Sunday, February 20, 2011

Buffalo Freeways to Remove-Part 2

Buffalo Historical Society May 10-1
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, behind the freeway.
(Source: Andrew Nash, 2010)

Yesterday I wrote about Rust Belt city planning in general. As I was looking through my Buffalo photos for the post I came across the photo above.

Can there be a better illustration of the insanity of building freeways through parks? The huge bright green freeway signs in front of the only building remaining from Buffalo's Pan-American World Exhibition (1901). Looking over Delaware Park's Hoyt Lake from the Casino towards the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society building ... and there they are, the huge green freeway signs.

Of course the freeway also generates noise and pollution in addition to creating a wall that splits the park into pieces.

Many will argue that once a freeway is in place you can't remove it, but Portland and San Francisco both did and have not looked back. (Check out the great StreetFilms on San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway replacment). Previously I wrote about tearing down several Buffalo freeways, maybe that's too much to start.

How about this? Just close the freeway between the Elmwood exit and Parkside. Just this summer. Give people plenty of warning. Install some improvements (and directions) on alternative routes and give it a chance.

Create a Buffalo Beach, just like Paris.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rustbelt City Planning

Buffalo City Hall Jun07 - 01
They had a way with words back then.
City Hall Mosaic Buffalo NY (source: Andrew Nash, 2007)

As a city planner who grew up in Buffalo NY I can't help but be interested in how to revitalize Rust Belt cities. My solution: Rustbelt Cities need to be bolder and more creative (DUH.. what city/company/person doesn't need to be bolder and more creative?).

Rust Belt city leaders will say, we are being bold and creative, we're planning a big box store to compete with the suburbs or we're planning a festival marketplace/ convention center/ casino to attract tourists. What's not bold about that?

Buffalo aerial sept08-12
Buffalo waterfront and downtown: looking for a few truly bold and creative ideas.
(Source: Andrew Nash, 2008)

Well, big's not always bold and it's rarely creative. Truly bold and creative ideas are place-based. In other words you can't create a festival marketplace without the festival and you can't build a big box store without the suburban streets and parking.

There's a saying: if you're an apple don't try to be a banana, you'll always be a second-rate banana. It's even worse for a city: if you try to be a suburb you'll destroy what's good about the city (and, you probably won't be successful anyway).

What can cities do? Create the festival and place-based development will follow. Support businesses that fit into the existing infrastructure and complimentary businesses will follow. As anyone who has ever practiced this type of ground-up planning can tell you, developing bold and creative ideas that are place-based is much harder than it sounds.

Gates Circle Buffalo-sept10-4
Buffalo's Omstead-designed park system is a
bold and creative idea that's place-based.
(Gates Circle, source Andrew Nash, 2010)

One of the biggest challenges is that often Rust Belt city leaders are so desperate they'll support anything short of a chemical waste dump (and sometimes even the waste dump). Once leaders embrace an idea anyone opposing it is a NIMBY or against progress.

This "with us or against us" view came to mind when I read the fascinating post the Problem with Boosterism in the Rustwire blog. The post and very thoughtful comments describe how Boosterism can blind people to addressing real city problems.

But, and here I return to my current work, social networks and Web 2.0 technologies can be used to help develop and implement the kinds of bold and creative - but place-based - ideas needed to revitalize Rust Belt cities. It's an exciting period and there's much to learn about how this will work. Some resources I have found who are using social networks and Web 2.0 techniques to help improve Rust Belt city planning include:

  • Rustwire Blog - a group of journalists doing some serious thinking about Rust Belt issues, check out their Blog Roll for more excellent blogs and their flickr group Rustwire for sharing photos.
Buffalo Elmwood May10-02
Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo
(Andrew Nash, 2010)
  • Buffalo Expat Network - this is a really cool idea, mobilizing people with connections to a city (e.g. who have moved away) to generate ideas and support for revitalization; (they have fun too!) ... includes a Facebook social network.
  • GLUE - Great Lakes Urban Exchange - founded in 2007 as a forum for people to exchange stories, ideas, and best practices between otherwise isolated cities ranging from Buffalo to St. Louis to Minneapolis. An excellent platform for learning from each other.
  • PPS - Project for Public Spaces - while PPS does not focus on Rust Belt issues, their approach to "placemaking" is exactly the type of ground-up planning that's needed in Rust Belt cities.
The list is far from complete. Please add more links and ideas in the comments!

I will tag future posts on Rust Belt city planning: Rust Belt Cities.
Several of my previous posts tagged Buffalo also deal with Rust Belt city planning ... I think some are bold ideas - like tearing down a couple of freeways. Finally, here's  a link to all my Buffalo flickr photos.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cafe Sperl Vienna

Cafe Sperl Vienna - 09

I know it's in all the tourist books, but still ... we had guests visiting over the weekend and wanted to show them a real Vienna coffee house. Homemade cakes. Good solid food. Plenty of newspapers. Music on Sunday afternoons. And, now, no smoking!

