Oakland Cathedral

Another building I've been meaning to write about is the new Cathedral of Christ the Light on Lake Merritt, which opened three months ago now. Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for the New Yorker, put it on his ten best for 2008, which also includes the previously mentioned California Academy of Sciences.

I haven't yet been inside, but I find the exterior form-making and detailing wonderful. Some concerns have been expressed about the street wall facing Lake Merritt, but those are overblown. Cities can well accommodate the occasional spare street wall, and they are allowable when attached to significant cultural buildings. And here I find the base a serene mediator between the richness of the tower above and the activity on the adjacent streets, sidewalks and lake below.

I do have concerns about the effects of this building on the small churches (and thus on the neighborhoods) surrounding the new Cathedral, as outlined in this interesting article in the East Bay Express two and half years ago.


Life Without Buildings

I couldn't imagine Life Without Buildings, fortunately Jimmy Stamp can (well, sort of). I met Jimmy last week at the CAMP panel discussion. During the day he works for exhibit host Mark Horton / Architecture. On the side he writes for the deliciously snarky Curbed SF, a real estate blog that occasionally turns its gaze across the Bay to Oakland. He also has his own blog, where he delivers "observations on the built environment, with a penchant for pop culture and postmoderism."

Though not specifically a place-based blog, the largest word in his tag cloud is San Francisco, so OSA readers should find something of local interest from time to time. Second is New Orleans, reflecting the home he left after Hurrican Katrina. I also learned from talking to him that he even has a little Milwaukee love.

I've checked out his blog from time to time for a while, and you can now find a link to it at right under Architecutre + Urbanism. A couple of my favorite local posts are one from a year ago on the closure of the Bay Bridge and another exploring the ruins of Sutro Baths. There is also his review of the My Bloody Valentine show at the San Francisco Design Center a couple months back, which makes me sorry to have missed it.

dKos and blogOaksphere

Last week A Better Oakland gave a little love to local bloggers. I thought I had a decent handle on most of the blogoaksphere, but in that post V Smoothe turned me onto at least a few I hadn't even known about and reminded me of several more I hadn't really checked. Again I ask, how does she do it?

Then, just hours later Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of dailyKos, gave several different local bloggers a little love of his own. And yesterday, lo and behold, more love.

I've been a reader of dKos for years and apparently he lives just a block into Berkeley and thus identifies with some of the issues Oakland faces. With politics at the national level largely on track, it probably won't be long before he gives up the whole thing and starts a blog called the Lorin Local, the Newbury News, or the Harmon Holla, depending on where exactly he lives.


Ashby Station Meeting 03

Tuesday night is the third meeting on plans to modernize BART's Ashby Station. After the first meeting went so poorly, I told BART director Lynette Sweet that this was a small project and at most it should take a couple meetings and we seemed on track for half a dozen. You can find some of my thoughts on that first meeting here and here, but I was too depressed after the second meeting to even post my thoughts.

I am a huge fan of BART, and I think Sweet has is an engaged public advocate with good ideas, but I've lost a lot of respect for them in this process. Not only because of whom they choose to associate with, but also that there were numerous pleas months ago now to take steps to slow traffic on Adeline Street with the increased pedestrian traffic due to the construction of the Ed Roberts campus, and still nothing has been done.

I was expecting a documentary, but this process began as a drama, evolved into a comedy, and looks to become a farce. With Becks reminding me of the consequences that occur from a lack of pedestrian safety measures in our planning policies, one just hopes it doesn't end up a tragedy.


Archidose 273

Last month I visited the new California Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The building was recently featured on Daily Dose of Architecture (general link at right) as Archidose 273.

I haven't yet found the time to write more about it. So this post is mostly a way to have that gorgeous image at the top of my blog for a day or two.


CAMP v. Kitsch

I honestly don't know enough about Gap founder Don Fisher's proposal, designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, for the Contemporary Art Museum Presidio (CAMP) to comment with much intelligence on the merits of the proposed design or the seemingly ever-shifting site. But it is not for lack of dramatic coverage in local and national media. I'm certainly sympathetic to modern and contemporary buildings sited adjacent to traditional and historic ones, but CAMP's critics might be right in their claims that this proposal would overwhelm the historic main post, unnecessarily destroy an archeological site and some historic buildings, and be far from good public transport.

I do know Fisher's approach has been all wrong. He marched in, with the typical tone-deaf bluster of an executive accustomed to getting his way, site pre-selected and an architect's presentation-ready design in hand, and seemingly expected San Franciscans to say "thank you very much, Mr. Fisher, and may I get you a drink?"

And of course he has every right to do this. Fisher is set to exhibit an outstanding collection of contemporary art for the world to see and he is willing to pay for the building to house it. But not if he wants to actually see his museum built, especially in the Presidio.

A far better approach would have more closely resembled an interesting exhibit, CAMP: Reconsidered, that opened a few weeks ago and runs until December 23rd at gallery 3A. Mark Horton runs gallery 3A as a side project of his architectural studio. Located on South Park (think Colby Park, but with small workshops and a bistro) in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, gallery 3A focuses on bridging the world of architects with that of the general public, a mission I obviously share.

Tonight at 7:00 is a panel discussion on the exhibit, in which ten local architects were asked to run wild with ideas for a museum in the Presidio. Gallery 3A is about a fifteen minute walk from BART's Montgomery Station and should make for an interesting evening for anyone who likes architecture, galleries or beautiful small urban spaces.


Oakland Exodus

The Oakland blogosphere is atwitter this week with discussion of the essay by Susan Gluss on why she moved from Oakland to Greenbrae, which I'd never heard of but is just south of San Rafael. Her words appear on page 2 of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle's Insight section, opposite another column by Chip Johnson on page 3 detailing the impacts of crime in Oakland. The Insight section features a forboding cover photo with the words "Crime and Exodus | When a Lover of Oakland Can't Take it Anymore."

Whatever you think of her decision, it is hard not to sympathize with Gluss. In what seems like a matter of months (she doesn't quite say), her car was broken into twice, her home once, and her wallet stolen. But it is also hard not to notice how dumb she seems. Her wallet was taken out of her purse right in front of her at a local club. She apparently left her doors unlocked at home to allow a thief in without her knowing until she opened her (empty) jewelry box. Finally, her car was broken into after she left her purse inside in plain sight. A dweller of any urban area will tell you that these are all things you just don't do, whether you live in Cambridge, San Francisco, Oakland, or Kalamazoo. Or even Greenbrae.

But her worst offense is that she then goes on to equate these relatively minor, everyday urban cirmes with the stray bullet from an armed gas station robbery that hit a young boy practicing piano at a music studio across the street on Piedmont Avenue. She implies that it was this incident, as well as persuasion from "an eccentric old friend"(?) that finally prompted her move.

