Monthly Archive: March 2016

Miami-Area Pols Revolt Against Buses, Demand Light Rail

Metrorail/Trirail station at Miami International Airport (Photo by Phillip Pessar)

A plan to bring bus rapid transit (BRT) to southern Miami-Dade County has hit an unexpected roadblock: Local leaders are demanding light rail instead. The Miami Herald reports that leaders in Homestead, Palmetto Bay and three other suburban cities are refusing to support the county pursuing federal funding for BRT unless officials agree that all improvements also serve the goal of rail in the near future. They want county officials to make good on a reneged 2002 promise to extend Metrorail along the South Dade Busway, a 20-mile stretch of dedicated highway for buses running to Florida City, which is about 33 miles south of Miami.

“Unless you’re talking about light rail, don’t bother coming to South Dade talking about bigger buses,” Kionne McGhee, a state representative leading the charge, told the Herald. “There’s not a single pastor, a single mayor, a single city council member who is asking for bus. They’re all asking for rail.”

A draft of the four-page deal proposed by local leaders requires that the Busway be renamed the Transitway, that county transportation officials persuade the Metropolitan Planning Organization to fund a study on light rail in southern Miami-Dade, and that new BRT stations be designed to accommodate a future rail line. Under the deal, federal grant money couldn’t even be used to buy new buses. “Everything they spend on the bus line needs to be reusable for light rail,” said Edward Silva, manager of Palmetto Bay.

If the county agrees, local officials will provide endorsements for the county’s application for a competitive $30 million federal bus grant.

The decision to pursue BRT in southern Miami-Dade came after the Metropolitan Planning Organization released a study in January recommending that the Busway would be the best place to try such a system. Supporters say people who have never used BRT will be pleasantly surprised at its efficiency. They also point to the price tag. Upgrading service along the Busway to BRT would cost about $115 million, compared to $1.5 billion for a light-rail system on the same route. BRT would cost an estimated $21 million per year to run, compared to $46 million for light rail.

On the other hand, the study forecasts that 2.5 million additional commuters would utilize the Busway with a light-rail system, compared to only 1.6 million with BRT. “People don’t like to take buses,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who supports a major light-rail expansion in the county. “Unless they have no alternative.”

Miami-Dade voters approved a transit tax in 2002 to fund a promised expansion of Metrorail throughout the county, including to Florida City, which would be served by the BRT or light-rail line. But almost all of the plan was ultimately scrapped, save for a two-mile extension to Miami International Airport completed in 2012.

Bank Targets Flint With $22 Million in Small Business Loans

Downtown Flint (Photo by Noel Hurlburt)

The FlintNOW Foundation and Huntington Bank announced a joint initiative yesterday that will direct $25 million to supporting small businesses and residents of Flint, Michigan.

Created in January to help with relief amid the city’s water crisis, which exposed citizens to dangerous levels of lead in their tap water, the FlintNOW Foundation also aims to boost Flint’s economy. Its founder is billionaire investor Tom Gores, who owns the Detroit Pistons and grew up in Flint. Huntington Bank is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, and is Michigan’s largest Small Business Administration 7(a) lender (and the second-largest such lender in the country). Huntington is furnishing the $25 million.

The new economic development program includes a $20 million commitment to make SBA working capital loans available to Flint businesses. Qualifying enterprises will be able to access loans from $5,000 to $5 million with priority processing, no SBA fees for up to $150,000 in loans, and waived bank fees.

It also promises $2 million in microlending, which will target small business owners in need of $250,000 or less and who would otherwise be ineligible for traditional bank financing. Huntington Bank’s existing Pure Michigan Micro Lending Initiative already serves 17 Michigan counties. The expansion to Flint is expected to launch in the next few months, to be administered by community microlender Metro Community Development.

Another $2 million will support specialized mortgage financing for home renovations related to the water crisis. Homeowners will be able to borrow up to 50 percent of the completed value of repairs. The final $1 million will provide grants to small businesses hurt by the water crisis, provided through Moving Flint Forward, a program of the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce in partnership with FlintNOW and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

In a press release, the partners also announced the launch of a Flint Youth Entrepreneurial Program to educate young people about business and money management (no specifics on who will run the program or how it will be funded).

