Can the Urban Dream Work in the Las Vegas Suburbs?

Brett Robillard with Greg Blake Miller | Vegas Seven

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

There’s a distinct difference between charisma and character. Character is earned, not instantaneously created. Charisma is charming, but often fleeting. Downtown Summerlin aims to blend both qualities with an ambitious plan to create a culturally vibrant center in an otherwise manicured HOA-driven sprawl.

Summerlin, and now Downtown Summerlin, certainly do not lack in vision. The Summerlin community at-large has always had a master plan; this latest offering is one of the last critical developments in completing that plan. But this completion could also be seen as a new beginning. It’s a testament to the rebounding Las Vegas economy and the tenacity of the developer and local residents. The steel frame of the project’s early, recession-stunted incarnation loomed over the western Valley for years, a lasting sign of the boom and bust of the millennium’s first decade. Today, the vibrant array of shops is a welcome change, not only for those who live in Summerlin, but for the entire Valley. It combines the convenience of freeway access, the scenic backdrop of Red Rock Canyon and an interesting attempt at urbanism to create what could be an energetic new “urb” in a neighborhood that has been the very portrait of a bedroom community. What’s left to argue about?

But if we’re wondering whether Downtown Summerlin shows the way forward for our erstwhile suburban areas, the natural question that arises is: Can you really build a Downtown from scratch? Or is the title of “downtown” by its very nature earned rather than simply proclaimed? Should the word be reserved for locales that have endured, persevered and in turn defined a local or regional culture? Does the new approach create simply an outdoor mall—“We’ve got your fresh urbanism right here; just add water!”—or something more significant, a worthwhile approach to city building in the age of the master developer? Read more

Transit oriented development is seen as the cure for the commute in Pennsylvania: but what makes it fail or succeed?

Irina Zhorov | NewsWorks

An undated photo of the Connecticut Telephone & Electric Corporation building on Britannia Street in Meriden. | Record-Journal ArchivesTrain stations, bus terminals, and other transportation hubs throughout Pennsylvania have varying degrees of development around them. Since the turn of the century urban planners in Pennsylvania cities, as well as other U.S. metropolises, have started to once again think and design for transit oriented development, with many transit projects incorporating larger development plans beyond basic infrastructure.

Transit oriented development is broadly defined as a station or transport hub surrounded by a dense, mixed use, walkable neighborhood. The idea is to cut down on peoples’ commuting time (and thus congestion, pollution and other societal byproducts of long commutes) and plan for future urban growth.

Transit oriented development can take many forms. For example, Jefferson station, formerly Market East Station, in Philadelphia doubles as a retail center and has integrated connections to other transit, but it sits apart from residential areas. In Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, ongoing expansive development around bus routes deliberately includes residential units.  Many other stations around the state lack development altogether; they look like the kind of abandoned dark places your mother has told you repeatedly to stay away from. Why is there such a difference? Read more

Texas “Ideal Market” for High-Speed Rail

Gordon Dickson | Government Technology

An undated photo of the Connecticut Telephone & Electric Corporation building on Britannia Street in Meriden. | Record-Journal ArchivesThe nation’s top federal railroad official is giving the prospect of high-speed rail in Texas an enthusiastic thumbs-up, saying the region “appears to be an ideal market.”

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo visited Fort Worth and met with Mayor Betsy Price to discuss the possibility of bringing bullet trains capable of traveling 205 mph to Houston, Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth.

The Dallas-to-Fort Worth connection is the subject of several public meetings, including one Tuesday evening in downtown Fort Worth, at which residents are being asked for their opinions on the proposed high-speed rail lines.

“It’s ridiculous. We need options to get us back and forth to work,” said Tammy Stancil of Hurst, who frequently rides Trinity Railway Express and was among about 50 people at Tuesday’s Fort Worth meeting. “We wouldn’t have all the hassles of driving a car.”

Other public meetings are scheduled for this morning in Arlington and Thursday afternoon in Dallas.

