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Showing posts from October, 2010

Obligatory Rally to Restore Sanity Post

Yesterday, Dave Itzkoff had this to say over at The Caucus:
Is the rally just a fun way to spend an afternoon with entertainers, comedians and 200,000 of your closest, most apolitical friends? A covert promotion for progressive causes on the eve of a crucial midterm vote? Is it, as one writer has already argued, the Woodstock for the millennial generation? (Hey, man, if you didn’t blog about it, you weren’t really there.)I was there. Now I'm blogging about it. As far as rallies go, my experience was about the same as every other rally I've ever attended. It was crowded. It was uncomfortable. It was hard to hear. And it was even harder to see. I may have been able to say "I was there" but the person watching on CSPAN from home can actually say that they saw the event.

(from TalkMediaNews on Flickr)

What's curious about this rally is that it never really had a clear agenda. Was it supposed to be a mere mockery of the event that Glenn Beck hosted in the summer? Or w…

Parking Prices Visualized

Big hat-tip to Housing Complex for linking to this report by the National Parking Association that shows parking rates for Central Business Districts throughout North America.

There's a lot of data in the report. I pulled out some of the stuff I thought would theoretically be the most relevant to everyday parking. I've barely gotten a chance to dig into this stuff, but here are a few simple graphs I pulled together comparing parking rates in various cities.

This first graph is the price of lot / garage parking for the first hour.

(click to enlarge)

Decline of NASCAR

Via Yglesias, NASCAR viewership is in a downward spiral. Executives are trying to figure out what's going wrong.

(from Ray Horwath on Flickr)

From the article, it seems that they've formulated a few theories. One blames a switch from ABC to ESPN. Another speculates that moving the start of races to 1pm is to blame.

Maybe they're missing the obvious answer: it's just not that interesting.

Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of people explain why NASCAR is popular. I'm not oblivious to the reasons that so many people tune in and attend races. Like any sport, there will be die-hard fans who tune in every week no matter what. But if you want to understand declining ratings, you need to forget about those people and look at the casual fan.

A few months ago, during the winter Olympics, the game that seemed to catch a lot of attention at sports bars (at least from my experience) was curling. Interesting, because almost no one in the U.S. plays or watches curling on any…

Transit and Gentrification

Treehugger analyzes a report from Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy that suggests that good transit leads to gentrification in neighborhood where it's built. The argument follows that this is problematic, thus, because it pushes out people who need public transit and allows people to move in who can afford alternatives and only want transit as a luxury.

(from thisisbossi on Flickr)

I'm not going to refute that a lot of transit-oriented-development, especially in a city like DC, is designed to cater to the District's well-off population. But I'm not convinced that this is absolutely harmful to the low income residents in the city.

Consider an alternative... Well-off people live exclusively in the suburbs. They can afford cars, so it doesn't much matter whether their neighborhoods are well served by transit. The problem here is that a lot of service-sector jobs will follow the money. Businesses like restaurants, retail stores, etc. Low income workers, on the …

Responsible Riding

The Alexandria Times has an article about a new bike signal the city recently installed along the Mount Vernon Trail.

(from ajfroggie on Flickr)

I'm glad to see this type of infrastructure being installed in Alexandria. For me, it's more about practical considerations (doing something about dangerous intersections) than about making a statement (bicyclists have the right to the road).

Whether or not any more of these signals get installed will depend on whether or not bicyclists respect what they've been given.
Alexandria City Hall has rolled out the first traffic light for cyclists in the state, but they want to make sure bikers won’t ignore the safety signal before buying more.This is an interesting situation. For one, because 'bicyclists' as a group do not behave in exactly the same ways. Yes, there are people who ride through stop signs and lights. There are others that don't. How many people have to ignore the new safety signal before it's deemed that '…

Political Culture

Last week I watched Frontline's documentary Obama's Deal. Like most of PBS's work, it's a well-told story and a well-produced piece. One thing I that caught my attention was the portrayal of Washington's political culture. I think that if I didn't know anything about the city, I'd probably think that nearly everyone in the city was a well-paid, high-powered lobbyist hell-bent on influencing Congress.

(from wallyg on Flickr)

Without a doubt, politics is a major part of Washington culture. It would be strange if it weren't. But I don't feel like it dominates the culture to the extent that media often portrays it. Government is the region's top industry, but most federal employees are executive branch bureaucrats or contractors, with little or no connection to politics.

When I walk around Capitol Hill, something I like to do on the weekends, it feels like a pleasant urban neighborhood. I'm yet to bump into a well-known politician or lobbyists who…

Capital Bikeshare: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Last Saturday I got a chance to take the new Capital Bikeshare for a spin. I was really excited to give it a try, and now that I have, I'm left with a lot of mixed feelings. No doubt, I'm beyond happy that DC has a bike share system as sophisticated as this. The potential is definitely there. I just feel like the system isn't quite perfect yet.

