Archives for the month of: September, 2010

Tonight I watched Taken for a Ride, a movie about the killing of street cars in America and the rising of cars and urban freeways.  Maybe its just because I’m so nerdily in love with planning and making better urban environments, or maybe this would happen to anyone seeing these kinds of movies, but I had such a negative emotional reaction to it.  Much like Who Killed the Electric Car and Divided Highways, this is a movie that shows us something positive we had in transportation, and how the auto industry took it away.  I realize these kinds of things have to be taken with a grain of salt, and that there are two sides to every story.  But haven’t we come to a point where we’re realizing that it isn’t just about making more money, and constantly “progressing” towards bigger, better, faster?  We have a finite number of resources on this planet, and if we continue to fill the air with pollution and create things like cars in a way so that they’ll be used up by one person and then thrown away, we aren’t a society thats going to last much farther into the future.  (No, me? Opinionated?…)

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I’m thinking too much about the book I just finished, A Short History of Progress (which was incredibly depressing).  This movie does a good job of showing how GM in particular slowly monopolized and edged its way in to cities, taking out street cars and replacing them with buses and cars.  However, what it doesn’t show is that while many people loved the street cars, cities in the 20’s and 30’s were crowded and dirty, and many people LOVED the idea of having their own pod they could zip around in and back to their newer, quieter homes further out of the city.  Yes, car, oil, rubber, etc. companies had a lot of money put in all the right places to secure the American public would utilize and need them- but we can’t forget that people, especially after the Depression and WWII, fell in love with the freedom of having a car just as much.  It was a very lucky/unlucky converging of events that created the transportation situation we’re in today, and the important thing at this point is to move forward and try not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  Of course, we’ll then just make the mistakes of today, that the next generation gets to clean up.  C’est la vie…


Had an excellent pin-up session with the visual representation class as we all displayed our completed Ann Arbor/Detroit rail projects.  The range of ideas was great- people looked at land use, populations, view sheds, and the experience of being on the train.  Its too bad I had to miss the last few presentations to go to a meeting.

I’ve got to tweak a few things on mine, but I think it came out decently.  I definitely feel like I own Photoshop for a reason now, and I hope to get better at it as the course moves on.  I used GIS, but I think I will always, always hate that program

Having ridden the Amtrak in southern California, Chicago, and now Ann Arbor to Detroit, I can see many reasons why they aren’t highly utilized in much of America.  They are usually late, don’t come often, and expensive.  Though perhaps those are less reasons that we don’t ride trains much here, and more a result of a lack of funding and use.  It would be easy to see the argument on either side for which caused which; the point is, where we stand today, the U.S. is miles behind other countries like Japan, the UK, Germany, and now Spain, in rail technology.  It isn’t that we don’t have the engineers or the skills- its a lack of diverting funding towards the cause.

And thats really a shame, because once you ride faster, smoother, more reliable, and cleaner trains in other countries, you realize that if those things were to change, you probably would ride the train more.  At least, I sure would.  In my visit to Scandinavia this summer, every train we rode we a pretty enjoyable experience.

Inside + out of the trains in Stockholm, Sweden- May 2010

Looking at the high speed trains sprouting up in Spain, its easy to see how much public transportation like this can increase mobility, connectivity, and accessibility of a city.  Spain has been doing interesting things with rail since the 80’s, and all over Europe, trains have been much more central to daily life than here- where a large sprawling mess would seem a lot closer together if it was traversed on high speed rail.  On the other hand, what city today can afford something so expensive?  In California, we voted for the high speed railway along the entire coastline, but without funding, its never going to happen.  So the big question is, how much of a priority is high speed rail for America and its people?  Can we really allocate money towards these when we can’t fix the roads we’ve focused on so heavily for the past sixty years?

Continuing on the ideas of Lynch and other mapping techniques, the project I’m working on at the moment is a mapping along the Ann Arbor to Detroit rail line, aptly named The Wolverine.  I have chosen to look at view sheds and visual perspectives of the dichotomy between the built and open spaces within a 1/2 mi buffer of the line.  We shared our cognitive and spatial ideas for these maps on Wednesday, and it was really interesting to see what everyone is thinking about- we’ve got people looking at the train stops, the statistics of riders, vacant land, industrial use…its a neat array of interests, and I’m excited to see how they will play out visually.

What I’m thinking is a combination of ariel and panorama photographs along with a couple of GIS maps to display the built v. open tension in this area.  If I can manipulate the programs well enough, hopefully there will be color and shape coordination with the ariel map/photographs and the corresponding panoramas.  I guess I hope that the final product will show something interesting about the relationship of the two uses, and maybe the difference between how they appear from the train as opposed to on a map.  I also need to come up with a clever title and graphic scheme, so it would be excellent if I had a strong burst of creativity…

Just thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been working on/experienced lately. That and I want to experiment with putting pictures in posts.

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The pictures from Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland are from a travel studio taken through the University of Michigan’s TCAUP, where we saw many interesting ideas for sustainable architecture, design, and development.  The graphics are some that I created for the final project of that studio; mine in particular was urban infill on the main shopping street.

The Los Angeles River is nearby where I grew up, and I went on an amazing tour of it this summer.  The destruction of the watershed there through concreting the riverbed has has a dramatic impact on the climate and pollution of the city, and theres amazing people working towards at at the Friends of the Los Angeles River.  The image from Louisville is from an annual trip to discover a city, run by second years and taken by first years in the urban planning program at Michigan.