Walk Score

As a planner I amtrying to change the world. It is a small and quiet revolution. Most of the time I feel like one of a very small number of solo fighters in a battle that the rest of the world knows nothing about and cares to know even less.

What do they care about walkability, sustainability, or having a full mix of uses? People care about traffic congestion, but only because it lengthens the time between getting out of work and being home drinking and watching American Idol. They certainly don’t care enough to leave the suburbs and move downtown where they could ride the transit instead. Even though if they did they could spend their commute time on the train instead of in traffic, and instead of road rage they could be watching tv on their android phone with Hulu Plus. Also, instead of paying to go to the gym to make up for their sedentary lifestyle, they would be getting  exercise walking to the services near their home.

But, whatever. Still, I always hear it, “I like driving, and it is my time to myself.” Well I like driving too, but I don’t like riding the clutch while I coast by yet another accident, silently praying, “Thank you God, for giving me another day.” I don’t like the ever increasing amount of my pay check that goes toward gasoline, and maintenance. I don’t like the dependence on foreign oil and all that that entails. I don’t like the air pollution. Where I live there is a big problem with inversion. In the winter the smog gets trapped between the mountains and builds and builds until it snows, and washes down on us. Every day the traffic signs on the highway say, “Poor air quality Thursday and Friday (ie. today and tomorrow), consider driving less”. I don’t like the amount of tax dollars that are spent on forever maintaining and repaving our “free”ways. Imagine instead the beauty of a high speed train that costs a tenth to build, and has minuscule maintenance. Or better yet living closer to my workplace and all the other services I need every day, so that less driving is required, and I could get exercise walking to my destinations, instead of getting fatter behind the wheel.

But I digress. Or maybe I never even started on my intended topic.

Oh yes, I remember, I was just getting to it.

It is a small and quiet revolution. Mostly, it feels like no one is listening to our plight but ourselves.

But every now and then, there are little signs that the revolution is growing. And you find solders in unexpected places.

Zillow, does home value estimates.

They pretend they have some idea how much homes are worth, and it is a tool to be used to compare areas when you are searching for that perfect house. Ever since I sold my house right before the housing bust they send me periodic emails to tell me how my house’s value changes. Just in case your wondering, it is going down. I imagine it was more fun to watch when the market was good, and you could see your investment growing. For me it is just a nice little reminder that I sold at the right time.

Well this week I discovered their new “Walk Tool”. The email said, “How Walkable is your home?” To which I thought, ‘What?!?! Zillow knows the work WALKABLE?!?’

It isn’t actually their tool, it belongs to WalkScore.com. And I like it a lot.

It puts the property on a scale between “Car Dependent” and “Walkers Paradise.” based on distance to various categories of services. They openly admit that it doesn’t consider walking environment, sidewalk condition, or anything like that. But it does tell you something. The first principle of walkability is having somewhere to walk to. I guess it is harder to determine the rest. Beyond that they have a lot of education about why walkability matters including: really cool walking hot spot maps, ranking the 40 largest cities, side by side maps, and the walkability checklist.

The checklist is actually good:

  • A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
  • People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
  • Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
  • Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
  • Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
  • Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
  • Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.

They are not messing around.

Check it out.

The hot spot maps are really cool.

San Francisco is the winner. 87% of residents have a Walk Score of 70 or above. Some places like China Town and the Financial District have a score of 99. Of course they don’t consider the hills.

But my house in Orem, Utah has a score of 69, so it isn’t horrible. But it certainly doesn’t look as cool as San Francisco.

It doesn’t surprise me to find such a tool. The nice surprise is to have someone like Zillow linking to it.

Good job Zillow. And good job WalkScore.com. Thanks for being on my side.


The End of the American Dream

Well that is OK. I never really got into the American Dream.
American Dream Declared Dead As Final Believer Gives Up

Zappos CEO makes great Urban Planner

I don’t know if he knows what he is doing. Maybe we was a planner in a previous life. Or maybe he just wants to help his business grow, and he is brilliant. Whatever he is, he is exactly what a downtown needs that is striving to become a place where people want to be.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of zappos.com is moving his company from Henderson to downtown Las Vegas, with a dream of making more than just a business district. He wants a community, and not just for his company and his employees. He wants to attract other businesses to this idea of a place where people want to be, live, work and shop.

The Las Vegas Sun outlines a few of his ideas:

• Commuter planes from San Francisco to attract Silicon Valley high tech companies to be part of the action. Commuting by plane rather than car.