(from DDOTDC on Flickr)

I successfully took 5 CaBi trips and I had two unsuccessful trip attempts. During both of those failed attempts I got to a station that had only 1 bike left in the docks, but for weird technical reasons (that I won't get into here) I wasn't able to take a bike out of the dock.

Overall, my feelings about CaBi can be summed up below.

The Good: The bikes are in good shape and they ride nicely. Granted, they are heavy and you can't ride very fast on them, but I didn't experience any mechanical problems on any of the bikes. The brakes worked well, the gears shifted smoothly and the tires were fully inf…

French Press On-Tap

A few weekends ago I stopped by my favorite coffee shop while I was visiting Cleveland. I was excited to see a few new menu innovations, including French press coffee on-tap.

(from Toronto Rob on Flickr)

The concept is simple. Brew a pot of coffee in a French Press and serve upon request. It's both quick and delicious.

I know that the regular old cuppa coffee isn't quite as popular these days in a coffee culture dominated by espresso drinks; but there are some people, like myself, who simply prefer a regular cup of joe. Shops can charge a premium for French pressed coffee. I'd pay it. I'm sure other coffee snobs would too.

Really, I think any coffee shop that uses the word 'gourmet' to describe what it serves ought to have some French press option. You can buy the best beans on earth, but the brewing process is going to make a huge impact on how that coffee ultimately tastes. Coffee still has a place among espresso, as long as it's done well.

On Craft Beer

I finally got a chance to see the documentary film Beer Wars. It's very good and I'd recommend it to anyone with any interest in beer or the business behind it.

(from Rex Pechler on Flickr)

Occasionally I hear a discussion about why the craft beer industry is growing even as sales from the giant brewers are on the decline. It seems like the obvious answer is: big-name light beer just isn't that good. And once people have had a taste of something they really like, they're going to stick with it.

At the same time, the film gets into interesting issues about distribution and retail shelf placement. Sure, I have my favorite beers, and I know where to get them. But I can't get them at the Harris Teeter near my house. That supermarket is heavily stocked with light beers and stuff from the giant corporate brewers. So for me, it's a lot less convenient to get good craft beers. Not impossible, but not simple, either.

So it makes you wonder what people would be buying if the…

Financial Comfort

The other day Aaron Morrissey posted about a report that calculates a single person in DC needs to earn $32,000 in income to be financial secure. The reaction to this statistic has been, not surprisingly, debatable.

(from Andres Rueda on Flickr)

These types of discussions are primarily discussed in terms of income, which isn't the right way to think about it. As I've written, debt and net-worth is what really matters.

Consider three hypothetical twenty-somethings in DC. The all work the same job, they have the same modest income, they live in the same neighborhood and pay the same rent. The first person has no debt. The second person has $10,000 in debt. The third person has $100,000 in debt. There is a significant difference in the financial situations of these three people, even though by the most commonly reported metrics, they're doing equally well.

Beyond that, there's the perception that people spend within their means. So someone who drives a fancy car and eats at r…

Inside Struggling Cities

Palladium Boots has this great three-part video series about Detroit, hosted by Johnny Knoxville. There isn’t any attempt to hide the city’s blight. Rather, the focus is on attempts to repopulate the city and build a new culture from scratch.

Click through for parts two and three.

What cities like Detroit have going for them is a low cost of everything. Like it’s mentioned in the video, it’s not just about cheap rent. Detroit has affordable commercial space; and they have a local government backing off from micromanaging businesses because they know they're lucky to have anything these days.

Struggling cities really need to capitalize on this. It's more than about simply giving artists a place where they can work without constant anxiety over bills. A few months ago Marketplace did a story on Cleveland's upscale restaurant scene. Most people don't know it exists, because in aggregate, Cleveland's economy is very weak.

What makes Cleveland's restaurant scene unique …

Corporate Cafeterias

I did a lot of internships during college, and as a result, I worked for a lot of different companies. I worked for a Fortune 500 company, a quasi-governmental organization, a start-up with 3 employees. I've pretty much experienced the spectrum of workplaces. Some of the places where I worked had caffeterias in the offices, others didn't. Admittedly, the cafeterias were convenient; but ultimately, that might not have been such a great thing.

(from iwouldstay on Flickr)

Not all companies, or all cafeterias, are created equally. An office deep in suburbia, or in an urban wasteland, simply might not have any lunch options within easy walking distance. In these cases, a cafeteria would provide a lunch option that differs from the typical brown bag from home.

But what about a company in a downtown skyscraper? For people that work in these buildings, there are plenty of lunch options within easy walking distance. The cafeteria is one of many options available during the lunch hours.


