Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Today is the 100th anniversary of the US National Park Service

Parks that charge entrance fees are free from today through Sunday, August 28th.

-- "Park Service celebrates 100 years, seeks minorities' support," Associated Press
-- "Are we loving our National Parks to death?," New York Times
-- "Utah Spending Million Promoting Mighty 5 National Parks," press release, 2014 and "The mighty wait at The Mighty Five (Utah's national parks)," Salt Lake Deseret News, 2016
-- "The history of the National Mall, from the White House to the National Museum of African American History and Culture," Washington Post
-- Urban Agenda report, National Park Service
-- Dog Management Planning, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
-- "At 100, National Park Service seeks younger, more diverse crowd," Minneapolis Sta-Tribune
-- "National Park Service turns 100, but facilities not being kept up," Columbus Dispatch


City of Boston master planning process (Imagine Boston 2030) suggests reading list

"Through Imagine Boston 2030, we are engaging residents on the future of our city in ways that have never been done before," said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "This reading list is another tool we're using to drive engagement and ask people to think about to Boston's first city-wide planning undertaking in 50 years. I encourage all residents to visit their local library branch to pick up at least one of the books on the list and join the conversation about the Boston's future."
They are also running a voting process to select three more books.

Adult Reading List

"Evicted" by Matthew Desmond
"The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs
“Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development” by Mel King
“The Given Day” by Dennis Lehane
"Common Ground" by J. Anthony Lukas
"All Souls" by Michael Patrick MacDonald
“The Power Broker” by Robert Caro
“Karma and Other Stories” by Rishi Reddi
"The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong” by Judith Rodin
“Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in a Boston Barrio” by Mario Luis Small
"Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time" by Jeff Speck
"The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future" by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Youth (Ages 3+) Reading List

“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing” by M. T. Anderson
“The City of Ember” by Jeanne DuPrau
"Pennies for Elephants" by Lita Judge
“What’s the Big Idea? Four Centuries of Innovation in Boston” by Stephen Krensky
"Make Way for Ducklings" by Robery McCloskey
"Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagine" by Steve McDonald
“Beneath the Streets of Boston” by Joe McKendry
"On the Loose in Boston (Find the Animals)" by Sage Stossel

===My suggestions======

Drawing from The House Book.

I used to say that if you're going to read just one book, read Cities Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz because it is an excellent primer with lots of examples, based on the ideas of Jane Jacobs but more accessible because of the examples. 

But the book is close to 20 years old now, and needs more recent examples probably to be graspable by the average person.  It's still a great book, as is her earlier book, The Living City.

Belmont's Cities in Full is a great explanation of the value of center cities and centralization vs. deconcentration. It needs an update too in the face of current practice. The first chapter puts numbers to many of the concepts expressed by Jane Jacobs in Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Changing Places by Carter Willkie and Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is out of print but an excellent overview of the centrality of historic preservation to successful urban revitalization. Preserving Historic New England: Preservation, Progressivism, and the Remaking of Memory is specifically about the history of the historic preservation movement in New England Antiquities.

David Engwicht's Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns: Better Living Through Less Traffic lays out the founding principles of what is now called "transportation demand management," and discusses in great detail the advantages of sustainable mobility for cities in facilitating "exchange" of all kinds.

William H. Whyte's City: Rediscovering the Center lays out urban design principles that form the basis of urban success.

James Howard Kuntsler's Home from Nowhere and Geography of Nowhere are rocking reads about cities and the value of authenticity.

Obviously Power Broker is a classic explanation of how real estate development and power and politics, but it's over 1,000 pages. Urban Fortunes: Towards a Political Economy of Place is probably too technical. There has to be shorter more relevant books specifically about Boston's real estate development ecosystem.  People might appreciate Anthony Flint's Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City because it compares and contrasts the two very different approaches, top-down/mega-projects vs. ground up incrementalism that they each espoused.

For Boston specifically, it'd be helpful to understand how metropolitan area development was enabled and shaped by transit, and this has historical antecedents, so Sam Bass Warner's Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 is in order.  A City So Grand covers the city's history from 1850-1900 during one of the periods of hyper growth.

Other books on Boston urban history include Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston and Inventing the Charles River--which is a man-made river, constructed out of flats. Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System addresses the creation of Boston's original park system.

Policing and K-12 education are other key topics.  I think Fixing Broken Windows by Kelling is worth a read.  Problem-oriented policing as a concept is much different from "zero tolerance policing" although the two practices are conflated.  There's a newer book on the general topic by the former chief of the Seattle depatment but I haven't read it, To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's Police.

I can't say I know what would be the definitive book to recommend on K-12 education practice. A couple that come to mind are Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago and The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education.  But quality local schools are fundamental building blocks for neighborhoods, and key to retention of families with choices.  Typically, master planning processes don't adequately acknowledge this nor do they organize their planning frameworks for the sub-community scale to bring this about.

Maybe the book Streets of Hope is too dated, about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, a ground up community development initiative.  I haven't read A People's History of the New Boston which covers community organizing movements of the 1960s and 1970s, but that would be a worthwhile alternative.

For kids, I'd recommend The House Book by Keith DuQuette.  It's many drawings also explain some elements of urban development, and the difference between urban and suburban development.

Reading Groups going forward.  I used to say back in the day with the "everybody read the same book" campaigns in various cities that it would be good to focus on urbanism, to get people roughly at the same point on contemporary city issues.

It'd be interesting to create on-going reading groups for each of these sub-areas such as transportation, schools, parks, etc., because there are many many more books that are relevant and important to know about and understand and apply to current conditions.

Architecture, economic development and the organization of work (e.g., the "sharing economy" and product service systems), retail practice etc. are some of the areas that I didn't address that are relevant to urban planning and urban futures.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Will D.C.’s Housing Ever Be Affordable Again?

Is the title of an article in The Atlantic Magazine.  My short answer is no.

Here's why.

1. DC is a small place, about 61 square miles. But about 1/3 of the land is owned by the federal government or other institutions and therefore can not be built on for housing. (Unless the institution goes out of business, which does happen, but not that often.  One example is St. Paul's College in Brookland.  Earlier a section was sold off to EYA, which built no lot rowhouses on the land.)

 Most of the city that can be developed, especially single family housing districts, has already been developed. It is very difficult to make over single family districts into multiunit, denser housing.  Plus, the new housing would cost more than the old housing because it would be new.

