Renewal of faith in city planning? Maybe?

July 30, 2015 at 5:46 am | Posted in anchorage, politics | 7 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess I grew cynical over the last several election cycles, and was surprised and unprepared when Ethan Berkowitz won the Mayoral race earlier this year.  Berkowitz, a Democrat [the Municipal elections are ostensibly non-partisan] has now teamed up with Andrew Halcro, one of his Republican opponents in the primary and since taking office earlier this month completed a transition plan that identifies several course changes for the city.

Like new Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Berkowitz reached out to the public for ideas on how to deliver government services more efficiently.  I wrote to both of them.

To Walker, I suggested cancelling the five largest transportation projects now in the planning stages [including the Knik Arm Bridge; the Anchorage Highway to Highway project; and the Bragaw St. extension], and at the same time implementing sweeping changes in Statewide and Regional Transportation Planning processes, in order to prevent such ill-conceived debacles from coming to the forefront in the future.  While he hasn’t been able to halt any of them, at least the climate has changed enough that policymakers are questioning the party line and how priorities are established.  Tiny steps!

In the letter to Berkowitz I suggested that Anchorage’s failure to change its dominant development pattern [despite an effort to move that way, evidenced by the Anchorage 2020 Comprehensive Plan and early efforts to rewrite the Title 21 Land Use Code, before it was co-opted by the Dan Sullivan administration beginning in 2009] is having an ill effect overall, and if left unchecked will destroy what is great about the city.

It doesn’t sound like a budget issue on the face of it, but bear with me.  The more one looks into it, the more apparent it becomes that there are costs to sprawl development that are not being accounted for.  In the big picture, it’s obvious what is happening — there are not walk-able commercial blocks outside of Downtown, so in order to shop, go to an appointment with a service provider or go out to restaurants and nightclubs all but the most ambitious [and blessed with the most free time] are forced into their cars [since there is also not a robust system of Public Transit].  Thus, the traffic is more congested, with all of the associated drawbacks [danger, noise, pollution, frustration, devaluing of property alongside major roadways] — not to mention loss of habitat/open space.

Sprawl — if you want a more specific term with local relevance, let’s call it suburban strip development — accommodates population growth, but in the least efficient manner possible.  Left that way [lacking incentives or directives for anything else], its low density mat will spread far and wide, and unless the city’s boundaries expand with it, the tax base will remain flat.  In Anchorage’s case it has led to the siren song of developers, that Anchorage is “out of develop-able land” [and thus we need to throw that bridge over to Pt. McKenzie and build more of the same over there].  To paraphrase the American Legion motto: all of that Free Parking is NOT FREE!!

The presentation of an alternative scenario will be built on the following basic tenet [courtesy Occupy Wall St.]:
this is not the way

Communities in other parts of the country and in other nations figured out long ago that sprawl is not the way to go.  Sometimes this epiphany came after decades going down the wrong path.  Anchorage is far enough down that path to come to its collective senses and turn around.  Mayor Berkowitz said in a Chamber of Commerce speech this week, “There are times when we should care how they do it Outside.”

We also should stop making policy based on the opinions and public positions of those with an axe to grind, and rely more on sound planning and proven principles than on local folklore.  We’ve got to get past the current mentality, where long term goals are routinely sacrificed for short term gain, without a firm grasp on true consequences.

Planners, urbanists and academics for more than six decades have argued that a more complex, less segregated pattern [with people living in all areas of a town, in random mixture of income level and cultural identity] is a healthier environment that results in more supervision and fewer rampant social ills.  We have some of the ingredients but none of the purpose and vision, and the results are becoming a catastrophe, with Anchorage bubbling near the top on several lists of The Most Dangerous Cities in the USA.  I’d argue that the lousy development pattern is a major contributing factor — for all the reasons Jane Jacobs would cite — and, conversely if you give a place vibrance, purpose and meaning the required sense of ownership and protection of people and assets naturally follows.

Anchorage has been successful in some important ways — there’s a great network of non-motorized trails; wilderness access is still first-rate; and there’s mostly a lack of the most egregious sorts of visual pollution such as billboards and 200 ft tall signs.  There are great parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities.

In order to build on this and provide for future generations, at this point we should embrace Smart Growth principles; Complete Streets; and reconsider long- and short-term planning goals in regards to protecting and enhancing existing established neighborhoods.