No Urbanism in Las Vegas

Paul Goldberger has a nice review of Las Vegas's City Center project over in the New Yorker. Last year I expressed intrigue with the idea of building a "city in a city". From the video and pictures that were floating around during the project's construction, it looked like it might be a legitimate urban space right on the Las Vegas strip.

(from SheepGuardingLlama on Flickr)

The completed project doesn't seem to have lived up to that expectation. Granted, I haven't been there or seen it with my own eyes, but it sounds like City Center is less of a city and more of an amusement park that kind of looks like a city. Goldberger writes:
CityCenter is laid out not for pedestrians but as a machine for moving vast numbers of cars efficiently. There are wide ramps coming off the Las Vegas Strip, auto turnarounds, and porte cochères—all good for traffic flow but hardly what you would call urban open space. There has been an attempt to tuck the site’s enormous garages out o…

Biking on a Trail

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means for a city to be "bicycle friendly". Obviously, it means that a city is a good place to ride a bike. But that just leads to another question: what makes a city a good place to ride a bike?

Bicycle facilities are a good start. I'm fortunate to live in a place that has a lot of them. Bike lanes, multi-use trails, etc. I use most of this infrastructure every day, but I disproportionately use the on-street stuff more than I use the trails. In my four months living in Arlington, I just haven't had a great experience with the trails.

(from dailyjoe on Flickr)

Multi-use trails aren't just for bicyclists. They're also for walkers, joggers, runners, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, or just about anyone that's not on a motorized vehicle. They're great for recreation and for exercise. They're a little less great for getting places or training for the Olympics. I use my bike for transportation, so it's impo…

Coffee and Coffee Shops

I really enjoyed Tim Carmen’s column in last week’s City Paper about coffee shops around Greater DC. Since I moved, I’ve made it a goal to visit all of the local shops in Arlington and DC. I’ve actually been to quite a few, although fortunately DC has so many local coffee shops that I still have a lot of places to go.

(from Mr. T in DC on Flickr)

What makes a coffee shop great? Is it about the drink? Or is it about the experience? It’s definitely about both. Unfortunately, it’s hard for a lot of coffee shops to pull-off both.

When it comes to coffee itself, the best cup in town is up at Qualia Coffee in Petworth. What makes this place unique is the attention to detail they keep at every step in the process, from the moment the beans are roasted until brewing process is complete. I’m also a big fan of Peregrine Espresso on the Hill and I’ve enjoyed the coffee I drank at Mid City Caffe on 14th Street.

Unfortunately, I’m yet to find a coffee shop in DC that I can definitively say offers a gr…

Around the Web

As mentioned last week, I’m doing a little blogging away from home.

Over at Greater Greater Washington, I take a look at the impact the proposed Southwest / Airtran merger will have on air travel in the region. As a traveler highly loyal to Southwest, anything that has the potential the alter the Southwest experience worries me, so I hope that little changes once the acquisition occurs.

On All Opinions Are Local, I make the case for a fully implemented bicycle sharing in DC. Whether or not it’s politics as usual – the fact that CaBi stations are getting nixed and renegotiated is concerning. For each bike station that doesn’t get installed, the entire system becomes that much less useful.

The Social Network

I saw The Social Network last weekend. It's entertaining. If you want to see an entertaining movie - go see it. I won't give away any spoilers in this post.

The movie is a drama. It's a work of art. But it's supposed to be about a true story - the founding of Facebook. So I'm really uneasy about the idea that accuracy can take a back seat, so long as the film is a well-written piece of art.

(from deneyterrio on Flickr)

I've now read two stories about Facebook and seen one film. The first, Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires, is admittedly an entertaining read; but not without issues. The main issue is that Ben Mezrich is unfortunately known for writing questionably accurate depictions of events in order to create page-turning books. But at the end of the day, I wasn't there and I can't judge whether Mezrich is being fair to reality. The bigger issue with Mezrich's book is that it uses Eduardo Saverin as its primary source. And anyone who…

Thinking About Food Trucks

In last week’s Washington City Paper, Tim Carman does a great job analyzing the controversy surrounding the growing number of food trucks blanketing the city. I really like Carman’s piece because it takes a pretty balanced look at the different players in what’s shaping up to be a major legislative battle. There are a lot of interested parties with something to lose.

(from Mr. T in DC on Flickr)

This is an interesting topic to me. It’s something I’ve written about previously. But I think there are two angles that get overlooked in Carman’s piece. First, how do food trucks really impact restaurant markets? Second, how do food trucks affect streetscapes?

Food Truck Economics
The prevailing opinion among brick-and-mortar restaurant owners and the Business Improvement Districts that represent them is that food sales are zero-sum. So a truck that sells food to people must therefore take sales away from other restaurants. I’m not sure I buy it. There’s a compelling reason to think food trucks …