Flint’s U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee has argued that the federal government has a responsibility to fund municipal governments, particular when they have been weakened by factors beyond their control, as Flint has by the loss of manufacturing. In February he introduced legislation to put $765 million into Flint, an amount that would include funding for workforce training and youth employment as well as infrastructure repairs and health monitoring.

A Textile Designer’s Home is Unapologetically Colorful and Elegant

Textile designer Orla Kiely's home

Textile designer Orla Kiely’s renovated London Terrace House is punctuated by her distinctive palette and motifs.

Like her line of fashion, housewares, and furniture, Irish-born designer Orla Kiely’s four-story, 3,000-square-foot home in southwestern London, is vibrant, warm, and layered with pattern and color. “I know what I like and what works for me,” she says.

The interiors could be none other than Kiely’s—nearly every room is festooned with her signature prints—yet it’s more than just a one-note samba, thanks to her careful consideration of how each element plays off the others. Kiely honed her eye studying textile design at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and knitwear design at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1997, she established her eponymous company. Now her pieces are available at retailers like HD Buttercup, Target, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie.

Alongside designer Susan Minter and architect Maxim Laroussi, Kiely gently recast the house while keeping the original detailing intact, including the moldings, ceiling roses, and bay windows. “It’s a Victorian house, and we didn’t want to make it into something else,” she says. The team removed walls, clad surfaces, replaced flooring, and incorporated bespoke furnishings of Kiely’s own design. “Sometimes you have people who say, ‘I don’t want to live in my work,’ but, in the end, I love what I do and how it looks—so I’m happy to have it.”




Two Cool Surfers Design Some Serious Furniture

Field Office coffee shop exterior with wood overhang and tables

Pedersen + Lennard’s Field Office coffee shops, including one at the Woodstock Exchange in Cape Town, were conceived as hangout spots that would double as showrooms for the duo’s furniture.

Luke Pedersen and James Lennard share an easy rapport that betrays a close friendship forged on countless surfing excursions to Noordhoek, Elands Bay, and other points along the South African coast. To some degree, that laid-back sensibility has set the tone for Pedersen + Lennard, the thriving furniture-design business that they started in Cape Town in 2008.

“We studied together in Cape Town,” Pedersen says. “We had a nice opportunity to develop a working relationship without it being a business, and we basically just turned all our school projects into joint projects. It’s a sneaky way of getting things done faster so you can go home and surf.”

Furniture wall in Cape Town with bright bucket stools

Lennard and Pedersen display and sell their furniture in a retail space attached to their Field Office coffee shop in the Woodstock Exchange in Cape Town. The Bucket Stool proved an early and enduring hit.

To stereotype them as a pair of carefree surfer dudes, however, would be to give short shrift to the meticulousness and intelligence with which they have approached their business since reconnecting two years after school. (Lennard spent the time apart skiing in Colorado before venturing down to Mexico and Costa Rica, while Pedersen studied design at Malmö University, in Sweden.) “We got back here and were like, ‘What are we doing?’” Pedersen says. “Neither one of us wanted to work for anyone else.”

Drawing on their Scandinavian heritage and a mutual appreciation for traditional African craftsmanship, the duo have helped satisfy a growing demand for homegrown South African design by creating deceptively simple furniture, much of which fuses varnished steel with oak, ash, and other woods. They had a hit almost immediately with their Bucket Stool—a galvanized, powder-coated steel bucket, handmade in the townships outside Cape Town, set on birch plywood legs. The stool, whose padded seat flips over to become a tabletop, quickly attained iconic status in South Africa; earlier this year, Visi magazine listed it among the “local design milestones that have shaped our country’s architecture and interiors.”

