If every city looks alike, then we are failing as a profession

Source: andysinger.com

Source: andysinger.com

In response to a cartoon I posted yesterday on panethos.wordpress.com, (see above) a comment was made that planners are one of the reasons why so many cities look-alike. That was a very thought-provoking and rather disconcerting response.

With reflection, I would have to partially agree with the respondent. In too many instances, we as planners fail to fight the good fight and stand up for sound planning practices. Sure, we can be overruled by boards and commissions, but when one scans multitudes of master plans, long-range plans, comprehensive plans, and zoning codes from across the land, there are numerous similarities. What happened to context? What happened to most appropriate? What happened to all the criteria we should be (and were taught to be) using in our daily responsibilities as planners?

Certainly, some similarities between cities are to be expected. But if Boston looks like Birmingham, if you think you are in Scranton when you are really in Peoria, or if Tucson overly resembles Boise, then that is not a good thing. Variety is the spice of life and our communities should be as diverse, unique, and vibrant as each of us. Otherwise, what’s the point of having individually tailored plans and codes? We might as well have a national set of regulations that are applied uniformly across the nation to every village, town, township, city, or county.

Perhaps this is all simple case of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or of, “if the ordinance survived a challenge elsewhere, it should be good to use here.” Needless to say, these are both somewhat lackadaisical approaches, but they could go a long way towards explaining the conundrum of sameness.

As professional planners, it is our job, no, it is our duty, to develop plans and codes that are best suited to the locality. Planners are not supposed to become one-size fits all land-use fashion designers. Some of you may recall the humorous (and perhaps a tad politically incorrect) Wendy’s commercial from the 1980s mocking a Soviet fashion show. In the advertisement, a model wears the exact same outfit for every purpose. Hopefully, as planners we are not mimicking that commercial in the application of our profession. To do so would be a great disservice to ourselves, our communities, and our profession.

 

 

 

Rolling stock signage

Source: signsourcesolution.com

Source: signsourcesolution.com

Has anyone else in the planning and zoning realm noticed how certain retail and dining establishments are now strategically placing a fully decaled truck, car, or van in their parking lot to further advertise their business to those passing by? It appears to be the latest effort to circumvent local sign regulations. These vehicles wrapped in vinyl or covered in lettering are not (or rarely) used for anything but advertising purposes and mostly sit in the parking lot to draw more attention and customers.

Aside from the obvious regulatory issues pertaining to another sign being added to the premises, parking a vehicle covered in signage in the parking lot occupies at least one, if not more spaces that were intended (and approved) for employees or customers. In cases where a site barely meets the minimum number off-street spaces, this new tactic can result in their being a deficient number of available spaces, thus leading to additional enforcement or can result in potential impacts on neighboring businesses and/or streets from the spillover of customers.

If anyone has developed sign regulations addressing rolling stock signage, please feel free to share your experiences. Given the portability of these vehicle signs, enforcement can be a tricky issue and how to define/regulate their usage would need to be finely nuanced. Look forward to hearing any feedback.

Beware of the weekend sign gremlins

Even notice how a plethora of yard signs suddenly pop-up like dandelions at street intersections on Friday evenings, only to disappear by Monday morning? Those are the result of gremlins putting up signs when they know full well that building or zoning enforcement offices are closed over weekends.

Source: everywheresignsusa.com

Source: everywheresignsusa.com

The same often holds true for portable signs, a-frame signs, banners, flags, streamers, and other sorts of gaudy advertising. Fortunately, when Monday morning rolls around these signs have slithered back into the dark recesses, only for the whole process to repeat itself the following Friday.

Unfortunately, while they are in place, these often illegal signs are quite unsightly and can be a danger to visibility at intersections if improper placed or over-sized.

