“area-equal map” by Tetsuya Hoshi via Good Design Award

Hi and welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here is a collection of stories I found interesting over the week. Please add your links in the comments below.

UN Habitat III in Quito came to a close a couple weeks ago. Here Michael Kimmelman describes the urban flavour and urgency of the conference that sits in stark contrast to Habitat I which largely focused on conventional environmentalism and improving the rural habitat- “The Kind of Thinking Cities Need“, The New York Times.

What I sense is a worldwide sea change, a generational shift, rejecting the glum defeatist view towards cities and urban like that prevailed when Habitat first convened 40 years ago in Vancouver, Canada.

Today, progressive thinking, reinforced by the undeniability of climate change, has overturned those ideas. Cities are being recognized increasingly as opportunities for economic and social progress, density as a response to environmental threats; the automobile as a big problem; slums as not just a blight but a potential template for organic urbanism. Young generations around the world, entering the tech economy and bound by the internet, are embracing urban ideals, including the common ground of public spaces. mass transit, streets and sidewalks.

Australian  architectural critic and scholar Kim Dovey and Elef Pafka describe the conditions that generate the buzz that makes some cities interesting, “What makes a city tick? Designing the ‘urban DMA’, The Conversation.

The concept of urban DMA can be traced to the work of the late Jane Jacobs, whose book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” was written in the mid-20th century, when many great cities were being surrendered to cars and poor urban design.

Jacobs wrote of the need for “concentration”, “mixed primary uses”, “old buildings” and “short blocks”. We recognise this as urban DMA – “concentration” is density; “mixed use” and “old buildings” are the conditions for a formal, functional and social mix; and “short blocks” means “walkability” at a neighbourhood scale.

Jacobs’ key contribution was to focus on the city as a set of interconnections and synergies rather than things in themselves – a focus on the city as an assemblage, rather than a set of parts. While the language has evolved, our understanding of these vital synergies needs to be taken much further.

Related, here is Sandy Ikeda with “The Great Mind And Vision Of Jane Jacobs“, Market Urbanism.

Jacobs was not opposed to all government planning at the local level. She thought that zoning could be used to prevent too many large single uses in a given neighborhood, for example, several car dealerships or office buildings that would dominate and stultify the life of a street. For the same reason she argued that official municipal buildings, courthouses, and such should be strategically placed around the city, rather than collected into a single civic mall.

But to the end she remained skeptical of urban planners, even those such as the so-called New Urbanists, who have adopted some of her design principles but not her sensitivity to how the healthiest communities are those that arise spontaneously over time. Large-scale visions of the ideal city, modernist and postmodernist alike, that seek to impose a visual order or a unified aesthetic principle on seemingly chaotic social orders ignore what Jacobs called the “locality knowledge” of unwritten rules and unseen interpersonal relations possessed by the people who live, work, and play in a neighborhood. Actually implementing those visions, as for example Lincoln Center in New York or Brazil’s capital city of Brasilia, undermines or leaves no room for the foundations of the underlying social networks that generate safety, trust, and, ultimately, creativity in commerce and art in an unplanned but coordinated way.


A prediction: As the Auckland City Centre becomes busier and more residential focused there will be increasing tensions between residents, student, office workers, and the outliers that drive to and through the city. Here Lance Wiggs describes a series of encounters that demonstrate that both social norms and the physical environment could use a lot of improvement-  “Let’s make downtown Auckland safe“, Lance Wiggs.

First – let’s keep installing infrastructure that separates vehicles and humans, and that encourages slower traffic. The shared spaces in Auckland are working extraordinarily well, and the physically separated bike lanes are encouraging a broad mix of people to add cycling to their mix of transport.

Secondly – let’s get serious about the magnitude of offences that are likely to cause fatalities and enforce them. Distracted driving in a downtown area feels, as a pedestrian or cyclist, a lot more dangerous than speeding, so why not elevate it to the level of dangerous driving?

Why not introduce the NSW rule about touching phones? Shouldn’t running red lights downtown with hundreds of pedestrians around be classified dangerous driving as well? Shouldn’t we place the burden of guilt for injury of a person walking or cycling on the person driving the motor vehicle?

Thirdly – let’s use existing and new tools to change behaviour. Auckland is covered in connected cameras, and it should be relatively simply to turn on functionality that allows red light runners to be automatically caught, to review footage to follow up on egg tossers and dangerous drivers, and to provide that information to the Police.