White metal toast rack

“We find ourselves in the marginal group who still love a simple slice of toast and decided to design something to emphasize this as well as solve a problem that hasn’t been addressed for a good 20 to 30 years,” Pedersen says of this toast rack. “The size and shape of bread has changed, and so we found that our old inherited toast racks didn’t work anymore! Our solution is a simple combination of a wooden breadboard base with a steel or brass rack, which clips in nicely and holds toast [slices] of varying thickness.”

“When we started, it was very fast for us to get relative fame locally because there was just nothing else out there,” Pedersen says. “I think it was a lot easier for us than it would be now. In the last five years, it’s really got pretty saturated with young designers and new businesses.”

By 2010, successful but not yet able to afford a traditional showroom, Pedersen and Lennard struck upon a novel workaround: They opened Field Office, a downtown Cape Town coffee shop that doubles as a showcase and retail outlet for their furniture. They provided free wi-fi—a novelty in South Africa even now—and encouraged people to hang out and work or read. It did well enough that they opened a second one in the Woodstock Exchange, a collection of design boutiques and studio spaces in a former industrial center east of downtown Cape Town, setting up an adjacent office and factory where most of their 17 employees now work. The shops—including a third Field Office that opened in a residential part of Woodstock in June—have proved an effective way for Pedersen + Lennard to build a strong brand identity and a devoted customer base.

Field Office coffee shop with golden bar with menu board

Pedersen + Lennard opened their third Field Office location in a residential section of Cape Town in June 2014.

“We’ll do an auction, probably annually, of all the furniture that’s being used in the coffee shop,” Pedersen says. “It’s like R&D for us to see how long things last under heavy pressure, but at the same time it gives a chance for our loyal customers to buy our furniture at a quarter of the price. We do a fan evening with coffee and beers, and we get a local guy to come and run the auction. It’s a fun thing for us; it pays for us to restock the showroom.”

Six years in, Pedersen and Lennard find themselves surveying a South African design landscape that’s much more fertile and crowded than it was in 2008. “When we started, our aim was to be cheaper than the existing guys but have our products still be of good quality,” Lennard says. “And we seem to have achieved that. But now we have to find our next point of difference.” Pedersen says that is likely to be a renewed focus on the South African market.

“We do export quite a lot of stuff, and we have a lot of interest in a lot of countries,” including the United States, he says. “And I think that’s cool, but it’s not as cool as the local market for me. There are great designers in other countries that can supply their own markets, you know? I’m not saying that you have to be a purist and say, ‘I’m not going to export.’ We do export, but I think still the focus is here.” 




Shop Houzz: The Breakfast Bar (82 photos)

In many homes, the kitchen doubles as the eating area. An island and a few stools provide a place to enjoy a casual meal, and an island also expands your food prep workspace. Equip your breakfast bar with stylish seating and all the essentials from the…

Remembering Zaha Hadid

zaha hadid portrait mary mccartney 1

We’re saddened by the news that renowned architect Zaha Hadid has passed away.

Known for her embrace of technology and cutting-edge forms, Hadid’s signature vision both challenged and expanded the boundaries of the profession. As the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, her legacy will continue to influence generations of architects. 

 
 




“Disparity in the values assigned to architecture and landscape architecture continues”

Opinion: a proposal to surround New York’s Central Park with a giant “sidescraper” epitomises architects’ disregard for designed landscapes, says president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Charles A Birnbau…

New Orleans Gamifies the City Budget

New Orleans City Hall (Photo by Diego Delso) 

New Orleanians can try their hand at being “mayor for a day” with a new interactive website released by the Committee for a Better New Orleans Wednesday.

The Big Easy Budget Game uses open data from the city to allow players to create their own version of an operating budget. Players are given a digital $602 million, and have to balance the budget — keeping in mind the government’s responsibilities, previous year’s spending and their personal priorities.

Each department in the game has a minimum funding level (players can’t just quit funding public schools if they feel like it), and restricted funding, such as state or federal dollars, is off limits.

CBNO hopes to attract 600 players this year, and plans to compile the data from each player into a crowdsourced meta-budget called “The People’s Budget.” Next fall, the People’s Budget will be released along with the city’s proposed 2017 budget.

