25 February 2009

Thinking outside the GREEN box!

National Geographic contained an article last month called "A Bicycle Bump" which featured Portland, Oregon for it's "171 miles of bike lanes, ten freshly painted green boxes (picture above) that put cyclists safely ahead of vehicles, even some signals just for bikes." And this isn't the first time the yellow-bordered magazine has featured Portland. In the August 2008 issue, it named Portland the number one city in the top five bike-friendly cities in the nation.

It's of no surprise that biking is on the rise. With gas prices soaring, more and more people are parking the car and choosing to pedal to work. According to National Geographic, they measured this by the number of additional bikes being places on the racks of buses. In the lead is Houston with a whopping 235% increase.With more and more bike friendly streets being built and programs like bike-sharing, it's hard for anyone not to have the incentive to keep the car at home. Paris has a great bike sharing program, seen in the image below, taken near the Viaduc de Artes.

How wonderful would it be to show up in any city and be able to just grab a bike and go. Sure you can rent bikes for a time, but then they always have to be returned to the same place. Have a network of kiosks where you can pick up and drop off as you please purely on an as-needed basis is definitely something that would have more people grabbing a bike.

Now, many of you might be thinking that biking in Mission Viejo is more of a sport tham eco-commuting with all the hills we have in our city. But if our local government and developers would consider investing in our community by ways of improving the commercial and civic properties and amenities as well as improving the pedestrian and bicycle connectivity, this just might be a viable option for MV.
We could also take this concept further...what about sharing kids toys, video games and DVD'S, clothes, etc. We spend so much money on these things and more often than not we all complain about having these things pile up in our closets, garages and 'nooks & crannies'.

Think about it...what's your ideas?

17 February 2009

Culture of Change - In Housing Strategies

It is this character of community living that our cities are losing, and our children may never experience unless we act now...

My first post, Culture of Change discussed a very similar topic but more focused on the consumer and retail. I found this article in what I thought was an odd place to find a topic like this, the Wall Street Journal's Live Mint. I am glad to see that topics like this are making it to the Business World.

Living together makes living lighter
The very idea of more for less indicates a culture of consumption, the concept of “getting” without “giving”, which is essentially contradictory to the principles of being environment-friendly. One has to believe in a certain value system of sharing and caring for each other and the environment, which will reap benefits that are intangible yet immeasurable.

All for one and one for all
Going green has turned into a trend today, and every individual has realized the relevance of being sensitive to the environment. Although this is a positive sign, we need to look further than the jargon—which is more technology-driven—and examine the real issues involved in being environment-friendly, in the context of present-day lifestyles and economic conditions.
An eco community is composed of like-minded people who live together, sharing utilities such as water and sewage systems, common spaces and facilities. An investment in an eco community would result in not only owning the piece of land that one has bought; the homeowner would also take ownership of the larger community space, which expands the visual and physical space available.

Bigger than the individual...
So essentially, one would not need to own a large piece of land individually, and yet one would get to enjoy a much larger space. Maintenance of garden spaces, water tanks, sewage systems, back-up power facilities and security would also become a shared enterprise, which could be supported by all members, and individual maintenance would be limited to one’s home and personal gardens.
...becomes cheaper for the individual
Several technologies—such as waste-water recycling, water treatment and rainwater harvesting—require a critical mass to become economical. An individual investing in these technologies would end up spending much more of his total budget than is desirable. In a larger group, it would amount to less.

Benefits beyond your doorstep
Neighbours who become extended family, open spaces where children are free and secure, and spaces where the elderly need no longer be lonely are some other benefits of living in a community.
Such communities can recreate some of the culture of small towns and villages where a lot of us come from, while trying to retain the advantages that a city offers. It is this character of community living that our cities are losing, and our children may never experience unless we act now. The emphasis needs to be on creating an ambience which is human in scale, while retaining the character of the land; “place-making” vs space-making being the underlying theme in the planning, creating places that celebrate the oneness of the human spirit with nature and not icons that exhibit man’s supposed superiority.

Living NOT to the maximum
Fewer burdens can be imposed on the land by not utilizing the maximum permissible area one is allowed to build on and reducing the footprint and material resources required.
The breakdown of traditional forms of community, wasteful consumerist lifestyles and the destruction of natural habitat, urban sprawl and over-reliance on fossil fuels are trends that must be changed to avert ecological disasters. Small-scale communities with minimal ecological impact are one alternative.

Photo courtesy of liveMINT.com

16 February 2009

Is Mission Viejo Walkable?