In a discussion on the open thread at A Better Oakland, Navigator begins by blaming the SF Chronicle for its anti-Oakland bias, Max Allstadt thinks the problem is the "it bleeds it leads" media mentality, while V Smoothe sympathizes with those who leave Oakland and sees these essays as admonishing the city to get its act together. I think all three of these views have merit, so I'd like to unpack them a bit. Overall, I think V Smoothe is right. The media focus on crime is on balance good for the city, by highlighting real problems it has. Crime in Oakland is higher than other places; it does us no good to look the other way or keep quiet about it.

But the points Max and Navigator make also have validity. The most interesting analysis of crime coverage in Oakland I've heard was a couple years ago by a spokesperson for Forest City Development discussing their Uptown project. She pointed out that when you hear about crime in Oakland, it happens in Oakland. Whereas when you here about crime in San Francisco, it is typically attributed to a specific neighborhood, usually Bayview-Hunter's Point or maybe the Tenderloin. Max makes a similar point in that the reputation of all of Oakland is bad, while those of us who live here know better - there are both good and bad places, but most fall somewhere inbetween.

I don't think this is so much a conspiracy as a function of distance, from which you always see less detail. It would be nice if the SF Chronicle and other news media reported crime in Oakland by neighborhood, but the reality is that a huge majority of people have no idea where Temescal or Dimond is, which is why at best you see Oakland organized into the three broad neighborhoods (which I hate) of North, East, and West. So Navigator is right to recognize the Bay Area media bias against Oakland, but wrong on its origins and thus, on solutions. The solution to this particular media bias is to practice and insist upon greater specificity, which is a good habit to be in anyways.

Certainly this is an uphill climb. I mentioned the cover of the Insight section, which featured the words "Crime and Exodus." Exodus, as commonly defined, involves a mass movement of people from an area. The whole Insight section references just two people, Susan Gluss and Marcus Alvarez, whom Chip Johnson mentions. Two people does not an exodus make. To argue the existence of an exodus from Oakland due to crime, in addition to the helpful but ultimately inadequate anecdotes, the SF Chronicle should offer statistics. Most major cities in the U.S. are holding or even slightly increasing their population, nearly everyone interested in cities knows this. And in approximately 75 seconds of research, I found out that according to the U.S. Census bureau, Oakland actually gained about 2,000 residents between the last official census in 2000 and its estimate for 2007 - hardly an exodus. This is what true lovers of Oakland are up against.

Which brings me to what I think is the best response I've seen to the Gluss essay. It was a letter to the editor that appeared in the SF Chronicle on Tuesday (you'll need to scroll down to the bottom to see it) written by Lori Fogarty, the director of the Oakland Museum of California. Fogarty points out that Gluss didn't seem to love Oakland enough to get involved and improve it, which "is required of citizens in any urban city." And that is the message we should take away from the media's frustratingly vague reporting of crime in Oakland. Big, diverse, vibrant cities like Oakland offer many things other places cannot, but they require something of their residents in return. As Fogarty encapsulates in the last line of her letter, Oakland is "a long way from Greenbrae, in more ways than the commute."


Temescal Library Reception

The Oakland Tribune reminds me that on Wednesday night the Temescal Branch of the Oakland Public Library will be hosting a free reception from 6:00 to 8:00 to celebrate it's 90th anniversary. The library was dedicated on 1918 December 10, and built with funds from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, which supported the construction of over 2,500 libraries during the late 1800s and early 1900s, now known as "Carnegie Libraries".

At the reception will be a display showing the impact of the Carnegie Libraries nationwide and an exhibit highlighting the historical changes in Temescal over the last ninety years, as well as artistic workshops.

So if you are interested in libraries, would like to learn more about the history of Temescal, or just want to rub elbows with some of the heppest cats around - librarians, head on over to the intersection of Telegraph, Claremont, and 52nd on Wednesday night.


To the East...

Last night I had dinner at little Mexican place called El Huarache Azteca. My companions and I got there a little after the dinner rush, around 8:00 pm and I was amazed at the number of people out and about on International Boulevard. I get to neither that often, but to my eye Fruitvale rivals Chinatown for the most urban neighborhood in Oakland. Both always seem to have so many people on their sidewalks.

It reminded me of some recent comments on local blogs (one of which I can find and another I can't) regarding the lack of connections between many East Oakland neighborhoods and the rest of the City. I admit to knowing very little about these neighborhoods, especially those south and east of Frutivale and Redwood Heights.

So I consider this my project for the upcoming year, to spend more time in East Oakland neighborhoods (and learn their individual names), will you help? Comment or email me with your suggestions of places to go, things to do, and neighborhoods to check out.


Safeway or Work

With different guests staying at my place for most of the last two weeks postings have been light, but Becks reminds me that tonight is the last stakeholders working group meeting for the expansion of the College Avenue Safeway. I went to the last meeting October 22 and had some thoughts I have yet to post (how does V Smoothe do it?), but hope to soon.

In that same post Becks mentions another event tonight, CRE8 at Swarm Gallery, for those more interested in art than planning and development. Another option for those interested in architecture (unfortunately Safeway seems not to offer much), is a lecture at UC-Berkeley by New York-based Work Architecture Company, who won the NYCMoMA / P.S. 1 Young Architects Program competition this year with their project Public Farm 1 (image above). The lecture is at 7:00 pm at 112 Wurster Hall on campus.

Tonight being my last guest's final night in town, I won't be making it to any of the events this evening. But Thursday I hope to make it down to the Mix It Up East Bay to hear V and meet some of the kids.


185 Post Street

Though it is one of the most important metropolitan regions of the country, the Bay Area is still lucky to have an architecture and urban design critic writing for one of its daily papers. This type of position has been in decline for decades, with fewer big city newspapers maintaining staff to review and critique cultural production. And while I subscribe and enjoy reading it daily, the San Francisco Chronicle is no NYTimes, LATimes, or Chicago Tribune, whose home cities are large enough and their writing serious enough to find it unthinkable that they wouldn't comment on new buildings and projects.

It might just be because the Raiders and 49ers are so bad this year, but the SFChron sports pages are home to some of its most thoughtful and critical writing. But I find their constant rah-rah of Silicon Valley grating, and the cult of personality exhibited in the Food and Wine sections annoying. All of which is a roundabout way of introducing John King's excellent column Tuesday on 185 Post Street. I have my quibbles with his writing; too often he waxes poetic on the urban experience. But when he sinks his teeth into a straight-up architectural critique he can frame interesting issues I hadn't considered and illuminate ideas latent in the buildings and spaces surrounding us.

