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Klaus Philipsen, FAIA is an architect, urban designer and architectural writer specializing in urban architecture, adaptive reuse, preservation and transportation work. He is President ArchPlan Inc. past chairman of the Baltimore Design Center, member of the AIA National Regional and Urban Design Committee and president of NeighborSpace Baltimore County. He is a co-founder of the 1000 Friends of Maryland, a statewide smart growth group. Klaus has spoken to international, national and regional groups about design, smart growth, cities, sustainability and transportation. He writes an architectural column in a local paper and is a regular guest on a statewide radio talk show. For inquiries write to info@archplan.com

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Machine that Transformed Societies, Transportation and People

It has transformed societies, liberated women, empowered youth and can even help Parkinson's patients. It inspired inventors like the Wright brothers and Henry Ford and spawned industrial production. About 100 million US citizens and a billion people around the world have it. It can be mastered by 3 year as well as ninety year old people as well as some circus monkeys. Once you mastered it you never forget. It allows humans to outrun even the fastest land animals. It is simple to fix but its physics are so involved that it took the industrial age to invent it. It can carry 18 times its own weight, doesn't have emissions, is whisper quiet, super energy efficient, can transport one or several people as well as cargo, can pull trailers and move through snow, water and run on smooth or rugged terrain including steep hills. It precedes the automobile and even today remains a transformational force in many parts of the world.  In 24 of 27 European countries it outnumbered cars in sales in 2012. In Copenhagen 40% of all commuters use it to get to work.
"in 1890 it was nothing less than a general intoxication, an eruption of exuberance like a seismic tremor that shook the economic and social foundations of society and rattled the windows of its moral outlook" Irving A. Leonard, When Bikehood was in Flower, (Seven Palms Press, 1983)
Of course, all this alludes to the bicycle. Over all the current hoopla about the bicycle as an "alternative mode" causing a "cultural war" (really, aren't cars and bikes operated by the same species?) we tend to lose sight of the wonders that the simple machine has brought to the world in its 150 or so years of history.
The bicycle as women's liberation tool

The bicycle as a mechanical device and extension of the human body can not only provide efficient transportation but also great joy and satisfaction. As with skiing, surfing or even hiking, only those who have experienced the emotional power that can come from these activities can truly understand it. This may explain why some hate everything that has to do with the bicycle while others are extreme bike nuts. I am not sure that writing can overcome this gulf, but I will give it a try.

May it be of help that I don't strictly belong to either camp and only own a simple $350 mountain bike without suspension, disc breaks or any other fancy gear and yes, my 1965 boyhood bike as well. May it further help that I don't ride in spandex and mostly even shun the helmet. My preferred mode of bicycling is regular clothing, even the office outfit. But I have been a lifelong bicyclist and can attest from experience that most of what I stated in the intro is true. The bicycle can be transforming.
this would have been the 1955 catalog from which my
parents ordered their rides and this is how the bikes would
have looked, headlight, repair pouches, skirt protector, hood
ornament (the horse) and all.

How liberating the bicycle is for those who can't  have an automobile, I recall from my own time as a child in a small town without much public transport and young parents who simply didn't have the money for a car. So in 1955 they bought two touring bicycles from a catalog, single speed, black (as the Ford Model T and everything else metal was originally) with a front break in the shape of a simple rubber block that the break lever would press down on top of the tire. Two steel seats, not unlike vintage tractor seats, installed on the frame right behind the handle bar, would provide an additional space on each bike for my brother and me and off the whole family could go. And off we went, my mother and I in breakneck speed downhill for shopping, on Sundays we would go on trips just as if we had a car. Should a tire go flat, the bikes came with a leather pouch installed on the frame that contained the patches and the glue as well as the necessary wrenches to loosen the wheel or get the tire off the 28" rim. For rain we had special ponchos that would drape over the handlebar and keep rider and child pretty dry. The wheels had fenders and for blankets or picnic supplies there was a rack on the back of each bike. Should it get dark before we returned home, the bikes had little "dynamo" generators which would run a head and taillight. That did slow us down because the wheel turning the dynamo produced friction.

As soon as I was tall enough for my own bicycle I bought first a used one and later a brand-new one from Bauer. The latter was so sturdy that it survived nearly 50 years and is still in use for my downtown errands in Baltimore today. The electric dynamo is still there and the headlight is still hardwired to it, but I prefer the new LED lights that don't put so much drag on the wheel.
my 1965 Bauer, still in use as city bike
My bicycle had a blue frame, rim breaks in the front, a three speed hub shifter and coaster breaks in the back. Compared to what my parents had, it was technologically advanced.

