Monday, August 27, 2012

Human Scale Design in Central Honolulu Part 2
Reclaiming the King-Beretania Corridor for People in the McCully-Mo’ili’ili Neighborhood
By Alex Broner For Part 1 click here.
What can be done?
This report is intended to define the problem, highlighting some specific aspects of non-human scale design in McCully Mo’ili’ili, and identify some potential solutions. The actual implementation of solutions is a more involved process requiring communication and negotiation with multiple stakeholders. Nevertheless, if we don’t have any idea of what the end product is it’s hard to convince people to get involved at all and harder still to figure out what to do.

1.  The role of streets
Social activity
Janh Gehl describes street activities as fitting into three categories:

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Human Scale Design in Central Honolulu: Part 1

(This is the first part of my independent study project in the Spring of 2011.  Special thanks to Professor Luciano Minerbi for agreeing to quarterback this project and for his help along the way.)

Human Scale Design in Central Honolulu
Reclaiming the King-Beretania Corridor for People in the McCully-Mo’ili’ili Neighborhood
By Alex Broner

Part 1: A Personal Story.
                When I first moved to Honolulu in the summer of 2010 I rented a room on the other side of the highway from the McCully-Mo’ili’ili (MM) neighborhood and the couplet of King and Beretania Street.  I checked online and found a grocery store to which I could make my first food shopping trip. I then donned my backpack and set out on foot. What I found shocked me. First of all I was amazed by the fast paced and aggressive nature of the vehicle traffic. On my first outing I found myself nearly struck down on several occasions and at other times befuddled by the need to ask permission to cross the street by pressing a button.  Eventually I arrived at my destination, the Times Supermarket on King Street. Actually; I walked past the supermarket twice because the shape of the store was so unexpected. This is what greeted me: 

Photo credit: Google
Note that the entire side of the building facing the sidewalk is almost completely blank. The sign on the side is angled in such a way as to be more visible from the street than it is from the sidewalk. On the whole this is a building that dismisses the pedestrian and heaps attention on the automobile.
What this building represents is a failure of architecture to take into account urban context. In the part of New Jersey where I grew up, buildings such as this are the norm for the kind of low density suburban development that is prevalent.  The McCully Mo’ili’ili neighborhood is anything but suburban, as evidenced by the multi-story residential building is the background of this photo.
Contrast this building with another urban supermarket, that of this QFC supermarket located on Broadway Avenue in Seattle, Washington:

Photo credit: Google.
The whole front entrance is right at the edge of the sidewalk. Pedestrians can see in while people inside can see out. No one worries about being mugged on the sidewalk next to the building because there are always eyes watching. The sign is turned towards the sidewalk and can be seen by pedestrians from blocks away. Also notice that the street, while nearly as wide as King Street in Honolulu, is used in a different manner. Only 2 out of 5 lanes are used for through traffic, making this an imminently easy street to cross. Barely visible in this picture are the overhead trolleywires that power the quiet and clean running trolleybuses that run regularly.
                Note also that these stores exist in neighborhoods that are substantially similar in their relationship to the wider city context. Both McCully Mo’ili’ili and Capitol Hill are located between the Dowtown/Chinatown commercial core and major state Universities. Major bus routes between downtown and the university pass through each neighborhood and in both cities a high capacity rail system is will connect the neighborhoods even more thoroughly than the buses do now.
                The point of this vignette is not to beat up on Honolulu or raise up Seattle as a paradigm of virtue. Each city has its own problems and opportunities and its own rich history. Some neighborhoods in Seattle are as auto oriented and unpleasant to walk around as any in Honolulu while some neighborhoods in Honolulu are very enjoyable to walk around. One of the major factors influencing whether a neighborhood is a walkable or not seems to be when it was originally developed.  We see that neighborhoods built before 1950 tending to have human scale design while those after 1950 tending to favor the automobile.  This isn’t because the human being changed in its physiology or essential needs in 1950, rather our design conventions changed.  The assumption of autopian thinking was that a human can be perfectly happy spending life going from parking lot to parking lot. This kind of thinking resulted in the devastation of our public space and substantial squandering of public resources on the endless duplication of roads and parking spaces.
The reason I bring this history up is that because the change in how we design things was a product of intellectual trends in design, we have the power to change again. What differentiates this new push for human oriented design from the older pattern that originally influenced the form of Capitol Hill Seattle is that this time we need to be quite explicit in defining what we intend.  Our plans shouldn’t mindlessly follow some pre-existing form simply because it’s “traditional” but rather we should be conscious in our choices. Only by engaging with the needs and limitations of the human beings can we create places that embrace our humanity.

