Archive | August 2012

Idea Files #1: Torvehallerne

When it comes to great ideas for bringing more life to our cities, Texas isn’t exactly the center of inspiration.  With so much land at our disposal we haven’t needed to apply the same level of creativity that tends to come with constraint.  So I’ve decided to go looking for that inspiration.

In this series I’d like to share some great ideas I’ve seen in other places–ideas that help produce a greater quality of life for its people, that inspire a more creative use of resources, and that save the beauty that is our cities.

This is Torvehallerne:

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Don’t ask me how to pronounce it, but it’s basically Copenhagen’s permanent public market.

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It consists of two buildings on a plaza, each filled with a neat collection of booths selling everything from coffee…

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to meat…

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to herbs…

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and spices…

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The result is a lively public space attracting people of all walks of life (at least by Danish standards):

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Is the Push Downtown Alienating the ‘Burbs?

The City of Amarillo, Texas announced plans this week to redesign its wayfinding signage downtown, hoping to give its central business district a more defined appearance to visitors.  They’re currently evaluating two style options for the signage, one contemporary and one a bit more…Texan.  The designs and the way they plan to pay for the signs seem innocent enough.

That is, until I read the comments from readers.

One Amarillo resident, in particular, was put off by the city’s continued focus on downtown, suggesting they are neglecting the surrounding areas. “Why is downtown more important than the rest of the city?” he asked.  “Amarillo is one big community but it just doesn’t seem to be treated that way.”

Normally I would discount the rants of the anonymous commenters, yet I had to ask myself, could this guy be right?

Now, I’ve never been to Amarillo but I’ve heard this sort of argument before about other cities.  There’s an obvious resurgence happening across many city centers and local governments have been more than willing to put their money in the pot, so to speak.  Councils are approving tax breaks for relocating businesses, giving away land to developers, and even stepping in as developers themselves.

But is this push toward downtown development happening at the expense of the suburbs?  I’d say not.  The way I see it, real estate development is an expensive and risky venture and, for many decades, the suburban model of growth has proven to be easy money for investors.  Developers and bankers alike know what to expect when building a 200-lot single-family housing subdivision or a grocery store-anchored strip mall.  Even today, it’s a lot more complex to build a high-rise hotel with condominiums and ground-floor retail.  Thus, cities provide incentives to draw that type of development.

Furthermore, I would argue that the biggest chunk of our local tax money is spent supporting the infrastructure outside our downtowns.  Maintaining those wide boulevards, endless sewer and water pipes, and providing fire and police protection is simply more expensive in low-density suburbs.  I recently saw an example (that I can’t seem to find now) of two cities with near-identical populations, yet one had significantly fewer fire stations and firefighters because its residents were more densely populated.  Talk about a major cost savings.

And what about the ways in which center cities have been largely forgotten?  City schools are still being abandoned in favor of sprawling campuses, as are hospitals, department stores, movie theaters, and so on.  To put it bluntly, Downtown has been no one’s golden child for a long time, and I’m sure Amarillo is no exception.

What’s your take?  I’d love to hear what you think.

Bikes in Europe

It has been nearly a month since returning from my first European adventure.  My father-in-law was generous enough to bring me along for the journey that took us through Scandinavia, Germany, Estonia and Russia.  He teased me a bit for all the photos of bicycles that ended up on his fancy camera.  In my defense, though, the photos weren’t just of bicycles…they were of bicycles in Europe.

I could dote on and on about the beauty of the places we visited, where bicycles are a more mainstream mode of travel.  Or, I could let these photos do the talking:

I nearly missed the simple beauty that was this bike in front of a corner cafe in Copenhagen.

I caught this bike under spotlight on a rainy evening in Copenhagen.

One of my favorite photos, this bicycle in Wismar, Germany could not have been parked in a more beautiful place.

Even mail gets delivered by bike, at least in Wismar, Germany

Here’s one I found in Aarhus, Denmark (the second largest city behind Copenhagen)

The afternoon rush hour in front of a produce stand. What’s more European than that?

A classic red commuter bike in Stockholm’s old town.

Need to get your bike upstairs? How about this ingenious solution from Helsinki, Finland, that lets you walk your bike up or down while letting you take the stairs?

This bike from Helsinki, Finland has been yarn bombed

What to do with that old freight rail line? Turn it into a bike highway, like they did in Helsinki.

What world-class city would be complete without a bike share program, like the one in Oslo, Norway?

By the way, these photos are my own, so please don’t use them or pin them without my permission. Thanks!