Monthly Archive: June 2016

Indianapolis Opens Transfer-Friendly Transit Center

The Julia M. Carson Transit Center (Credit: IndyGo)

Indianapolis’s IndyGo is offering free bus rides all week to celebrate the opening of a new $26.5 million transit center, reports WISHTV. The Julia M. Carson Transit Center features an air-conditioned (or heated) waiting room with free WiFi and 19 covered bus bays with real-time bus arrival and departure information. The building makes prominent use of recycled materials, LED lighting and curbside rain gardens, and is seeking LEED Silver certification. Rides are free until July 4, and bus riders will also be treated to performances by local artists both at the hub and at various downtown stops.

The brand-new facility is receiving glowing reviews from bus riders, who say it’s a huge improvement over the place where many IndyGo bus lines previously converged: an open-air bus stop in front of the federal courthouse, with few benches and many loiterers.

One bus rider told the Indy Star the new transit center is “a lot cleaner, not as crowded, and you don’t have all the people hanging around, bumming, sleeping. The signs here show you where to go. It is more efficient.”

The buses should also save time because they will not need to circle around downtown before making their return trips. And riders should have an easier time transferring between the 27 different routes that pull into the transit center. As many as 7,000 commuters passed through during the first evening rush hour, said an IndyGo spokesperson, with just a few kinks. The interactive status boards weren’t displaying where individual buses were and when there were arriving, but the departure times were working fine.

“Like anything new, it will take some getting used to, but I think overall things are running extremely smoothly,” said IndyGo President Michael Terry.

Other IndyGo officials told FOX59 they believe the transit center is just the first step in not only making ridership easier, but increasing transit use in years to come. “We have a different community than we’ve ever had and the demand for downtown living is at an all-time high. Transit plays a role in that and we want to continue to see that further development,” said one official.

Riders wait to board buses at the new Transit Center! pic.twitter.com/Dqh3lnNdb3

— IndyGo (@IndyGoBus) June 26, 2016

App to Help Homeless Expands to San Francisco

(AP Photo/Sal Veder)

An app that allows New Yorkers to donate to nonprofits working to support homeless people — without spending their own dime — is expanding to San Francisco. Using WeShelter, a passerby who spots a homeless person and wants to help can route a donation from a corporate sponsor to a local service organization. The user can also alert an outreach operator to help direct assistance to an individual on the street.

The app launched in New York last year, and recently surpassed 150,000 contributions. The amount of each donation is unspecified and variable, but co-founder Ilya Lyashevsky told CityLab last June that it was about 5 cents per tap at that time. A press release announcing WeShelter’s expansion states that the app has raised “thousands of dollars” for its NYC homelessness agency partners, but does not specify an exact amount. WeShelter also announced this week a new partnership with real estate startup Roomi. For every listing on the site, Roomi will now donate $5 to WeShelter.

The creators of the app were responding to New York’s growing homeless population. San Francisco has an estimated 10,000 homeless residents. This week the San Francisco Chronicle and 70 other news organizations in the region have been focusing attention on the city’s crisis, in hopes of identifying solutions.

“Donations” through WeShelter in S.F. will benefit nonprofits Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing (DISH) and Community Housing Partners. Roomi is also sponsoring the San Francisco campaign.

“WeShelter is an amazing resource for companies who want to help in this important cause,” said Ajay Yadav, Roomi’s founder and CEO. “We were very pleased to do our part in this enormous challenge.”

My Houzz: Making Room for 3 Generations (15 photos)

Bryant and Aimee McConkie set out to create a multigenerational home after she suggested that his parents live with them and that they build a house for them all. “Ultimately, the biggest design challenge was how to build a home wherein two families could live together, but not on top of one another,”…

My Houzz: Making Room for Three Generations (15 photos)

Bryant and Aimee McConkie set out to create a multigenerational home after she suggested that his parents live with them and that they build a house for them all. “Ultimately, the biggest design challenge was how to build a home wherein two families could live together, but not on top of one another,”…

The Drapery Diary: The Case for Custom (13 photos)

Spending hundreds or even thousands on custom draperies can feel like a dubious indulgence if you don’t have a clear sense of what exactly you’re paying for and why. As with any major investment, it’s important to do your research and be informed. Consider this your guide to the secret world of custom…

Shop Houzz: The Tech Gadget Sale (97 photos)

Get your tech on for less with this Houzz Shop collection of gadgets and accessories to support your plugged-in lifestyle. Upgrade your workspace and your life with a new monitor stand, charging stations, Bluetooth speakers and more, all at up to 50% o…

London architects create pop-up art studio to highlight the city’s unaffordable rents


London Festival of Architecture 2016: architects Tomaso Boano and Jonas Prišmontas have created a small pop-up studio to raise awareness of how London‘s unaffordable rents and education is crippling its creative industries (+ slideshow). (more…)

Will National Treasure Designation Save Portland’s Modernist Arena?

