Monday, September 26, 2011

Jane Jacobs. "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"....Summary for chapters 6 & 7

In this chapter Jane Jacob points out the importance of neighborhoods and its role in a city. She states that “ultimately our failed city neighborhoods are due to failed localized self-government.”
Before I write about my ideas about Jacobs’s observation I want to express my thoughts about neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods are very essential to people’s lives. Usually communities are formed in neighborhoods thus residents will share the same experience in the quality of their life such as jobs, schools, businesses and etc. Also if a crime takes place people in that community will be affected by it.
In this chapter Jacobs believes that there are three types of neighborhoods which are important for self-government. City as a whole, street neighborhoods, districts around 10,000 people.
She argues that districts should be between streets and the city in order to have safer community while bringing communities together.
The ideal neighborhood that I have seen which also falls into Jacobs category is city of Houten in the Netherlands. The neighborhoods are built in the way that they are interconnected while they are separated from each other. The connection comes through bicycle paths and also pedestrian paths. This connection allows residents in different neighborhoods to interact more with each other thus leading to an active community.
In the United States I have only lived in Portland for a few years and I have seen a few neighborhoods that falls into Jacobs’s category such as Pearl District.
Unfortunately neighborhoods from where I came from looks very different from Ideal neighborhoods mentioned above. Usually comminutes does not exist in neighborhoods and every decision is made by the government. The result is that there are not many interactions between neighborhoods and residents. One of the examples that I experienced in my visit to Iran was that there was new signal placed at the entry of a highway just a block from my house. Because of the queue that was made due to the installation of that signal cars were taking a shortcut through my street. That just turned a quiet and clean street to a dirty, noisy and dangerous street. Since there is no community, every neighbor had to sign a letter asking for a change on that matter. Off course nothing changed and everything got worst. That’s when localized self-government is really needed to assure the safety and comfort of communities.

In chapter 7 Jacobs suggests conditions for city diversity that will lead to a lively city. She states that districts must serve more than one primary function so that people could use common facilities at different times. Second point, she mentioned that blocks should be short in order to increase social activities and interaction between people. Her third argument was about buildings and their ages. She stated that buildings should vary in their age in order to accommodate different people and business based on the affordability. Her last argument is that there should be a dense concentration of people in order to have a lively city.
I agree with her. Again a good example would be Iran. It’s been a trend for many years that areas with new buildings and fancy businesses should be located where reach people lives and in contrast the old buildings and business should be located where poor people lives. That’s the main reason there is a huge difference between the levels of people. When there is great amount of difference between people’s levels in a city it will lead to more crimes and unsafe community. Diversity plays an important role for communities to interact with each other and learn about different cultures and life styles in order to adopt a safe and great city.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thoughts about The New York Times article. "Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy"

This blog covers my thoughts about a recent article “Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy” from “The New York Times”.
For many decades having a cleaner air and having less traffic in cities has been a challenging problem for government officials, engineers and city planners.
It’s known that one of the important facts in having cleaner air is to have less motorized vehicles in the street since motorized vehicles produces emissions.
According to U.S Environmental Protection Agency, “Transportation sources emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. In 2008, transportation sources contributed approximately 27 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation is also the fastest-growing source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 47 percent of the net increase in total U.S. emissions since 1990, and is the largest end-use source of C02, which is the most prevalent greenhouse gas”.
Now let’s thinks about this as an equation:
Motorized vehicles produce emissions, traffic increases motorized vehicles, emission increases and finally emission is bad for health! So what is the solution?
Well, it’s simple. The usage of motorized vehicles should decrease. I know it’s easy to say this fact but it’s very challenging to adopt this in the major cities of the world.  
In order to solve this equation highly education is needed. People from young age should know that cars produce emissions and its going to be bad for their health thus they should learn the alternatives instead of using cars. This is like teaching a kid the basics of math before they start middle school. If a 12 year old does not know the basics then how can they solve an equation! I learned that in the Netherlands 4th graders have a course for bicycle riding and they will get certified at the end of the term. They learn all about the benefits of bicycle riding as well as the harmful cause of vehicles.
I remember when I was a kid all I could think of was learning how to drive a car. I learned how to drive when I was 9. Nobody ever told me that driving a car will produce emissions and it’s bad for health. It was one of my happiest days when my father bought me a car. And I used to travel with it for even a 500 meter distance.
Now let’s look at my country, Iran and its air quality problems. Iran is ranked 8th in the world as producing emissions and it produces 538,404 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year! That is a lot! 
Below you can see two simple pictuers of traffic in Iran which is not only in rush hours. It continues from early morning to 10 pm.


