Tag Archives: Walkability

Providence’s Financial Woes

If you haven’t heard, the city of Providence is in some serious financial trouble right now. The previous mayor, David Cicilline, left the city with a serious deficit (somehow he managed to get elected to Congress). As has been all over the news, our current mayor, Angel Taveras, has sent all of the city’s public school teacher termination notices. If it sounds like a drastic measure, it was. Four to six schools will also likely be closing, among other means to cut costs and increase revenue. I want to explain my thoughts as to what can, and should, be done in the city to help raise revenue without overly taxing the residents (which is likely going to happen). Continue reading Providence’s Financial Woes

ResNet 2009: The Rest of It

This post may end up long, but I’m bunching a whole bunch of topics into this single post.

ResNet is about a whole lot more than simply attending presentations and dealing with work-related stuff. It’s about making connections, meeting new people, seeing old friends. It’s about volunteering and helping out. This post covers the stuff that the other 2 didn’t. It covers all the stuff that happens at ResNet that happens outside the actual conference.

I’ll start by saying how ResNet is one big family. Everyone is friends at ResNet. If you weren’t friends with people there, you most certainly are now. I met up with some people I had met over the past 5 years of being part of this great organization. I also made some new friends.

I’ll admit it. The stuff that happens outside the conference can get a little crazy. As someone once described it, it’s like a bunch of college IT folks pretending we’re in college again. That is true to a certain degree, though usually things don’t get quite as crazy as they may have when we were in college. So to complete this thought, some beer is involved. And since beer is involved, I have to comment on the local beer I got to try.

The best of the local stuff was most definitely from Surly. I was able to drink the Furious and Bender on tap. Bender is described as a brown ale, but I’d call it more of a porter. It’s a very tasty beer. Furious is one of the best and most balanced IPAs I have ever tried. I brought some Bender, Coffee Bender, and Bitter Brewer back with me. I also got to drink some Summit, though it was only the Extra Pale Ale, which is just a pale ale. It was good, but got boring after a while. I tried some Schell’s, but I don’t remember what it was. It was pretty pale, but still pretty good. I think it was an adjunct lager of some sort. I also tried a couple New Belgium – the 1554, Mighty Arrow, and Fat Tire. The 1554 was very good. The other 2 weren’t anything special. I stuck mainly with Surly for most of the trip. Needless to say, if you’re in Minnesota, drink as much Surly as you can. The stuff is awesome.

One of the evenings brought about some shots of Jagermeister. Now, I’ll admit it. I love Jagermeister. I haven’t had the stuff since college. I’m also not one to normally do shots of anything. This was a fun way to end a night (after the lights in the bar came back on). In fact, the waitress even did a shot with us.

We tried a couple different bars in town. St. Cloud is a small place with not much to do but drink it seems. In fact, I counted no less than 3 shops selling bongs and other smoking devices along the main strip downtown. There were also a ton of bars. The first bar we tried was MC’s Dugout. It was a strange place where beer was not the drink of choice by most of the locals. In fact, they were all (including the bearded, pierced, tattooed, burly men) drinking what I would call “girly” drinks. They were pink and orange in color and served in curvaceous glasses. I later learned that those drinks are pretty high in alcohol and called a Hairy Buffalo. The second bar was The White Horse. This place had the best beer selection in town. The problem was that it didn’t seem to have any air conditioning. We were literally sweating just sitting there. The live music that was ridiculously loud didn’t help either. I would have loved to stay at this bar, but the atmosphere just wasn’t conducive to a bunch of people wanting to drink and chat. We ended up at the bar where we would return a few times, Tavern on Germain (aka The Tav). It provided us with lots of great beer (they had Surly on tap, which was all I needed) and a great jukebox (all I have to say is there was a biting incident while Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” was playing). We were all worried about being on a dry campus, but the downtown area wasn’t far and the beer flowed like the Mississippi in town.

The town is pretty small, but it’s nicely setup in a grid (at least the downtown and surrounding areas are). It’s pretty walkable, but if you didn’t want to walk, there’s regular bus service (though I didn’t try it). It was about a 10-15 minute walk from the campus to the downtown area. Part of the problem was that the main road through town was under construction and you couldn’t easily get across it. The downtown area is pretty small, confined to a 5-6 block strip that’s only a couple blocks wide. Towards the outskirts, it looks like most suburbs with lots of strip malls and parking lots.

On the half day, I went to the Mall of America with a bunch of people. All I’ll say about that is that it’s a mall, just a really big mall. The only thing that sets it apart from any other mall is the amusement park in the middle, complete with roller coasters. The outside is about as inviting as any other suburban mall and the mall part has the same stuff, just more of it. It had some extra sit down type restaurants, but besides that, it’s still a mall.