Along with the budgeting game, CBNO released a more detailed website, also using the city’s open data, that breaks down the city’s budgeted versus actual spending from 2007 to now and is filterable. The goal is to allow users without big data experience to easily research funding relevant to their neighborhoods.

Many cities have been releasing interactive websites to make their data more accessible to residents. Checkbook NYC updates more than $70 billion in city expenses daily and breaks them down by transaction. Fiscal Focus Pittsburgh is an online visualization tool that outlines revenues and expenses in the city’s budget.

Participatory budgeting is also gaining momentum in the U.S. In 2015, NYC won an award from Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation for its project that allowed residents to vote on how to allocate funding for locally developed capital projects across the city. Josh Lerner, co-founder and executive director of the Participatory Budgeting Project, said last year that engaging residents in budgeting is a method of “deepening democracy.”

“Participatory budgeting brings new voices into civic life,” Lerner said. “More voices lead to better decisions and stronger communities.”

Houzz Tour: A Gentleman’s Loft (8 photos)

This homeowner had recently ended a relationship and was eager to make a fresh start. That meant a move from a traditional townhouse on New York City’s Upper West Side to this converted warehouse loft — an industrial blank slate of a space ready to be personalized. Brad Krefman of BK Interior Design…

On the market: 1950s midcentury modern property in Berkeley, California, USA

No architect name attached to this one, but whoever was behind this 1950s midcentury modern property in Berkeley, California, USA would doubtless be very pleased to see it looked after so well. The house is described as ‘Eichleresque’, which presumably means this isn’t a Joseph Eichler build, but it has similarities of design, not least […]

Seattle Preserves Farmland, Funds Infrastructure by Building Taller Condos

Van Strom Farm, preserved through King County’s TDR program (Credit: King County)

There are unseen upsides to the sea of cranes stacking new apartment buildings in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood and parts of its downtown: the conservation of rural land in surrounding King County, and funding for infrastructure improvements in the urban core.

The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, established in the early 2000s, allows rural landowners in designated areas of King County to voluntarily sell the right to develop their land in exchange for monetary compensation and a conservation easement on the property. Developers in urban areas of the county can then purchase those rights, called TDRs, in exchange for increased units or square footage on their projects.

The goal, says TDR program manager Michael Murphy, is to preserve open space and resource lands like farms while concentrating growth in urban areas already served by infrastructure. Recognizing that new development is already outstripping infrastructure investment in Seattle, the county has made another deal: In exchange for using up to 800 TDRs in projects in South Lake Union and parts of downtown, Seattle will receive a portion of the property tax revenue that accrues from new buildings to use on infrastructure improvements. The partnership received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the state last November.

“It’s a very important growth management strategy,” says Brennon Staley, strategic adviser with Seattle’s office of planning and community development. “We as a region have decided that we want to grow in the places where people can be best served by existing transportation and infrastructure and that will have the least environmental footprint, and those are places like South Lake Union.”

Overall, 144,362 acres of land have been conserved through the program, and $7.13 million worth of TDRs exchanged between landowners and developers. In just the last two years, King County sold $2 million worth of TDRs to Seattle developers, protecting over 900 acres of farmland.

The value of a TDR is determined by a number of factors, including the development potential of the “sending site” (the parcel being preserved) and the location of the “receiving site” (the project achieving greater density). TDRs are either purchased outright from property owners by the county, which then brokers them into cities, or bought and sold on a private market called the TDR exchange.

The exchange works like any commodity market, where prices are driven by supply and demand. “Basically Craigslist for TDRs,” Murphy calls it. Buyers (the developers) and sellers (the landowners) agree on a price. On average, a rural TDR on the private market is selling for between $16,000 and $18,000.

In Seattle, on average, one TDR from a rural area allows developers to build an additional 1,000 to 1,500 square feet. But developers don’t just buy one. Murphy says smaller projects might purchase as few as three, and large projects as many as 67. A few on the horizon are looking at upwards of 150.

