Complete Streets to Promote Physical Activity

Modified and reposted from the Plan4Health blog site:

Interested in designing ‘complete streets’ for your community but not sure where to start? Here’s a slideshow of Dangerously Incomplete Streets that provides visual examples on how to assess your current streets and intersections. Thanks to the Eastern Highlands Health District of the Connecticut Plan4Health coalition for sharing this link!

Image from Pixabay

Studies are showing the importance of complete streets for the benefit of community health by reducing the reliance on cars and making communities more walking and biking friendly. One study from Copenhagen showed that it’s six times more expensive to travel by car than by bicycle (there’s a short informative video that sums up the study). Many cities are now looking into increasing biking infrastructure as a way to lower car emissions and increase health benefits to those who ride. However, a major issue that’s stopping many citizens from biking is the lack of connections made between existing bike lanes. This issue is discussed in a recent article from The Washington Post: Why cycletrack networks should be the next great American transit project.

Communities still have a lot of work to do when it comes to providing active modes of transportation through complete streets. While this Complete Streets toolkit is designated for the Southeast Region, there are many innovative activities and resources that can be adapted for your locality. Plan4Health Nashua is currently working on a Complete Streets Project, as well as Plan4Health Summit County of Ohio. Interested in learning more about Plan4Health, visit their site and comment for more details!

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Food Hubs: Criticisms and Considerations for Current and Future Sites

Recently on CityLab, an article was published on the recent plan of a Food Port in Louisville, Kentucky to be developed by 2016. This port is not the first in the States, and in fact there are many other hubs that are popping up around the country in efforts to provide local and regional food markets to typically more economically disadvantaged sections of cities. Some of these hubs are providing other services such as incubator kitchens and canning facilities, while some are looking into other mixed-use development options with drug stores and condominiums. This project is being developed and funded by Seed Capital Kentucky, a nonprofit committed to locally-sourced food products and the partnerships that sustain this local economy. The Food Port is part of the many projects currently underway led by Vision Louisville and other important stakeholders throughout the Metro area, as a revitalization strategy for the western part of the city. Vicky Gan writes:

Seed Capital originally conceived of the development as a food “hub” in 2013, but renamed it the “FoodPort” this year, after the concept evolved to incorporate a kitchen incubator, food truck plaza, demonstration farm, classrooms, and even an anaerobic digester to convert the facility’s organic waste back into usable energy.

The article is pretty convincing and answered most of my questions I had that ultimately doubted the fate of the project. I’m still left with some criticisms, though not to this specific project but of these food hub/port efforts in general. First of all, many of these projects are doing some good when they are taking unused land parcels and redeveloping them, often in the more blighted spots of cities. However, I’m wondering how these projects will affect the immediate constituency that reside in the surrounding area. Many of these projects claim to offer local employment opportunities as well as a more equitable source of healthy food options and the increasing benefits of “community”.

How will these hubs affect the other marts and convenience stores within the area that are serving as the local economy, as well as the price of land and tax revenue from this redevelopment? While these projects claim to bring education, employment and economy into a more regional and local vision, where are the local constituents’ voices and opinions throughout the planning process? What are the engagement strategies being used to source where these hubs should be placed, and see the greater reception of the local community and their ideas for how this can positively affect them? After doing some research, I haven’t found much mentioned and so I’m left with wondering, will these projects actually help the local under-served populations as they assert themselves to, or will they continue to cater to the “food yuppy”, usually more of the affluent background?

I ask the last question because on many of the project websites, the term “foody” is often used, and even Caroline Heine (Director of Seed Capital Kentucky) brings up the point that local food should not just be for “upper middle-class yuppies”. Who are these companies, their sites, and their projects’ marketing schemes seems to be in conflict with who these companies are developing for, or rather should be, developing with. When terms like “foody” are used in the marketing scheme, are these plans really as equitable as they claim? Why do these developments need to be advertised with the “foody” in mind, who often times is also the “upper middle-class yuppy”? If these plans are really meant to foster local economic growth and revitalization of struggling neighborhoods in cities, then how these plans are marketed and discussed needs to change in order to ensure that the people who will be most affected (and that the plans claim to benefit the most) are appropriately addressed and considered top priority throughout all phases of a plan. Jeff Farbman, of National Good Food Network, discusses the applications of these hubs in underserved neighborhoods and cities.

