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For smart growth, not all density is created equal | Better! Cities & Towns Online

You don't need high-rise apartment complexes to see the environmental benefits of increased density. The 20 to 60 homes-per-acre of historic urban neighborhoods is plenty dense (marginal improvement in environmental parameters declines starting at 20 and disappears above 60 per acre) and is more comfortable for pedestrians and appealing to residents and visitors.

"After extensive study of how humans behave in different kinds of environments, [architect Jan] Gehl has concluded that the most comfortable building height for urban pedestrians is between 12.5 and 25 meters, or about three to six stories.  (See the excellent discussion in Li Teng, Human Scale Development....)  Could that be part of why people love these historic city districts so much?"

The author provides photos of new transit-oriented developments like Fruitvale in Oakland, California, and Bethesda Row in Bethesda, Maryland, that meet these criteria with low-rise buildings.

Brighton Allston Historical Society: The Urban Renewal of Barry's Corner

In the early 1960s, a 9.3 acre, 71-family Irish and Italian neighborhood on the northeast corner of N. Harvard St. and Western Ave. was declared blighted by the City of Boston to make room for a more expensive development. The residents lost, the neighborhood was demolished, the luxury complex was never built -- a vintage 1969 townhouse complex was built instead -- but the neighborhood's protests had an impact.

I used to pass this corner on the way from home to Harvard Yard. Harvard's business school and stadium are nearby, and there are plans for future campus expansion, including the redevelopment of the now abandoned Charlesview Apartments that replaced Barry's Corner neighborhood.

"The BRA's plan called for the demolition of the existing 52 structures, and the construction on the cleared acreage (by well-connected developers), of a $4.5 million ten-story, 372 unit luxury apartment building, to be paid for largely with federal money. The BRA contended that the Barry's Corner structures were blighted, a charge the residents hotly disputed. The authority also noted that the existing neighborhood was yielding the city relatively little tax revenue. The proposed luxury complex would pay $150,000 as compared to the $15,000 the Barry's Corner properties were contributing. The BRA assured the public that 'every effort is being made to assure that the residents now living in the area are provided with suitable new homes.'

"Barry's Corner residents were understandably outraged. The BRA was proposing to obliterate an entire neighborhood, to seize and demolish private homes, so that luxury housing could be constructed, and to pay for this questionable project with public revenues."

MORE about the history of Barry's Corner in the Harvard Crimson.

Daily chart: Urban ideologies | The Economist

Of 67 American cities with a population of more than a quarter-million people, Tulsa and Oklahoma are two of the 13 ranked right-of-center. In order:

Mesa, AZ
Oklahoma City, OK
Virginia Beach, VA
Colorado Springs, CO
Jacksonville, FL
Arlington, TX
Anaheim, CA
Omaha, NE
Tulsa, OK
Aurora, CO
Anchorage, AK
Fort Worth, TX

The ten most liberal: San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, Oakland, Boston, Minneapolis, Detroit, New York, Buffalo, Baltimore.

The graphic is an extract from a March 2014 study of studies called Representation in Municipal Government by Chris Tausanovitch of UCLA and Christopher Warshaw of MIT, examining "whether city policies are actually responsive to the views of their citizens" by moving in the direction of the views of their citizens. The analysis is of cities, not metropolitan areas; thus Arlington, Texas, Mesa, Arizona, and Anaheim, California, are considered separately from DFW, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

"However, unlike at the state and national level, we find scant evidence that differences in municipal political institutions affect representation. Neither the choice of mayor versus city council government, partisan or non-partisan elections, the availability of ballot measures, whether or not elected officials face term limits, or whether there are at-large or districted elections seem to affect the strength of the relationship between public policy preferences and city policies."

San Francisco Residential Security Map, 1937

1937 street map of San Francisco (which also shows streetcar and trolley bus lines at the time) was color coded by the Federal Government's Home Owners' Loan Corporation to indicate various levels of perceived risk to property value. These maps, drawn up for cities across the country, are associated with the practice of redlining -- denying home loans to certain neighborhoods, particularly those dominated by disfavored ethnic groups.

