Friday, July 15, 2005

Friends and New Urbanism

Another busy week. I love my life.

Tuesday I met with my lawyer friend Tara and introduced her to the Hbar. Tara is super-great. She still finds it odd that I am a business owner, because of all of our super-ambitions classmates she definitely didn’t rank me as one of the first to own a business. No Shit. We talked about buying homes in the next year and how excited/freaked out we were about it. Housing costs are probably one of the worst things about living in Chicago. As excited as I to eventually own a place, I can’t help but wonder whether it will also feel like just another shackle. My law school debt certainly does and the Hbar debt (will be paid off in August–WooHoo!) does to a lesser degree. Will a combination of mortgage and student loans bind my hands and be a 30-year weight around my neck forcing me to bend down before the man?

I guess I’ll find out.

Wednesday Paul and I met for a picnic at Millenium Park during an outdoor classical music concert. I picked up organic bread, cheese and fruit at the farmers’ market that morning with Chris and Dan; Paul brought the tarp, blanket, wine and utensils. Our picnic was very nice and was one of those moments when I just love Chicago, my city. The lakefront, the parks, the skyline–even the tourists. I just love the energy–and yet am able to sit outside on the grass, feel the breeze blow through my sun-warmed hair and hear music instead of the din of the traffic. Perfect. After the concert finished we continued to lay there and converse. Shortly after dark there was a fireworks display on Navy Pier that we watched from our cozy blanket. Finally the park closed and we were ushered out. We didn’t stay up as ridiculously late as we did on Sunday, so I got back to my place before 2:00.

I was hoping to get up the nerve to ask Paul to Steph’s wedding at the end of July. However I was nervous because it seems that as I have gotten older there is more meaning attached to certain events. I was concerned that he would hear the invitation as girl-code for "I want to have your babies." This idea bothers me, and I much prefer the way it was in college when inviting boys to events back home, such as Thanksgiving wasn’t a momentous proposition. Now it seems that any such invitation carries much more weight–including the dreaded Meeting the Parents. When did this happen? Besides, the opinions of my parents and extended family means far less than the opinions of my friends, whom boys normally don’t get too anxious about meeting. Silly boys.

Anyway, I briefly offhandedly mentioned the wedding; he asked if I was attending; I said that I was excited to go, and casually asked if he wanted to come with me. Paul eagerly agreed. I guess I shouldn’t have worried that he would get freaked out and think that I was getting too emotionally involved. If either of us is falling too hard, too fast–it is him. He often wears this completely smitten look on his face when we are together that is rather cute, but also a little unnerving because I don’t think we know each other well enough for him to adore me.
Back to Steph’s wedding: We will take the Amtrak train to Milwaukee (our poor bikes will have to be boxed!) and arrive around noon. After reassembling our bikes, we will probably get a quick lunch and then ride to the church and get presentable. The ceremony is at 2:00 and we will probably leave the church around 4:00. From there we will bike about ten miles to the reception/hotel to check in and clean up. The reception starts at 6:00 so this gives us plenty of time. It will also be fun, because I’m going to do my limited version of ‘dolling-up’ which he hasn’t seen. By far most of the time we have seen each other I have been sweaty and wearing my crappy everyday clothes with my hair in a ponytail (and often under a bike helmet). There will be a lot of friends at the reception, so I am really looking forward to it–plus I want to see how much bigger Kim’s baby is.

Then on Sunday, we hope to go to the Art Museum with the amazing new building. However, if my friends want to hang out, we’ll do that instead. Then we have about a 50-mile ride down to Kenosha to catch the 6:45 Metra train back to Chicago. I hope we don’t have a headwind. Fun, fun stuff.
Thursday night I met my friend Chris at a lecture on the relationship between New Urbanism and parking. There are some interesting initiatives to limit parking to discourage car useage and ownership. The private automobile must be the worst example of externalization of costs in this country. I usually think about the externalization mostly in terms of pollution, and also roadway costs. There are of course also the oil & automobile industries to consider. Parking wasn’t really on my radar screen though.

Chicago, like most cities since post WWII, has parking minimums for new construction or rehab. These minimums are meant to ease the demand for on-street parking. What they do unsurprisingly, is make it more attractive to own a car in the city. The same thing happens with streets: build it and they will come. Congestion isn’t reduced by more roads and parking, it just creates an environment where more people drive and park. Stupid.

There are some cities that are requiring developers to unbundle the cost of parking in their buildings–which forces people to really recognize the cost of parking and makes them choose to pay for it. So a person buying a condo in one of these cities is given the choice of a $300k condo, or a $350k condo with parking. Many people might choose the parking anyway, but at least they are aware how much the luxury of parking their car costs. One new development of 250 units created only 42 parking spots based on interest in parking from initial buyers–but only 20 were actually purchased and used once the building was filled. If this city had a typical minimum parking requirement, the building would have included 250-500 parking spots, instead.

Another move is towards making employers offer a ‘parking cash-out’ to people who don’t drive to work if they lease parking to offer to employees. Apparently most office parks don’t own the parking surrounding the building, but instead lease it from a company that manages & owns parking lots. Who knew? In near-urban areas, the cost is generally $150 per spot per month. Under these ordinances, the employees must have the choice of the $150 in their pocket, or a place to park. Makes riding a bike, walking, carpooling or transit more appealing.

Old Pasadena went even further. Despite vehement objections from merchants, the city put in parking meters at the rate of one dollar per hour in the downtown area. It also built a parking garage that gave the first 90 minutes for free, and then increasingly steeper rates per hour to further deter commuters. The city also funneled the parking revenues back into the downtown instead of the general fund. It specifically went towards street lights, sidewalk repair, benches and other pedestrian ammenities. Results: Old Pasadena thrived. In fact, the downtown revitalized so much, that it put a nearby mall out of business. Another thing that the city learned was that although the merchants initially decried that free street parking was needed for customers, an interesting discovery was made–almost all of the free street parking was previously used almost exclusively by employees of the stores, forcing customers to circle for parking or park farther away. Hmmmmmm........

These were some of the great examples from this lecture. Apparently more cities are trying to reduce commuter parking, but make it easier/cheaper for tourist/shopping parking. The main way this is done is by metering the streets more and making long-term (commuter) parking more expensive per hour parked, instead of soaking the short-term tourist from parking.

I am fascinated by urban planning, zoning and transportation studies. Don’t be surprised if I head back to school for my Masters in Urban Planning in the next five years. I should really do a better job researching a way to wiggle into this field with my law degree.

After the lecture, Chris and I headed to the Shedd Aquarium to listen to jazz and drink wine. We talked a lot about dating and relationships and both admitted that not too long ago we had crushes on each other. At times the conversation got sort of weird because of this–I hope there isn’t residual weirdness because of it. Chris got pretty tipsy and at times as we sped through downtown I was worried that he was riding too recklessly. But once we got out of the heavy traffic and closer to our ‘hood he started riding more calmly. It was a nice Thursday night, and I was asleep before midnight. Sleep is good.


At 8:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jojo, there's a huge need for self-educated attorneys in the new urbanism field. Doris Goldstein was one of the trailblazers ( and a few years ago the ABA State and Local Government Section organized a subcommittee on new urbanism ( Talk to some of those attorneys -- they might encourage you to forgo planning school and just pick up the background you need on your own!

-Laurence Aurbach


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