While there, I did get to try some of the local cuisine. We ate at a Thai restaurant downtown one night. I enjoyed my meal and the waitress was really nice. It’s called Sawadtee (I found it amusing because we have one in Providence called Sawaddee). We also had some local foods. One of the lunches in the cafeteria had a dish known locally as Tater Tot Hot Dish. It’s a casserole with some kind of meat, some gravy, some peas and corn (maybe carrots, too) and tater tots. It was interesting and pretty enjoyable. We also had pickles-on-a-stick, which were really good. Apparently, they have lots of food on a stick in the Midwest. The last of the Midwestern food I had was at the airport. I tried some fried cheese curds, which were a lot like mozzarella sticks, just not as stringy.

This ends my reporting on this year’s ResNet Symposium. It was a lot of fun and I learned a whole lot and made lots of new friends. I can’t wait to see everyone next year in Bellingham, WA.

Why $4+ Gas is a Good Thing

Gas is expensive.  That’s a no brainer.  Most people are bemoaning the increased prices in gasoline and pushing the government to do something about it.  However, I don’t have a problem with expensive gas.  Now before you go and accuse me of being one of those people who doesn’t drive and takes public transportation or walks everywhere, that’s not me.  I drive to work everyday.  Yes, you read that right.  I live in the same city in which I work and I drive to work.  It’s about a mile and a half each way, but I drive.  Why do I drive?  Easy.  I’m lazy.  I don’t like mornings.  Driving gives me the opportunity to sleep a little later.  Why don’t I just take the bus you ask?  Another easy one.  The bus is not convenient in Providence unless you live downtown or live and work on the same bus route.  Susan takes the bus everyday for a couple reasons.  The first is that we live on the same bus route as the one that goes to Brown.  The second is that there’s a waiting list for a parking space at Brown, which would cost $400 per year and would likely be the same distance as if she walked halfway to work.  So long as she’s working at Brown, she will never drive to work.  If I could easily take the bus, I would.  But I can’t.  I don’t walk because I live and work on a hill, but there’s a valley in between and a 4 lane “super highway” is the only reasonable route to walk.  I also sweat a lot, and we have a ridiculous dress code at work (one that no other college I know of has).  Now that the PC gym charges, I can’t just stop there and take a shower at work.  It would take me about half an hour to walk to work, it would actually take me a little longer to take the bus.

Now, why is $4 (and rising) gas a good thing?  Because it forces people and the government (federal, state, and local) to rethink things.  Public transit ridership has increased greatly across the country.  People are moving closer to work.  More people are telecommuting when possible.  All this adds up to less pollution, less congestion on the roads, and less suburban sprawl.

With all of this, there is good reason for people to petition their local and state governments to increase public transportation options and increase the money they spend on public transportation.  Local governments should enforce good urban design and help create walkable neighborhoods.  There is no reason that the United States should not have a quality extensive, inexpensive railway network across the country connecting all the major cities.  People in Europe travel almost exclusively by train, public transportation, walking, or bicycles.  It all depends on how far they’re going.  There is no reason people in the United State shouldn’t be doing just that.  However, we do not have an extensive railway network.  We do not have the extensive public transportation options of Europe.  Aside from our major cities and some smaller village centers, we do not have walkable neighborhoods.  The 50’s and 60’s and the new “American Dream” of white pickett fences, expansive lawns, and large houses in the suburbs killed all of that.  We have taken cheap gas, something Europe has never seen, for granted.  We are now paying the price of the suburban dream.

Time has a great article called “10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas”.  It’s worth a read.  Maybe I’ll attempt to ride the bus to work sometime this summer.  If it’s not as bad as I expect it to be, perhaps I’ll do it all the time.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to drive.  I have stopped coming home for lunch to save some gas.

I heart New Haven

I went to a little conference today at Yale University in New Haven, CT. I grew up in Branford, just outside New Haven. So I’m pretty familiar with the area. I spent Thursday night at my brother’s house and thought I’d take the train in to avoid parking fees and traffic. The nice thing is for a city of about 124k, there are decent mass transportation options (CT Transit bus, Dattco bus, Shoreline East commuter rail, Amtrak, and Metro-North). Heck, New Haven even has its own, albeit tiny, airport.

So I woke up this morning and went to the train station where I saw this cute sign warning of flooding. I was early so I had about a 15-20 minute wait for the Shoreline East train. However, about 10 minutes after the train should have come and gone, an announcement came saying that the train wasn’t coming and Amtrak would be making all the stops. Half an hour after the train was supposed to leave, Amtrak shows up. I make sure they’re going to stop at the State St. station when I get on. The conductor assured me they were. That was good. Approaching the station, however, they announced that Metro-North put them on a track not adjacent to the platform and they wouldn’t be stopping there. At least they never collected fares from us. I ended up at Union Station, making my walk to Yale more than double what it would’ve been. Luckily, today was absolutely beautiful. So that’s the mass transit horror story for the day, but it was worth it. The walk was nice and I wasn’t late.