Working in San Francisco the last few years, I had the pleasure of watching 185 Post Street transform from a dull workaday building into a commercial jewel. Designed by Brand + Allen Architects, the taut glass facade contrasts with both the encased inner structure and the surrounding masonry buildings in a completely compelling way. As King alludes, it is a building begging to be viewed from numerous angles and at differing times of the day, especially at twilight, when its lighting and translucency interplay to remarkable effect.

King mentions a previous proposal on this site by Rem Koolhaas for a new building with a steel facade punched with 8,000 portholes, comparing favorably this work of locals with what might have been. And I couldn't agree more, this building is "every bit as good." He continues, "if not as a work of architectural theory, then as a fresh twist on the preservation" referring to Koolhaas' reputation for enlightening observations on contemporary cities and culture. But here King discounts this building, and at the same time inflates Koolhaas. This is an interesting work of architectural theory, including the theory of preservation. It also references the role of modernism in our post-modern age, and the possibilities for the modern (and post-modern) to co-habitate with and also transform the traditional in the contemporary city. As such, this truly is a theoretically challenging piece of post-modern architecture. Which of course is the kind of architecture also practiced by Koohaas.

Just because Koonshing Wong, the lead designer for the project at Brand + Allen, hasn't written a bunch of theoretical books doesn't make it any less a work of architectural theory. And the theory Koolhaas expounds has always been more about urbanism than the architectural anyways.

Though King laments the subversion of Wong's original idea to leave the brick facade of the existing building unpainted, this was a happy accident. It improved the architecture; the building wouldn't be nearly as "ethereal" with a rough brick facade behind the smooth glass wall. And had the brick been left unpainted, the idea may have been too literal, and thus worked less well on a theoretical level.

As it happened, the brick was first "encased" in a traditional material - paint, before being surrounded by glass, a modern material. Which added another level of reading to this building, strengthening the argument. And making it a joy to behold.


The Living

If you were like most architects starting a practice and needing to call it something, you'd probably use your name and add "architects", "architecture", or maybe "studio" after to let the people know what you do. If you wanted to sound a bit more like an artisan, with a yeoman connection to the craftsmen who construct your designs, you might use your name but call it a building workshop. If later you added a couple of partners, became an office of some stability, and began to take on more corporate and institutional clients, maybe you'd be a three-letter firm. And if you wanted to project a cool, detached demeanor, sound more arty, and benefit from a calculated obscurity, you might choose a self-consciously generic name.

But if you wanted to transcend all that, and sound like you could be a German new wave punk rock band, or a 70's art and media group that drove a Cadillac through a wall of burning televisions, or a collective of cyborgs bent on assimilating the universe, you'd call yourself The Living.

And you'd be speaking tonight (Monday) at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco at 7 pm.


BRT Redundancy

Partially in response to numerous comments on the original post (and perhaps my own post on the topic), a few days ago V Smoothe reiterated that AC Transit's BRT proposal does not mimic the BART Richmond-Fremont line. The most compelling argument being that while the proposed BRT route mirrors the BART line, the service does not. It is an important distinction, and also correct as far as it goes. The problem is, it doesn't go very far.

In that post, V Smoothe laid out arguments for why the first BRT line should go in the BART Richmond-Fremont corridor, mostly having to do with the huge percentage of Oaklanders who live within a half mile of the corridor and the fact that existing bus routes through the corridor make up a large percentage (though smaller, hmm...?) of AC Transit ridership. Additionally, V Smoothe points out that the East Bay's largest employment centers also lie in this corridor. All of which are great arguments for locating the first BRT route as AC Transit has, if the BART Richmond-Fremont line did not exist.

V Smoothe uses an example to make the point, but one I think equally illustrates the potential of less costly means for achieving similar service. The example is one of traveling from downtown Oakland to 46th and Foothill on a weekday afternoon. On BART, the trip to Fruitvale takes 7 minutes. From Fruitvale station there are 3 existing bus routes (1, 14, 47) within 2 blocks of 46th and Foothill. Currently on a weekday afternoon, routes 1 & 14 have 15 minute headways and route 47 has a 30 minute headway. Given that, you'd expect to wait about 10 minutes for a bus at Fruitvale station, and the trip itself would likely take no more than 10 minutes. Which makes me wonder why V Smoothe would not take BART on this trip.

Looking more closley, the AC Transit online schedule tells us both routes 14 & 47 leave Fruitvale station (their origin) at 3:06, the exact time a BART train arrives from downtown Oakland. Perhaps someone interested in defending the decision making of AC Transit can explain why they don't leave at 3:10, as the BART headways for the line at this time are exactly 15 minutes as well. To me, this is inexplicable. The closest timepoint for AC Transit's 1 route puts it at 23rd and International (umm...why isn't the timepoint at 34th and International, essentially Fruitvale station?) at 3:02, which would put it at Frutivale station about 3:06 as well. And so now we understand why V Smoothe did not take BART for this trip. It is because AC Transit does not even bother to coordinate their schedules with BART.

And yet we are supposed to trust an organization that exhibits this kind of decision making (elaborated on in my previous post) with a capital-intensive improvement program that will reshape numerous neighborhoods along its route. Frankly, it hard for me to understand where the support for this BRT proposal is coming from, as AC Transit has been making such poor decisions of late.

Imagine if we could convince people in Washington D.C. (from where the BRT money is coming) that we know better how to spend this money. And so instead of spending it on the massive capital improvements this BRT proposal requires, we added buses, increased and expanded service feeding BART stations, and better coordinated transfers between AC Transit and BART. My guess is we could easily achieve the same level of service in the corridor, if not improve it with more and better routes perpendicular to it, and have enough money left over to better serve other routes and areas as well.

V Smoothe makes another point in support of this BRT proposal, mentioned briefly above, which I think can also be used to argue against it, the fact that this corridor contains the East Bay's largest employment centers. All are well served by BART stations. Which suggests the alternate proposal outlined above could work, because as V Smoothe rightly points out, most riders on the proposed BRT are going to/from work. And so these riders would only be required to make one transfer (at most), from a bus route near their home to/from a BART station. Now obviously it is better to have no transfers, but devising such a system is prohibitively costly. And it is the difference between one transfer and two where a transport system really begins to exhibit gross inefficiencies.

The example provided here is one of someone who now drives to MacArthur station to take BART to downtown Oakland, but might switch to BRT. But this hypothetical person only switches to BRT if they live along the BRT route and near another proposed BRT station. If instead s/he lives at 46th and Adeline, the proposed BRT doesn't much help. What would help is a feeder service that ran down Market and fed into MacArthur station or more frequent service down San Pablo on route 72 (which goes directly downtown Oakland), both of which would likely be possible if we didn't spend all this money on the capital improvements required by BRT. This is what I mean when I discuss the opportunity costs of BRT.