What is human scale design?
Human scale design is design that takes into account the social, psychological, and physiological needs of people who will use the built environment. While one would think that attention to human needs would always be first and foremost in the attention of planners, architects, and landscape designers, the reality is that the attention of these professionals is on considerations other than the people who will inhabit their creations. How else to explain manifestly unpleasant creations such as the Boston City Plaza?(Kuenstler 2004) Danish architect and planning visionary Jan Gehl observes “… in 50 years nobody has systematically looked after a good urban habitat for Homo sapiens. We have written very few books about it. There’s been very little research done. We definitely know more about good habitats for mountain gorillas, Siberian tigers, or panda bears than we do know about a good urban habitat for Homo sapiens.”(Interview with Jan Gehl, )
I started this project with the intent of reading some of the most important of these “handful” of books. As I progressed in my reading I couldn’t help but contrast what I was reading with the degraded, auto oriented environment around me. When I started as a planning student at the University of Hawaii I thought coming up with a plan for improving this neighborhood would be my final project. After reading up on human scale design I came to realize that developing a plan all by myself and putting it on paper would not take more than a semester’s effort, and that the more involved work would be to put this plan into action. Towards this latter end, I have begun assembling a community group under the name “Community Building Action Squad”(CBAS). CBAS will work with various stakeholders in the neighborhoods near the University of Hawaii campus on projects to improve the built environment.  It is in this context that one can consider this paper a first chapter of a much deeper body of work that is still in progress.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Grade Spice

Hello, cities, look at your train, now back to mine, now back at your train, now back to mine.
 Sadly, your train doesn't run like mine, but if it stopped using surface streets and switched to an elevated guideway system, it could run like mine. Look down, back up, where are you? You’re on a platform with the train your train could could run like. What’s in your hand, back at me. I have it, it’s two tickets to that thing you love. Look again, the tickets are now diamonds to represent the money you save on drivers. Anything is possible when your train runs on an elevated guideway and not a surface street. I’m on a metro. Hyaaa!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

landscape of exclusion

Lawyer Takes on Homeless Mom Schooling Case

A homeless mom was charged for sending her son to school.

I've been working on some school projects so I haven't had time to post anything here for a month but rest assured that there is plenty of juicy content coming this way. In the mean time I'd like to briefly comment on this link that caught my eye.

I'm not extremely familiar with Norwalk Connecticut but I did spend some time in nearby Fairfield Connecticut which is also in Fairfield county and is more well off than Norwalk. In Fairfield, like many places, home owners aren't allowed to redevelop their properties into more dense development. They aren't even allowed to subdivide existing properties and take on renters. Both of these measures have the intended effect of keeping out lower income folks. Unfortunately these kind of rules are the norm for American planning. The American landscape is a landscape of exclusion because we make it that way. People such as the mom in this case who violate this exclusion get prosecuted.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The 50 Foot Rule

                Jan Gelh writes in his book “Life Between buildings” about how the limitations of the human senses effect the kind of places people enjoy being in and which encourage social activity. Based on his work I’ve constructed the following table:

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

San Francisco 1905: film of a complete street (set to music)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seattle Transportation Costs and Policy Options

(this is an updated version of a policy brief written for my Economics and Planning class in the autumn of 2010)

Seattle is a growing city that like many cities is running up against the environmental, economic, and social consequences of both automobile travel. There are numerous policy levers available for automobile travel but Seattle has only utilized a few of these so far. I will show how in the existing policy environment people are incentivized to drive automobiles rather than take mass transit, even before issues such as travel time, convenience, etc. are factored in.
In 2009 fuel costs amounted to $.0821 per mile to drive a small sedan. Tire replacement and maintenance cost an additional .0487 cents per mile. [i]  However, the consumer rarely pays for tires and maintenance at the time of consumption and most people don’t factor these into their monthly budgets the way they do gas costs. At $.0821 per mile a Seattle commuter with a compact car can drive 43 miles a day before their monthly marginal cost meets that of a $108 3 zone transit pass.[ii] If we assume our consumer is rational and factors in maintenance and tire costs then they can travel 27 miles a day before the monthly marginal cost of driving equals that of a transit pass. For someone who already owns a car in Seattle, it makes economic sense to drive it.
In the below chart I have used actual data from the Seattle area concerning the cost of a car and the cost of various transit passes. Note the 1 zone pass is only useful for short distances.

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