Let’s also put in place processes where transport police are actively capturing evidence provided by members of the public over the internet – whether through a website or picked up from social media.

Finally let’s put in place processes to make sure that every incident results in an action, triaged by severity based on the level of hazard created. If this needs dedicated police then sobeit – but it will be a far more effective use of time than random driving.

We can do this. I was living in Melbourne when the introduction of speed cameras dropped the average speeds on major roads by 20-30 kph overnight. Nobody liked it, but less people died.

Density and Trump. This is an interesting story about how voting patterns (and political strategies) line up with bigger cities. It can be traced back to white flight and the suburban experiment aided by highway construction. Emily Badger, and Quoctrung Bui, “Why Republicans Don’t Even Try to Win Cities Anymore“, The New York Times

In the early years of white flight, two federal policies- the construction of the interstate highway system and mortgage guarantees for the new suburbs – pulled whites out of cities even as they were getting pushed by racial tension, desegregations and school busing.

“The people who go to the suburbs are not a random selection,” said Jessica Trounstine, a political scientist at the University of California, Merced. They were the upper and middle class. They became homeowners. The prized neighborhoods of single-family houses. Those charactersitics today all correlate with leaning Republican. “These population shifts happen for reasons that are external to politics,” Ms. Trounstine said, “but politics is embedded in who goes.”

Metropolitan areas with more highway construction became more polarized over time between Democratic cities and Republican suburbs, according to research by Clayton Nall, a Stanford political scientist. Where highways were built, they helped sort people. Where they led, suburbs became more reliably Republican. They created entirely new places, Mr. Nall argues, with new politics.

I love the highway tear out stories. No city that has removed an urban motorway has regretted the choice. This one in Rochester has a bit of a twist. Instead of an elevated structure this one is a sunken highway that also was movement barrier that limited city growth. Two years along at it appears to be a wild success. The Keith Schneider, “Taking Out a Highway That Hemmed Rochester In“, The New York Times.

Today, Rochester is completing a $23.6 million project that fills in almost a third of the 2.7-mile sunken highway and replaces it with an at-grade boulevard and nearly six acres of prime land for development.

Though cities like Boston, San Francisco, and New York have removed elevated and surface highways, decisions that cleared the way for housing and office construction, leaders here say Rochester may be the first to fill in a section. The project fits into the city’s effort to focus on pedestrians and establish vital neighborhoods for housing, expanding businesses and producing jobs.

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  1. Before you get excited about removing highways etc, let’s get to the point where we actually have infrastructure that works. Auckland’s haphazard roading and motorway systems do not work. Let’s fix them first before we do pie in the sky wishful thinking. We do not have that luxury yet. As for cyclists and the dangers they face, ask any courier company about the numbers if near misses with idiot cyclists cutting across in front of them, running red lights, not staying to their designated lanes, not indicating where they intend to go etc. Its not a one way story by any means.

    1. Here, I fixed your comment for you:

      Before you get excited about blaming cyclists for mixing with traffic, let’s get to the point where we actually have infrastructure that works. Auckland’s haphazard street designs and disconnected cycle paths do not work. Let’s fix them first before we do pie in the sky wishful thinking. We do not have that luxury yet. As for cyclists and the dangers they face, ask any person on a bike about the numbers of near misses with careless people in cars cutting across in front of them, running red lights, not passing at a safe distance, not indicating where they intend to go etc. Its not a one way story by any means.

      1. Brian, you may not agree with Ricardo (or you may even find some of his comments personally offensive), but if you’re going to respond to him please focus on the substance of his arguments rather than making unrelated criticisms. Our user guidelines set out some principles for commenting.

    2. Can you be a little more specific about what you mean by ‘work’ and ‘fix’? Can you describe the future state you must be imagining where you would say that the transport system has been fixed and does work?
      For example, is the goal ‘average journey-to-work time is on a declining trend’? Or ‘average household expenditure on transport as a proportion of income is on a declining trend’? Or ‘greenhouse gas emissions from urban transport are on a declining trend’? Or ‘the economic cost of the road toll, per population, is on a declining trend’? Or ‘more children can walk to school safely’? Or what?
      Once we’re clear about what the future state is where we agree that the transport system has been fixed and does work, then we can starting considering the cost of getting there, and whether it’s affordable in relation to all the other priorities that society has for public expenditure.
      I ask this because for many commentators ‘fixing’ the road network is really a vague euphemism for ‘spend more on roads, indefinitely, with no clear goals or performance measures and, consequently, no way of assessing afterwards whether the expenditure has been succcessful in achieving a goal.’