I took the advice of a recent Independent Column (Graham Greene's Vienna) - thanks Gavin Plumley - and had my first Fiaker (coffee with schnaps). Even though we had just had a huge brunch we "forced" our friends to have cake (chocolate truffle cake and topfen torte) while we enjoyed our coffee.

Cafe Sperl Vienna - 04

As the top photo shows ... the coffee is comes fast-often more quickly than that horrible self-service system used in places like Starbucks. I am pretty sure our 7 different kinds of coffee, each with its own water and balancing spoon, arrived within three minutes of ordering ... I have stood around longer for a short latte.

Come visit Vienna while places like Sperl still exist! It's even better in the summer when you can sit outside on the large shaded square in front. My flickr set Cafe Sperl.

For more about Vienna and especially coffee in Vienna check out Merisi's Vienna For Beginners ... a truly beautiful blog.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ljubljana Recommendations

Ljubljana - river walk
Last week I visited Ljubljana on a (too) short business trip. I had a good impression on my first visit in 2002, and this time confirmed that the city is a nice place to spend a few days.

On this trip I really only had time to walk around in the small historic city center. There is a small river running through the center of Ljubljana, on one side are lots of buildings from the middle ages on the other from the Jugendstil period mixed up with some non discript modern buildings. Here's a map of the city that is on the wall in the City Hall courtyard. The castle and older part of the city is on the left side, the newer part of the city is on the right (although the map is from the middle ages so on the right side are only buildings along the river and farm plots).

Ljubljana - City Hall Courtyard Map

It's fun to walk around through the market place: there is an outdoor market in a large square and a long building along the river with lots of small shops. One market building has baked goods, another has meat, another milk products. The shops are connected inside the long narrow building. Everything looked great. Here's a photo of the open air market, the market building is in the background.

Ljubljana - Market

We ate in two notable restaurants (sorry I did not take photos of the food!) both of which were located on the pedestrian streets that run along the river. The restaurant Most is at Petkovskovo nabrezje 21. We had an excellent dinner here that combined Italian with traditional Slovenian food. They also had many Slovene wines that looked great but since I was suffering from a cold I needed to stick with beer. I did take a sip of a really nice local red wine that reminded me of Barollo, quite tasty. Here's a photo of the market building at night with river reflections when we left the Most restaurant.

Ljubljana - Market building at night

For lunch the next day we stopped at Pri Vitezu restaurant (Frommer's Review from NY Times) at Breg 18 (the other end of the river walk from Most). It was also fantastic. We ate so much at lunch that I could not eat dinner that night. We started with a pasta dish that was a combination between gnocchi and spatzle (two of my favorite things!) in a meat sauce - perfect for a cold day. Then a turkey roulade. And topped off with a traditional layer cake made of several different things: poppy seed cake, apple filling, sponge cake and several types of frosting (our host told us that the piece we received was about 1/4 the size of a normal piece and that everyone had their own special recipe for what layers were included). We waddled along for the rest of our tour.

Pri Vitezu was also interesting because of the quality of their wine list. I noticed that they had bottles of Ridge Vineyards 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon wine. It's rare to see Ridge outside California and so it looks like the owners really care about wine.

Our walk took us along the river side where Ljubljana has slowly created non motorized zones. It's wonderful to walk along the banks of the river and take in the scenery and people watch (the area is full of cafes and students). The walk took us to the three bridges area which seems to be the center of the city. Here you can see examples of Jugendstil architecture and look up the mountain to the castle.

Here's a photo of the Dragon Bridge, on the other side of the market from the three bridges area. The Ljubljana city coat of arms features a dragon since they were thought to come from the marshy areas surrounding the city. I love these dragon sculptures and the Jugendstil design of the bridge (more photos on flickr).

Ljubljana - Dragon Bridge

I visited the Ljubljana Castle on my first trip to Ljubljana and it was nice. You can see the castle in the background of the top photo. There is a funicular railway that you can ride up, although I hiked up through the park and that was fine too. (What, Andy missed an opportunity to take a rail trip? ... Well it happens.)

We stayed at the Hotel Slon which was very nice. Especially nice was the excellent breakfast. Also, even though it was a buffet the servers went out of their way to help you by bringing coffee, tea and more food. They were really nice.

In summary, I hope to visit again soon. Ljubljana is a wonderful place to spend a few days relaxing and enjoying life on the riverside. Here's a link to all my flickr photos of Ljubljana.

Graz Austria Main Train Station

Graz AT Hauptbahnhof  - 4

Since my wife is from Wolfsberg Austria (Carinthia) we travel frequently through the Graz Hauptbahnhof on our way south. There are hourly trains from Vienna to Graz, but then the fun begins.

