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This article about a transit-oriented medical center development in Buffalo, built without employee parking, instantly made me think of Providence. Or rather, what could be in Providence (emphasis added):
$91 million has or is soon to be invested in real estate projects — primarily lofts and apartments…[in] the growing cluster of hospitals, medical offices and research facilities on downtown’s northern edge…
The catalyst is the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where 17,500 people are expected to be working soon…[at] a facility deliberately designed without employee parking…because the campus would rather spend its resources on medical facilities than parking garages…
The city planning chief echoes what everyone from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to the University at Buffalo all acknowledge: “This can’t happen without Metro Rail”…
“It’s been a long time since there’s been any real growth here,” [said Patrick J. Whalen, chief operating officer of the Medical Campus]. “It’s refreshing to be talking about it.”
You can have a vibrant small city, or you can have cheap, ample parking in and around downtown. You cannot have both, for the simple reason that parking takes up a lot of space that would otherwise be used by people doing economically productive things. Buffalo seems to have learned this lesson. Providence, meanwhile, is drowning in downtown parking as the metro area’s economy stagnates.
It’s amazing that Providence is falling behind Buffalo — Buffalo! — and much of the rest of its competition in figuring this out. Americans are already driving less, and struggling cities owe it to themselves to make it easier for people to do what they’re already doing.
There are three policy changes the city could enact to help chart a better course on transportation and land use, as part of a bigger economic development effort:
Reform the zoning code to eliminate parking mandates, even if only for the most transit-accessible places near downtown at first. Developers are begging New Haven to do it. Austin is looking at it. An end to parking minimums isn’t an end to parking, but it is an end to requiring projects to build more parking than tenants need. This can help lower costs — after all, parking is expensive to build.
Require new projects to develop Transportation Demand Management plans. These documents specify how building users will get around, and the incentives a development will employ to achieve those goals — for example, parking policies to discourage unnecessary driving, providing bike parking, dedicating space for Zipcar, funding a new bikeshare station, providing transit passes, or improving sidewalks and walking. Brown University, for example, has a TDM as part of its institutional master plan. The Department of Planning and Development should require them for institutions like colleges, hospitals, and other large developments.
Create a special tax district to help fund streetcar construction. Providence already has a plan for street-level rail in and around downtown, but like the city’s bikeshare study, it’s gathering dust until the mayor steps up. Using streetcars to tie together job centers and development parcels with Amtrak, MBTA, intercity buses and the statewide bus hub at Kennedy Plaza adds value to these existing transit connections. Streetcars are often criticized as real-estate development vehicles passed off as transit investments. In already-booming cities like Washington, DC, that critique has real weight. In a development-starved city like Providence, using a streetcar to spur new downtown-area construction is a reasonable prescription. Using revenue from that new development to help fund the streetcar can help make it a reality. Further delay will only kill the project and scuttle opportunities for transformation.
There are already people hard at work in Providence on these issues but they could serve as components of the city’s economic development strategy.
Instead, the city is trying to attract business by branding itself as a “creative capital.” Transit-oriented, car-lite development isn’t about importing tech workers from Massachusetts or creating a cool, hip, creative-class city — a narrow, elite prescription that may not be a good fit for an underemployed working-class city like Providence, anyways.
It’s about making it less burdensome to build new development. It’s about improving the physical form of development that does take place, so the city itself becomes a more attractive place for investment. It’s about reducing the cost of new construction and housing. It’s about putting walking, bicycling and transit first, so households have the ability to take control of their transportation costs in the face of volatile global gasoline prices. It also helps the poorest households without cars gain the same access to economic opportunity as those with private vehicles.
Reducing the cost of business, improving housing affordability, improving economic opportunity. It’s just what Rhode Island’s leaders say they want. It also happens to go hand-in-hand with the physical realities of a city founded in 1638. Providence is not, and never will be, a mega-growth Sunbelt sprawl city. It can be better than that. It’s time Providence started playing to its natural and historical advantages instead of ignoring them.
About 6 months before the Windows 7 launch, Dell sent a representative to Brown University’s bookstore to preview the software and show us the guts.
I really liked where Windows 7 went and was excited to upgrade my Windows partition (I was using Ubuntu full time at that point) from XP.
At the end of the conversation about Windows 7, the rep genuinely inquired with students about what the products were that we wanted to see Dell build. Clearly this was not just a marketing opportunity but a market research opportunity for Dell as well.
There could not have been a clearer message. A full two and a half years before Intel would describe the “ultrabook”, a room of 30 or so tech savvy college students begged Dell to create a 13” laptop with a really good screen that was thin and light and didn’t suck.
He said they had exciting things we were going to like in that form factor and that Dell was very aware that this the “way of the future”.
“We hold up iPhones and, if we’re relatively conscious of history, we point out that this is an amazing device that contains a live map of the world and the biggest libraries imaginable and that it’s an absolute paradigm shift in personal communication and empowerment. And then some knob says that it looks like something from Star Trek Next Generation, and then someone else says that it doesn’t even look as cool as Captain Kirk’s communicator in the original and then someone else says no but you can buy a case for it to make it look like one and you’re off to the manufactured normalcy races, where nobody wins because everyone goes to fucking sleep.”—Warren Ellis » How To See The Future (via neilio)