Montreal (tri) plexMontreal's plex housing type fits 5-6 units in the same space as two rowhouses in DC.

2.  During the period when the bulk of DC's housing stock was constructed, the buildings constructed were relatively small, compared to other cities.  (Think of NYC tenements vs. single family rowhouses in DC.)

This continues to restrict how many people can be accommodated in rowhouses and rowhouse neighborhoods.

3. Height and therefore density controls significantly reduce the ability to add substantive amounts of new housing.

Besides most of the city has already been developed, so practically speaking, new housing can only be added to commercial districts, transit stations, and institutional properties.  Given the height limit, 16 stories is about the maximum allowable height of a building in DC.

But that's in the central business district, Downtown and adjacent areas.  Outside of the core, the zoning-based height limit is much less and six stories is a more typical height, four is common, although in some districts--Petworth, Columbia Heights, Waterfront--some buildings are closer to ten stories.

Cheap infill rowhouse, 500 block of M Street NE
Most of DC's rowhouses are small, topping out at two or three stories.  Note the cheap infill rowhouse in this image, from the 400 block of M Street NE.

4. Demand has increased for a relatively fixed stock of housing. Therefore, prices go up. DC is now a strong real estate market.

 And as the prices further escalate in the in-demand areas, people seek out nearby housing in less-in-demand communities (in what Live Baltimore calls the "one-over neighborhood" phenomenon), reconnecting these neighborhoods to the in-demand portion of the city's housing market.

5. Plus the demand for new housing is still greater than the supply, even with the multiunit apartment and condominium buildings that have already been added to the market, so housing prices stay high except over multi decade timelines.

6. This is because by definition new construction is priced at the top of the market.

7. Inclusionary Zoning, or requiring that new housing being constructed set aside some units to be rented or sold to lower income households, has no impact on the existing building stock and it doesn't create a portfolio of "old" affordable housing.

8. Plus as pointed out in the article, the city hasn't focused on acquisition of existing housing to maintain affordability. In other words, there is no program to maintain affordability, other than the program which allows residents of multiunit buildings to join together to purchase the property in certain situations, which is a decent program. By contrast, cities like New York have pursued multiple actions and developed multiple programs that aim to preserve and expand the stock of affordable housing.

9. Neighborhood resident activism with regard to zoning and building approvals reduces the actual built density of new construction within the current zoning limits (see 1). This means that many multiunit buildings are constructed at a height and density less than allowable zoning. Note that by "allowing" built housing to be less than maximum legal density, it also costs the city property tax revenue as well as reduced income tax and sales tax revenues as an opportunity cost because of fewer residents.

The five story Allegro building in Columbia Heights is about two blocks from the Metro Station and one block from an eight story apartment building constructed in the early part of the 20th Century.

10. The city's zoning code doesn't provide an automatic density bonus for housing constructed within one or two blocks of Metrorail stations.

E.g., I can point to new buildings in my neighborhood, within two blocks of Metro that are easily 2-3 stories shorter "than they could be" given the existence of nearby transit infrastructure.

The three and one-half story Willow and Maple Apartments in Takoma DC are about two blocks from the Metrorail station.  Across the street is a taller four story building and across the border in Takoma is a one-off ten story office building.

Very Long Term Solutions

First, we must recognize that adding housing to an already strong market, because it is newly constructed, will only stabilize housing prices relatively in the short term, except that it may reduce demand on the single family housing market a bit, by providing a greater number of housing tenure options and more housing generally.  However, in the long term, on a 30 to 50 year time frame, prices will stabilize as these properties are paid off, and as the housing inventory expands signficantly.

2.  Legalize higher height and density.  (Mostly, I argue this because of DC's need to remain competitive vis a vis suburban jurisdictions and to increase the tax base to the point where increased revenues could finance intra-city heavy rail transit service.  See "DC Height Study Public Meetings This Week and the long term implications for transit expansion in DC.")
3. Baring that, add a density bonus in commercial districts and transit station catchment areas.  Currently, the limit in many areas is about 6-7 stories.  In many districts outside of the core, new multiunit buildings max out at about 4 stories.

4.  Make it city policy to not lop off a floor or two of new projects so that residents feel like they are part of the process out of a recognition that such practice reduces the amount of housing available and increases cost--that if they are concerned about housing access and housing prices, then they need to follow through with congruent practice designed to increase housing access and stabilize housing prices.

5.  Encourage the creation of accessory dwelling units in a systematic manner and make building regulations on the practice more nuanced -- in other words, allow more units on a larger properties, encourage units in transit station catchment areas,  rather than just one unit per lot, regardless of the size or location.  See "Granny flats' – a solution to housing crunch – come under fire," Christian Science Monitor.  From the article:
A resident of Portland, Ore., Mr. Peterson owns a company called Accessory Dwelling Strategies, which seeks to educate the public about the benefits of building a granny flat, or accessory dwelling unit.

He gives talks about designing and constructing ADUs and consults with realtors about the best ways to market secondary homes. He also runs a citywide ADU tour of Portland in an effort to prove that secondary homes can enhance neighborhoods rather than spoil them while allowing owners to make a profit.

“It’s a way for middle-income homeowners to create a passive income stream and flexibility for themselves,” Peterson says. “It’s a compelling form of development opportunity that is entirely market-driven … [but] not done by huge, large scale, well-heeled developers. It’s kind of a grass-roots form of housing movement.”

And it's growing, he says. In 2015, Portland saw three times the number of applications for ADU permits than in 2009, when it first waived system development fees and reduced the cost of permits by up to $15,000, OregonLive reports. Portland now approves slightly more than 100 ADUs annually, more than almost any other city in the US, Peterson says.
6.  Build denser public housing projects.  Complement the developments with great social and community programs to encourage mixed income and community stability.  But the policy over the last 20 years has been to reduce the size of the developments, thereby reducing the amount of housing available.

Bonus policy, semi-related

I was shocked to see an article in the Washington Business Journal, "D.C. doesn't want deeper levels of affordability in JBG's Eckington project" about how the city's Department of Housing and Community Development opposed a proposal by a developer to add more affordable housing to a project, but only if the housing was managed by the developer.

The Condo Shop is a condominium sales and marketing firm based in Philadelphia.