I just came back from a visit to Iran and the moment I stepped out of the plain I could feel that breathing is not normal there. I read an article that stated, “If you sit down and breathe from near a car exhaust, it’s cleaner than the air in the city that people breathe”!
Going back to the article, it seems that Europe is doing a great job reducing traffic. For example, drivers should pay expensive congestion charges while entering the heart of the city in London and Stockholm. That is a great idea. If I know that my car expenses is much more than a train ride in order to get to the city then I would use the train.
Another example from the article was from Zurich’s busiest squares which it seems that cars are banned on many blocks which will lead to a cleaner air and less traffic in the city.
Recently in Iran they started a strategy which is called “even and odd”. The strategy was cars with an odd number at the end of their license plate could only travel in the odd days of the week and vice versa for even numbers. The only free day was holiday which is Friday in Iran. It worked at the beginning but that strategy did not continue to work since the amount of cars were increasing day by day.
Having said all these facts I should point that the Irking drivers should be a policy however in order to do that great facilities are needed such as a good public transportation system and also a good bicycle facility. If these facilities are available for people I am sure we would see the shift towards using less personal cars and having a cleaner environment.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Jane Jacobs. "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"....Summary for chapter 4

The main point that Jacobs argues in this chapter is comparing safety of children in parks and playgrounds versus city sidewalks. She argues that parks and play grounds are dangerous environment for children to play and instead they should play on city sidewalks so in case of an emergency they can reach for help.
Personally I disagree with her on this matter. I think city sidewalks most of the time are more dangerous than parks and play grounds. Let’s consider this question. How big should a side walk be in order to be safe for children and have a pleasant environment for them? Well it should be big enough so they could have the space for running and being active as they could be in a park or playground. I don’t think there are a lot of these kinds of sidewalks around the globe.
In parks or playgrounds there is no need to be worried about cars. That is a very important matter. City sidewalks are surrounded by cars, busses, bikes and even trucks and history has shown many fatal accidents which involved a child playing on street or running for their ball.
Jacobs mentioned a gang battle in 1959 which led to the death of a 15 year old girl. This battle happened in a park in New York. I admit that parks are often a place for crimes and drug dealing and etc. I was a victim of this act about 15 years ago when I was 13. I was coming back from a soccer play and I decided to take a shortcut through the park which I got rubbed and got threaten with a knife. From that day I never went to that park again. My point is that if we are worried and concerned about the safety of our children we should have the right facilities for them. A good example is city of Houten in Holland. Play grounds and basketball courts and soccer fields were all surrounded by houses which created a very pleasant environment for children’s to play without being scared or worried about their safety.
Children’s need space in order to play and have fun. Sidewalks will not satisfy their need. City sidewalks should be a nice environment for people to walk shop and sit down at a restaurant and enjoy their day.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Jane Jacobs. "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"....Summary for chapters 1-3

This blog is basically my thoughts about 3 chapters of Jane Jacobs’s book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities".

First a little information about Jane Jacobs:
She was born in May 1916. She was an American-Canadian writer and her primary interest was communities and urban planning.
She was well known for her efforts to block urban-renewal projects that would have destroyed local neighborhoods. In this book she attacks on the current city planning and re building in the United States. 
This book’s title is pretty simple. "Life and Death of Great American Cities", how could a city live or die? Well, its pointing to the fact that how could cities be great and how could they be not so good. The definition of cities being good or bad is a broad topic. Cities that are good could be categorized in how clean it is, how active it is, how much attraction it has, how big is the growth and etc.
As Jane Jacob says in her book "Cities are an immense laboratory of trial and error, failure and success, in city building and city design". Well that's true because if all the decision makers were able to implement the lesson learned from successful cities into their own cities then most of their problems would be solved.
Chapter 2 and 3 are mostly about usage of sidewalks and its safety. In my opinion sidewalks plays an important role in a livability and greatness of a city. Not only sidewalks connect roads but it also connects people, connects culture, attracts other people to the city and over all it keeps a city alive.
For example let’s think about Pearl District in Portland Oregon. When I walk in that area I feel the connection between people, shops, restaurants and its all there. Also it’s safe. As Jane Jacobs describe how eyes of people are on streets and if anything happens someone will see it, either a bar tender at a restaurant or a store manager or even a resident in one of the apartments.

Houten (The "BIKE" Heaven)

Start of our journey. As you can see Mr. Davis is thinking very deep!!