Officials from the Texas Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration will also be at the meetings to answer questions about the futuristic proposal, which could reinvent the way Texans — who are among the most voracious users of automobiles and commercial airlines in the world — move about their state. Read more

 

‘Driving miles’ is best measure of new development in California

Curt Johansen | SF Chronicle

An undated photo of the Connecticut Telephone & Electric Corporation building on Britannia Street in Meriden. | Record-Journal ArchivesFor more than 40 years, California’s signature environmental law — the California Environmental Quality Act — has helped safeguard our natural lands and protect community health. Now it’s time to modernize some elements of the law to strengthen its effectiveness and make our communities even better places to live. Fortunately, the Brown administration is following through with some long-overdue fixes that deserve broad support.

Critics of CEQA have protested that the environmental review the law requires for major projects often adds unnecessary costs, time and uncertainty, while unfairly empowering project opponents. As representatives of nonprofit organizations committed to responsible, sustainable infill growth in our cities and downtowns, we see the continuing value of CEQA for giving the public a voice in project analysis, requiring more careful decision making, and encouraging project developers to mitigate avoidable impacts where feasible. Read more

 

Old Meriden, Connecticut factory primed for redevelopment

Andrew Ragali | Record-Journal

An undated photo of the Connecticut Telephone & Electric Corporation building on Britannia Street in Meriden. | Record-Journal Archives

An undated photo of the Connecticut Telephone & Electric Corporation building on Britannia Street in Meriden. | Record-Journal Archives

Once home to Connecticut Telephone and Electric, a thriving telecommunications and auto parts manufacturer, the 90,000-square-foot factory at 70 Britannia St. now sits vacant. But state transportation officials see promise in the four-story brick factory building.

The property was one of four statewide recently identified by the Department of Transportation as being vacant and having the potential for redevelopment. Other former industrial properties identified by the state are in West Hartford, Hartford and Windsor Locks. Each property is adjacent to the Amtrak railroad right-of-way and may be eligible for federal or state tax credit programs, according to the DOT.

“If you’re a developer, you might say ‘let’s tear this thing down,’” said John Bernick, assistant rail administrator for the DOT. “But it might make better economic sense to keep the structure and rehabilitate it.”

Bernick said the rail corridor between New Haven and Springfield has been deemed historic due to the construction of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail. In August 2012, an agreement between the DOT, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration and Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office was established to mitigate the impact of construction on historic structures. Read more

 

Momentum Builds for ‘Atlanta Waterworks Park’ Vision

Josh Green | Atlanta Curbed

[Rendering: Atlanta Waterworks Park/Facebook]

[Rendering: Atlanta Waterworks Park/Facebook]

The movement to create Atlanta Waterworks Park isn’t so grassroots any more. The initiative keeps padding its coffers, holding high-profile fundraisers and now has the public support of Mayor Kasim Reed and top Beltline honchos. Talk of reopening the grounds — a public park for many decades, prior to the Centennial Olympic Games — has been going on for years, but in recent months these more substantive efforts have caught the eye of government officials and local media.

Most recently, Westside Provisions District held a “high-energy fall fashion show” last month and raised $10,000 for the grassroots Friends of Atlanta Waterworks, the group working to make the Westside preserve public-accessible again, according to a spokesperson. That followed another “friendraiser” this year at Monday Night Brewing, which tallied $17,000. Supporters seem to feel the ball could really get rolling in 2015.

Like developers, residents and businesses with vested interests in the area, Reed seems committed to seeing the Waterworks vision play out. He’s selected a team of senior staff to oversee its progress, in fact. According to a press release, “The effort will be led by JoAnn MaCrina, commissioner of the Department of Watershed Management, with support from Parks and Recreation and Atlanta Beltline, Inc. and city council representatives Yolanda Adrean and Andre Dickens who continue to show their support as key role players in these efforts.”

Prior to the Olympics, the Atlanta Waterworks property at 17th Street and Howell Mill Road hosted running races and allowed for leisurely strolls. Concerns of terrorists poisoning Atlanta’s water supply during the Olympics necessitated fences that have encircled the property ever since. Read more

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