      1. Oh I can reply for our friend the highway designer; he just means more of the same failed road building of the last sixty years. A period when almost the entire transport budget went on turning the all the public realm into space for motorised vehicle movement and storage, complete with rules to turn as much of the private realm into storage for these vehicles too, a time of failing and inefficient cities, and a constantly degraded environment, not only locally but for the entire globe! Extraordinary that anyone is so daft as to try to claim that this should continue at all…. but of it’s a habit of those who are emotionally unable to question the value of their labours, no matter the evidence, to claim that it will start working soon, but only if we do more and more of it. Every failed road project, every clogged highway, every gridlocked street, every failed economy, is simply an argument to keep doing what brought us those condition, genius eh?

        1. I think the part about public realm is really important. Streets are probably the most important public space in cities. If you’re in your little apartment in the CBD, then the street is the first and the last thing you see when you go out. Other things like parks and libraries and playgrounds are important too, but how can you go there? Via the street.

          And then over here you get these 5- and 6-lane monsters like Hobson Street, Cook Street, Mayoral drive, and so on. Which for me is not much of a problem, because I’m reckless and I can drive a car.

          For kids, well, they might just as well grow up in Chernobyl. Outside is the exclusion zone where all kinds of heavy things may kill you. (and generally a lot faster than radiation). And then we can go on wondering why families don’t want to stay in the cities.

          The not really physically fit are in trouble as well. They are not fast enough to make it across those big streets before the green phase runs out and crossing traffic gets green light.

          Living in those apartments is a good way to observe how cities break in a lot of ways if streets are inhospitable to humans.

          1. Yup. And the streets are all we have know without very expensively buying and demolishing city blocks to supply better public space for more people. They are already ours, but are just being so undemocratically shared. The Victoria St Linear Parks shows what can be done for everyone, with this resource currently being hogged by machines. A dividend form the Transit boom.

    1. Hi Tony, I think you might have mistaken this forum for the Herald letters page.

      Anyway saying “Cyclists need to be consistent about obeying the rules first” is a very common thing. What you need to do is spell out what rules exactly you are talking about. Now you can get bonus points for carefully thinking about WHY exactly the cyclist is doing that behavior. eg “Why would a cyclist ride on the footpath instead of the nice bike path?”

      Extra bonus points for not talking about lycra-clad cyclists out on their Sunday races and talking about individuals going to and from work, shops and school.

      Another point for suggesting and law changes (eg allowing riding on footpaths) where the current “law” is sometimes ignored because it is not safe.

      1. How about:
        Stopping for red lights and waiting until they are green.
        Riding on the cycleway and not on the pedestrian footpath.
        Wearing helmets.
        Walking across pedestrian crossings instead of riding.
        Only a small list, no doubt there are more.

        1. Hi Don,
          Why get worked up about cyclists on footpaths when there is a plague of cars parked on footpaths? I live on Waterloo Quadrant and I can guarantee the number of cars parked on the footpath within 100 metres of my front door would approach 3 figures every day.
          It is disgraceful that this is allowed to take place.
          I am a runner and I dislike cyclists on footpaths but I dislike cars on footpaths even more.

          1. The cars parked on footpaths are not moving so can’t hit you. I agree this should be prevented but what action have you taken to stop this practice?
            Generally speaking people do incorrect things because they get away with it.

        2. When I cycle I do what I think is safest, bugger the law. If runing a red light means I get a head start and don’t have cars up my arse I’ll do it. If the footpath is safer than the road I will ride on it (while being careful to peds). Why should I put my life at risk just to follow laws that are primarily there to stop cars from killing people?

          1. Why am I not surprised by your reply. One area I was commenting on is the Quay St cycleway where cyclsts regularly run the cycle red lights at the pedestrian crossings. It is not a safety issue for the cycles but can be an added hazard for pedestrians.
            So long as the cyclist is not impeded in their rush to get where they want I suppose that is ok.

        3. I’ve seen this on Karangahape Road plenty of times. Those cyclists go through the red phase because otherwise they will get killed by cars (which also have green light).