Today's kids who have a full day of organized activities and whose parents chauffeur them from place to place may not be able to imagine what new liberties my first bike opened up for me as a child. All of a sudden pretty much the entire small town with a population of 50,000 was open to my explorations! No longer could I see only what my parents showed me. I took advantage of this in all seasons and, of course, I also rode the bike to school, regardless of weather.
Efficiency of various modes of transport

Another liberating element of the bicycle is its mechanics and the ability to fix it without help. Today where so many things became electronic (which means without mechanics), it is fascinating how nuts, bolts and chains as tangible items,  assembled correctly,  translate into power. Cars became so complicated that even mechanics often can't do anything on them, but the bicycle remained accessible. Especially the derailleur chain shifter bikes, even if they have 21 or more speeds, are straight forward. The internal hub shifters (initially limited to three speeds, now up to ten) are another story. Their planetary gear system with many internal parts I took it apart once, but never succeeded to get  fully functional again. Bike repair, indeed, has become a tool for teaching, empowerment and even job creation in de-industrialized poverty stricken cities as well as developing countries. These quotes from a TV report (click for film clip) about a Baltimore bike initiative show how a bicycle repair workshop brought life lessons to a local highschool.  The testimony shows that the joy of tinkering with machines has not subsided.
"Nuts, bolts and ball bearings are the building blocks of a bike, but also the pathway for students to realize things about themselves."
“It’s where a lot of kids who don’t experience tangible success in their life can have control over something and succeed at it,” said Andy Dahl.
Section through a hub gear, rare on today's bikes 
“If I’m having a bad day, I come down and just fix a bike and feel happy about it,” said Duleek Joseph.
Feeling happy one bike at a time is what’s building a community here.
Millions of Americans, of course, had similar experiences with their Schwinns, the pride of Made in America
the "safety" bike as we know it today
was invented in 1885 by British inventor John Kemp Starley
 and had a steerable front wheel,
equal sized front and rear wheels, pedals and a chain.
until that company went the way of much of  manufacturing. Today, the Cannondales and Specialized bikes are all made in China or Taiwan (even if Cannondale is part of a Canadian conglomerate and Specialized is a US based company).
“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn't any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it's right. If it disturbs you it's wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.” 
― Robert M. PirsigZen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance
Pirsig's quotes really relate to the motorcycle, but they apply so wonderfully to the non motorized two wheeler, that I use them anyway. For the bicycle and the motorcycle satisfaction comes from the relative simplicity with which the rider can defy the fundamental law of gravity. No ox cart or horse drawn cabriolet, no matter how sophisticated those had become, had ever provided the elation of gliding along on two wheels.
Spandex and helmet are not the
only way one can ride a bike

The bicycle in its current configuration (with two equal sized wheels, pedals and a chain) is as an invention which isn't much older than the automobile in spite of its simplicity. But it came out with enough of a head-start to be the most popular means of getting around for a decade or two. As noted it stimulated social progress for everyone previously not privileged enough for the means of transportation of the time. Hence this assessment from the famous Susan B. Anthony:
"Yes, I'll tell you what I think of bicycling," she said, leaning forward and laying a hand on my arm. "I think it has done more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood." 1896, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Volume II, by Ida Husted Harper

The bicycle amplified the range of human reach significantly without any of the ills and complications that the
family bus
automobile caused when it eventually pushed the bicycle from its bright spot in the pantheon on human mobility.
cargo van

tool for daily errands of all kinds
In fact, the bicycle  remains the most energy efficient means of transportation to this day, even more efficient that walking.
food truck

and mail truck 
Humans had long used pullies to translate modest human strength into a force that could lift big loads into the lofts of storehouses, but the translation of those simple laws of mechanics into a device for movement did not happen until the running bike of the early 19th century finally became the "safety bicycle" with pedals and a chain transferring power from the pedals to the wheel.

Of course, to explain balance and stability rather complex physics need to be mastered, likely the reason why the Romans had invented plumbing and hot water heating but not the bike.
“In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. 
On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” 
― Robert M. PirsigZen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance
The ability to stop anytime, to smell, hear and listen, the speed, low enough to digest what is passing by but fast enough to get the distance of most daily trips without too much exertion and time, are the main reasons why I still use the bicycle at work and for recreation. A downtown run  to the bank or trip to a meeting is far quicker by bike than by car and takes out the pesky question of parking. Along the way I discover what is going on, stop for folks I know to have a quick chat. For getting a feel of distant places to be master-planned, I throw the bike in the trunk of my station wagon (no dis-assembly or expensive racks needed) and take the bike out for rides. This way I surveyed architecture, towns and many sites, camera in hand, more thoroughly and faster than any other method would allow. A weekend ride through the woods provides the work-out that we all need without putting up with a gym or organized sport. Coming back from a bike ride in nature always puts you in a good mood.