The city needs to develop the equivalent of a market-oriented affordable housing property sales and management agency that can be "nonprofit" but managed and marketed like how the private sector does it, with companies that specialize in selling condos, such as McWilliams-Ballard or Urban Pace.

Rather than separate marketing efforts for each separate development, combine it all into one program.  Focus on maximizing production and rental/sales of affordable housing units rather than bureaucracy.

Such an agency needs to be run with a private sector verve, which for the most part is not possible by typical government employees.  The way that Arlington County runs its transportation programs is an example of such a repositioning, based on social marketing practices ("Social Marketing the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore) way").

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You want more affordable housing, how do you pay for it?: National Development Council Brings Nationally Acclaimed Rental Housing Development Finance Course to D.C.

If I've learned one thing from being so involved in urban revitalization, especially in emerging neighborhoods, it's that financing is the essential enabler.

For all of the talk about affordability, housing production, and the importance of building housing for demographics other than those of the highest income, the fact of the matter is that this type of housing is incredibly difficult to finance, because it is higher risk and less profitable, and construction financiers prefer to fund projects with the least amount of risk and the most profit.

-- Affordable Housing Institute

Most of us in the broad field of neighborhood and urban revitalization aren't particularly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of finance. 

Typically, an affordable-social housing development is funded as a result of lining up multiple finance sources, from community development funds, tax credits of various types, funding for pre-development costs, etc.

As you can see by running a simulation through the housing finance calculator, The Cost of Affordable Housing: Does it Pencil Out, produced by the Urban Institute and the National Housing Conference, funding, constructing, and operating an affordable housing development is very difficult to do without running an annual deficit.

Some of the ways that the deficit can be reduced/erased is through free land, pre-development financial assistance, density bonuses, and renting to different tranches of the affordable housing demographics that can pay higher rents than people making 30% of Average Median Income for a metropolitan area.

That's why the course that the National Development Council offers on the topic seems so interesting and important. Because the program is being offered at the suggestion of the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, they are offering a 20% discount on the registration fee.

From the press release:
The National Development Council (NDC) is pleased to announce it will be bringing its nationally recognized and APA AICP accredited HD420-Rental Housing Development Finance course to Washington, D.C. September 19-23, 2016.

The HD420 course provides nonprofit and government professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to increase their development finance capacity to successfully facilitate housing development in the states, regions and communities they serve. Participants will take a detailed look at the analysis, financing and development of affordable rental housing and learn the underwriting criteria used by lenders and the rates of return demanded by private equity investors in order to determine their investment in a rental housing project. The HD420 course also explores the methods practitioners can utilize to attract the maximum amount of private capital to rental housing projects as well as the techniques to fill financing gaps with public resources.

NDC’s HD420-Rental Housing Development Finance course is approved through the American Planning Association’s Certification Maintenance Program (36.00 credits). The training will be held at the Double Tree by Hilton located at 1515 Rhode Island Avenue, NW Washington, D.C.

About the discount:

*Save 10% with promo code dchd420 and an extra 10% when you register by September 10, 2016. This is a limited time offer valid only on new registrations received between August 23, 12016 and September 15, 2016. Discount is non-transferable after this date. Promo code must be entered at the time of registration. This offer cannot be used on any previous registrations or courses sponsored by a third party.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Twenty candidates compete for seats on BART, AC Transit boards

Michael Petrelis is a candidate for the BART Board for one of the districts within San Francisco.

The San Francisco Bay Area may be one of the only areas in the US where board members for the transit agency are popularly elected.  Boards for both the Bay Area Rapid Transit heavy rail system and the AC Transit system for Alameda County are elected.  See "Twenty candidates compete for seats on BART, AC Transit boards," East Bay Times.

By contrast most other areas have boards appointed by other government bodies.

Last year, BART Board Member Zachary Mallett pushed forward an initiative to put board member photos and contact information up in transit stations, as a way for riders to know who they could contact to express their concerns, although some people criticized this as an election promotion mechanism ("BART director wants to display board's photos in cars, stations," SF Chronicle).

Over the years I have suggested that the DC area WMATA transit agency have popularly elected members, and that more cities, including DC< should have Transportation Commissions--although typically such members are appointed.  (In the DC area, Arlington County and the City of Rockville have transportation commissions.  The City of Tempe in Arizona does also.)

Commenter charlie pointed out that the advantage of appointed members in the DC area is that they are connected to the jurisdictions that provide funding.  But if sales or property tax revenues were added to the funding mix for WMATA, then that could change the calculus somewhat.

In Greater Portland, Oregon, there the Council of Governments and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (the transportation planning organization designated by the US DOT for the metropolitan area) were merged into a common body and eventually the positions were shifted to being popularly elected. In Ontario, there are both regional and local governments in some areas, not unlike how in the US there can be county elected governments simultaneous with locally elected governments.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Wyoming displays traffic death totals on highway safety signs

I'm intrigued by the idea of sensor networks and other counters and displays of relevant information in the public space, be it bike counters like in Arlington County (and many cities in Europe) or potentially the display of information on water and air quality ("Park bench air monitoring station at Smithsonian National Zoo and city sensor networks").

Another way to do this is in online dashboards, although I sometimes question failures in the quality of the information provided ("Does the focus on big data mean we miss the opportunity for better use of "little data": Part 1--Road Condition Data as an example of failures in presenting data (Information Design)").

Yet another example is information presented within office buildings on various environmental metrics ("A Measured Approach to Going Green: IBM “Green Sigma (TM)”: Consulting Offering to Help Clients Reduce Energy and Water Usage," IBM).

According to the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle ("Wyoming electronic signs highlight highway deaths"), the Wyoming Department of Transportation is using the freeway sign active information displays to present information on traffic fatalities.

Photo: Wyoming DOT.

From the article:
You might have already seen this staggering statistic on electronic message boards across the state: 25 fatal crashes have happened on Wyoming highways since July 15.

As of Thursday, there had been 73 fatalities so far this year.

“The message in all of this is that a third of our fatalities this year have occurred in the last 30 days,” said Gregg Fredrick, the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s chief engineer.

“It’s a sobering message, and it’s not a message that we want to see out there. We don’t want to see any fatalities on our highways.
It turns out that many other states do this too.  Nevada does it, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, and likely others.  Texas, being so big and populated, has over 2,000 traffic-related fatalities each year ("TxDOT Signs To Regularly Display Traffic Death Numbers").

