GOOD

The Upcycled City

How to take back the streets from cars and use them for parks, housing, and business instead

It’s undeniable: cars are awesome. Press a pedal, go 90 miles an hour. Magic, right? It’s little wonder that when folks saw the incredible progress cars would bring, they put all their chips in. They paved the way, quite literally, for the car-centric urban forms we know and tolerate today.

Could they have imagined a day when cities willingly give up car space for people?


Early in my urban planning education, I remember reading that two-thirds of the land in Downtown Los Angeles was dedicated for automobile use: one third for parking lots and garages, and one third for streets and freeways. I didn’t know a lot about land use theory, but that struck me as a terrible waste of land, especially for an area that has the highest level of transit connection in the city.

A rendering of one of People Street's plazas.

Despite an admittedly strong preference for the automobile, Los Angeles and other forward-thinking cities are now re-allocating public (and private) land away from the car so that people can use the space for other purposes. For example, the People Street program, brainchild of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, is an innovative way for communities to reclaim the street without the red tape of local bureaucracy. Groups or businesses can request a public plaza, parklet, or bike corral to be installed in their neighborhood or in front of a shop using a simple proposal form requesting one of a variety of preapproved designs. Plaza conversions, which are the largest of the projects and involve closing an existing street to vehicular traffic, are based on the success of the Sunset Triangle Plaza in Silver Lake. Design renderings are hot off the press for the first three new plazas opening through the People Street program, which will be located in the relatively underserved neighborhoods of Pacoima, North Hollywood, and South Los Angeles.

A view of Sunset Triangle Plaza. Photo courtesy People Street.

San Francisco was one of the early pioneers of the parklet approach: designing a tiny park to fit inside an existing curbside parking spot. These upcycled spaces may contain street furniture, landscaping, gardens, games, workout equipment, or sidewalk dining patios. Last year, San Francisco went a step further by adjusting their parking requirements to allow private garages to transform into store fronts, bike parking, or live-in studios. So far, Reveille Coffee and Beso have taken full advantage of these zoning fixes by setting up shop in residential garages in the Castro District. Their gorgeous and efficient interiors would melt the heart of the most stolid parking grinch.

Could you guess the Rayette Lofts building was once a parking garage?

The ultimate challenge is the reuse of large parking structures. In Minneapolis, several developers have submitted proposals to convert existing garages into housing or office space. The most successful of these projects, the Rayette Lofts in Saint Paul, was originally built as an industrial factory and warehouse, first for millinery and then cosmetics. Eventually the building ceded to the demands of Madame Automobile and became a multi-level parking structure, a tragically common fate for many downtown buildings in the United States. Now, more than a century after its initial construction, the Rayette Building has again been repurposed to serve the needs of a changing city, providing 88 new apartments with retail space on the ground floor.

Granted, most Americans are not ready to fully abandon cars, streets, or parking. The automobile remains the best transportation option in all but a few U.S. cities. However, we can strike a better balance with how we use the precious resource of space in our cities. By dedicating so much land to traveling comfortably and quickly by car, we miss out on using that land to create interesting places to travel to. While some communities may still require copious amounts of parking and travel lanes, others are developing different neighborhood priorities, like green space, local business presence, or better biking and walking infrastructure. We need to plan for flexibility, for the accommodation of what we cannot yet imagine. The future may look more like the “elastic environment” demonstrated by the 1111 Lincoln Road project in Miami. This revolutionary marvel features a sculpture-like parking structure that can transform into a multi-purpose venue for public use, while simultaneously providing retail, office, and residential space. Now that, dear reader, is magic.

An evening view of 111 Lincoln Road's magical, multi-functional structure.

Articles
via David Leavitt / Twitter

Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that the worst thing about the job, right after the pay, are the unreasonable cheapskates who "want to talk to your manager" to get some money off an item.

They think that throwing a tantrum will save them a few bucks and don't care if they completely embarrass themselves in the process. Sometimes that involves belittling the poor employee who's just trying to get through their day with an ounce of dignity.

Twitter is rallying around a gal named Tori who works at a Target in Massachusetts after she was tweet-shamed by irate chapekate, journalist, and Twitter troll, David Leavitt.

Keep Reading
Business

Childbirth is the number one reason American women visit the hospital, and it ain't cheap. In fact, it's getting more and more expensive. A new study published in Health Affairs found that the cost of having a baby with employer-sponsored health insurance increased by almost 50% in the past seven years.

The study evaluated "trends in cost-sharing for maternity care for women with employer-based health insurance plans, before and after the Affordable Care Act," which was signed into law in 2010. The study looked at over 657,061 women enrolled in large employer-sponsored health insurance plans who delivered babies between 2008 and 2015, as these plans tend to cover more than plans purchased by small businesses or individuals.

Keep Reading
Health

A meteorite crashed into Earth nearly 800,000 years ago. The meteor was 1.2 miles wide, and the impact was so big, it covered 10% of the planet with debris. However, scientists haven't been able to find the impact site for over a century. That is, until now. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal believes the crash site has been located.

Tektites, which are essentially rocks that have been liquefied from the heat of the impact and then cooled to form glass, help scientists spot the original impact site of a meteor. Upon impact, melted material is thrown into the atmosphere, then falls back to the ground. Even if the original crater has disappeared due to erosion or is hidden by a shift in tectonic plates, tektites give the spot away. Tektites between 750,000 to 35.5 million years old have been found in every continent except Antarctica.

Keep Reading