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Frumination: a blog with lots of public transit info

Michael Frumin has a great blog, Frumination, chock full of information about public transportation, mainly the NYC Subway. There are graphs, maps, pictures, and much more, with lots of data and links to data. A few interesting posts:

NYC Subway capacity analysis

Urban GPS and congestion pricing

Sources of NYC Traffic Data

Enjoy playing.

House Built from Big Dig Materials

In the article Salvage Artists in a recent New Yorker, Paul Goldberger wrote about the construction of the Big Dig House. Single Speed Design, at the commission of Paul Pedini, built a house entirely out of leftover materials from Boston’s Big Dig:

 The basic structure is entirely made up of salvaged steel and concrete from the Big Dig—three hundred tons’ worth. Because the materials were obtained for free, and because Pedini was able to do much of the construction himself, the house, which measures forty-three hundred square feet, was built at the strikingly low cost of approximately a hundred and seventy-five dollars per square foot. Yet it doesn’t look like a recycled highway, and it would be among the best contemporary houses in the Boston area even if it had been built the old-fashioned way.

Braess’s Paradox

Braess’s Paradox, named after Dietrich Braess, is when you add roads or capacity for cars, and thereby worsen traffic (or alternatively, you lower traffic costs by removing roads). Formally, this simply means that the current traffic equilibrium state is not the optimal one. Dietrich Braess, on his website, notes that this concept has applications to computer networks in addition to traffic networks.

Michael Chabon’s Sitka World’s Fair

Michael Chabon, the author of many books, among them The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay, has a website whose front page currently shows a poster for the Sitka World’s Fair. At first I thought this was a just an interesting retro poster from 1977. However, between the Yiddish on the poster and the fact that Sitka is not a bustling metropolis but rather an Alaskan city of under 10,000 people, I realized that this is an artifact from the alternate-history of Chabon’s upcoming new book The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. This book, due out in May, supposes that a Jewish homeland was created in the mid-twentieth century in Alaska, instead of in Israel, and extrapolates outwards from this premise (there was a proposal like this actually made during WWII, but it was voted down). I’m looking forward to seeing how he crafts this scenario.

Rethinking the Legacy of Robert Moses

In a recent New Yorker Paul Goldberger writes an article entitled Eminent Dominion: Rethinking the Legacy of Robert Moses. In it, Goldberger argues that Robert Moses, while he often couldn’t care less about the effects of his projects (such as destruction of organically grown neighborhoods), did bring a number of positive things to New York City, such as the Triborough Bridge, for one. He also shows Moses as a product of his time-period, and that even with his embrace of the highway, “New York  probably comes closer to having a workable  balance between cars and mass transit than any other city in the country”.

Goldberger also recognizes that in today’s bureaucratically gridlocked environment, having a single person enforce their vision can have its benefits:

In an era when almost any project can be held up for years by public hearings and reviews by community boards, community groups, civic groups, and planning commissions, not to mention the courts, it is hard not to feel a certain nostalgic tug for Moses’s method of building by decree. It may not have been democratic, or even right. Still, somebody has to look at the big picture and make decisions for the greater good. Moses’s problem was that he couldn’t take his eye off the big picture. He was so in tune with New York’s vastness that he had no patience for anything small within it.

As Goldberger notes, a balance between Jane Jacobs’ embrace of the neighborhood and fine-grained approach to the city, and Robert Moses’s strong-man grandiose public works is something that has yet to be found.

1942 Time Magazine’s ‘Biology of Cities’

In 1942, Time Magazine had a brief piece entitled Biology of Cities, about the organic nature of cities. Cities, like organisms, can grow and die, and the architect Jose Luis Sert felt that the continuing life of a city is by no means a given. But he does not give up all hope:

But Mr. Sert and his colleagues do not propose to leave the city to its apparently inevitable fate. Instead of dispersing the city or making it smaller, they would quicken its blood stream by means of express highways; give it air to breathe by surrounding each business and industrial district with a green belt; make it self-contained by providing facilities for recreation and fuller living within the city itself.

The key to their plan is more intelligent use of a city’s third dimension—height. The Sert group propose to house the city’s people in skyscrapers, surrounded by wide open spaces, and by doing so to provide a single solution for a modern city’s two greatest dangers, congestion and bombing.

Looking at this article over sixty years in the future, it is interesting to see what it gets right and what it doesn’t. The inclusion of greater expressways and space for cars has not been the panacea for cities’ ills, and has often caused the loss of community in urban environments (see my previous post entitled New York and Lack of Urban Innovation). However, better transportation (generally public transportation) does help large cities to grow and function.

The design of cities to minimize damage from overhead bombing almost seems laughable nowadays. Nonetheless, cities do still have security in mind.

Lastly, people are also recognizing the need for vertical use of space and self-contained urban environments, since high-density cities are much more energy efficient.

Jose Luis Sert died in 1983. After this article, Sert went on to become the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and designed many buildings, including the Harvard Science Center. It would be nice to see what other kinds of predictions people have made about the future of cities. Please feel free to link to any you know of in the comments below.