Now, onto New Haven in general. Having grown up there, I have a certain affinity for New Haven. It’s a fine city that went through some rough times, but has pulled out of those. I can’t help but compare it to Providence. Unfortunately, there’s no comparison. Downtown New Haven is an urban delight. It’s very walkable, the development is very urban, it’s clean, and it’s super vibrant (though having Yale right downtown helps a bit with the vibrancy). I know Yale had a lot to do with this, but why isn’t Brown or RISD or Johnson & Wales or even Roger Williams and URI with their downtown campuses helping clean up downtown Providence? Why aren’t they helping in the development of downtown? Why isn’t Providence College cleaning up Elmhurst and Wanskuck? While Yale has a whole lot more resources than any of these RI colleges do on their own, together they could really move Providence in a positive direction. I mean, we have 5 colleges located fully within the city limits (URI and RWU are just satellite campuses, but counting those and CCRI, there are 8 colleges in Providence). New Haven has 4 (Yale, Southern CT State University, Albertus Magnus, and Gateway Community College).

New Haven has great signage for restaurants and shops. There are even pedestrian/driving signs telling you where the points of interest are. Street signs are abundant and even the “No Parking” signs are standing upright and are clearly visible and not faded. It’s amazing what all the little things add up to become. Downtown New Haven is not a whole lot bigger than downtown Providence. If you don’t count the Yale area (which would be like College Hill in Providence), then downtown is about the same size as downtown Providence (including the Jewelry District). Yet New Haven is clean and it feels safe all over downtown. The signs are inviting, the streets are lit at night. It feels like a much larger city, yet it has about 50,000 fewer people than Providence.

Being in the same class of cities, Providence should be looking to New Haven as a model of how to do things correctly. The new construction in the downtown area is all very urban. Granted, there’s that whole Long Wharf area that is not at all urban with Ikea’s massive parking lots, but downtown, and many of the other neighborhoods are very urban. The biggest issue in downtown New Haven is the massive parking lot that was once the New Haven Coliseum (aka Veterans Memorial Coliseum), but that would be considered business as usual in Providence.

Walkable neighborhoods are important

While perusing CNN.com this afternoon, I came across an article called “Walking hard for many exercisers“.  My initial reaction was “that’s ridiculous… they’re just being lazy”.  Upon opening the article, I realized that my first impression was very wrong.  In fact, the article is about one of the more important tenets of good urbanism – sidewalks.  The reason walking is hard for people is not because they are too lazy, but rather because it’s just not safe or there’s nothing to walk to.

The article concentrates on Atlanta, where 1 in 4 people who want to exercise live in neighborhoods that do not have sidewalks.  It is unacceptable for any urban area to have any neighborhoods that lack sidewalks.  Now, Atlanta is a large sprawling southern city.  I imagine the neighborhoods being discussed in the article are in the outer sections of the city.  However, Atlanta is a modern city and should have sidewalks in all its neighborhoods.  In fact, the neighborhoods should have been planned so that they are all walkable areas with everything a resident could need within reasonable walking distance, generally defined as up to a 20 minute walk.

This article brings up a major issue.  The United States has an obesity problem.  Much of this problem is due to our automobile-centric lifestyle.  If cities and towns were planned and developed in a more urban nature (urban meaning dense, walkable development; not necessarily tall skyscrapers and no grass), obesity would probably not be as much of an issue.  In fact, it wasn’t until the 50’s and 60’s that suburban communities started to grow.  During this time, the public transit options decreased greatly (in part because the street cars were bought up by General Motors and replaced with buses and eventually those started to dwindle as more people owned cars).  If more communities and neighborhoods were planned and developed as walkable areas, the general health of the public would benefit greatly.  In addition to the health benefits, the environmental benefits would be great as well.  The less people use their cars to get everywhere, the less emissions and traffic there would be.

One of the issues of this is that many think of large highly populated urban areas when they think urban and walkable development.  However, that is not the case.  Some of the most walkable, most urban areas are small village centers in some of the smallest towns in the nation.  Small towns in New England, especially, have these characteristics.  Most of the older towns in the country were built so that the residents didn’t have to go very far to get what they needed and many of these communities still exist.  They should be emulated in any new development that occurs.  The suburban sprawl phenomenon is a big cause for the destruction of open space and for environmental issues.  It also causes people to get less exercise.

Sidewalk dining…

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a while. I enjoy going out to eat, and on a nice summer night, there’s nothing like sitting outside while eating. That pleasure vanishes when your dining “room” has suddenly become someone else’s walkway. I live in Federal Hill about a block from Atwells Ave, the dining Mecca of Providence. The street is lined with restaurant after restaurant. The sidewalks on Atwells Ave are not the extra wide sidewalks found in super pedestrian cities like New York or Boston. They’re regular old Providence city sidewalks. If I had to guess at the width of them, I’d say about 6 feet or so from the building to the curb. The restaurants have decided that they need to attract tourists with their “outdoor dining”. Continue reading Sidewalk dining…