“If you have a city or philanthropic organization interested in reviving a city, locating [so-called] ‘light industrial’ is a great thing to do,” Farbman says. “You are talking about a bunch of jobs, the potential for multiple shifts, but you’re also talking about larger trucks. It’s unlikely to be located in the dense-population or high-wealth areas. I can see economically there is quite a bit of rationale for that.”

Looking at site locations of many of these initiatives, they are often located near interstates (which conveniently are developed through or around struggling neighborhoods). This is great because it offers access to inter- and intra- state commuters, as well as to truck-drivers that can transport goods from the surrounding farms outside of the city limits. Although, I am wondering how future transportation will be impacted in these neighborhoods, with these hubs offering various attractions and necessities to such a large and variable public? Will these hubs replace the farmer’s markets that have popped up throughout cities, and how will this impact the farmers that do not get a spot at the new food hub? How will these hubs mediate engagement with the various population and their income sources- will they accept supplementary income and how do they plan to engage and develop capacity amongst the lower-income constituents to take part in the local economy?

Though I have lots of questions, I think that overall these food ports and food hubs offer more good than harm. I couldn’t help but think about a city that is so dear to me, that I think could benefit greatly from this idea: Memphis. I lived in rural Arkansas for almost two years, and Memphis was like my second home throughout my time in Arkansas. I grew to know it well and as a planner and justice advocate, I always have it in the forefront of my thoughts when it comes to plans or policies and measuring their real intentions versus real impacts. After hypothesizing some places where a food hub could potentially go, I decided to look at the interactive travel-guide map of Memphis to see what would be nearby. Finding a site with similar criteria like the others was challenging simply because I don’t live there anymore. However, using the interactive map and referring to Google Maps, as well as my own memory, I have decided that somewhere along South Parkway West near Interstate 55 would be most appropriate. The map helped me discern from places near Bartlett, Midtown, Cooper Young, or East Memphis. However, when considering South Memphis, South Parkway and the Southgate Plaza Mall were screaming at me. Much of South Parkway consists of liquor stores, mini-marts, loan and credit companies, pawn shops, and has been given a reputation for crime and poverty. You can see the difference here at the screen shots from the interactive map from East Memphis to South Memphis.

East Memphis offers arts, music, museums, and many restaurants.

South Memphis offers clubs, casinos, and landmarks or trails.

South Parkway cuts between I-55 and I-240, and clearly there are no attractions visible except the airport down at the bottom right corner and Martin Luther Riverside Park to the left of I-55.

Obviously all of my previous criticisms and questions would apply here. There are so many buildings along South Parkway (West or East) that are either vacant or decaying, and has ample large parking lots and unused concrete land. Because of the vicinity to the two interstates, but mainly proximity to I-55 and the Martin Luther Riverside Park, along with the economic and social conditions current, I think South Parkway would be an excellent model site if Memphis would want to develop a food hub. Memphis is already a city known for its musical and food cultures, and is right on the Mississippi River surrounded by farms to the East and across the river. Bringing a local food economy as well as employment, and furthermore, pride amongst the many farmers and impoverished city and city outskirts folk, would be a significant improvement to not only the people but also the reputation for South Memphis.

Innovative Thoughts from Aaron Renn

“We don’t have a seed problem, we have a soil problem.” – Aaron Renn

Phew! I have been super busy with lots of researching and not enough reporting. I am currently working on a few projects to eventually post more resources, but today’s post will just be to share some insight to other planners and community developers/engagers out there. This past week I watched a video that featured Aaron Renn, speaking in Louisville, Kentucky at Governing Magazine’s Summit on Performance and Innovation. Here’s his video: The Evolving City.

Aaron Renn is an opinion-leading urban affairs analyst, entrepreneur, speaker and writer. After a 15-year career in management and IT consulting at Accenture, he created the urban planning website, The Urbanophile, and is also the founder and CEO of Telestrian, a data analysis platform that provides powerful data mining and visualization capabilities. Renn’s writings have also appeared in publications such as Forbes,The New York Times and City Journal. – Courtesy of governing.com

Basically, he’s awesome! I follow his posts on Urbanophile, and he has a great e-book recently published (I want to read it), “The Urban State of Mind”. His posts are always relevant and analytical, all with an honest, realist approach. If I could meet him I would- he’s my inspiration as a future planner and city policy analyst. I recommend checking out his site, along with Governing Magazine if you’re especially interested in policies and politics related to localities and states.