“There is an amazing amount of growth that’s happening in South Lake Union, and almost all of those projects are using the extra floor area,” says Staley. All buildings taller than 85 feet being constructed in the neighborhood achieve that extra height by providing some public benefit — either through TDRs or fees to increase affordable housing.

When TDRs are bought and sold by the county, not on the exchange, the revenue is used to buy more development rights. Lately, the county has been focusing on preserving farmland. Those easements are written such that they protect the ability of the land to be farmed into the future. “Whether or not the current owners or future owners choose to farm it, we can’t really control it,” says Murphy. “But we want to protect whatever it is about the land that provides the public benefit.”

City-dwellers get local produce too, as county farmers often sell their wares at urban farmers markets. Landowners get the benefit of seeing their property permanently preserved, plus monetary compensation. But Murphy warns there’s no guarantee sellers will get the price they want in the timeline they were hoping. An average of 34 TDRs were sold per year between 2000 and 2014, with 851 currently available on the private market and 1,216 in the county’s TDR Bank. Once property owners voluntarily sell their development rights, there’s no going back.

That guarantees the space will be preserved long into the future. Zoning regulations are set by political processes and can be altered, “whereas conservation easements are legal entities that run with the land over time and they don’t change,” says Murphy. “People like living here because of our open spaces,” including Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains. “We’re using that development pressure to help protect the things we love about King County. … The TDR program is a way to achieve that protection with relatively limited public dollars.”

And in Seattle, to direct public dollars to much-needed improvements. Staley estimates the property tax revenue deal could garner $30 million for infrastructure enhancements over the next 25 years. The first payment has been earmarked for transportation projects, including the city’s Green Streets Program, which builds rights-of-way that prioritize pedestrian movement and public space over other transportation uses.

New Congressional Caucus Will Focus on Black Women and Girls

Bonnie Watson Coleman, center, when she was a New Jersey assemblywoman in 2014 (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

Last week, three African-American lawmakers made history with the announcement of the country’s first and only Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., announced that the group will be devoted to public policy that eliminates the barriers and disparities experienced uniquely by black women in the United States.

Running parallel to the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which supports the advancement of black males, the new caucus is in the early stages of establishing goals to address gender-based inequities in wages, healthcare and education, and other policy gaps that disproportionately affect black women. The new caucus is the first out of the 430 registered congressional caucuses on Capitol Hill prioritizing black women and girls.

Advancement on black women’s issues is long overdue as economic equity statistics — which directly impact health and educational outcomes — continue to stagger among this demographic nationwide. According to research conducted by the American Association of University Women, black women were paid 63 percent of what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2014. Additionally, black women represent the highest majority of minimum-wage workers, represent less than 3 percent in the technology industry and less than 1 percent in engineering fields, indicating a tremendous need for pay equity and attention to potentially hostile, discriminatory work environments.

“I think there are many stories regarding African-American women, experiences with law enforcement, suspension rates, unemployment, education, et cetera, that need attention. We need to elevate some of these stories,” says Coleman, who was born in Camden, New Jersey and whose congressional district includes Trenton. “There is a whole body of consideration that hasn’t been focusing on our uniqueness of being black and female. This caucus is a good outlet for it. We’re looking to bring forth an action agenda that will be more connected across the nation on black women’s issues.”

The new initiative was spearheaded by Ifeoma Ike, the co-founder of Black and Brown People Vote, and six other black women’s rights activists: Nakisha M. Lewis, Tiffany D. Hightower, Shambulia Gadsden Sams, Sharisse Stancil-Ashford, Avis Jones-DeWeever and Sharon Cooper. Cooper is the sister of Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail cell after an unlawful arrest by a police officer.

“We want to get everyone, including our sisters, aware of where we statistically fall within these issues. Knowledge is definitely power,” Ike told The Huffington Post. “We’re looking at this space as one of idea-sharing and policy creation. We’re making sure we’re included as a demographic that deserves to be addressed.”

While the group continues to build its platform and policy campaigns and seeks to bring federal resources to help eliminate disparities, Coleman shares that the initial work will engage organizations already working on black women’s issues.