The blow-back is inevitable and will be strong.  Home builders already publicly state that any new regulations that don’t exist will add to the already high cost of housing [when actually, prices are always set by what the market will bear].  Quasi-public agencies like housing authorities will come down on the side of less regulation too — they see it as something they should control and direct.  [In the letter to Mayor Berkowitz, I suggested part of the problem in Anchorage is that major players such as the Alaska Railroad, the State Dept of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Ted Stevens International Airport, the School District and others now operate largely autonomously, are guided by an internal culture and consider themselves affiliated with but not accountable to Anchorage.]

In most other U.S. cities the size of Anchorage, there are numerous commercial centers in neighborhoods outside of town where one can, on a single block find small shops of all kinds, restaurants and bars and other sorts of venues in a dense arrangement, with apartments mixed in on second and third floors, and minimal or no on-site parking available.  Many of these are fantastic, desirable destinations.  There are cars and traffic, but not overwhelming… big trees, sidewalk tables, vibrant scenes with a mixture of culture and socio-economic status.  We do not have anything like this here — but we have many blocks, in many parts of town where a redevelopment pattern like this could be incubated.

There would be numerous advantages gained.  Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur with a food cart or a food truck, and want to make the jump to a restaurant.  It’s easier downtown, but rents are prohibitively high and availability limited.  Outside of downtown, you are almost surely stuck in a strip mall [that also may not be affordable] if you want any advantage of a shared endeavor [parking and the presence of spillover customers who came there for other reasons].  With just a few tables, you will need parking for several cars — more expensive than it sounds, because it has to include the dimensions of the parking spaces, access aisles and driveways, drainage infrastructure, landscaping, lighting and so forth; and all this has to be reviewed and permitted by the city, and maintained.  It’s a huge and unnecessary burden.

The stores in a typical mid-sized strip mall could be placed on a city block in less than 1/3 the total area, and have a floor or two of apartments above, with parking provided on-street instead of on-site [or, in larger developments also in multi-level garages and in other ways including diagonal back-out stalls on internal collector roads].  There’s every advantage to the small independent business owner, the general public and the city at large [drastically increased tax base combined with greater availability of adjacent land for other uses].

We have lots of need for housing, and more of it of a specialized sort — housing for seniors; for artists; for chronically homeless, addicted or mentally ill.

The Millennial generation is quickly abandoning the car in favor of walking and transit, and the rest of us should support this trend.  Anchorage has a long tradition of advocacy, by several prominent locals including Suzan Nightingale [1950-96], Ruth Moulton [1931-2006], Laine Fleischer, Walt Parker [1926-2014] and many others.  Cheryl Richardson and Anchorage Citizens Coalition are doing great work in recent years to keep the issues I’ve been writing about here at the forefront, and helping to educate the public.

We have, in Mayor Berkowitz a sympathetic ear [evidenced by his appointment of Halcro as head of the Municipal Development Authority and Chris Schutte as Community and Economic Development Director] and the time is now to voice your concerns to your Municipal and State elected officials!  Tell them what you would like to see, and why.  Developers and major landholders always have the ear of any administration — it’s more rare that the general population has a chance to be heard, too.

Updating Cysewski

March 29, 2015 at 3:46 am | Posted in anchorage, art, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , ,

This was an idea of Jon Lang’s — a longtime friend who has come into his own as an independent Producer/Director of art films lately.  [He and I have talked about joint ventures on art projects before but I’ve never followed through.]

Stephen Cysewski has been getting lots of buzz for a long time about his 1970s photos of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seattle, Tacoma and other places.  Jon’s idea was that he and his wife, local photographer Jamie Lang and I would go around and take contemporary photos matching Cysewski’s four decades old ones — and be able to observe how much the physical settings had changed, or had not.

Some of the locations of the vintage shots are easy to spot, others not so much.  But we enjoy a challenge!

Today I got the ball rolling.  First I picked out some shots from Cysewski’s site and printed them at approx. 3×5.  On the way back home, I stopped at a few of the sites.  Prints in hand, I tried to recreate the shot from the same angle, as closely as possible.  Some were more successful than others.

Maybe we’ll work on this some more, refine the approach and technique?  But this seems like a decent start!  Kind of fun, isn’t it?