Taken from the guiding principles of the Internet site Walk Score, which is devoted to helping people find walkable places to live:

Walkable Neighborhoods
Picture a walkable neighborhood. You lose weight each time you walk to the grocery store. You stumble home from last call without waiting for a cab. You spend less money on your car—or you don't own a car. When you shop, you support your local economy. You talk to your neighbors.

What makes a neighborhood walkable?
A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a discernible center, whether it's a shopping district, a main street, or a public space.
Density: The neighborhood is compact enough for local businesses to flourish and for public transportation to run frequently.
Mixed income, mixed use: Housing is provided for everyone who works in the neighborhood: young and old, singles and families, rich and poor. Businesses and residences are located near each other.
Parks and public space: There are plenty of public places to gather and play.
Pedestrian-centric design: Buildings are placed close to the street to cater to foot traffic, with parking lots relegated to the back.
Nearby schools and workplaces: Schools and workplaces are close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.

Streets Designed for Everyone
Complete Streets are roads are designed for everyone who uses them, including bicyclists, pedestrians of all ages and abilities, and people getting on and off transit vehicles. These streets are:
Accessible: There are wheelchair ramps, plenty of benches with shade, sidewalks on all streets, etc.
Well-connected: Streets form a connected grid that improves traffic by providing many routes to any destination.
Built for the right speed: Lanes are narrow or traffic calming is in place to control speed.
Comfortable: Pedestrian medians at intersections, count-down crosswalk timers, bicycle lanes, protected bus shelters, etc. make the street work better for those outside of a car.

How does Mission Viejo compare?
If you were to live nearby or drive to, park, and then walk from the 'Central Hub' of Mission Viejo, we look pretty good...on paper that is. How many of these businesses are actually worth walking to? And, do you feel comfortable walking from one to another? Walking along Margurite's 5' wide curb adjacent sidewalk, next to a tiny, poorly maintained landscape setback is anything but comfortable to me. Hopefully the City is taking this into account in their street widening efforts and maybe one day Mission Viejo will transform from a typical suburban city to a community.

10 February 2009

Top 10 People Space Planning Trends

Want to know what makes a good people space? Here is what the pros are seeing as the most important elements to make a public space great. In trying to compare these the public spaces of Mission Viejo, they just don't compare; that's probably since the last people place developed was the Kaleidoscope Center which many would say is a complete flop.

PPS Top 10 Placemaking Trends
Project for Public Spaces (PPS), the leading resource for public placemaking, revealed their Top Ten Trends Shaping the Future of Our Communities, especially as it relates to public spaces.

1. Placemaking goes global. Everything else is, so why not? Spurred by the internet, creatives demand connections more than ever, no matter where they are, and as result cities around the world are experiencing a renewed enthusiasm for public spaces. The best part of the global movement is that the most pedestrian-oriented and pedestrian-only districts are setting the highest standards for others to follow.
2. Collaboration is key to change. The above also explains why
crowdsourced placemaking is fast becoming the natural means of implementation.
3. Going green. For emerging creatives, being environmentally conscious is a foregone conclusion.
4. Placemaking is becoming more important to the travel industry. See
civic tourism and how investing in vibrant downtowns to attract creatives, followed by the rest of the residents (as the trend goes), also builds a strong tourist economy.
5. Libraries emerge is new town squares. I can’t really buy into this one, especially since they don’t add much to a square’s nightlife, but there are precedents in the outlying neighborhoods such as the new library fronting the
Rockville Town Square, one of the most elegant new public plazas in the U.S. Then again, maybe libraries could support nighttime activity…
6. Being active 12 months of the year. This applies mainly to cold weather cities which in the past have shut down for the winter, though ten years ago many city downtowns were pretty much shut down all year. The point is, cold weather cities have innovated amenities (ie skating rinks, heated lamps, temporary enclosures) that allow people to enjoy public spaces all year round.
7. ‘The Power of 10’. This is a PPS program, but applies to everyone, where a city commits itself to providing ten public destinations that provide something to do. At the top of the creatives’ list is a ‘
piazza as stage‘ (such as for ‘movie staying’), where just about anything can happen.
8. Public markets. Another PPS specialty, it’s a great way to find a deal, socialize, get outside and find a reason for the city to establish a pedestrian-only district. See their
October 2005 newsletter on public markets.
9. Transportation planning as placemaking. This is best exemplified by the
New York City Department of Transportation, which PPS supported in their rise to possibly becoming the most innovative, even placemaking-oriented government agency in the U.S.
10. Collaboration on developing new destinations. It’s the tangible result that results when you combine many of the above factors and crowdsource an actual place. If this isn’t a trend, then most of the other factors aren’t as well. Fortunately, this is a growing trend.