There is no train service between Graz and Wolfsberg, but there is an "Intercity Bus" which is not bad, about an hour nonstop between the cities operated approximately every two hours. Unfortunately the bus and the train schedules are almost perfectly uncoordinated.

The bus from Wolfsberg (and Klagenfurt) is scheduled to arrive one or two minutes after the train to Vienna leaves. So you need to hang around in Graz Hauptbahnhof for about an hour. In the other direction many of the buses also require a long wait (Friday we waited 57 minutes, since the bus leaves 3 minutes before the next train from Vienna arrives).

Graz AT Hauptbahnhof  - 2

Perhaps the reason for this sloppy scheduling is that the buses used to leave a few minutes after the train from Vienna arrived. If the train from Vienna was at all late you missed your connection - then it's almost two-hour wait until the next bus. The new system allows the train to be almost an hour late and you can still make the bus.

Another problem with the bus is that it is frequently overbooked at peak travel times like Friday and Sunday evenings. We were lucky last Friday and they put another bus into service, but we have also been forced to drive to Graz because the bus is full.

Graz AT Hauptbahnhof  - 3
You may think - like the sign at the right says - "Missed your train? Great, you can have a coffee at the station" - but I don't know many people who think "Great" about missing their train. Yes, it is great that the station has restaurants and shops, but my goal is to get somewhere not to spend time in the station.

Oh, and one more thing as long as I'm ranting. You need to pay to go to the restroom in Graz! Why can't railway stations - especially railway stations with shopping centres - have free restrooms? I can't think of an automobile-based shopping centre that has restrooms where you need to pay. I understand that railway stations seem to attract people with social problems, but deal with the problems, don't make everyone pay. (Especially if you have restaurants serving coffee and beer!) By the way, the problem is not unique to Graz, they also charge for the restrooms in Vienna and Zurich.

Graz AT Hauptbahnhof  - 1

This kind of sloppy scheduling and lack of attention to providing basic customer amenities causes people to drive. Why put up with the hassles of railway travel?

Poor service is especially dumb on this route because the Austrian government is spending about 4 Billion Euros on a tunnel that will replace the bus with rail service; they should be doing everything possible to build up demand on this route so that when the tunnel is finished people will be used to taking public transport. Instead people like us will probably have bought a car since the drive from Vienna is about 3 hours and the train takes 4 and a half hours with the bad connection.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chicken Wings at Buffalo Niagara Airport

Buffalo Wings - Hot! Chicken wings at Buffalo Niagara Airport (from my flickr photos).
Just returned from a trip to the USA. No trip would be complete without having chicken wings in Buffalo. Here's a photo of the wings I had at the Anchor Bar restaurant in Buffalo Niagara Airport. They were pretty good!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dulles Airport Transit Blues

Dulles May10-4
Dulles Airport mobile "lounge" (from my flickr photos).

One of my favorite authors is Tyler Brûlé, the chief editor of Monocle Magazine and a columnist in the Financial Times Weekend Edition. Many of his columns focus on transport system design issues. Recently he described some of the problems at Washington's Dulles Airport. Brûlé especially criticizes the truly awful mobile lounge system for transporting international passengers to immigration and customs.

As an aside, I sort of like the mobile lounges, especially as an example of an innovative idea for getting people between the airport terminal and airplanes. Unfortunately the idea never worked well and with the rise of the airline hub-and-spoke system the mobile lounge approach was doomed to fail. (To see how it was designed to work watch the movie Scorpio. A Russian double agent is threatened with deportation as he is being driven up to the door of an Aeroflot plane in a mobile lounge.) But, I digress.

Dulles Airport Air Train Shuttle -  - 1
Map of airport transport system (sorry for the quality).

Dulles has made many improvements to the immigration and customs areas during the last several years. They have also introduced a rail shuttle system to connect the terminals. The system works pretty well but they made one very significant mistake (in my view).

They built the airport rail system station for the "C/D" concourse several hundred meters south of the "C/D" concourse so that it could also serve as the station for a future "E/F" concourse. This means that passengers using the "C/D" concourse have a long walk back to their concourse and passengers using the future concourse will also have to walk a long distance to their concourse - equally inconvenient for both sets of passengers. Instead of building two stations (one for each concourse), Dulles built one. That saved money, but adds time and inconvenience for air passengers. It would be one thing if the second concourse existed today, but who knows when it will be built? Why inconvenience all the passengers today for a possible money savings later?

Dulles Airport Air Train Shuttle -  - 3

Long walk back to Concourse "C/D" from air train station (maybe they should use the mobile lounges here?).

To paraphrase United Airlines: "We know you have a choice of airports and hope to see you again soon on a Dulles flight." Well, not if I can choose an airport that gives more attention to making it easier for passengers.

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