 

This was easy to place because there’s another photo of it on Cysewski’s site of a sign in the front yard that includes the address [cropped out of this view].  There was a fortune teller in here when Cysewski wandered by [on W. 6th Ave. between H and I Streets] back in the ’70s.  This little house and the one to the left of it are now gone, but the one on the right [at 825 W. 6th] is still there and in recent years was a Chinese restaurant, though it now appears to be closed.  The front yard was decreased by a widening of 6th Ave.

Same location today.

This one was easy to composite, by matching the Capt. Cook Hotel tower in the background, and the dormer on the house that’s still there.

This scene has hardly changed at all.  For a long time in the ’80s and ’90s the tile was covered up with beige paint, but later they had the sense to strip it off.  The building is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.  The owner of the tile business was Elmer Eller, as I recall.  He moved it out of downtown in the early 1980s, and then went out of business.

The first Denali Tower, at 2600 Denali St.  The business development of Midtown was just getting a head of steam, and when this tower was completed in 1977 it looked out of place among small houses and low-key side streets.  Cysewski’s view is from Cordova St. looking east.

Today the houses are gone and their lots are part of an expanded parking lot.  A second Denali Tower with 13 stories was finished next door at 2550 Denali St. in 1983.

This place just seems like the archetypal Pipeline era establishment [at E. Fireweed Lane and Fairbanks St.].  In the ’80s it was a branch of El Toro Restaurant [they had a bigger one in Wasilla] and later it was Steve’s Sports Bar.  Recently it’s been vacant.  Last year somebody stripped the exterior and began renovations that have since stalled.

This place on E. 4th Ave. just west of Gambell St. was suffering a lot of deferred maintenance issues but nonetheless seemed to be some sort of State offices, judging from the Chevy Nova staff cars with State of Alaska seals on the doors.

It looks quite a bit better now, and it and the larger building to the right are a seedy residential hotel [but it’s better than living on the streets].

Used car lot where a boxy low rise state office building now sits [it’s just a little newer than this photo] and a fast food place, Malay’s Sandwiches that today is Burger Jim.  Looking east at 4th and Gambell.

This was the hardest one to create a composite from the two images.  The original was taken with an SLR from inside a car, the one today with an iPhone 6 standing in the street.  I was able to sort of line up the mountains, but the rest of it looks a bit unconvincing.

Side note on this one: The large building-mounted sign on the sandwich place in the old photo was only recently removed.  I took its photo in 2009.

The last stops on today’s tour will be Mt. View.  Here’s Cysewski’s candid looking east from Mt. View Dr. and Bragaw St. in the ’70s.  He was probably standing right where I was, at a short section of solid wall next to large plate glass south facing windows of a laundromat.  The gas station that’s just cropped out of the view was torn down in 2009 in favor of the Credit Union 1.

This one includes what was then Alaska State Bank and is now McKinley Services in the foreground and Jamico’s Pizza [that is still there, remarkably] beyond.  Mt. View Dr. just east of Bragaw, view looking SW.

5-18-14

May 20, 2014 at 5:33 am | Posted in alaska, photo du jour | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,
knik view

View of Cook Inlet from near Old Town Knik.

5-11-14

May 12, 2014 at 7:20 am | Posted in anchorage, photo du jour | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

mt view apt

5-4-14

May 5, 2014 at 8:10 am | Posted in alaska, architecture and design, photo du jour | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Knik Hall, the only larger building remaining from the town of Knik, AK [which thrived in the 1895-1910 era and was eclipsed by Anchorage].  There are some photos of old Knik at the Vilda online archive.  Can also find some images of this building [apparently a former pool hall] during relocation and rebuilding, around 1970.  Kind of a good example of vernacular pioneer era construction.  [The original Knik townsite was mined for gravel and really isn’t there anymore.]

Checking out the sand dune at Kincaid Park

May 4, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Posted in anchorage, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , ,

The denuded area of Kincaid Park along its southern coast had been there for many years, but in the ’90s sometime the authorities started to get a bit more concerned, and wondered [with good reason] if a large part of the park was turning into a desert?  I’d heard about the sand dune for years, and seen signs of its presence but had never seen it in person.

These geo-cachers give a pretty good basic explanation of what happened there.