Thanks to Braulio Agnese of Architect magazine for the reference.
Photo courtesy of Neil Takemoto.

07 February 2009

What is Placemaking?

"Placemaking is an evocative, pleasing, inspiring word heard more and more these days to describe grassroots efforts for revitalizing public spaces. Unfortunately some developers and designers also apply the word to soulless commercial, housing or resort projects in the hopes of hoodwinking people into thinking these developments will enhance the local sense of place. Project for Public Spaces has helped popularize the word during 35 years of Placemaking work around the world, yet we make no ownership claims to it—language belongs to everyone just the same as a park or city street. Nonetheless we wince at seeing the phrase used for narrowly commercial or patently false purposes. Placemaking is a powerful idea, around which a social movement is beginning to emerge. Implicit in this phrase is a sense that citizens must be involved in shaping the places where they live, work and play".

"User Friendly" MV

Here's an interesting new idea. What if our city was fully interactive?

And again, here's another article that hits the nail on the head how the minority opinion attempts to represent the majority.

A DIY-approach to user-friendly cities...
Posted by Julia Galef in
Places in the News, Public Spaces
A lot of time and brainpower has gone into making computers and the web “user-friendly”: intuitive to learn, pleasant to use, and easy to customize. But computer systems aren’t the only ones we interact with every day. Cities are also complex networks that we use to find jobs and goods and homes; find each other; find our way around. What if we took a cue from programmers and web designers, and made our cities user-friendly too?

At Project for Public Spaces’ office on January 14, entrepreneur John Geraci held the first meeting of DIY City — a collective of programmers, designers, planners, and other tech-savvy urban enthusiasts –- to talk about what that paradigm shift could mean. “You turn a corner once you start thinking in those terms,” said co-founder Anthony Townsend. For example, you realize that user-friendliness requires channels for user feedback to the system. Building urban services and infrastructure has been a top-down process for a long time, but with all the new information and communications technology at our fingertips, “now we can build this stuff from the bottom up,” Mr. Townsend said.
In theory, there’s already a mechanism to help cities function interactively: local democracy. In practice, though, people often don’t know who their representatives are, or what issues they’re voting on. Those citizens who do weigh in on new developments or re-zoning in their neighborhoods — through their community boards, for example — are often an unrepresentative minority. But they dominate the discussion because everyone else finds the prospect of getting involved too intimidating or tedious. There must be ways, the DIY City group suggested, to exploit new technologies to break down those barriers and allow a broader swath of the neighborhood to be heard.
DIY City’s maiden meeting was deliberately open-ended, geared to produce brainstorms rather than action plans. But some recurring themes emerged as the group kicked around ideas. One was that cities need better systems for coordination — for example, to share bikes, or taxi rides, or parking spaces, all of which could make cities more efficient and less wasteful. Better coordination could even make us safer; several group members proposed a peer-to-peer, after-hours escort service so that no one would have to walk home alone at night.
Making information more accessible was another common thread. There’s so much data that has already been collected but which, the group lamented, isn’t doing us any good — because it’s either not available to the public, not available all in one place, or not organized in a useful way. Getting people better access to information could shape their decisions about how they live, work and play, ranging from significant (checking the reputation of local landlords, choosing doctors, or finding after-school programs) to quotidian (which bakeries near me right now have the freshest bagels?).
After coming up with a list of opportunities they saw for improving the current city “interface”, the group brainstormed over 30 tools that could be put towards that end. Ideas ran the gamut from web applications (Twitter, Second Life, Google Maps, Flickr) to information technologies (text messaging, image and sound recognition, RSS Feeds, Bluetooth, GPS), to physical innovations (web cams, bar codes, sensors, stickers, projectors).
Many of the problems the group pointed out were daunting — air pollution, for example, or dangerous intersections — and didn’t call to mind an obvious first step. But DIY City has no intention of trying to solve all these problems themselves; they’re also looking for ways to harness other people’s creativity. That means keeping an eye out for innovations people may have already created for their own purposes, which could be grown into something useful to everyone. (”Like the guy who used a web cam to monitor how long the lines were at Shake Shack,” one participant suggested.) It means finding ways to connect people who have ideas with people who have the skills and resources to execute those ideas. And it means being open-source, so that the public can adapt and improve on DIY City’s programs. “Giving power to the individual user is very much the spirit of DIY City,” said Mr. Geraci.
DIY City’s website:

06 February 2009


I have been trying to gather articles, blogs, etc. that help portray the perspective MYM.MV is coming from. This interview gives you a glimpse in the issue of how challenging it is for projects to meet the community's needs. Both the agencies and the developers get caught in the vicious circle of politics, which keep the the right type of people (the community and the professionals who focus on bringing the right type of projects to fruition) out of the equation...read on.