At the end of the day, I agree with supporters of BRT that transit service in this corridor should be vastly improved. In fact I believe transport funding in our country should be massively shifted in favor of transit (and the repair of existing streets and sidewalks) and away from the expansion and creation of new roads, where much of our spending now goes. What I disagree with is the most effective way to improve service in this corridor. Or rather, I am unsure what the most effective way of doing this is. And it is the responsibility of its supporters to explain why they think BRT is the most effective way of improving service in this corridor. As yet, I haven't seen that argument; I am still waiting.


Bus Rapid Transit 001

Last Saturday there was a meeting regarding AC Transit's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposals hosted by Jane Brunner. Despite being reminded by Future Oakland and Living in the O, I missed the meeting. This topic has interested me for a while, and is one I've been learning about and forming opinions on for some time, but I wanted to attend this meeting to make sure I wasn't missing something. Because the opinions I have been forming are dangerously similar to a typical Berkeley conservative nimby, and frankly I am not at all comfortable with that.

Fortunately, Living in the O provided a great rundown of the meeting the next day. And Wednesday a post at A Better Oakland moved me toward BRT like nothing I'd read yet. As I mentioned in comments at both blogs, I am skeptical. But I am also a huge supporter and user of public transport, and willing to be convinced I have it wrong. So consider this a snapshot of where my head is at right now.

My first exposure to AC Transit's BRT proposal was through graphic design. I noticed the bus signs for the Rapid service, probably on the 1 and 72 routes, because they are so dang ugly. On this you can't change my mind, no matter how many cupcakes you give me.

My second experience was much better. Several weeks ago, on a weekday late morning, I needed to go from Uptown Oakland to San Pablo Park in south Berkeley, located between San Pablo and Sacramento Streets just north of Ashby. Now this isn't a trip I normally make, so when I got to the Uptown Transit Center (UTC) I looked at the map and figured out I could take the 72. I didn't bother to check NextBus or the posted schedule, because I find neither seem to correspond with the other, and often around town the schedules posted at individual stops don't correspond with those online. Thus the only schedule-related thing I typically do with AC Transit is note the headway and pray I'm on the short end of it.

As luck would have it, the first bus to arrive was a 72R. It was wonderful. We flew down San Pablo, not once pulling over for someone just resting at a random bus stop. Now because the online schedule for the 72R does not list individual stops (arrgghhh!) I don't know how much time I saved, but for the 72 that trip is scheduled at 19 minutes, I'm guessing mine was more like 12 minutes. There are two ways to look at that, both valid. On the one hand I only saved 7 minutes, on the other, my transport time was reduced by 37%, though when you factor in my walk on either end and wait time for the bus, it was probably more like 15% (7-8 minutes on either end, with a 5 minute wait). But regardless, it was great.

There are so many aspects to the AC Transit BRT proposal it is hard to know where to start. So let me just begin with the route. It is redundant to the BART Richmond-Fremont line. Now at that link, you'll find some decent arguments for why it is not redundant, but regardless of your take, the redundancy issue is the reason why it was a mistake to make this the first route. I agree with those who argue that BRT can fill a need between BART and standard local bus service. The problem is that there are several major East Bay corridors (San Pablo, MacArthur/I-580) that don't have BART service. And so, if AC Transit was interested in vastly improving transit service in the EB, it would have located the first BRT line there. They didn't, and this goes to my next point.

AC Transit is simply not making good decisions right now. I've already discussed the choice of the first BRT route and the graphic design of the Rapid, and the Van Hool debacle has already been well documented, but there are others. Some people seem to disagree, but NextBus rarely works for me. I often take the 15 or 18 lines home from the downtown Oakland YMCA in the early evening, and on occasion I'll get there and it says the next bus will be 25 minutes out, even though the headways are supposed to be 15 minutes. Before, I would turn around and go to BART. For me the timing is about the same, but the bus shortens my walk, and I don't fear my safety so much as I'm lazy. But then one time after seeing 25 minutes or so on NextBus, the bus showed up as I was walking back to BART. And now, though I see 25 minutes or some crazy number that doesn't even correspond to the posted headway somewhat regularly I just wait, and sure enough, mostly a bus arrives in 5-10 minutes.

And AC Transit has schedule problems beyond NextBus as well. I used to take the F line into San Francisco fairly regularly during my morning commute. Again the timing is about the same as BART, but it is a lot nicer getting a seat and seeing the beautiful SF Bay in the morning, rather than standing in a tube at the bottom of it. But the schedule posted at the bus stop doesn't correspond to the schedule online. I've noticed this at other bus stops around town as well. Of course for the F line I quickly learned which one to believe (online), because I was a regular user of that line. But the schedules posted at bus stops aren't for regular users, they are for people find themselves needing to get someplace they may not ordinarily go from a place they may not ordinarily be in, and who may be trying transit for the first time. Having the wrong schedules posted at bus stops makes an awful impression.

I already mentioned the graphic design of the Rapid service, but the whole of AC Transit's design program is just awful. Take the new Translink cards, which I find to be generally useful, but the graphic design is terrible. Aside from the insipid green psuedo-futuristic image that looks like it was pulled off clipart, nothing about the card tells me it is for the Bay Area, and not Los Angeles, Denver, or Kolkata. Now for the most part, this card can be hidden away in your wallet or purse. But unfortunately the Uptown Transit Center (UTC) cannot.

And the UTC is dreadful. Certainly, as Becks mentioned in comments at A Better Oakland, it is safer than the alternative of waiting a few blocks away, but why does it have to be so ugly? Regardless of what you happen to think of the architectural style of the shelters (me, not much), why do they have to be painted in the same green as nearly every other municipal project built in the last two decades? Why do I have to approach each shelter to find out which buses stop there, instead of being able to read the whole with some bold graphic initiative? And why do I have to wait to board the bus to pay, instead of paying ahead of time at some cool shelter like they have in Curitiba (image above). The answer to all these questions, as it turns out, is that the UTC was designed by FMG Architects, the same people AC Transit has retained to work on BRT, BART is using for Ashby Station, and apparently designed (to be fair, I haven't confirmed this but they have lots of similar projects) that awful parking garage in Dublin that everyone rightfully hates.

So I'm not hopeful for the physical designs of the new BRT system. I've been to two meetings now on Ashby Station, and I am floored by how bad they have both been. Aside from FMG's design abilities, these guys have awful presentation skills. They are defensive and condescending when criticized, and are always pleading that their designs are still in progress, and so can't be judged by the images they present. I remember using a similar argument in my first architectural studio at graduate school; it didn't go over so well.