His talk is based on innovation and evolution of what innovation means in a city and for its people. Innovation is necessary for planners as well, and just how cities are changing, so do the planners and the systems that planners have to work within. How we as planners and city officials think of our cities determines a lot of how we’ll work in them, and sometimes we need to adjust our thoughts to be more inclusive or really hone in on just what makes a city (like a brand) and make whatever that is “work” for it. I took some notes from his video, and I hope you will watch (or at least listen to the video).

  • There’s a distinct difference between internal consultants versus external consultants. This usually is related to power and the tyrannical structure within a company/firm.
  • Consultants stand behind a veil of ignorance when it comes to their own status in their organization, which can affect how they present an idea depending on who they’re presenting it to.
  • “We don’t have a seed problem, we have a soil problem”. (Think about it. Often the ideas (seeds) people have are great, but whether they take off or not is usually dependent on the environment they’re brought to (soil).)
  • We need to create a culture of innovation all the way down to the beginning of the organization- even the higher ups need to be accountable, knowing that an idea came from that company, regardless of where it began.
  • Cultural Resonance: Honor the essence of the place, distill it down, then inject it into everything we do in that community.

Planning for children, by children

Photo credit: StoreFrontLab.org

I wanted to share a few resources I’ve come across on the American Planning Association website that are meant for planners who are targeting children as key components to the development of a community plan. I find it odd that amongst the buzz of community engagement and participatory work that there is not more of a push from the parents, stakeholders, or planners for that matter to get more youth involved in the process. Of course there are planners out there who are utilizing the brilliant minds of children for unique and creative approaches to development of cities and what’s in them (here’s a great example). Frankly however, I don’t think we talk about it enough. As a learning planner, all of the literature I’ve come across when it comes to engaging with the community for input has been specifically directed at attaining opinions and ideas from adults. Yes that’s important, but what about the kids? If it’s the children who will someday be the future planners and inhabitants of the current neighborhoods, streets and developments we’re producing, then shouldn’t we do more to engage them and build a better place with their wants and needs in mind?

Through my perusal of the APA site, I found an entire page devoted to planning with children in mind and also part of the process. On the education page there is an entire Youth and Teachers sub-page that provides a few resources for how to get children engaged in the planning process, understand what a planner does, and even teach city planning and engagement strategies to youth from curriculums. The curriculums are downloadable and obviously can be modified, but are great places to start for planners who want to visit schools to get student’s input but don’t have an idea on how to get started. Also, the fact that you could inspire children to some day be future planners is just awesome, along with that you’ll be connecting with people in the community that matter who typically don’t have as much of a way to be “heard”: teachers and children.

Metropolis: A Green City of Your Own is one curriculum meant for grades 3-6, produced by a third grade teacher and planner:

Packed with illustrations and exercises, it is intended for use by elementary classroom teachers and other adults who seek to expose children to a variety of urban forms from around the world. The city elements presented in the lessons are edges, districts, public spaces, landmarks, and transportation — taken from Kevin Lynch’s book Image of the City. These elements provide an organizing mechanism for children to design their own ideal cities.

The Urban Natural Guide is a re-printable document that allows planners to interact with a community of their choice through probing questions based off of Jane Jacobs’s style of inquiry. These simply approachable questions challenge you to look at the surroundings, and can be adopted to help children tell what they notice and value also. There’s a City Detective lesson plan that definitely seems more suited for children in middle school or high school, but the plan is completely able to be scaled down for K-5. This plan would be a great “plug” for planning, geography and design careers to children through mapping and history. Finally, the resource printout is a great reference for how to incorporate planning activities in the classroom at every grade level (beginning with grade 4) and also has resources for interested teachers. You can read Youth Participation in Community Planning to find supplementary materials and ideas for how to engage with youth in their communities in appropriate but valuable ways, and see where it’s been done well! APA even has their own blog just for youth engagement planning- check it out at Kid’s Planning Toolbox.

Happy planning!