While only a small proportion of the population makes behavior changes based on information and logic ("The healthy choice:n ow behavioral factors create influential health campaigns," Deloitte), it's still powerful.

Note that a few weeks ago I was traveling from Virginia across the 14th Street Bridge and there was a similar message about the WMATA SafeTrack program advising people to consider other transportation options, but I wasn't in a position to be able to get a photo.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

DC's (lack of full) commitment to bicycle "superhighways": and the counter example of Four Mile Run Trail in Arlington County

In order to increase significantly the take up of bicycling for transportation, appropriate infrastructure needs to be provided. Just as for the traditional road network and its classification of freeways, highways, principal and secondary arterials, collector streets, and neighborhood streets serving a variety of types of trips, what's appropriate bicycle infrastructure depends on the nature of the trip, such as if it is intra-neighborhood, within a district or city, or a further distance, across jurisdictional boundaries, etc.

I wrote about this a couple months ago, in "Wanted: a metropolitan scale bikeways/trails program run by the Metropolitan Planning Organization," which was in part a response to the area Paved Trails Plan draft by the National Park Service.  There was a brief follow up based on the trail signage framework developed in Greater Knoxville ("Greater Knoxville Greenway signage framework").

My complaint is that there isn't a metropolitan-scale plan for the Washington metropolitan area, laying out and implementing an integrated system of bikeways that is cross-jurisdictional.

This is the case despite planning within jurisdictions such as in DC, Prince George's County, and Montgomery County, the latter two are updating the bicycle and trails plans.

At the metropolitan scale, there are many gaps in planning and practice when it comes to the build out of the equivalent of cycle superhighways comparable to the Dutch ("The – almost finished – F59 from ʼs-Hertogenbosch to Oss," Bicycle Dutch), Danish ("In Denmark, Pedaling to Work on a Superhighway," New York Times, German ("Moving Beyond the Autobahn: Germany’s New Bike Highways," Yale360), or London ("The new East - West Cycle Superhighway in London, Hackney Cyclist).

Cycle superhighways are are long distance trails many miles in length, with high quality treatments, including for the most part, separation from motor vehicle traffic and highly distinctive treatments at junction points between the road network and the trail network.

Image from "Cycle Super Highways to generate more cyclists in Greater Copenhagen Area," Cycling Embassy of Denmark.

From the Yale360 article:
Cycling highways are fundamentally different from usual cycling lanes. Highways are around 4 to 5 meters wide — twice the width of many bike paths — so faster cyclists can overtake slower ones in both directions. High-quality asphalt is often used to enable bicyclists to travel faster. These highways are designed with few or no intersections with major roads, and as few traffic lights as possible — all intended to enable cyclists to travel effortlessly within or among cities and suburbs. Like autobahns, the biking highways are designed to allow travelers to cover large distances without leaving the network.
DC's primary cycle superhighways are the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, the Capital Crescent Trail, and the Metropolitan Branch Branch Trail, and the Suitland Parkway Trail, among others. These trails do have long stretches of lanes separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Still, there are many gaps and it is taking more than 30 years to realize the Metropolitan Branch Trail, from when it was first suggested in an op-ed in the Washington Post in 1989 ("Geared to Everyone's Interests-A Brookland Bike Trail").

The primary cycle superhighway in Metropolitan DC is the Mount Vernon Trail in Northern Virginia, which is mostly on property controlled by the National Park Service.  This trail is accessible from highway crossings and includes connections to National Airport, both of which are still relatively extraordinary examples of high quality connections within a bikeway network.

The Mount Vernon Trail is complemented by other trails in Northern Virginia, including Four Mile Run, Custis Trail, both in Arlington County, and the multi-county Washington and Old Dominion Trail.

In their latest advocacy e-letter, Washington Area Bicyclist Association recounts how the DC Department of Transportation will not be including an underpass for the MBT at Monroe Street NE in conjunction with the reconstruction of that bridge, even though this had been promised for many years.

Note that I wrote about different failure wrt this project in June, about how the reconstruction could be leveraged to reknit the street fabric between the east and west sides of the Brookland neighborhood by constructing liner buildings on Monroe Street.  See "Transportation infrastructure and civic architecture #4:The Monroe Street Bridge as an opportunity to reknit the built environment/street fabric."
Monroe Street Bridge reconstruction, Brookland neighborhood, Washington, DC
In 2012, I suggested an alternative routing for the MBT in this area on 9th Street NE, because the 8th Street routing mixes cyclists with industrial and school traffic. See "Alternative routing for the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Brookland." (Note that photos in the entry with an unviewable notice are viewable if you click through.)

I think DDOT's move forward with a bridge reconstruction not including either a gliner buildings or an underpass for the Metropolitan Branch Trail are good examples of how DDOT isn't fully committed to how transportation infrastructure projects can make long term positive contributions to community and economic development and a more integrated multi-modal transportation system that is focused on optimal mobility in the urban context.

However, there's no doubt the city is committed to cycling.

DC is doing a lot of good, commendable actions, such as expanding bike share, creating cycle tracks, creating contra-flow lanes for bicyclists so that they can ride legally in both directions on one way streets ("G Place NE contraflow lane - Now with markings!," WaschCycle), developing a "neighborhood bikeway network" and improving cyclist safety at problematic intersections by creating new marking patterns on the street ("These new bike lanes help traffic flow, called "pocket lanes," help traffic flow and keep cyclists safe," Greater Greater Washington).

But at the same time, the agency seems to be unwilling to develop projects in particularly transformational ways, such as making the MBT work well as a "cycle superhighway" by building an underpass at Monroe Street, or developing the bridge so that it can accommodate liner buildings.

I contrast this to Arlington County, Virginia -- granted they developed a set of "cycle superhighways" over many years.

Earlier in the week, I had a meeting in Alexandria, at a location near the conjunction of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax Counties, just off King Street. It was about 14 miles from home and I cycled despite the heat.

About half the trip was in DC, all on streets, and the rest in Virginia.

Once I got to the 14th Street Bridge I was able to ride almost the entire remaining distance without coming into contact with motor vehicle traffic, via the Mount Vernon Trail and the Four Mile Run Trail, having had to cross only a handful of streets. Four Mile Run is particularly exemplary, with a number of underpasses, the kind that DDOT is not willing to build at the Monroe Street Bridge.  It even provides an underpass crossing of I-395, the Interstate Highway!