MORE:

San Francisco LocalWiki "editathon" on the topic of gentrification

Hoodline: A History of Redlining in San Francisco Neighborhoods

Redlining in Philadelphia

Residential Security Maps for Ohio cities

Home Owners' Loan Corporation: A brochure explaining the purpose and scope of the HOLC. The brochure estimates the total home mortgage debt as $20 billion. HOLC was given $200 million in cash to finance $2 billion in bonds to assist owners of homes worth less than $20,000. Oklahoma had HOLC offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Slate: Where to find historical redlining maps of your city

High-res scans of HOLC Residential Security Maps from the late '30s: Also a good source for pre-urban renewal street locations.

National Archives online HOLC maps

National Archives: City Survey Files, 1935 - 1940. Federal Loan Agency. Federal Home Loan Bank Board. Home Owners' Loan Corporation. (07/01/1939 - 02/24/1942) (catalog record only)

American Meteorology Society Journals Online - Tornado Damage Survey at Moore, Oklahoma

After the May 3, 1999, Moore / Midwest City tornado, the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University conducted a damage survey to determine the causes of structural failure. The team found that methods of construction -- joining roof to walls to slab -- permitted by code were inadequate to handle structural loads caused when the wind lifts up the roof. When a home is destroyed by a tornado, it becomes a collection of projectiles that the tornado can use to destroy the next house. Even if you build a sturdier house, it can be destroyed by the whirling remains of the shoddy home next door. The team was disappointed to learn that new houses being built after the tornado failed to incorporate improvements that would make the structures more resilient to high winds.

"Although it is true there are no provisions in building codes to construct houses to resist tornadoes, building codes are still important in mitigating tornado damage. A better-built house would yield less debris in a tornado, and occupants would have a better chance of surviving in such a house. In addition, structural improvements could reduce the level of damage to a house that experiences weaker tornadoes or straight-line thunderstorm winds that are just above code-required design levels and hence could mitigate economic loss and improve safety."

"As noted from our damage survey, numerous housing failures initiated with destruction of attached garages. In a typical case, garage doors blew in, allowing internal pressures to act in combination with external aerodynamic uplift pressures to remove the garage roof structure. Uplift on the roof structure caused toenailed connections in the wooden top plates to pull apart. Destruction of the attached garage frequently led to damage or the removal of the remaining roof structure on the residence."

"When the author visited the post-tornado reconstruction area, 6 of the 40 new houses contained tornado shelters or safe rooms; however, these homes generally were not built any better than prior to the tornado. Thus, homeowners appeared to be making the decision to provide for personal safety (i.e., building a safe room) instead of to increase housing strength (to provide property protection and increased safety). This decision may, in part, be based on the assumption that it is unreasonable or uneconomical to try to construct houses for the high wind speeds described on the F scale."

Google Earth Engine: Landsat Annual Timelapse 1984-2012

This view is centered on Tulsa, but you can look anywhere and watch the process of development and road-building.

NYC Municipal Archives Online Gallery

A virtual time machine! See this Daily Mail story for some beautiful examples of photographed urban history from the New York City Municipal Archives.

"Welcome to the New York City Municipal Archives Online Gallery of over 870,000 images. Selected from the world-class historical collections of the Archives, most of these unique photographs, maps, motion picture and audio recordings are being made accessible for the first time. Visitors are invited to explore and search the collections individually, or across all collections by keyword or any of the advanced search criteria. The gallery includes many complete collections; for others, only representative samples are currently on display. Visitors are encouraged to return frequently as new content will be added on a regular basis. Patrons may order reproductions in the form of prints or digital files; most images can be licensed for commercial use. Please see the order page for further details."

URBANPHOTO: Cities / People / Place » The Underground City

The evolution and surprising extent of Montreal below ground.

Ballot - Redesign Metro Map Contest - Greater Greater Washington

Lots of tradeoffs involved in making a readable, useful map of a subway system -- depicting the schematic relationships between lines and stations, depicting relationships with the above-ground street network and landmarks, depicting distance while rendering congested areas with clarity. Here are 20 different approaches to redrawing the Washington Metro map. Vote for your favorites!