          The stretch of 2-lane roadway just after a green light is the last place you want to be as a cyclist, especially when there’s parked cars in the left lane a bit further out. Crossing through the green phase there is borderline suicidal.

      2. Riding through a large group of pedestrians at pedestrian light crossings would be my pet peeve. How about walking across with the rest of us.

        1. I will frequently join the pedestrians at intersections, but I remain sensitive to pedestrian priority / polite to fellow humans. eg if it’s a busy Queen St barnes dance, I either wait until the majority of pedestrians have cleared through (but before the ‘runners’ start), or hold off completely if it’s a busy period. And of course take it at a slow pace, avoiding cutting in front of people. I won’t pretend there aren’t occasional dudes who whizz through and give people a fright – they’re being rude, but I don’t think their behaviour should mean damnation of the practice for all.

          Dismounting is awkward and unnecessary, pushing a bike is less maneuverable, more space-intensive, and you spend more time in the intersection, inconveniencing others.

      3. Simon Lyall said “Anyway saying “Cyclists need to be consistent about obeying the rules first” is a very common thing. What you need to do is spell out what rules exactly you are talking about. Now you can get bonus points for carefully thinking about WHY exactly the cyclist is doing that behavior.”
        Let’s start with cyclists running red lights. A cyclist nearly ran me over the other day. Why did he go through the red? Arrogance? Stupidity? Need for speed? Who knows?
        Cyclists on footpaths: Arrogance? Fear of the road? Laziness? Many of the footpath-riders in my neighbourhood are mature men on fancy bikes who look like competent riders. I vote for arrogance as their main mindset.
        Those are my two biggest gripes as a pedestrian. Cyclists go on and on about road safety but many have complete disregard for pedestrians.

    2. The purpose of rules is to stop people getting hurt, not to apportion “fairness” to appease a bunch of moaners. Vote for Trump, vote against cyclist safety measures, these dog-in-the-manger “victories” for structural change deniers amount to nothing in terms of life improvement for their supporters or anyone else, and can actually cause harm.

    3. Many motorists do not obey the road rules. They run red lights, exceed the speed limit, and fail to indicate when turning or passing.

      Do you think that this is a good argument for immediately suspending any further spending on road construction? If not, why do you think it’s a good argument against providing safe cycle facilities?

        1. Furthermore; when ‘rogue’ bike users start killing and maiming people EVERY DAY, like motorised vehicle users do, then we can start getting all upset about them bending rules, Rules which anyway are only written for vehicle use.

          There is no proportionality at all to this argument about ‘bad’ bike use. Get real.

          1. What part of the rule that requires cyclists to not ride on footpaths is a rule only written for vehicle use?

        2. No, I’m saying that failing to make beneficial public investments based on the actions of a small number of people would be a bad thing. Most cyclists are law-abiding, or bend the law carefully in small ways. Same goes for most drivers. It would be downright stupid to use a small number of anecdotes as a reason to suspend spending on safe cycle facilities, just as it would be an act of idiocy to cut spending on road safety projects until everyone strictly obeyed the speed limit.

    4. So your argument is that we should not fund any infastructure for a road user group that cannot consistently follow road rules? Are you aware that no driving infrastructure would ever be built?

    5. Tony there are cyclists that constantly disobey road rules, there are also to name a few Asians (not being racist I’m just using an example that get complaints), tourists, courier drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers etc but it doesn’t mean all of the those in those groups are guilty of the offences of others.

      1. I consistently ride on the footpath. I have a right turn to make across an oncoming line of cars released from a red light against me. I make a choice. Turn when safe onto the footpath or sit in the median strip waiting with cars coming up my back and against me in a place where I feel very vulnerable. I am not arrogant stupid or lycra wearing but some of the comments made so far are incredibly judgemental and just maybe some laws are dumb. Try walking on others shoes. (Or riding their bikes).

        1. Why can’t you walk your cycle at this point if the only way is to use the footpath? It isn’t compulsory to ride a cycle!

  2. Oh, I love that one of the motorist pushing a cross button. One thing I hate about most pedestrian lights is as soon as you start walking across it starts flashing red, as though I shouldn’t be there. Note all the narrow crossing lanes. There’s a lot more of us out there these days and we flow out way over these lanes.