It could have somewhat better signage, although the signage is quite good, and it lacks map signs, air pumps, repair stands, etc.  (There is one map sign on the Mount Vernon Trail when it intersects.)

While it doesn't have those particular amenities, it does have some covered benches, trash cans, public art, a bike share station and exercise stations adjacent to the trail in Shirlington, and a community bulletin board in the Claremont neighborhood.

A metropolitan bikeways plan would call out exemplary infrastructure and set high expectations for adopting the same kind of infrastructure across area jurisdictions with the aim of creating an integrated wide scale bikeways network.

On underpasses
Arlington County -- +1
DC -- -1 (although the Metropolitan Branch Trail has an overpass at Rhode Island Avenue and Florida Avenue and an underpass at New York Avenue).

Public art on the fence outside the wastewater treatment plant

Trail rules sign

Community bulletin board, Claremont Historic District

Bike share station map, S. Arlington Mill Drive, Shirlington

Street underpass on the Four Mile Run Trail

Underpass at I-395, Flickriver photo

 The Four Mile Run Trail is also an electric power transmission corridor

Transportation brochure rack, Shirlington Library

Area transportation options map, Shirlington Library

On S. Walter Reed Drive near King Street/Alexandria City border

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Museum of Design Atlanta Announces FREE Membership Program for Kids: equity and access in museum and cultural planning

Years ago, reading a Wallace Foundation report on building audiences for the arts (Engaging the Entire Community), I was struck by one of the examples, how the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a free membership program for low income audiences, even providing free bus transportation to programs.

Chanel Baldwin, exploring the Brooklyn Museum after learning that admission fees were suggested. Karsten Moran, New York Times.

In 2013 there was an article in the New York Times ("Escaping the Heat in Art's Fortress: A teenager escapes the summer heat in a museum lobby, then learns she doesn’t have to pay a fee to see the art") about how visitors to some of NYC's major museums (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, etc.) have the choice to pay what they want, but often young adults don't know this.

More recently, PS1 in New York City provides free entry to NYC residents through this October, compliments of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation ("MoMA PS1 Announces Free Admission to All New York City Residents," press release).

Image courtesy of MODA.

The Museum of Design Atlanta has just announced a program in this vein, offering free membership to children and youth up to 17 years of age and one adult.  From a press release:
Kids who join Design Club will be joining a network of over 1,500 young designers, most of whom are in the metro-Atlanta area, but some of whom live as far away as Chicago and Rome, Italy! 
MODA’s Design Club offers each member and one accompanying adult unlimited free admission to the museum’s exhibitions, newsletters with unique design challenges, and invitations to Design Club activities that empower youth to use design and design thinking to face real world challenges they encounter in everyday life. To make it official, Design Club members also receive personalized membership cards to use at the front desk. 
“We believe that kids can change the world,” said MODA executive director Laura Flusche. “They see the world through fresh eyes, they love wacky ideas, and they are brave enough to think that anything is possible.” Design Club gives children access to exhibitions and programs with the aim of helping them fall in love with the problem-solving power of design.

In order to support this revolutionary program, MODA raised funds through the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs Power2Give Program in early 2016, asking individual and corporate donors to make gifts that were matched by the City of Atlanta.
The New York City initiatives are free form.  Students can enter the museum for free, and there are programs, but it's more free form.  The Walker Art Center initiative focused on families in a concerted way.  But the MODA initiative takes this one step further, by positioning and developing the Design Club as a "network" that builds upon the participation of individuals towards a more group focused involvement and identity.

Artists For Humanity as an another example of working with youth in the arts and design fields.  I happened to mention AFH yesterday related to their creation of a Roxbury-centric design for a Hubway bike, in honor of the expansion of the Hubway bike sharing system to Roxbury.

Image from "Artists For Humanity Installed a 3D Mural Along the Mass. Pike," BostonInno.

AFH is an youth training initiative where working artists work with students to create commissioned arts and design projects ("Mayor Walsh announces expansion of Artists for Humanity," Daily Free Press, Boston University; "Artists for Humanity turns young people's creative impulses into gainful employment," Kresge Foundation).

In part, it's providing access to career options within the creative industries to people who might not otherwise consider the opportunity.

From the KF article:
In one room, young photographers learn from pros about telling compelling stories with pictures. Down the hall whip-smart ideas become hip T-shirt designs in the silk screen studio. A bit farther along, in the 3-D workroom, scraps and detritus are being recycled. The items are as small as jewelry beads and as large as a sculpture installation – a curved aluminum-sheet section of the latter is being festooned with recycled soda bottle caps – for Logan Airport. On the next floor, there’s a forest of easels, more than 80 of them, with painters creating self-portraits, streetscapes, landscapes, abstracts at each station.

Most important, these workrooms and others at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood crackle with creative energy barely contained. “All they need is opportunity and challenge,” says Susan Rodgerson, the executive/artistic director, sharing one of her aphorisms.

Artists for Humanities began 20 years ago as a one-off mural project in a troubled Boston middle school. That initial notion was simple enough: work with young people on commissioned art and see that they get paid. It’s morphed into roughly more than a hundred teens filling a 23,500-square-foot facility. Each year, 300 or more public high school students work in areas from Web design to murals, motion graphics to painting.
Also see the past blog entry, "An illustration of government and design thinking," about the relevance of the design method and process to social change, civic engagement, and provision of public services.

Cultural master planning.  Many communities, such as Baltimore, support free museum access (even if admission fees are still required for special exhibitions). Equity and access should be a distinct element in the framework for developing community cultural master plans. Typically this is not the case.

In Washington, DC, the city has many free museums run by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art, yet many residents, especially low income residents and youth, have never visited. This is further accentuated by the decline in funding for school trips, which are often great ways to introduce children and youth--I still remember going to the Detroit Institute of Arts on a class trip for my French class to see the exhibition on French Impressionists, when I was in 8th grade.

Initiatives like MODA’s Design Club are important examples for communities looking for better ways to reach traditionally under-served audiences, especially youth and low income families.  (It appears as if the Walker Art Center no longer offers the "Explore Membership" program for low income households.  See "Case Study," Philanthropology, for a discussion of the various engagement initiatives.)