Exerted from an Interview with Laurie Olin, FASLA
01/30/2009 by

..."In order for the general public to better understand the deep relationship between sustainability and landscape architecture, Olin believes landscape architects need to become more political, more involved in planning decisions. “How can landscape architects get other people to understand that’s how we think? I think to do more work, show it, talk about it, and invite people to see it. A lot has happened in the last ten years. People now have a sense of it that they didn’t before. They know that we do that. We need to be at the table when people start planning. We need to be involved when people are doing site selection. We should be helping people say, “No, you shouldn’t build there. This would be a better site.” We have to get involved in a lot of the more troublesome planning decisions. We need to be involved in politics. Some of us have been political off and on, especially when we were young, but we got tired doing it. It’s wearing. Each generation needs its ten years in the barrel fighting the politics when they have so much energy and altruism. People don’t realize that landscape architecture is political. In a democracy it probably should be. We should debate about who suffers and gains, who gets what, what are the benefits, where are they, what’s the cost. Those are things you’d hope in a democracy people would debate publicly.”

Read the full article

04 February 2009

Culture of Change

ULI Coffee Talk
Presented by: Shaheen Sadeghi, LAB Holdings, LLC
Attended: 01-30-2009

Topic: Culture of Change

Do our kids want to live the same way we do? Will they have the same opportunities?

Creativity is more important that literacy.

All kids are born artists; the problem is trying not to let them grow out of it.

Retail is a formula driven model, ie. Outlet Malls, Big Box Retail, Entertainment/ Lifestyle centers, Mixed (up) Use.

Formulas are not human centric.

Planning...is our current trend of home building’s site plan just glorified shantytowns? Are they a real community?

If we want to change the game, we must understand the culture.

Great products/projects start with culture rather than design.

Kenaf edible clinics –Africa - Cameron Sinclair

Sustainable is not just driving a Prius.

Culture eats demographics for lunch. Good Example: Organic.

Missing culture is expensive.

Culture is about telling a story.

Culture is the glue between Brand, Product, and Consumer. Good Example: Apple.

Mass culture in America is breaking down.

You’re better off looking for new technology rather than investing in the latest generation technology.

We are turning from a mass market to a niche nation. Good Example: Boutique shopping.

Each person is a brand. Good Example: eHarmony.

U.S. makes up 4.5% of the world population but consumes 25% of the world’s goods. Is that sustainable? NO.

We will come out of this recession better…people, culture, economy, spenders, givers, world as a whole.

In the age of overload, emotional connection is the key.

Design with Conscience, is flourishing.

Urban Acupuncture. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim-Bilboa, Spain – it reinvented the region with new businesses, new restaurants, new etc. Tourism.

Mixed use products – the ground floor is where the soul is. Good Example: Golf course communities in the desert - take the golf course away, homes would be empty. Develop the Soul of your project.

Sustainable is making something social.

WHAT’S MISSING??? Find it, explore it, make a business out of it.

Good example: CSA - Community Supported Agriculture - local community organically grown food for the individual consumer.

People want content in their lives.

Shift from passive consumers to active participants.

Your audience (end user) wants to be a co-author/co-designer to your product/project.

Time to get back to grass roots.

Want to get creative – cut a couple zeros off your budget.

Invent by being a user.

The 70’s were about Love (Lennon), 80’s about Greed (Miami Vice), 90’s about Ego (Donald Trump), 2000’s about Cause (Al Gore), 10’s…? We are at the tip of the iceberg with green technology. We need to get back to doing it for Love!

Every company should have a chemistry department. Leaving the baggage behind and bring new and fresh ideas. Look for what people want. (content, community, social culture).

CULTURE - “Commerce without culture and respect for community becomes a soulless and short lived commodity. Our creative endeavors demand a deep rooted examination of the local personality and careful placement of hand selected quality businesses to compliment the existing environment yet excite the senses. Partnerships with local entrepreneurs, artisans, educators, neighbors, and trade organizations are paramount to our success. The incorporation of ‘public space’ for the invigoration and support of local culture begins at the most primary stages of concept and design and becomes our proud trademark”.
Shaheen Sadeghi, LAB Holdings, LLC