    1. As a pedestrian, I would find it far less disconcerting if they a) allowed a reasonable time frame to cross the road (I walk much faster than most people and unless it’s a countdown, am at best 3/4 across), b) didn’t give any cars green lights until such a time as this had elapsed (instead of these extremely impatient drivers inching forward ever closer) and c) actually had the traffic light noise 24/7 (several times I’ve shouted at pedestrians on the other side of the road who are in the process of missing the “green man” because of this absence, see: Anzac Ave/Beach Rd at, what, 9-ish, which isn’t even that late).

      Also, if you’re going to change the lights order, you should tell people (Princes St/Waterloo Quad a few years ago the example I am thinking of). It’s not that hard to stick a sign on the traffic-light pole…

    2. Technically, the flashing red means “don’t START crossing”; it doesn’t apply if you’re already crossing. But unfortunately the flashing phase is often not tied to the minimum time needed to cross the road before the lights change; instead they’re trying to get latecomer pedestrians to wait so that turning traffic can start moving.

    3. Glen, why would you want to use the minimum time? Sure some able people get across in the green man period, but the long flashing red is for the old people and the dawdlers on their phones.

      Are you suggested the crossing should run as long as possible?

      1. Maybe it should flash green instead. Flashing red is a pretty universal symbol for warning, stop, go back. It’s quite inappropriate for “continue crossing”.

        1. Yes, it should flash green. A green pedestrian, whether it is flashing or solid emphasises that the pedestrian has the right to cross the road.

          And cars should not be given the green until it is a solid red man.

          This should be a simple software update, with a huge improvement in pedestrian safety and comfort.

      2. I think you misunderstand me (actually it was hard enough for me to try to write it the first time). Perhaps an example will help explain:

        Let’s say that the traffic signal has a green phase for cars of 60 secs and it takes even the slowest pedestrian 20 secs to cross. There are two potential strategies:
        (a) green man say 5s, then flashing red for 55s
        (b) green man for 40s, then flashing red for 20s
        The latter approach prioritises pedestrians over turning traffic. Unfortunately, many signals are timed using the former approach, so that motorists don’t feel like they’re held up.

        1. A strategy I saw in action on the Hobson Street / Wellesley Street intersection is to kind of fold both phases into one:

          (1) pedestrians get green
          (2) a few seconds later, they get a flashing red man
          (3) a few seconds later, traffic turning left onto Hobson Street gets green light.
          (4) after maybe half a minute traffic gets red light (and opposing traffic can turn right).

          In total these 4 steps take only slightly longer than the time people need to cross Hobson Street, frequently resulting in traffic not being able to turn onto Hobson Street at all.

          Then there’s also the approach taken at Cook Street, which is to just leave the pedestrian crossing out.

          Incidentally, at both intersections the mandatory 1½ minute green phase for Hobson Street guarantees that motorists will feel like they’re being held up.

  3. These ‘they do it too’ arguments are really boring. The fact that some cyclists, like some motorists, are inconsiderate, as far as I can seen has nothing whatever to do with discussing what the policy should be on developing safe separated cycle facilities.

  4. That article by Lance Wiggs highlights one of the more bewildering aspects of Kiwi culture.

    On one hand, Auckland is supposed to be ‘livable’. People over here are supposedly ‘green’ and ‘care about the environment’.

    On the other hand, you arrive in a city where people genuinly don’t give a toss about pedestrians and, especially, cyclists getting killed. It’s the latter’s responsability to get out of the way. There is no expectation at all of showing some basic courtesy, or showing even minimal effort to avoid collisions with people crossing the street.

    This is noticeable when driving, in the way pedestrians dash out of the way even if you’re driving almost at walking pace. Or the confusion arising when you yield to someone crossing at a ‘courtesy crossing’ (NZTA actually calls it that in the road code). Pedestrians also fully expect you’ll cut in front of them when turning into side streets, or even into your driveway.

    I guess that eventually I’ll get used to it. It’s a very noticeable difference when coming here from Europe.

  5. Not quite on the same scale as Rochester but I am assured that things are finally moving on getting together a business case for demolition of the Dominion Road/New North Road flyover. Until this is done nobody knows for sure what it will cost up front – though work so far has assessed the freed-up land as being worth up to $95 million (far, far more than the most pessimistic suggestion of the likely order of costs of replacing an over-the-top interchange for a long cancelled motorway with a bog standard 4-way signalised intersection). As they say, good things take time.

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