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Public diplomacy and the Olympics: Ryan Lochte et al.

Because the US is arguably the richest nation in the world, the country tends to be very successful at the Olympic Games, and athletes representing the US win a plurality of the medals.

 Just as I joke sometimes that US soldiers serving in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan ought to have PhDs in Anthropology and Sociology, the athletes at the Games represent the US as a form of public diplomacy.

-- Public Diplomacy and the Olympic Games, USC Center on Public Diplomacy
-- Strategies for Improving Brazilian Public Diplomacy with the 2016 Summer Olympics, GWU Masters Thesis (this paper is not on what visiting countries can do, but the opportunities for host countries)

Ryan Lochte and his friends, and their debacle -- claiming they were robbed when actually they were confronted by security guards after breaking a door at a gas station -- embarrassed the US and Brazil.  See "Ryan Lochte apologizes for description of gas station incident," USA Today.

They typify why too often we are called "Ugly Americans" when we travel abroad.

Considering that Tommie Smith and John Carlos and were stripped of their medals at the 1968 Olympics because of their making the Black Power salute when they were on the awards podium--not that I think that was the right decision on the part of the IOC (and the US Olympic Committee, to their credit, did not agree)--at the very least, Ryan Lochte ought to lose any payments he is to receive from the US Olympic Committee for being a medal winner at these games.

Also see the past blog entry, "Re-branding America."
Brand America by Anholt

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London 24 hour weekend Underground service launches tonight

Tom Toles editorial cartoon, 8/1/2016, night service
Tom Toles, editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post, cartoon on the proposal to cut Metrorail weekend service hours.

In "Night and weekend transit/subway service: Metrorail edition," we discussed the suggestion by WMATA's general manager to close Metrorail earlier on weekends, to provide more time for maintenance.

 After I wrote that piece, I came across discussion of the same issues in San Francisco, where under the auspices of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, the local jurisdictions have organized a "Late Night Transit Working Group" and they are working to provide coordinated 24-hour transit service throughout the San Francisco Bay region. See "Slight revisiting of the issue of overnight transit service: San Francisco."

Metro-Land was a real estate promotion guidebook produced by the Metropolitan Railway of Greater London to promote living in the various housing developments served by the line. 

"Metro-Land' is the term coined by the Met to refer to the new suburbs that grew in northwest London as a direct result of the developing railway line."

A past entry, "DC as "Metro-Land" vs. constrained transit planning," discusses transit as a conveyance for commuters versus an enabler of sustainable mobility and urbanity.

The Metrorail proposal for service cutbacks raises the issue of the need and demand for 24-hour transit service and the fact that there isn't a metropolitan scale plan for such.

As mentioned in the first two pieces cited above, after a few years of planning, the London Underground is introducing 24-hour weekend service on some lines, with plans to extend this service to other lines.  The intent was to start this program last year, but it took more than one year to negotiate an agreement with the labor unions to be able to launch the service.

Anyway, the service launches tonight.


-- "London’s Night Tube is finally open; here’s everything you need to know," Lonely Planet
-- "London's 24-hour Tube = $101 million economic boost," CNN
-- "London gets a 24-hour Tube at last," The Economist
-- "Night Tube to drive up London house prices near late-night lines," Independent
-- "Night Tube: London's best clubs, bars and restaurants open long after midnight," Independent
-- "Here are four ways London will benefit from the night tube," City A.M.
-- "London's night-time economy could be worth £43bn and an extra 115,000 jobs," City A.M.
-- "Night Tube finally arrives today: Here's everything we know," City A.M.
-- "RMT union backs Night Tube - and its members - after having striked on pay," City A.M.
-- "Countdown to a non-stop capital: London goes 24-hour," Guardian

From The Economist:
IT HAS taken an age to leave the platform, but on August 20th, shortly after midnight, London’s first night-time Tube train will at last pull out of Brixton station. So after years of dithering, the city will catch up with the likes of New York, Sydney and Berlin, with a 24-hour service on the Underground.

Initially, London’s effort will be limited to just two of its 11 Tube lines, and only on the weekends. Eventually five lines will stay up all night, with trains running about every ten minutes. Businesses and London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, argue that the night-time Tube will give a welcome boost to an economy still anxious about the consequences of Brexit.

It should be a boon to shift-workers and clubbers alike. According to research undertaken for London First, a lobby group, 723,000 people work nights in London. Many are in relatively low-paid jobs, such as catering and nursing, and face long journeys home to the suburbs. Until now they have had to rely on night buses, usage of which has increased by 170% since 2000. Transport for London, which runs the Tube, expects to carry another 200,000 people per night when the new service is fully up and running, on top of the half-million who already use the Tube after 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Recommendations for Night Transit Service in the DC Metropolitan area:

(New recommendation #6)

1. If Metrorail cuts back weekend hours, the WMATA transit agency should create a companion night owl bus service.

2. WMATA should create a Night Owl bus service along the route of the Metrorail system anyway. The proposed cutback on Metrorail hours should be the impetus for the creation of a system of overnight bus service for the metropolitan area.

[The study for extending overnight weekend service for the London Underground predicts that the average trip will be from 20 minutes to one hour faster compared to other modes.]

3. Overnight service within the suburban jurisdictions would have to be provided, complementing the metropolitan-scale overnight bus service paralleling the Metrorail station network.

4. The overnight bus routes parallelling the Metrorail network should allow "flag stops" so that riders can get off the bus between Metrorail stations, so that they can alight closer to their final destination.

5. WMATA should provide Night Owl bus services for the region's airports, operating when Metrorail service is unavailable to National Airport and Dulles, and later than the current B30 service to BWI Airport, which ends between 10 pm and 11 pm most nights. This service could be staged from Union Station.

6. The Transportation Policy Board should create a Late Night Transportation Working Group to coordinate late night transit planning across the metropolitan area and across jurisdictional borders. A combined map of late night transit services should be created.

Note that this is a matter of network breadth, depth, level of service, and level of quality, and as I have discussed in "Without the right transportation planning framework, metropolitan areas are screwed, and that includes the DC area," this should be planned at the metropolitan scale, by the metropolitan planning organization, independent of transit operators.

Adding night bus service to complement the Night Tube.  Note that Transport for London, planning integratively, is adding new bus routes to complement the new Night Tube service, "Night Tube service: Eight new night bus routes to launch to coincide with 24-hour Underground start date," London Evening Standard. Although they are adjusting current night bus services in response, and could cut services going forward depending on how much ridership shifts to the Tube.