Now if you squint at the image at top, you can see the BRT bus shelters FMG is proposing (inasmuch as they are willing to propose anything) and to me these look like standard issue shelters from 1993. BRT is going to have a huge impact on the neighborhoods whose streets are going to be ripped up and reconfigured, I think it is incumbent upon AC Transit to do better by them. I am thinking of what Minneappolis did when they built light rail. I can't find a decent link, but basically they hired the best and brightest local talent to design their shelters. And mostly, they are gorgeous.

A bus shelter is the perfect size and scale for an unestablished architect to try their hand. This kind of thing is done all over Europe, where small commissions are awarded to young, creative firms as a way to build local talent and prevent the stultifying suburban sameness that seems to accompany nearly every municipal project in our country. And larger projects are awarded by open design competitions. Renzo Piano, who designed the wonderful new California Academy of Sciences, got his start this way, winning the competition (with Richard Rogers and Peter Rice) to design Le Centre Pompidou in Paris at the age of 33. Thirty-three. And yet here, in the Bay Area, one of the wealthiest regions of the world, we get FMG Architects designing what seems to be dozens of crummy parking garages, transit centers, and government administration buildings. And so I fear the shelters and stations for the entire BRT system will be the same off-the-shelf municipal designs, with no sense of place because all of them will be essentially identical. I mean, gag me with a spoon!

I realize many people don't care much about these design criticisms, and find them frivolous or tangental. But one of the things people who love Oakland should care about is the experience of being in Oakland. And these criticisms go to that. I am concerned that BRT will make the experience of being in Oakland worse.

In addition to all these design crimes, BRT significantly reduces street parking in commercial corridors. I am not familiar with the whole of the route and how much parking will be eliminated and where, so I am just going to focus on the situation in Temescal, which I think I know fairly well. It is my understanding that the basic BRT street section in Temescal will be two bus lanes down the middle, with a median on either side, separating a lane of traffic each way, and no street parking.

There are plenty of people who argue that eliminating parking will hurt businesses and that moving to one lane of traffic each direction will cause terrible congestion. I am not one of them. I think congestion is good for cities like Oakland, and anyplace worth its salt has a "parking problem". Think about a couple of the best places in Oakland, upper College Avenue near Safeway and Grand Lake on a Saturday afternoon. Both are completely congested and hard to park at. So let me just say that I think less parking and more congestion in Temescal would be a good thing. But eliminating street parking is a huge psychological change in the makeup of the street. Instead of a barrier of cars protecting pedestrians on the sidewalk, they will be directly exposed to a lane of traffic, and those drivers will be more aggressive and agitated because congestion will be somewhat increased. And not only that, but there appears to be little room for a dedicated bike lane, which wouldn't be terrible (bike lanes are overrated), except in that case there may not be enough room for a typical vehicle to comfortably pass a bicyclist either, further exacerbating the situation. All of which is to say that sitting outside having a chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty or eggs at The Mixing Bowl will become a significantly worse experience. And I don't think that is something enough people appreciate.

BRT supporters like to claim it as a boon to pedestrians and bikers in addition to bus riders, but that clearly is not the case in all places at all times. In Temescal, the pedestrian and bike experience will be worse. I am happy to argue with those who think this is a legitimate tradeoff. I disagree, but it is a debatable point. But I think if we proceed this needs to be recognized and mitigated (through better design?), and not just swept away with the assumption that what is good for bus riders is automatically good for pedestrians and bikers.

At the end of the day this all goes, to get a little teleological here, to what is the purpose of transit and what constitutes the good life as lived within cities. Many people argue for transit with the intention of increasing mobility, but a far better way to think about this is that we should be working on increasing access. For the last half century, our transport policies have unduly favored mobility, to the detriment of cities. Places like Oakland became mere pass-throughs, routes on the way to somewhere else. My fear is that BRT, rather than challenge this regime, reinforces it. In simple terms, perhaps it is time we begin to favor place over movement.

Though I've made some passionate arguments here, I want to reiterate that I am open to changing my mind. In fact I would like to do so, because as I mentioned, I am a huge supporter and user of public transport. But right now, as I currently understand it to be conceived, I think this AC Transit BRT proposal is a marginally bad idea. And not only for all the problems outlined above, but because there are huge opportunity costs to choosing it. As I mentioned in one of my earlier comments on A Better Oakland, what if we took this money ( I know, I know) and spent it instead on feeding better (way better) into the existing BART route. My guess is that it would go really, really far. Far enough (perhaps?) to provide a similar level of service as this BRT proposal with a lot left over for other transit improvements. I don't know, but I want to; tell me I am wrong.


Ashby Station Meeting 02

Tuesday is the second meeting on plans to modernize Ashby Station. I posted some thoughts on that meeting here and here, but never got around to sharing what I think the priorities should be. In that first post I mentioned that Fight Blight had a good rundown of existing conditions and some recommended improvements. I hope to make it to the meeting tomorrow, and afterwards I'll post my thoughts and have some suggestions on how BART should proceed.


Oakland Logo

A Better Oakland had a discussion last week on the City of Oakland logo. Apparently the new one (bottom) has replaced the old one (top). But in looking more closely this week, I've noticed the old one still in use on some city vehicles. I'm not sure whether this reflects a slower change over, or simply the use of multiple logos.

I agree with V Smoothe, the new logo is lame. Someone in the discussion said it looked like the logo for a golf course in Danville, which I think is about right. It also could be any number of other Oaklands throughout the country. The old logo was bold and distinctive, things you want in a logo, and it represented Oakland well.


Oakland Sidewalk Stamps

I just discovered this blog that catalogs Oakland Sidewalk Stamps. It is a side project of Andrew Alden, better known as the blogger at Oakland Geology, whose tagline I love, "focused on, near and under Oakland, California." Sidewalk stamps, along with building cornerstones, are great reminders of the history of place.


Rockridge Out and About

Oakbook reminds me Out and About in Rockridge is Sunday on College Avenue between Claremont and Manilla Avenues. Looks like there will be a fashion show, chef stage, wellness tent, and a green living expo, as well as food, arts and crafts, and a "tots town" for the kids. Interesting that the logo (image above) uses the same craftsman-style font used by the City of Berkeley; my cousin always refers to Rockridge as the "Berkeley part of Oakland."

For those who think Rockridge doesn't go far enough, there is the 13th annual How Berkeley Can You Be?


A Bridge To Star

On Wednesday in the San Francisco Chronicle we learned the new eastern span of the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge is quickly becoming a local icon. At least according to an ambitious politician who held local office at groundbreaking and the architect who designed it. No word yet from the bridge itself.