Short of having enforcement officers working overtime on weekends, policing such activities isn’t an easy task. Perhaps a good civics lesson is one option, but it is doubtful that will have a major impact in the long haul. The legal process may have a far greater impact, if those injured in accidents as a result of visibility constraints from these illegal signs were to take the gremlins and/or the firms who advertise on the signs to court. Not the most efficient way to regulate bad behavior, when all it may lead to is the signs being moved away from street corners.

Any other ideas/suggestions on how to handle the weekend sign gremlins would be welcome.

Utility infrastructure does not have to be ugly

This electrical substation in suburban Chicago (Elk Grove Village) is an excellent example of how, with a little effort, utility infrastructure can be designed to be aesthetically pleasing and blend well with its surroundings. Well done!

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What’s not to like???

A great editorial cartoon found on Facebook. It makes that obvious point that even if climate change is somehow an incorrect thesis, making the world a better place for all of us is still a great benefit to humanity, the environment, and Mother Earth. What’s not to like about that?

Source: facebook.com

Source: Joel Pett/USA Today via facebook.com

Going sky-high and energy wise in Jakarta

Source: asce.org

Source: asce.org

The impressive 99 story Pertamina Tower in Jakarta, Indonesia will not only be super tall at 530 meters (or 1,744 feet) when it is completed in 2020, but it is designed to be a net-zero energy user. Wind turbines in the V-shaped pistachio-shaped void between the building facades at the top quarter of the tower will supply energy to the skyscraper.

 

 

 

 

The dark side of bright lights

Fascinating and useful data on the effects of light pollution on the environment is provided in this poster. Is your city one of the top 10 brightest cities in the world? In this particular case, “brightest” is definitely NOT a synonym for “smart.”

Great seaports from space – Atlantic Coast

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore, Maryland – Source: tysc.com

Boston, Massachusetts - Source: en.wikipedia.org

Boston, Massachusetts – Source: en.wikipedia.org

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada - Source:

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada – Source: tours-tv.com

Hampton Roads, Virginia - Source:

Hampton Roads, Virginia – Source: en.wikipedia.org

Newark, New Jersey - Source:

Newark, New Jersey – Source: aerialarchives.com

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Source:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Source: freerepublic.com

How federal surface transportation funding should be allocated

While my preference would be for 0% go to new roads/bridges the pragmatist in me realizes this breakdown is slightly more plausible, albeit from a bicycling advocates viewpoint. :)

  • Mass transit (bus, BRT, light rail, commuter rail) = 20%
  • Intercity rail/bus = 20%
  • Non-motorized (bicycling and walking) = 20%
  • Road and bridge repair and maintenance = 30%
  • New roads or bridges = 10%

States that most (or least) like bikes

Source: bikeleague.org/content/ranking

Source: bikeleague.org/content/ranking

The lists (above and below) show the League of American Bicyclist’s 2014 state rankings for bike friendliness. Congrats to those states that made the top 10, which are shown in bold. Those states ranked near, but not in the top 10 have something to aspire to, while those in the in positions 26 through 50 have their work cut out for them.

You can review each state’s 2014 report card on the League’s website.

1. Washington

2. Minnesota

3. Wisconsin

4. Delaware

5. Oregon

6. Colorado

7. Maryland

8. Utah

9. California

10. Massachusetts

11. Illinois

12. New Jersey

13. Maine

14. Michigan

15. Arizona

16. Ohio

17. Vermont

18. Virginia

19. Pennsylvania

20. Idaho

21. Connecticut

22. Tennessee

23. North Carolina

24. New Hampshire

25. Iowa

26. Georgia

27. Rhode Island

28. Florida

29. New York

30. Nevada

31. Mississippi

32. Louisiana

33. Texas

34. Missouri

35. North Dakota

36. Wyoming

37. Indiana

38. Arkansas

39. South Dakota

40. Hawaii

41. New Mexico

42. Oklahoma

43. Alaska

44. West Virginia

45. Nebraska

46. Kansas

47. South Carolina

48. Kentucky

49. Montana

50. Alabama

Here’s a link to a fascinating chart that shows ranking for each years since 2008.