Security.  More transit police will be added to provide coverage for overnight service hours also ("London's night tube to get 100 extra police as 24-hour service begins," Guardian).

Both are examples of planning broadly for most elements of service expansion, rather than responding after the fact.

Night transit service map for the San Francisco Bay area

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Boston Hubway Bike share program expands presence in Roxbury neighborhood: insights into transportation equity

WRT bike share, often when stations are placed in low income neighborhoods, they are underused compared to stations in higher income neighborhoods.

Bicycling for transportation is often held to what I think of as a higher standard concerning equity, or the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups--people of color, women, etc.  I say this is unreasonable in some respects because biking is still only in the earliest stages of innovation diffusion in terms of being a mass practice.

I've covered this in various posts, including "Urg: bad studies don't push the discourse or policy forward" and "The problem when you define every outcome as a success, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share in Seattle and Los Angeles as examples."

That being said, I would say that my response in the second paragraph above is the wrong answer, and that the right question is:
Given that bicycling for transportation is still early in the innovation diffusion curve, what needs to be done to bring about greater participation on the part of underrepresented demographics as take up for transportational cycling increases?  
The right answer has four parts: access to bikes + infrastructure + programming + promotion.
I think it's fair to say that a "build it and they will come" approach focusing on constructing infrastructure does lead to a modest increase in cycling for transportation, but it isn't enough to reap the full potential in terms of the number of people biking versus the number of people who state that they are willing to bike for transportation.

Trickle down growth from infrastructure expansion isn't enough.

Fortunately, there are many examples of best practice programs that encourage cycling as transportation for underrepresented populations, ranging from programs at the Community Cycling Center of Portland to "create a commuter" and scads of programs that work with youth such as Neighborhood Bicycle Works in Philadelphia or Recycle-A-Bicycle in New York City, or the Women's Cycling Initiative of the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals.

Photo by Tim Shugrue for Healthy Communities Champions Boston.

The Boston Bikes program of the City of Boston Transportation Department is also a trendsetter in terms of a local government agency systematically developing specific practices designed to encourage and support bicycling take up on the part of low income populations ("Equity as the sixth "E" in bike and pedestrian planning").

But despite the existence of a great number of best practice examples across the country, few planning, parks, or transportation departments are following the Boston Bikes example of combining planning, infrastructure expansion, and programming into an integrated program.  (Doing so is what I call "action planning.")

Flickr photo by Varmazis.

Boston's Hubway bike share program and equity.  With bike share, Boston is a national leader, offering a $5 per year membership--including a helmet--to residents participating in various means-tested economic support programs.  Few programs have yet to follow Boston's lead.

Now the Hubway bike share program is expanding coverage to the Roxbury, Dorchester, and East Boston neighborhoods ("At last, Hubway arrives in some underserved communities" Boston Globe), adding 20 stations and over 200 bikes. From the article:
Walsh announced the 10 new stations in Roxbury and North Dorchester in an event at the Roxbury YMCA. At the conclusion of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Walsh officially opened the YMCA Hubway station by docking a bike designed by Artists for Humanity, a local nonprofit. The bike, which featured a brightly colored frame that depicted famous Roxbury social justice activists like Melnea Cass, Elma Lewis, and Ruth Batson, will stay in public use. 
Bike share station sign promoting expansion to Roxbury, including the financial participation by the Barr Foundation.  Photo courtesy of Artists For Humanity. 
 “These bikes here in Roxbury represent our commitment for our city to be healthy, be an active city, and have safe bike riding in every neighborhood,” Walsh told the crowd. “[To] the people from the community: we heard your voices.” ...
Since its launch, stations have multiplied in areas surrounding downtown Boston, Somerville, Cambridge — and, even before this week, quickly changing parts of Roxbury like Dudley Square. In some of the city’s more marginalized areas, including public transportation islands like Mattapan, and further neighborhoods like Roslindale and West Roxbury, Hubway is still missing.
Access to bikes.  Having a bike is the basic requirement for bicycling as transportation.  A $5/year membership for bike share is far cheaper than owning and maintaining your own bike, and it off loads the cost for storage and the risk of it being stolen.  Of course, this works best if your origin and destination points are close to bike share stations.  It's less effective otherwise.

Infrastructure in terms of bike share means both stations/bikes and on-road or off-road facilities for biking.  This is important because many people are willing to bike, but not in mixed traffic.  With more bicyclists, in part generated by the availability of bike share systems, cities find it easier to justify adding bikeway infrastructure, although it takes a long time to begin to see results.

Programming. Besides the programs of the city's unit, there are a variety of cycling initiatives in the city, including Roxbury Rides, a group focused on helping Roxbury residents take up cycling for transportation.

Promotion and Marketing.  I frequently write about the failure of bike share programs to do adequate promotion to build awareness and use.  Bike share programs in London, Santander Cycle, and Chicago's Divvy are exceptional in that they do a wide variety of innovative programs to constantly build awareness and promote membership in their systems.

Photos courtesy of Artists For Humanity.

For the expansion in Roxbury, Hubway worked with Artists For Humanity, a youth development initiative where students work with artists and designers on the production of commissioned arts and design projects, to create and unveil a specially designed Hubway bike featuring prominent Roxbury personages, and the bike is now part of the city's Hubway fleet.

My only recommendation would be to include more of these bikes in the fleet, as a way to localize the offering somewhat, and to add a degree of wonder to the otherwise ordinary decision of picking a particular bike to use.

In fact, this idea can be expanded, as a way to acknowledge and extend the city's cultural infrastructure.

Pittsburgh has done with some of their bus designs.  See "Getting Around: New buses to sport welcomes in 13 languages," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2003.

Close up of the bicycle design produced by Artists For Humanity for the Roxbury expansion of the Hubway system.  

I like how the rear fender of the new Hubway bikes are also branded with the neighborhood name. This is a practice more bike share programs should consider adopting as a localization strategy.

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Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference, 2016, September 28th - 30th, Baltimore, Maryland

The Center for Community Progress, which focuses on assisting communities in dealing with property abandonment in the face of weak real estate markets and broken economies, sponsors a national conference on the topic each year.