A Band on Vehicles

A few weeks ago I noticed my neighbor's car, which had been stored at the back of the driveway between our houses since I'd moved in, was gone. It was a fairly nice car that I admit to coveting, if only because it sat there unused for so many months. When I next saw my neighbor, I inquired about it. The reply was the kind of vague answer neighbors often give.

Then several days ago, looking at the post on abandoned vehicles at We Fight Blight, one entry somehow caught my eye. There I found my neighbor's address and vehicle. The car had been determined abandoned and moved.

So I left a comment on the blog post. I was alarmed specifically about the removal of my neighbor's vehicle, and generally about removal of vehicles from private property.

Generally I support this program. A month ago, after learning of it from We Fight Blight, I called in an unfamiliar vehicle that had sat unmoved in front of my house for a week and a half. But I am vexed by the lack of distinction between vehicles parked on private drives versus public streets, and the seeming failure to account for the condition of the vehicle.

In response to my comment, We Fight Blight wrote that I did not identify the vehicle, so it was hard to know which one I was referring to, but that is part of the point. I am concerned our neighbor may now think I reported it (whom else would have?). And because I am aware of the program and the situation, I fear in discussing this with my neighbor I would only look more guilty. But that is truly a minor personal problem.

What bothers me is the attitude taken in the original posts and the response to my comment. It is one of self-righteous assurance, without a trace of doubt that what is being done is anything but completely correct. Given the nefarious purposes for which labeling something blight has been used in the past (see urban renewal, Robert Moses) I would expect more deference. After all, it is hard to imagine anyone interested in these issues to be unaware of the history of the term, and the awful things done to cities and their inhabitants by its abuse a half-century ago.

So I admit to having briefly cringed when I first saw the use of the word 'blight' in that blog. But I generally found it moderate, though the tone noted above did appear on occasion. I have no doubt the author has anything but the best of intentions for North Oakland neighborhoods, but in some of the language you hear the songs of the past: community standards, public health hazards, property values. I fear it begins to go beyond concern for neighborhood and into intolerance of difference.

And that frightens me. Because one of the great things about living in a diverse urban neighborhood is difference. And while sometimes I don't like living across the street from screaming kids, tire of the rubbish the neighbors down the block leave in the gutter, and wish some would take better care of their yards and bring in their trash cans, I understand that this is part of it. And I fear if those things were gone I would lose something else too.

I don't have the answers to all these questions. I certainly don't think cars should sit on public streets for weeks on end, but I also don't think people should be forced to move decent-looking cars from their own driveway, just because they aren't used on a regular basis. And, because of the subjectivity that would be necessary, it is probably difficult to write an abandoned vehicle ordinance that takes into account the condition of the car.

But my doubt about the correct response, as compared with the self-certainty exhibited by those who claim blight, is disconcerting. In the end, this seems a short road to approving a palate of acceptable paint colors for houses, banning laundry lines, or deciding a neighbor's proposed addition doesn't "fit in with the character" of the area. And then it would be no longer be a city neighborhood, nor one I would want to live in.

And because I'm not sure I even completely trust my own words here, I end this post with those of German filmmaker Wim Wenders,

"Every kind of urban planning, by definition, tends toward some kind of homogeneity. The city contradicts that. The city defines itself through oppositions; it wants to explode."


BART (Conservative) Pricing

East Bay Conservative disagrees with my take on the new BART pricing proposal. I commented on EBC in response to the original post, but have been unable to do so again. You'll have to read that post and the subsequent comments for this to make sense, but the following is my response:

Jim M - We don't expect a flight to Paris to cost the same as one to Las Vegas. Why should we expect a ride to Pittsburg to cost the same as one to Lafayette?

Mark Ross makes some good points, correcting my term "market-oriented pricing" with the better "opportunity pricing." And of course he's right on BART's fare problem. But this is a problem with every transit agency and with state highway and federal freeway spending as well. But the losses he writes about are not fixed or constant; It is not like they lose $.75 (or some such amount) on each additional rider.

A large, capital-intensive transit agency like BART has a lot of fixed costs, but the marginal cost of adding another car onto an existing train is fairly negligible. And so it would be a good idea for BART to charge a bit less and run longer trains during off-peak hours, if the resulting higher revenue from fares was greater than the increased operating costs.

In the original post EBC laments BART discouraging use of public transit by increasing peak-hour fares. And I agree, this is not something BART should do. Instead it should raise fares at peak-hours just enough to push those more price-sensitive riders onto slightly earlier or later trains to better spread out the peak and maximize ridership. BART is approaching capacity during peak hours and, apart from some huge capital investments, will have trouble meeting the additional demand that rising gas prices, increasing population, more road congestion, and attention to greener lifestyles will bring.


Oakland Love 001

Over the weekend Apartment Therapy discovered Oakland, linking to a guest post on decor8 titled Things I Love about Oakland, California. It features some of the places and people that make Oakland great. One of them is Oakland-based graphic designer Jason Munn of The Small Stakes. Since discovering his work about a year ago, I have been coveting this poster for Rainer Maria exhibiting some Wisconsin Love (image below). Unfortunately, it is sold out.

The guest post on decor8 is by Leah over at More Ways to Waste Time, who has a whole series of similar posts there under the label Things I Hella Love About Oakland.


Naval Congestion

A post at Future Oakland from a while back reminded me that I wanted to comment on an article in the East Bay Express on the Alameda Naval Air Station redevelopment from a few weeks ago. The lede was that the development for somewhere between 4200 and 6000 housing units now proposed by SunCal would "either cost local taxpayers millions of dollars or snarl traffic throughout Alameda and downtown Oakland."

For the "costing taxpayers millions" option the article states how the traffic projections of the development are only slightly higher than for the originally proposed 1800 unit development. But those numbers factor in comprehensive BRT service and or even Personal Rapid Transit (PRT - think cars you can't steer!?!) that SunCal is unwilling to fund. At one point the article even suggests not enough Alameda residents will ride BRT and thus it will not be "cost-efficient," but when viewed this way, transit rarely is.

The end of the article says all the right things about dense urban development and lessening suburban sprawl and we just want the devlopers to level with us on the costs. But it suggests that these both (taxpayer millions or snarled traffic) are equivalently bad outcomes. And they're not, Alameda and downtown Oakland should be encouraging their traffic to become snarled.

Why? Because in the long run, snarled traffic leads to more transit use (BRT or not) and slower traffic. And more transit use leads to more people walking by Alameda and Oakland-based businesses on their way to transit. And slower traffic leads to more people looking out their windows at Alameda and Oakland-based businesses while sitting in traffic. And more people walking by and looking out at Alameda and Oakland-based businesses leads to... more business in Alameda and Oakland. And even if you hate business, for those of us who love cities, it is just more fun to have more people around.