• A community kitchen with “The Naked Chef,”  to give free cooking classes.

• Explore establishing a K-12 charter school for creative learning in downtown Las Vegas.

• High-tech business incubator. He already has more than a dozen staff working on plans.

• Downtown homes for Zappos employees. The company is looking at either working out deals for cheaper rents with the mostly empty high-rise condo buildings downtown, or building a “Zappos dorm.”

• Hsieh is exploring building 500 to 1,000 units of 100-square-foot spaces rented for $100 a month — enough room for a bed and a closet, while bathroom facilities would be shared. Maybe a bar or lounge would be attached to the building and renters would crash there whenever they wanted. “Maybe call it the Crash Pad,” he said. Renters would be screened to keep it from becoming a homeless or hooker option, he said.

I don’t know what attracted him to the idea of a downtown community. But he is converted and he is becoming a missionary for the idea.

“At Zappos, we’ve historically thought of our brand in terms of the ‘Three Cs’: clothing, customer service, and company culture,” he says. “Now we want to add a fourth C: community. We want to be a part of revitalizing downtown Las Vegas.”

Isn’t this exactly who every consultants needs on their team when trying to encourage reinvestment in downtown?

In fact,  he is what we need when trying to encourage downtown investment, and redevelopment, in general. If the business community gets on board with the idea of creating a livable communities, they have the spending power and influence to make things happen.

The day job

There are a lot of things I like about my job.

Most important are the projects. We have worked on some really great projects. For instance, the award winning, “Life on State.” It was a corridor project, to bring life back to the major arterial that runs through Salt lake County. There were 11 cities involved. There were several public meetings and a week long design charrette. It was the project that drew me and am confirmed that I had chosen the right career for me.

Then there are the meetings. I actually like public workshops. I know it sounds crazy but I do. For one thing they aren’t like the show “Parks and Recreation” makes them out to be. When you are a consultant you make these things fun. I love watching the people  get caught up in the vision of seeing the place turn around. I love the involvement. I also like the rush of preparing for the meeting, and remembering all the details.

I love the location. Last summer we moved to a new office. It is a few feet away from light rail. We are in a mixed use building with apartments above. Buses go by every five minutes, and there is actually foot traffic. Not something you see everywhere around here. Besides I get my own office, with a big desk.

Of course lets not forget the MoJo. Our office has a great vibe. We listen to good music and have brainstorming sessions that require the whiteboard to decide really important things, like where to go to lunch. And there is an occasional round of golf into paper cup holes while we are waiting for a big file to export. It’s good. Work isn’t supposed to be this fun.

And I get to make maps. And everybody likes to make maps.

First Egypt, then Wisconsin and now Provo, Utah?

Provo is not the sort of place you expect to see a line of picketers marching around Center Street on a Tuesday morning. But, I guess even Provoites will take a stand on some things.


Is Provo City really trying to crack down on “daytime gang” activity, or is there more to the story?

Is this an attempt by the school board to punish home-schoolers?

Or is it, as my conspiracy theorist husband always likes to say, just social engineering, making us accustomed to random arrests?

I get pretty riled up when I feel like THE MAN is trying to make things hard for anyone that doesn’t want to play along, which in this case is home-schoolers. And I do love me a peaceful protest. I was half tempted to grab a sign and join them.

But really, to me, this whole thing mostly seems like focusing on things that don’t really matter.

This is something my children are really good at. They love to have lengthy debates about who it was that left the bathroom light on, or whose turn it is to play on the Iphone. It is sad that after all my years at school, I am reduced to forever repeat the same apathetic phrase,  “It doesn’t matter!”

Is this what Provo has come to? Please understand I am not talk about the protesters, they are justified. Power to the people.

But Provo City?!?  The biggest problem they can see to tackle is the HUGE truancy problem? Are we all so financially secure here that we have nothing more to worry about than a few teenagers that can’t seem to stay in school?

With all that is going on in the world, good old Provo City is doing their part by cracking down on the big issues.

Sarcasm aside, the good news is, the peaceful protest has apparently killed the ordinance.

Way to go Provoians!


I Heart New York

New York City just put out an RFP for a 10,000 unit bike sharing program.

I am so proud of you New York City.

Leave it to the Onion

Obama replaces costly High Speed Rail plan with High Speed Bus Plan