Next month, the 2016 conference will be held in Baltimore, Maryland.

Early bird registration rates are available through the end of August, which saves $200 over the cost of a regular registration.

-- Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference (RVP) 2016
When I first heard about the organization, based on actions in Genessee County and Flint Michigan ("The Man Who Owns Flint," Governing magazine and "Not just Flint: Philadelphia wrestles with vacant property, tax cheats, Flint Journal) I was somewhat horrified, because the national press seized on their work as an example of widespread demolition being "the only solution" for inner city neighborhoods when the reality is much more nuanced.

Once a building is demolished, it's gone.

The west side of the 800 block of 10th Street NE in the H Street neighborhood of Washington, DC had been frame houses.  Most were demolished in favor of a community development corporation ersatz brick rowhouse project constructed about 15 years ago.  

Next to the still standing Italianate frame rowhouse was a similar building, which the city condemned sometime around 2002, and the building was demolished.  Had it been renovated, today it would be worth close to $1 million.  Instead, there has been a vacant lot for almost 15 years.  Google Street View image.

Some neighborhoods are capable of recovery, even if over long periods of time. And demolition doesn't cure the real problem, which is disinvestment. Instead it creates a different problem, vacant land.

In 2002, I learned about how the State of Ohio has a strong receivership statute, which allows for nonprofits to take over vacant properties, and when properly "cured" (fixed up), they can be awarded the property and it can be resold. The Cleveland Restoration Society did this a lot to help to stabilize neighborhoods, fixing up historic properties and then selling them to people committed to living in the property going forward. This has helped to stabilize neighborhoods that otherwise would have declined in the face of the region's population shrinkage.

Alan Mallach's book Bringing Buildings Back is an excellent primer on neighborhood stabilization through focused attention on vacant properties.

-- "Bringing buildings back is really about bringing neighborhoods back" (2006)

In DC, for a number of years I testified in favor of creating a similar statute here -- because most properties in DC neighborhoods are capable of being restored as the real estate market even 15 years ago was comparatively strong -- but the City Council never seemed too interested. Instead, the City Government is the prime actor in dealing with vacant properties, and for various reasons it isn't particularly successful.

-- "Slumlording isn't always so simple" (2014)
-- "Pushing rehabilitation of vacant buildings/nuisance properties" (2012)
-- ""Why I hate DC" or the appropriate tactical strategy to apply to nuisance properties/ disinvestment is investment, not demolition" (2009)

Fortunately, the Center for Community Progress promotes nuanced responses to the vacant property problem, even if that isn't always communicated in media coverage.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Civil rights, public accommodations laws, and religious belief exceptions

When I was more heavily involved in historic preservation matters, I led a campaign to landmark an "old" arena/coliseum building in the H Street neighborhood of Washington, DC (now the building is about to become a high profile REI outdoor store, "We're Opening a New Flagship in Historic Uline Arena in Washington, DC").

One of the things I learned while doing the research to justify landmarking was the place of the building in the timeline of civil rights history specific to local Washington, DC.  Technically, the city did not legalize segregation but in the late 1800s, laws banning segregation were hidden, and public accommodations--but not the city's transit system--but most everything else, stores, restaurants, hotels, housing, and hiring became segregated.

Later, while supposed to be segregated, the practice at baseball games at Griffith Stadium was integration.

After World War II, E.B. Henderson, a professor, director of sports for DC Schools, and a leading activist within the NAACP, led a campaign where people protested every event held at the Uline Arena, in order to get the owner--who claimed that integration of events was at the discretion of the sub-tenants renting use of the building--to make integrated events that standard practice.  In 1949, the owner capitulated.  (This was reported in the black press at the time.)
Protest Signs, Campaign to integrate Uline Arena, (1948-49)
Protest Signs, Campaign to integrate Uline Arena, (1948-49).

I believe this influenced the holding in the Thompson Restaurant case four years later, where  segregation in public accommodations in the city was prohibited, and this case in turn had to have influenced the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, which included a DC case, Bolling v. Sharpe.

The fight did not end with integrated schools, much more advocacy and legal action was required over the next 15 years to affirm civil rights protections in DC and US laws, as we know.

And as Black Lives Matters and related movements demonstrate now, it takes many decades to counter the legacy of hundreds of years of structural racism and economic segregation.

Public accommodations and personal practices.  This comes up with regard to various laws concerning discrimination concerning sexual orientation or other matters, such as filling a prescription for birth control.

I don't see how it can be legal to provide a "religious exception' to what need to be considered civil rights public accommodations and equal protection laws.  (Obviously, I don't agree with the "Scalia" Court holding in the Hobby Lobby case with regard to health insurance and coverage for abortion.  The company's policy was upheld because of the beliefs of the leaders of the corporation.)

If you're a licensed pharmacist, I think it's fine to choose to not fill a prescription, provided your license to be a pharmacist is revoked, because you shouldn't have a choice whether or not to fill a legally prescribed prescription.  In short, as a matter of business and licensure, pharmacists have a duty to fulfill all of their responsibilities.

Similarly, as an elected official, Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to grant marriage licenses for gay couples, should be removed from office as being unfit to perform the duties of the position ("Kim Davis stands ground, but same-sex couple get marriage license," CNN).  The same for the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court ("Alabama chief justice orders halt to same-sex marriage licenses." Reuters).  The law is the law.

If you're licensed/incorporated as a business selling to the public, you should have no right to pick and choose your customers on the basis of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. (although I am fine with "firing customers" in certain situations, see "When, Why, and How to Fire That Customer," Bloomberg, but for strict business reasons only).

Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Wash., refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. Above, the store in 2013. (Bob Brawdy / Tri-City Herald)

Christian Science Monitor has a story, "A florist caught between faith and discrimination," about a florist in Washington State who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding ceremony, even though the request came from a long time customer.  She is now facing a lawsuit brought by the ACLU which she is likely to lose.  (Also see "Florist who rejected same-sex wedding job broke Washington law, judge rules," LA Times.)

Choosing to serve someone or not because of their race is illegal.  Equal protection should be afforded to people generally, including on the basis of sexual preference, use of contraceptives, etc.

I have no empathy or sympathy for the position of the owner of Arlene's Flowers, Baronelle Stutzman.  As a retail business, she should serve all her customers, not pick and choose.  Otherwise she shouldn't be in the business of serving the public.

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