This is called congestion. And congestion is supposed to be something all right thinking people want to avoid. But as Dutch architect and urbanist Rem Koolhaas theorized in his first book, cities should be "cultures of congestion," not the insipid malled, plazaed, parking-lotted and garaged, open-spaced places they have become due to those who fear and fight congestion.

Think about some of Alameda and Oakland's best places: Chinatown - congested, Alameda Marketplace - congested, Bakesale Betty in the early afternoon - congested, Grand Lake on a Saturday morning - utterly and hopelessly congested. It reminds of a quote attributed to Yogi Berra, "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

Now, I don't know enough about the SunCal proposal to say whether it is a good idea or not. But it definitely won't be a bad idea just because it increases congestion.


Park(ing) Day 2008

Just a reminder, Friday September 19 is Park(ing) Day. On the website you'll find a map with at least four Oakland locations. But according to their blog (different from the website), the Nomad Cafe is participating, and they aren't included on the Oakland map, so their may be others. If you know of any, share them in comments.

Meanwhile, it seems you can't swing a stick in central San Francisco without hitting some park(ing). You can find a description of the San Francisco highlights here. Unfortunately, the Oakland description is somewhat confusing.

If you are heading into the City, I highly recommend downloading (1.2 MB) the PDF map of the San Francisco park(ing) locations. It looks like the base is by the folks at Raven Maps, a company that makes maps so beautiful you could cry. If you like what you see, they also make large state maps and benchmark atlases.

Careful though, you may never settle for the graphically-challenged Google maps again. As far as free internet maps go, try Yahoo maps, which are a bit easier on the eyes, though they don't have that cool street view feature.

But I digress, just go park(ing), but don't forget to feed the meter.


STAND Best Picks

In doing some research for another post, I came across the website of Standing Together for Accountable Neighborhood Development (STAND). I had seen their booth around town and always thought they were anti-development. It turns out I was wrong, they are anti-design. On their Best Picks page, they highlight three recent developments they like. None are good.

The first, Il Piedmonte (image above), on the corner of Pleasant Valley and Piedmont Avenues, is at least not terrible. From Piedmont Avenue it gives the impression of a decent courtyard building that was filled in badly at the height of the post-pop period, around 1983. From Pleasant Valley Avenue it resembles three separate buildings. I can only imagine that somewhere in design review it was suggested that the architects "break up the massing", thinking that would make a large building better; it rarely does. The scale seems about right, though it would benefit from adding one more floor and losing the pergola fronting Piedmont Avenue on the habitable roof deck. Were it a single coherent building and maybe a story higher, it could have been the kind of solid work-a-day corner building found at major intersections in great cities all over the world.

The two other developments are so bad they aren't worth explaining (I hope it is obvious), though I reserve a special hatred for the last (image at top), both because I walk by it several times a week, and it is just a block or so away from the lovely Nomad Cafe.

I understand those who think recent development in Oakland is too dense. Generally I disagree, but change is difficult, and people typically don't like to share, whether it be their toys or their neighborhoods. I think Oakland would benefit from more people living here, especially along transit corridors and above shops. I like having a diversity of housing options, and think it great someone could live several floors above a store, a block away in a detached single-family house, or somewhere in between, depending on their preferences and station in life. But to hold these projects (especially the last two) up as some kind of design model is just beyond the pale.


BART Pricing

On Friday we learned BART is considering using pricing to alleviate congestion during peak periods and at busy stations. Today we learned what the San Francisco Chronicle thought, along with the reaction of Oakland SF Chronicle reader Sarah Babcock.

The thing that struck me most was the poor framing exhibited by BART. Consider the opening sentence of the article on Friday,

"BART is becoming so popular during peak commute hours that agency officials are looking to charge patrons more to ride trains, park in its lots, and use certain stations when demand is highest."

Now if you reread the above statement, replacing the words "more" with "less" and "highest" with "lowest", you understand what I mean. And really this is how the issue should have been presented, that BART would discount fares of those who ride at off-peak times. Either way it is disconcerting that BART board president Gail Murray expressed her skepticism of the plan by saying, "when you have market rate pricing, that's essentially a fare increase." That is false - it is only a fare increase if revenue from fares increases.

You could devise a plan (as I think BART should) that would be revenue neutral, or even one that would lower overall revenue from fares slightly (which might not be a bad idea, since they've bungled the PR), by increasing the fares during peak times, and lowering them at all others. Ultimately, I think it would be good to have a three tier system, with highest fares for the peak hour of commuting, a slightly lower fare for the hour on either side of the peak, and a considerably lower off-peak fare.

Certainly I would generally like to see transit fares go down across the board because, as we saw with "spare the air" days, transit usage increases dramatically with lower pricing. And there are so many external benefits to transit, it really is something our government should be funding more. But the reality is that BART is more valuable as a commuting option for most people, and should be priced accordingly. And while I sympathize with Ms. Murray's concerns for social justice in relation to BART pricing, I'm not sure BART is the correct governmental agency to address income inequality, and besides there are other, better ways BART could mitigate the impact of higher peak fares on the poor.

Finally, I'm always amused by people like Maggie Frank (quoted in Friday's article) or writer Sarah Babcock, who both ask BART to contact their employers regarding their ability to start later. I wonder if their bosses would mind if they started earlier. And if, as Ms. Babcock suggests, a fare increase will not change the behavior of high demand hour patrons, then BART has been undercharging those customers for years, and we have all suffered for it through the less extensive routes and lines she bemoans.


Sunday Streets

Today is the second and last Sunday Streets day in San Francisco this year. Four and half miles of street from Chinatown to Bayview are closed to cars and open to bikers, walkers, joggers, and rollerbladers. Along the route there will be yoga, dance, martial arts, health screenings and all around fun.

Unfortunately I had conflicts on both days this year, so I won't be there. I wanted to take my bike over on BART and ride from the ferry building (which I know fairly well) all the way to Bayview (of which I know little). If you go, let me know what you thought. Hopefully it will happen again next year. And how can we do something like this in Oakland?


Ashby Station 002

Nearly a month ago now proposals were presented for the modernization of Ashby Station. Last week I posted some initial thoughts on the timing and structure of the meeting. But the actual presentation and plans deserve comment. The first part was presented by FMG Architects, who seem to do a lot of work for BART. After quickly going through a site analysis, they presented several major recommendations.

The first was to add a digital timetable at the entry outside. Basically it would take the real-time information already found at the platforms and put it on a large screen outside. This is a good idea that would make for a more civilized experience.