(Photo by Brian Libby)

Earlier this month, the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation named Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum a National Treasure, a designation both local officials and supporters of the modernist arena hope will lead to a decision about the building’s future. Financed by an $8 million voter-approved bond and completed in 1960, the arena has suffered from deferred maintenance ever since.

Demolition has been threatened and avoided before, and in 2015 the Oregon city undertook an options study for the site. But the biggest threat to the arena’s future is the building itself: Its amenities are out of date, particularly compared to the new Moda Center next door, and a lack of ongoing care has imperiled even the signature design features that make it architecturally compelling. With the new designation, the National Trust will work with stakeholders to come up with a financially viable plan to keep the coliseum standing, one that will almost certainly include asking the taxpayers to open their wallets again.

“Over time the offerings of the Portland coliseum are further and further out of step with what contemporary audiences, contemporary users expect from an arena,” says Anthony Veerkamp, field director for the National Trust. The coliseum “has not received the ongoing reinvestment that any facility, public or private, requires to remain vital and viable,” he continued. “And in this case it’s a facility that needs to compete in the market place, it needs to attract users. It does so, but doesn’t do so at the clip necessary anymore to consistently operate in the black.”

The arena still attracts over 400,000 visitors a year for events ranging from the Portland Winterhawks’ hockey games to talks by President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama to nearly every regional high schools’ graduation ceremony. But after the new, privately owned Moda Center was constructed next door in 1995, attracting the Portland Trail Blazers NBA team away from the older venue, “it was unclear what the future for the Coliseum would be,” says Susan Gibson-Hartnett, manager of Portland’s spectator facilities.

What is clear is that the Veterans Memorial Coliseum boasts a unique design, a technological feat of its era. Brian Libby, a Portland architecture writer who supports preserving the building, has called it an example of “timeless mid-century modern architecture.” The building’s four walls are made entirely of glass, and the whole structure is supported by just four concrete columns at the corners, creating an open interior. The arena itself is a concrete bowl, detached from the outer structure, which allows spectators a 360-degree view of the city beyond the glass walls.

(Photo by Brian Libby)

But there’s a catch. A curtain can be raised from the arena to the ceiling to darken the space for performances, but the mechanism is so antiquated that the operators leave the curtain in place most of the time, lest it actually stop working. Thus few contemporary users have experienced the feature that is so uniquely Portland, says Veerkamp — bringing the outdoors into a traditionally shuttered space.

The curtains are not all. The basic amenities are outdated, from the restrooms to the scoreboard to the concession stands, which lack the vents that would allow vendors to cook onsite. The loading dock is built such that everything has to be unloaded manually, which dramatically increases time and labor costs for anyone who wants to put on a performance at the arena. The seats are too cramped because there are too many of them, more than necessary to meet the market need.

Veerkamp says that’s actually a good thing, because all of these updates — including making the arena ADA compliant — would require reducing the number of seats, from 12,000 to around 7,000. A study undertaken last year looked at the implications of a range of possible modes of action: continued current operations, demolition and five renovation options, ranging from essential repairs to robust enhancements that would more fundamentally alter the building’s character and design.

Veerkamp says whatever course of action is taken on the building probably won’t look exactly like any of those proposals, but will mix and match from the possible upgrades. The report did not make any specific recommendations, but does suggest a price range: between $60 million and $90 million to make the building more amenable to use without dramatically changing it. The same report estimated that undertaking the lower tier upgrades necessary to result new tenants and improve user experience would result in annual operating costs of between $250,000 and $500,000. Over a 30-year life span the upgrades could allow the facility to generate an $1.4 billion economic benefit, 430 full-time jobs and job earnings of $706 million.

But revenue still wouldn’t cover the costs of rehabilitation. The facility would be able to operate at a profit without additional subsidy, but public dollars would still be needed to cover its renovations. Gibson-Hartnett says there does seem to be public appreciation for the building, but Portland residents have not formally been asked yet whether they’d be willing to foot the bill. The conversation has been raised so many times without action, she suspects they’re fatigued.

But there’s a cost to doing nothing too. Right now the Veterans Memorial Coliseum draws an average of $600,000 more from the city’s Spectator Venues and Visitor Activities Fund than the venue contributes to it. The report notes that the risk of a major equipment or building system failure only continues to rise without the needed repairs. If that happens, and the coliseum has to close unexpectedly for a season or more, Veerkamp warns the facility may never attract clientele back.

Some have proposed razing the site to build more affordable housing, but demolition doesn’t come free either — an estimated $14 million. Both Veerkamp and Gibson-Hartnett say it’s not a particularly appropriate option for a city that prides itself on sustainability. Plus, the venue’s connection to the veterans memorial — two black granite walls near the entrance inscribed with the names of the dead — makes demolition politically unpalatable.

