Posts Tagged ‘walkable’

…and the city

February 16, 2009

Every so often I spend (waste) a few hours watching my old Sex and the City DVDs.  I knit and remind myself of every detail in those shows…which I kind of know by heart and am generally very embarrassed about.

But this isn’t about that.

Watching a few episodes today reminded me about something that I think usually gets lost as background: the city.

I know the show did some great things for tourism in New York City in particular.  In a sea of cop shows, it was one of the few truly positive portrayals of the city on television.  But it did more than make New York accessible to masses of women. It portrayed this fantastic lifestyle of walking to meet your friends at some interesting new restaurant or bar or gallery, having countless interesting new people to meet, and having so many exciting amenities at your fingertips.

Kind of like how I think many people view college.

But then something happens and many of us let those completely desirable things go when we graduate as though it’s to be grouped with other college activities that probably should be left behind…like binge drinking.  And we move to soulless places and live insular lives.  I don’t want that statement to be confused with living in suburban places.  I’ve seen some suburban places (all older suburbs, though) that are pretty nice and very different from the cul-de-sac ridden, completely unwalkable, and demographically homogenous suburbia in which I was raised.

My ultimate point is that I hope Sex and the City does more than make New York City a great place to visit.  The city was a real and significant character in the show.  And it seems clear that this should be the case for all of us.  The places we live should be real and significant characters in our lives.  They should excite us in some way and relate to us so that they are not just meaningless collections of roads we must drive on to get some buildings we must go to.  I currently live in a city and probably will live in one for the rest of my life if I’m lucky, but I don’t think this only need apply to cities–which I understand don’t work for everyone.  The problem is I see the great things about cities being touted as luxuries, as though in order for homes to be affordable, we have to grit our teeth through hours of congestion, zero public spaces and even no sidewalks.

Maybe a buyer’s market is our time to ask for places that engage us.  Maybe cranes halted by a bad economy and kept from creating more far off islands of not-actually-affordable housing are an opportunity to rethink what we’re doing with the land in and around our cities.

While New York was definitely more exciting than my current home of DC, the city and I do have a relationship.  It’s not always good–but it’s engaging and interesting.  It has a personality, whether the city and I are meant to be or not.

Or maybe all of this is just a sad indication that this nerdy lady watches Sex and the City and misses the whole sex thing in favor of the whole city thing…

You’re so skewed.

April 14, 2008

An art form I truly appreciate and partake in more and more is cartography.  Like everything else, the romantic old methods have been replaced with digital tools, but this has allowed us to do such interesting things.  I deemed myself a cartographer in graduate school (when I basically got a masters in New York City), but now turn my cartographic attention to my current and childhood home of DC (now the city, before the SUBurbs).

One thing that has really irked me since I moved back is the DC metro map:

It’s a graphic disguised as a map.  The lines are obviously stylized to read easier, which makes sense when used as a simple guide to use the system-which I believe is its primary intended purpose.

The problem I have with maps that stress form over function (as a traditional, accurate representation of actual space) is that they produce judgments that are equally as skewed as the maps.

Here is a map I made using the actual locations of the lines and stations:

My first point here is that the stations are not as evenly spaced in some locations as the stylized map shows. For instance on the west (Vienna) side of the orange line, you see 4 stations spread apart and 5 bunched together.  The 5 bunched together create the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which is hailed as a great walkable area and a national example of transit-oriented development.  It’s because when the stations are closer together, your chances of being within walking distance of one is far better than when they’re miles apart.  The rest of the system seems to still serve primarily as a commuter rail for suburbanites to get into DC.  More stations please!

It’s so unfortunate that DC metro planners (and DC residents in general) have been and continue to be so active against using New York as a model (where you can walk from station to station).  I feel like it’s the sour grapes, second-best complex that keeps DC from taking even the good ideas from New York.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard about the “second best subway system”, with an undertone of “well, first doesn’t matter because its New York, which isn’t even America.”  A few months ago, I was reading a post on a DC blog about how Five Guys (a DC better-than-fast-food chain) opened up a restaurant in Manhattan that actually had lines out the door when it first opened.  There was a sense of vindication in that post…like Five Guys made DC better than NYC for a second.

The second thing that irks me far more than the first is that the official map makes it look like DC is pretty evenly covered by metro.  It’s not.  You can see in my map that there are some pretty big chunks of space in the city that are not close to metro and that the downtown area, where a ton of stations converge is actually a smaller area than shown officially.

This one points out the areas that are within a 1/2 mile of the stations, which is often considered the upper limit of what people would be willing to walk.  I just hate how the official map makes Northeast DC (an area of the city in dire need of more investment) or really the entire north of the city look like it has service, when it doesn’t.

Actually, I’m not even sure people in DC realize that there are neighborhoods pretty far north and pretty far east because they’re not so easy to get to.  But then again DC has a persistent condition of having transient folks that don’t know much about the city at all…they all seem to be confined to the Northwest quadrant and don’t seem to be aware of much beyond.  It’s strange coming from New York, where I felt like there was a pride in knowing as much as possible about the city: its history, its mysteries, its underground, its thousands of offerings and its many individual neighborhoods.  DC in itself is a fascinating place with quite a history and LOCAL political atmosphere…it’s unfortunate that doesn’t pulsate through all of the people.

That devolved into a rant about DC.  The point is DC has a lot of potential and maps are cool, even when they’re all skewy.