize the movement of people, not just cars. Bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, ciclovias and more have proven popular where implemented, delivered significant public benefits, and generated momentum for further changes that reclaim city streets for everyone’s use.

These officials couldn’t have done what they did without support from above — the citizens to whom they report and who advocate for change — and below — the city transportation officials charged with developing the policies and strategies for their implementation and the public works bureaucracies whose job it is to do the implementing.

A report released this week by TransitCenter, a research and advocacy organization devoted to promoting urban vitality through better transit and transportation options, documents the role all three groups play in producing innovative urban mobility systems.

“A People’s History of Recent Urban Transportation Innovations” looks at how the virtuous cycle of innovation works by examining the role all of the actors played in six cities: Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, New York, Pittsburgh and Portland.

The process begins with civic organizations that advocate for change and mobilize public support for policies. While planning groups like New York’s Regional Plan Association and business leadership groups like Charlotte’s Center City Partners can serve as “think tanks” that generate new ideas and turn them into plans that can be acted upon, the grassroots advocacy groups are fundamental. According to the report, groups like the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance of Oregon play the key role of raising public awareness of the issues and generating support for change. When groups with particular interests band together around larger goals, they become even more effective.

These groups create the space for city halls to rethink how their cities approach transportation and promote new policy directions. By offering candidates energized blocs of voters, the advocates give politicians an opportunity to incorporate innovative thinking on urban mobility into their larger policy agendas. Once in office, mayors or city councilors can then claim a mandate to develop programs based on the ideas of the advocates.

Here mayoral appointments to leadership positions play a crucial role. Putting top transportation officials in place who understand the goals of the plans and programs means that those goals get translated into workable policies.

And that’s where the bureaucrats below the commissioners come in. Whether they’re staffers who have come from the advocacy community or career civil servants, they share a knowledge and commitment. An advocate may bring an understanding of community politics to the task in order to help projects overcome objections, or they may know the ins and outs of bureaucratic procedure and thus can develop effective rules that others will follow after they’re gone. In this last realm, the development of new street design standards in places like New York form not only the basis for lasting change at the local level but also a platform that other cities can adopt.

All three of these elements, the report concludes, are essential to producing durable reform. The report notes how the lack of all three elements kept Pittsburgh from fully realizing the reform goals of Mayor Tom Murphy or taking maximum advantage of a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation grant program that encouraged regional cooperation on land use and transportation planning.

However, even cities like Pittsburgh have benefited and will continue to benefit from the new approaches to urban transportation put in place elsewhere. Organizations like the National Association of City Transportation Officials are producing manuals and design standards that upend the autos-above-all-else approaches that continue to dominate thinking at both the state and federal levels.

In another 30 years or so, city residents may come to take for granted the pedestrian- and bike-friendly practices and designs now taking hold in today’s cities. If so, they will have this triad of activists, elected leaders and bureaucrats to thank.

The space elevator

Katherine HoustonSimilar to concepts like Star Trek’s ‘beam me up Scotty’, the future holds a similar vision with the space elevator.We, as humans, would be capable of constantly sending people into space without the need for costly rockets.M…

Designs Thread Sustainability Into NYC Climate Museum Ideas

(Design by Hanson Cheng, RISD)

Picture a science museum. Do you see taxidermy dioramas and dinosaur skeletons amid dim lighting? Or a family-friendly center, with gaggles of children and messy, interactive exhibits? Now picture a museum about climate change. What does that look like? If Miranda Massie has her way, we’ll know by 2020.

Massie is the founder of the Climate Museum Launch Project, and she wants to build the world’s biggest, most ambitious climate museum in Manhattan or Brooklyn — with doors opening by the end of this decade. Massie conceived the project after Hurricane Sandy, an event that opened many New Yorkers’ eyes to a watery future. But Massie, a former public interest lawyer, says the museum won’t just be about grim predictions; it will serve as a forum to educate the public about the problem and inspire them with potential solutions.

“There’s research currently that shows the more people learn about climate change, the more they tend to emotionally shut down and disengage,” Massie told the New York Times. “Not everybody, just most people. Because it’s distressing, and it’s very clear that just changing the light bulbs in our own home doesn’t matter. So you have to make it clear that you’re part of a broader set of efforts and those broader efforts can succeed.”

The Climate Museum exists in concept only right now, but the idea has fans. Last week, the New York State Board of Regents granted the museum a five-year provisional charter. The next step is funding — an ambitious plan to attract one million visitors per year will require a space roughly 120,000 square feet and hundreds of millions of dollars — followed by selecting a site and designing a building.

Design poses a unique challenge. The exterior of grand museums often hint at the collections encased inside. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim in New York is a piece of contemporary art itself. There’s talk of luring a “starchitect” or holding a design competition, but a museum focused on the environment — and hence on humanity’s detrimental impact upon it — has to practice what it preaches.

“The building itself has to be part of the conversation,” says Anne Tate, a professor of architecture at RISD (who is also married to Massie’s cousin). Tate assigned one of her studio classes to design the climate museum as a semester-long project. The student’s designs varied widely, but they intuitively agreed on one aspect: “[The museum’s] not a shell into which you put the information,” says Tate. “Partly because of the nature of the problem.”

Tate’s students designed museum buildings that were themselves solutions: Think the museum as infrastructure. For the purposes of the assignment, Tate and her co-professor, landscape architect Nadine Gerdts, assigned a vacant plot of land in Lower Manhattan that was once a marsh and is now highly susceptible to flooding. (An actual site has not been selected yet.)

One student proposed to build a cavernous stormwater catchment system beneath the building. Another proposed a smaller footprint and returned the rest of the site to wetlands. Many of the designs include solar panels, some incorporated urban farms, and all were sensitive to energy loads and orientation.

Siwei Shen’s design placed a high school on the site that shared facilities with the museum. Many of the students incorporated other uses too: labs for environmental research, a farmers’ market, even housing.

The students fundamentally questioned dubbing the project a “museum.”

“The concept of a museum is a little old and stuffy,” says Tate. “Everyone was like, no, this is more about being engaged. They thought of the museum as a part of the city, not just an interior collection.”

Massie has said she wants the museum to be a hub for activism and involvement. Following the lead of Hong Kong’s Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change — the only climate change museum in the world currently — visitors may be asked to make pledges about reducing their environmental impact, or be invited to volunteer their time to environmental causes.

She has also said that exhibitions will likely be temporary, not permanent, to reflect ever-evolving scientific discovery. While she and her board work to secure funding and a permanent location, they may open an interim museum in an existing building. Massie attended two early reviews of the RISD students’ work and a final presentation — and may have walked away with some added inspiration to see the project realized. “I think they just blew her mind,” says Tate.