In some kind of renaissance there is much talk these days about the bicycle as a serious mode of transportation. Cities across the globe are trying to give this frugal vehicle some space back and another lease on life. Since the bicycle's heyday in the late 18-hundreds, curious shifts have occurred. Initially a means of transportation for all (there wasn't much else except the horse and carriages and some steam trains) the car eventually turned the bicycle into the choice of losers or for the young and the poor, neither able to operate or own a car. Now, especially in the US, the tide has completely turned. In an interesting but silly twist, the bicycle now is not seen anymore as a transportation tool for the poor or for children. Instead, it became a symbol representing urban elites. Indeed, towns and cities with high levels of education and income are bike friendly and poor rural areas are not.

Americans can't imagine themselves doing what the Dutch and the Danes do: use the bike in daily life. But
The electric (assist) bike is already quite popular
in Europe
this is changing. Increasing health awareness, congestion and the trend back to cities give the bike a boost beyond the "elite". The battery powered motor assisted e-bike may just hit that sweet spot between convenience, comfort and health that prevents those not fit enough from using a conventional bicycle. If you once learned to ride but haven't tried a bicycle in decades, give it a shot. We never forget how to ride and even though bikes look remarkably the same, new models ride so much easier due to new technologies that made bicycles safer, lighter and better equipped than ever to provide happiness.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
updated for additional links (4/18/14). 

CBS Baltimore: Baltimore Bike Experience
The History of the Bicycle, (Animation)
The Science of Cycling
Bicycling helps brain connectivity in Parkinson patients (also here)
Bicycles improve lives in Africa
Women on Wheels
Is there such a thing as a feminine way to ride a bike?
The bicycle version of the sleeper car

Adequate Service Regulations Prevent Revitalization of Inner Ring Suburbs

"The concept of city versus suburbs: drop it. It's obsolete, we need a new lexicon."
(Christopher Leinberger, non-resident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and former professor and founder of University of Michigan's graduate real estate development program). 

Planners have long used infrastructure as a planning tool and restricted development without adequate services. To allow annexations and development only in areas served by water and sewer, who would argue against that? Schools, fire service, a post office and roadways for getting around, are the fundamental services that are clearly. If those services can't be assured, isn't it logical, then, to throttle down additional development? At least until those services have been approved.
Indeed, many jurisdictions have regulations on their books that fall under the bulky category of Adequate Public Facility Ordinances, or short: APFO. But what may be a good policy to protect the farmlands and woods from too rapidly expanding development backfires when it comes to applying the same rules to established communities.  The National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland determined this already in its 2006 report  titled Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances in Maryland: Inappropriate Use, Inconsistent Standards, Unintended Consequences. 
Per Baltimore County's "basic services map" this
Catonsville intersection is failing and with its service
level F blocks additional development in the area
(Photo: ArchPlan)

In short, applying the greenfield standards of APFOs in established communities pushes development out, away from the centers where smart growth wants it and where it is essential for revitalization to the very greenfields that the standards had intended to protect. AFPOs in the final analysis tend to create more dispersion and sprawl instead of less, they encourage outward instead of upward development.

Should we care? The answer is a clear yes, because regulations that are hostile to density cater to a widespread American bias against putting things a bit closer together at a time when research all across America shows that density is usually the solution while dispersion is the problem. This has been shown for fiscal sustainability and the cost of operating and maintaining infrastructure, for social cohesion, for environmental sustainability and particularly for transportation. The more dispersal, the less mode diversity, which results in turn in higher traffic volumes and more congestion. Adding more lanes and capacity isn't a solution because it just stimulates additional demand and begins a non winnable spiral.

Conversely, added density and development in suitable areas has reduced traffic. Washington DC added about 60,000 residents in the last 10 years and reduced its vehicle miles travelled (VMT) at the same time based on the same mechanism which is responsible for the fact that Europe’s VMT is on average about half of ours. (No, it isn't because their countries are smaller but because their communities are less spread out!). Dispersion, as we all know, sucks the life out of established centers and destroys the urbanity that two large US cohorts are currently seeking, the millenials and the baby boomers.
A cut from the Basic Services Map shows in pink what is defined as
urbanized area and with black dots two intersections rated
with service level F and one with level D (open circle)

One should think this is a no brainer and the ordinances requiring adequate facilities would differentiate between areas where development is urgently needed and areas where development should rather be curtailed. But this isn't so. 13 out of 23 Maryland Counties apply these ordinances across the board and even 12 incorporated municipalities apply them. Even shrinking and cash starved Baltimore City, not having APFOs in general, requests developers to undertake traffic impact studies, a really crazy requirement given that in a city options to improve roadway capacity are not only very limited but also entirely undesirable. As if "urban" would be possible or desirable without some type of "congestion".

