graphing parking

Graphing Parking is a site dedicated to visualizing the wonkery laid out in Don Shoup’s tome The High Cost of Free Parking.  It maps out visually the requirements that different cities have for parking associated with various land uses all over the country.  Occasionally they make sense…. but generally, it’s a random city destroying mess.

Unlocking Home

Alan Durning from Seattle’s Sightline Institute has put together a 50 page eBook polemic called Unlocking Home that explores and advocates for three simple code changes many North American cities could make, to almost instantly create hundreds of thousands if not millions of affordable residential units in our existing cities, without requiring subsidies or even much construction.  They all center around bringing back historical dwelling forms that have provided intrinsically affordable housing for as long as people have lived in cities, and eschewing our current habit of legally mandating middle-class norms of desirability for everyone, regardless of their own personal taste or economic means.

First, he advocates re-legalizing rooming/boarding houses in which private sleeping/living areas share some common spaces and amenities (bathrooms, kitchens, courtyards, laundry facilities, gardens, etc.).  This type of living arrangement provided affordable housing for not just the poor, but working class singles and the young and upwardly mobile in North American cities for a century or more, before it was shut down for largely racist reasons in the 1920s, with the advent of “modern” zoning laws.

Second, (in a chapter which is posted in full on Shareable) he says we should decriminalize roommates — in Cascadia alone he estimates that there are roughly 5 million bedrooms in which nobody is sleeping, partly because of occupancy limits which prohibit non-family members living together.  Even if only a small fraction of those rooms got rented out, it would be a vast affordable housing resource.  Boulder has exactly the same kind of laws, and they make creating a (legal) housing co-op here nearly impossible.

Third, he points out the latent sub-lot-scale infill capacity that converted garages, basements, carriage houses, garden cottages, and other Accessory/Auxiliary Dwelling Units (ADUs) represent. Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood — a low-rise area filled with 2 and 3 bedroom duplexes built in the 1920s — managed to illegally double its population density via ADUs by the 1980s, to about 13 dwelling units per acre, without altering the character of the neighborhood.  This density is enough to allow neighborhood retail and self-supporting full and frequent mass transit.  After the fact, Vancouver decided to decriminalize these accommodations, regularizing and then encouraging them — currently they’re debating whether to require new construction to be built such that conversion to ADUs is cheap and easy in the future.

These three code changes (along with the end of off-street parking requirements) are really the low hanging fruit of sustainable, affordable housing development.  Fixing these codes is just getting out of the way, allowing people to live modestly if they prefer to do so.  There are also much more aggressive and exciting ways forward, like the Baugruppen of Germany — collaborative, community-oriented owner-built urban infill developments that now house hundreds of thousands of people.

Someone Else’s Blank Slate

The Long Now has a good post on their blog summarizing the fate of Paul Romer’s Charter City initiative in Honduras.  In short, it’s gone down in flames.  Especially with the ideas and capital coming from N. America, this really shouldn’t surprise anyone.  There’s a good core idea in Romer’s Charter City pitch, but it has to be more like an organic autonomous region and less like a maquiladora or a colonial outpost.

E.ON lobbied for stiff sentences against Kingsnorth activists

German energy giant E.ON apparently lobbied cabinet ministers for stiff sentences against Kingsnorth activists, according to papers released under a FOIA style request made by Greenpeace.  The company suggested that without “dissuasive” sentences, they might be less willing to invest in generation facilities in the UK in the future.  Light sentences for non-violent direct action, and no more coal investment?  Sounds like a win-win to me.

HSBC is too big to jail

HSBC spent years laundering money for terrorist groups and drug cartels, with the complicity of top executives, and they will not be prosecuted, because they’re too important to the global economy, or some such bollocks.  Instead the bank will be fined the equivalent of one month’s worth of profits.  The plutocrats are above the law.  This story doesn’t end well.  For any of us.

On the Legality of Assassination by Flying Robot

A long but interesting (as well as horrifying) court decision pertaining to our government’s secret legal justifications for its extrajudicial assassinations by flying robot, the world over.  The judge is clearly infuriated by the situation.  Many thanks to the ACLU and my senator Mark Udall for fighting to get this stuff out in the open.

The FOIA requests here in issue implicate serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the US, and about whether we are indeed a nation of laws, not of men.  The Administration has engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways, generally without citing to any statute or court decision that justifies its conclusions…

However, this Court is constrained by law, and under the law, I can only conclude that the Government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the US.  The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules … I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.

Anti-drone street artist arrested in NYC for satirizing NYPD

A street artist in NYC has been arrested on 56 counts of forgery in connection with his campaign this fall, putting up posters around the city that satirized NYPD’s potential use of drones for surveillance.  Forensics teams and a counter-terrorism unit were deployed to apprehend him, at lord knows what expense to taxpayers… which would seem to justify his point about police overreach and the surveillance state.

To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

The NY Times looks at the trade-offs between requiring or encouraging helmet use, and actually getting people to ride bikes.  American Bike Advocate Sacrilege, perhaps, but I agree: if we want cycling to be mainstream everyday transportation, the helmets and the spandex are going to fall by the wayside, and that’s fine.  Promoting helmet use in the US has become a rational astrology: a norm we conform to no matter whether we believe it to be justified, because the social consequences of deviance are too large.

The Zero Carbon Compendium 2010

The UK has one of the world’s most aggressive building energy efficiency targets: all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016, and all new buildings to be zero carbon by 2019.  They’ve got a ways to go toward realizing this goal, but they’re doing what they can to learn from other countries in the meantime.  The Zero Carbon Compendium 2010 is a compilation of zero carbon building strategies and progress being made by nations all over the world.  A good look at what was already possible a couple of years ago… and it’s a lot more than we’re talking about doing here today.