Our adventure in the Netherlands continued today by visiting a municipality called Houten which is located in the center of the Netherlands and it’s in the province of Utrecht
Houten was founded in 1867. In the 1960s, Houten was a very small village with an outdated road and an older train station but since Utrecht was located in the center of the Netherlands the government felt the need to add more housing due to the population growth. They thought it would be ideal to add housing for about 100,000 people, yet the people who lived in Houten in that time did not like the national government’s vision. There were discussions and a good deal of public process and finally a compromise to add population after 5 years of discussion. The outcome was that the city of Houten agreed to add 30,000 inhabitants in the south side and their condition was that they would build the housing themselves on their terms and they would not allow the government to interfere. That was when the first master plan was created, which started in 1975. After that was complete, a second part of their expansion happened from 1995 to 2007 and they added about 20,000 houses in the north side of Houten.

We were welcomed to Houten by Herbert Tiemens. He gave us a lecture about the city, its development, its highlights, the issues that they our facing and some statistics about Houten.

From Left: Herbert Tiemens, Peter Furth, Maria lijding 

After the lecture we went out on a scavenger hunt around city of Houten to explorer the so called city of “Bike Heaven”.

From Left: Will, Kate, Kirk, Pam and Ian

One of the interesting plans that city of Houten had was to build a ring structure city. That means having a segmented residential area in the middle and having a ring road around the city which was used only by cars. The advantage of this kind of structure would be for pedestrians and cyclist to have easy access from one neighborhood to another and also access to center of the city. At the moment, Houten has about 14 segments which each contain about 300 to 400 houses.

Ring structure and the communities that are located around the ring.

One of the smartest ideas in the development of the new train station was the bicycle parking which was located under the train station.  There are 3,100 spaces for bikes and it’s also free to park. This creates great accessibility to for the community. The parking is secure and monitored by an attendant. In addition to the bike parking a bike rental shop is located below the station. That is one way to encouarge people to use the bicycle in order to commute. If I am a tourist or even an employee at Houten whom lives outside Houten I could just take the train to Houten and rent a bike for couple of Euros per day and get to my desired destination.  This could be a great lesson for TriMet to use this kind of facility in order to promote bicycle riding in Oregon. If someone lives in Beaverton for example and plans to travel to downtown Portland they could easily use the MAX to commute to downtown and with paying just a few $ to rent a bicycle they can commute around downtown. This way not only they save fuel money but they also would save money for parking, reducing emission and etc.

Bike rental is located directly down the stairs of the station.

Most of the homes in Houten are attached or multi-family housing although there are some single family housing and it seems their yards aren't large enough since most of the yards was devoted to public space.


One of the other interesting observations that I had in Houten was the some interesting traffic signs that it was used along its route. The most interesting one was a sign that was posted to remind cars that bicycles are number one priority and they should not pass them. The direct translation of this sign is “Treat cyclist as guests”.

Treat cyclist as guests

Here's the perfect example of the application of the sign. You can see that the woman in the picture has done her shopping and cycling back to her next destination. The car behind her is not attempting to pass her. Like most of bicycle tracks in Netherlands red pavement signify that the road is a Bicycle Street and the shoulders means that slower speeds should be maintained. 

Car following a cyclist

Roundabouts play an important role in community planning for the Dutch. As I have seen much different type of roundabouts so far I observed another interesting round about which was only for bicycles and it was located below a turbo roundabout which was only for cars.
one roundabout for bikes and one for cars.

bicycle roundabout

Turbo roundabout.

One of key highlights of Houten is the title that they have for the bicycle riding and it’s known as “Bike Heaven”. That is really true. The greenery, the way that bike routes are connected to center of communities and passing through a lake is amazing and beautiful. While I was riding my bike around there it really felt like heaven around you.

Exiting lake near the bike route

bridge over the lake for bikes. 

Bike Heaven!

This is one of the views that you could get while riding your bike.

After a long bicycle ride there is need to divert to some fun and how can you do that in a middle of a long bicycle route? Well the answer is shown on this picture. Zip Line!

Mr. Davis Enjoying the zip line ride!

Monday, June 27, 2011

2 Days to Departure!

I am very exited. I have never been to Euruop. I cant wait to see it. There are many good things about this trip. I get to see part of Europe offcourse, also since its a 2 weeks course I get to see and learn many things regarding Netherlands and its culture, education, green houses, riding bicycle every day in the most beautiful nature of Netherlands and finally explore Transportation Engineering which includes public transportation, bicycle facilities, pedestrian facilities, signals and etc.
One thing to note is that at the moment I am living in a city which is number 1 in bike facilities and bike riding and also number 10 in  being the most walk able city  in the United States and  off course that would be Portland.
Having said that, Netherlands is known for its famous bicycle facilities also known as the heaven for bicyclist and overall their transportation facilities thus this trip gets more exiting and fun for me.
So far just packing and getting ready to leave. Trying be organized and have all the important things on site so I wont forget.