“There is no good option here. There’s no cheap option. There’s no option that will make a lot of people happy. Any of the options to reinvest in the building are going to take a heavy political lift,” says Gibson-Hartnett.

Unclear what difference the National Trust designation will make, Gibson-Hartnett says her first question of the nonprofit was whether they’d be bringing a $60 million check. They aren’t, but they will work to get leadership on board. Ultimately, the decision is up to the mayor and council, who need to be convinced that rehabilitation is the right choice, economically and culturally. Then there are the taxpayers.

“Typically it’s a lot easier both to ask taxpayers, if it’s a bond or something, it’s easier to get funding for a new vision than to invest in a current asset. It’s not uncommon at all with historic resources that they’re really let go,” says Veerkamp. “Then you’re frequently at the risk where the resources become unloved, because people have never seen it at its best.”

Ohyun Kwon proposes megastructure to house 1,400 creatives in Seoul


Graduate shows 2016: a gridded megastructure contains a creative workforce of 1,400 in this proposal by Royal College of Art graduate Ohyun Kwon to address the housing crisis in the South Korean capital. (more…)

Cultivating the Next Crop of Impact Investors

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Anders Aabo didn’t pursue a finance degree to seek fortune on Wall Street. He wanted to make a difference.

“When I was applying to business school, there weren’t any other alternatives that provided the same opportunities that would allow me to merge my interest in business, finance and economic development to this extent,” Aabo says of why he chose to attend the University of Utah’s Sorenson Impact Center. By the time he got his MBA, Aabo had honed skills as an impact investor — lending money both locally and internationally and putting real cash behind real social problems.

As social impact investing becomes a hard skill both in philanthropic and venture capital communities, the Center is increasingly being looked at as a model for training mission-driven investors who want to produce positive social outcomes in communities across the world. The institution, and its founder, James “Jim” Sorenson, are also promoting the use of the pay-for-success model, which pairs private money with government-driven social services programs that carry specific measurable goals. (If goals are achieved, then investors get a return.)

Sorenson, a social investor and successful entrepreneur, believes that cultivating impact investor talent has widespread implications.

“Getting these trained professionals in key positions in foundations, home offices, social enterprises, government, academia and other places will be critical to sustaining the momentum we’re seeing in the field and keeping up with the growing demand for impact opportunities,” he says. “As I’ve seen the impact investing field grow, there have been some real pioneering efforts to get to scale. Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about how to communicate the value of what impact investors do — how this is different from conventional perspectives on philanthropy and investment.”

Since launching in 2013, the Center has worked on more than $100 million in impact investments and distributed $2 million in pay-for-success grants.

Students get a chance to work with the Center’s venture fund (poised to raise $25 million in the next few years) to invest to make a difference across the U.S. and abroad on critical issues such as poverty, homelessness, workforce development and public health. They also get a front seat to witness consulting on the pay-for-success approach: The Center has worked with Utah on recidivism, and with Las Vegas on early childhood education, among others.

In early May, Sorenson testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance in favor of pay-for-success as a data-driven way to solve social ills.

“If we were to step back and look at how much we spend on social problems — for example, $800 billion in the U.S. alone purely from local, state and federal resources — there’s an enormous social cost to not fixing these problems,” says Sorenson.

Skeptics of pay-for-success cite early failures, and risks for government (and therefore taxpayers), as well as the potential for profiteering under the guise of social impact. Sorensen counters that to protect against such hazards, institutions like the Sorenson Impact Center must provide thought leadership that seeks to broaden and deepen knowledge across all sectors.

“Ultimately, the question is whether we are spending smart and institutionalize systems changes so that we ask whether programs are actually working or not,” he says. “If we could play a role in facilitating that transition, there’s a strong likelihood that not only impact investors but institutional investors as well will have more confidence in this field. Effectively, when we know more about what we’re investing in, we’re smarter about our due diligence and the strength of our portfolios.”

Going forward, the Sorenson Impact Center hopes to continue to facilitate impact investment in the U.S. and abroad, and fuel academic research on the model.

They’re in growing company. The University of Pennsylvania’s business school, Wharton, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and Harvard Business School have all added social impact investing courses to their curriculum in the last few years.

The Sorenson Impact Center has also been receiving inquiries from elite business schools, professors and students, from New York University to Notre Dame, who want to learn about replicating similar teaching methods.

For his part, Aabo, who currently works at a private equity firm in Kenya, identifying agricultural projects for investments and supporting small farmers, credits the Center’s intensive training with his ability to land a meaningful job even before he graduated. “You get real hands-on investing experience, investing real dollars into real companies with actual entrepreneurs,” he says. “It’s not just a hypothetical classroom situation.”