And Alaska Dispatch has a good photo gallery and description of the area from 2011.  Their headline might seem alarmist, until one sees this landscape in real life.  Descriptions and even aerial photos don’t really do it justice.  The dune head seems like it could swallow the Anchorage bowl.

Here’s a few of my photos from Mayday evening.

4-29-14

April 30, 2014 at 5:41 am | Posted in alaska, anchorage, photo du jour | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
spring buds

On the Turnagain Arm Trail this afternoon.

4-24-14

April 27, 2014 at 5:05 am | Posted in alaska, photo du jour | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

Hope Hwy. rest stop

10 or 12 miles in, the Hope Highway dips down to close to the high water mark of Turnagain Arm.  I stopped at this little pull-off on the way in to take this photo before the Gull Rock hike.  [And on the way back, stopped at the same place to eat two hard-boiled eggs!]

Gull Rock Trail kicks off the hiking season

April 26, 2014 at 8:24 am | Posted in alaska | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

It’s a good idea to pick an easy hike for the first one — something fairly leisurely without too much elevation gain.  I was struggling a bit at the end of this one, a 10 mile RT.  If I keep this up, by August I can be scaling 2,000 ft peaks with relative ease — it just doesn’t seem like it right now.

I only made the popular Gull Rock trek one other time, in 1996.  That time I had three boys with me, ages 11, 11 and 7 [my two and one of their friends].  This time it was just me.  I found a picture from that day, and took a photo at the same place this time.  [These kids are now 29, 29 and 25!]

Gull Rock 1996 and 2014

The little town of Hope, AK is still kind of a gem — relatively pristine, undeveloped but enough there to remind you of a rollicking past dating back 120 years.  The Seaview Cafe was built in 1896 and is a former General Store and Grocery.

Seaview Cafe, Hope, AK

Hope Social Hall corner log detail

And about a block away, a couple of cabins from the same era [one in better condition].

Cabin, Hope, AK

Cabin ruins, Hope, AK

It was a great time to be there, for a few reasons: 1. We had a relatively warm and dry Spring, which means the trail is less muddy than typical for this time of year; 2. The views are better before there are leaves on the trees; and 3. It was eerily quiet in Hope and on the trail because it’s still a month before tourist season.

Beginning at the new trailhead

Quite a few changes since 1996 — the campground is much larger and nicer, and the trailhead has been separated from the campground, with its own parking area connected by a new segment of trail.  Starting off, the groundcover vegetation is out and it’s looking more like June than April.

Devil’s Club.

Blue jay pair

A pair of blue jays.  There were many of them all along the trail.

dead large spruce

Saw many spruce stumps and some whole and partial non-living examples that were amazingly huge compared to the ones around today.  I guess logging took them out in round one, and any that remained were killed by bark beetles?

Interesting cut

On parts of the trail there are many stacked, sectioned downed trees.  The trail maintenance is very good.  Somebody had already been through there and removed all but one of the trees blocking the trail.  The artistic split/tear of this log caught my eye.

pushki

Pushki left over from last year.  This year’s crop wasn’t quite out of the ground yet.

wind sculpted

Wind sculpted branches of a spruce that sprouted from a shoreline rock bluff.

gull rock trail vegetation

Turnagain Arm view

Hope is reached via a 16-mile spur off the Seward Highway.  From Hope and the Gull Rock Trail one looks back across Turnagain Arm and the main part of the road.  Can make out glimpses of the towns of Indian, Rainbow, Girdwood, etc. and see the cars and trucks on the highway.  But they’re really small, and mostly too far away to be audible, and [it was described this way in a book] they look comical, like ants crawling along at the base of an anthill.

Turnagain Arm from Gull Rock Trail

Shady part of trail

The trail is great because it passes through so many different types of terrain and vegetation — from dense sections that are dark and foreboding even at noon, to grassy fields, windswept sandy portions, rugged rocky outcroppings, across steep faces.  There’s a rock flume crossing, and two or three places where the trail dips into [and back out of] small creek valleys.

mossy

boardwalk section

Will have to not let 18 years pass before going back!

Gull Rock Trail

4-5-14

April 6, 2014 at 5:39 am | Posted in anchorage, art, photo du jour | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

Photo class session, learning about shooting portraits in natural light.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.