FMG also suggested reconfiguring the lighting. The idea was to hang a row lights from the ceiling along the length of the platforms, but it was unclear if this would replace, or merely enhance the existing lighting. Now it isn't saying much, but Ashby Station (image at top) is actually one of the better stations in the BART system. This stems from two main components: the natural light and visual connection it receives from the west entry and windows, and the vaulted, ribbed concrete ceiling that gives it an austere brutalist beauty. The proposal to drop lights from the ceiling would detract from these features.

The final major proposal was to add the word "ASHBY" in big building block-style letters above what looked to be shelters on the sidewalk on Adeline Street above. It is hard to describe, but if you took a typical bus shelter found at the Uptown Transit Center (image above), extended the spires up and placed large individual letters above each one, you'd have about what was proposed. The letters looked to be at least 10 feet square, and would have a huge negative visual impact in the neighborhood. Several commenters correctly noted how auto-oriented the sign was.

And it is, but aside from that, the identity problem with Ashby Station isn't that people driving over it don't know where the station is. The problem is, as SF Cityscape pointed out a while back, that people walking (and driving) in the immediate neighborhood a few blocks away might not know which direction the station is, or how to get there.

Unfortunately, SF Cityscape has been reconfigured, and the post on wayfinding near BART stations is no longer available. But I'd encourage you to click the link above anyways. If you do, you'll see some great maps produced pro bono, including one of a proposed downtown Oakland circulator. I'll save my thoughts on what should be done at Ashby Station for a future post, hopefully a bit sooner than the last.


Sustainable Communities

This article from Newsweek (via Urbanism) sums up nearly perfectly my attitude toward green building. I especially like the line midway through the first paragraph:

"Grassy roofs? Swell! Recycled gray water to flush toilets? Excellent! But if 500 employees have to drive 40 miles a day to work in the place - well, how green is that?"

And although the author surprisingly fails to mention it, the U.S. Green Building Council has been working with the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) to add green neighborhood development certification to its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, called LEED-ND.

Which is all a round about way of introducing an upcoming one-day conference called Sustainable Communities 2008, put on by the CNU. The conference features local green stalwarts such as Peter Calthorpe, Sim Van Der Ryn, and former Oakland Hizzoner Jerry Brown. Early registration ends in just over a week, and the conference is September 26 at the Westin St. Francis on Union Square in San Francisco.


Urban Policy Positions

Agents of Urbanism did a nice rundown a few weeks back on the differences between Barack Obama's and John McCain's urban policy proposals. As you can tell from the available links, the biggest difference is that, well, John McCain doesn't seem to have any.

That said, a lot of Obama's urban policy prescriptions fall into either the "motherhood and apple pie" who could object category, like "support job creation" or aren't really specifically related to urban areas, such as, "provide a tax cut for working families".

"Establish 'Promise Neighborhoods' for Areas of Concentrated Poverty" sounds like it could be good for Oakland, as does "Increase the Supply of Affordable Housing throughout Metropolitan Regions". But "Control Superfund Sites and Data" sounds weirdly big brother. All in all, it is about what you'd expect - a lot of fluff and jargon, with a few interesting ideas, and the devil of all of them will be in the details.

The most disappointing aspect of Obama's plans is the lack of any ideas under a transportation heading. The single most important thing the federal government could do for cities would be to shift transport spending away from new roads and toward mass transportation and the repair of existing roads and sidewalks. As would using it's vast spending power to discourage over-regulation of the built environment by local governments, which keeps most communities less dense than they naturally would be with a freer market.

But, as with many issues, if the federal government won't lead, states must. It looks like this may be beginning in California. And this is a welcome change. The creation of buildings is the most regulated good produced in our country, with predictable results. Supply is severely restricted, which benefits the powerful (those already owning homes, who gain value from supply restrictions) at the expense of the less powerful (renters, who suffer higher rents from same). This is all the more unfortunate because the actual production of buildings is more market-like than almost any other good made, there are numerous producers relative to consumers, unlike, for example, cola.

In addition, all this regulation happens on an extremely local basis, which is done with almost no other good. It is no wonder housing costs are so high.

And while certainly both the federal and state governments should be dealing with this through the carrots and sticks of the budget, it may be time for the state to step in and directly coerce local communities to deregulate. California attempts to do this to some degree with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, but in the previous housing cycle, the areas you'd want to meet the goal didn't, and those you wouldn't did - that is, if you love cities like Oakland. And it doesn't go far enough, by, say, mandating the relaxation of zoning barriers to micro homes, housing over shops, or small multi-family buildings adjacent to single-family homes, and so doesn't challenge the existing status quo.

So you better buy now, housing in Oakland will only get more and more expensive.


Ashby Station 001

A little over two weeks ago was a meeting regarding improvements to BART's Ashby Station. Prior to the meeting Fight Blight posted a rundown of the existing conditions and some recommended improvements, which I think is a good starting point.

It began with the BART director apologizing for not including the public sooner. The meeting took place the day after the east parking lot was closed to begin construction on the Ed Roberts Campus. One of the first comments was from a young father. He and his brood have used Ashby Station as an underpass for the busy Adeline Street above on the way to and from school, and now with the closing of the east entrance, must cross it directly. He suggested adding flashing lights to the crosswalk, such as at Martin Luther King Jr. Street adjacent. It was a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and one the neighborhood deserves to have implemented to help mitigate the effects of building the Ed Roberts Campus. And it really isn't BART's responsibility, but the problem is that this meeting was taking place the day after the east parking lot closed, rather than 3 to 6 months before as it should have been, and that the City of Berkeley, who would be responsible for adding the suggested crossing lights, was attending the meeting, rather than hosting it along with BART.

This same problem cropped up in several other comments as well, where residents were there to complain or make suggestions concerning the surrounding neighborhood. Now anyone who has been to similar public meetings knows this is the case, it is to be expected, and therefore the relevant stakeholders should have been there to help host the meeting.

The reality is that this is a small project (the BART improvements, at about $3 million) that is taking place (rightly) in conjunction with a much larger project (the Ed Roberts Campus, at about $46.5 million), so you don't want to have numerous meetings on how to allocate the monies, two meetings should do it: one to present preliminary analysis, research and goals of the project and obtain community reaction and feedback, and another to present preliminary designs and obtain more reaction and feedback. And before these meetings even take place, the relevant stakeholders (BART, Ed Roberts, Berkeley, and probably the City of Oakland and AC Transit as well) should have met to coordinate all plans and projects for the area.

The meeting held a few weeks ago was more like what a second meeting should have been, except that the first meeting never took place, nor did the stakeholder coordination. The results were predictably bad. The designs presented were clunky and overwrought (think Oakland's Uptown Transit Center), and worse than that, it is not even clear they were meeting a community need. The problems were numerous, general as well as specific; I will post more detailed thoughts on them over the weekend.