How exactly do AFPOs play out in old village centers and small towns? This question currently is locally on the table with a resolution that Baltimore County councilman Tom Quirk submitted. It requests that the Planning Board revisit the AFPO rules anchored in the County's "basic services maps". The councilman is trying to address a problem that has vexed him, property owners, developers, investors and community members for years: Why is it so hard to redevelop surface parking lots, vacant lots and vacant buildings that dot all the centers of the "inner ring suburban centers" like Catonsville, Arbutus, Landsdowne, all located in his district. Wouldn't development on those areas, all served by existing infrastructure, be smart growth the way it is intended? In a meeting this week three testimonials (including from the author) in favor of the resolution shed some light on the obstacles. Two stick out particularly, school overcrowding and "failing" intersections based on current "level of service" criteria.

The matter of schools is a bit more complicated than traffic, even though the outcomes of applying the services criteria are the same: More sprawl. Schools moved to the outskirts of communities, are huge sprawl inducers when located way out of town on huge campus developments with no way getting there other than by car. Conversely, schools as centers of their community can be catalysts for the health of the community in general and that of students in particular. Students who can walk or bike to school are not only healthier but also more attentive. Community schools build social capital as places for community events, continued education and programs throughout the week. To alleviate overcrowded schools, capacity needs to be added in the areas where demand is, instead of pushing demand into other areas. Luckily, just week Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz announced a budget with heavy investments in existing schools, including Catonsville.
In red the growth of the inner ring suburbs compare to the core  cities and
outer suburbs. Source: Brookings

This leaves the other choker of development: Traffic. As noted, adding capacity at bottlenecks does little or nothing to alleviate the problem of congestion while killing what makes a village viable, i.e. uses served by the road. Especially in village and town centers, roads and traffic are not purposes in themselves. "Complete streets” thinking teaches us that pedestrians, bicyclists, transit and the buildings and uses along village "main Streets" should factor into all planning considerations, not just “traffic”. In the case of downtown Catonsville, which many would define by the very intersection that received the failing grade for years, widening of the road would mean demolition of historic structures and would wipe out what makes this place "downtown". Aside from that, more lanes would be bad for pedestrians and bicyclists who have to cross them. Even for traffic itself, widening usually only moves a bottleneck to another nearby point where the whole cycle would start over again.

Clearly, traffic is a terrible indicator for the question whether development should be allowed in an urban center. If we had done that throughout history we would have no Rome, Paris, London or New York, the icons of urbanity. Congestion is what makes these places interesting and urban, even though we wouldn't think of car traffic as interesting but rather the jumble of everything. Of course, nobody wants to turn Catonsville into a place like those global capitals; One could easily use much smaller examples like Annapolis, Westminster, or Chestertown to show that good stuff can come from density. Making additional development in older centers palatable to communities is no easy task. Experienced with decades of bad development in the wrong places and trained in the process in the pseudo science of traffic engineering, traffic is the perfect smokescreen put up by all who don't want any development, period. This article is trying to set forth a few arguments for good development in the right places. 

To illustrate the duality of density and why it has such a bad image among Americans, let me refer to Chris Leinberger, the Brookings Fellow and developer who described the difference between green field development and urban development like this in a talk that I attended (I am paraphrasing):
  • The more stuff you put in the green-field, the worse it gets, the less it becomes what people came for: Nature, fresh air and space.
  • In a village center, city or town, it is the opposite: The more people and services you put there, the better a center functions and the more attractive it gets. Restaurants, libraries, schools, stores, all need enough people to function and people need a diverse mix of services to utilize a center. 
    Lively sidewalk scene on a warm evening in
    Fredericksburg, VA (photo: ArchPlan)
In a time where everybody set out to the burbs for her own private slice of nature development and density got a bad rap.  But in a time of renewed interest in urban diversity and vitality lack of density, i.e. vacant buildings or lots, surface parking and wasted space in town centers do not make a good village, center or town. Therefore AFPO's should not be applied to them.

 Because vibrant, walkable mixed-use village centers reduce overall traffic while dispersal creates congestion and traffic, a drastic re-think is needed regarding AFPO regulations. Our often disinvested inner ring suburban centers need to be our revitalization focus. Revitalization means new investment. For revitalization to occur, the playing field between greenfields and urban centers needs to be leveled. It needs to be made easier to invest where development needs to happen. Still, to simply open centers to an "anything goes attitude" would be a mistake. Instead, incentives and eased regulations need to be balanced with more control about how things look and feel. In short, throw out the regulations that block investment but force development to be good. Aim for quality over quantity. It is through architecture, design, creative placemaking and quality that the competition with soulless "power centers" on the greenfields needs to be won.

Wouldn't it be great if regulations would care more about the quality of development than the quantity of it? Stronger quality controls could be in the form of design standards but also through design review, an option with more flexibility. Even communities that urgently need development shouldn't take an "anything is better than nothing" attitude. The more good development contributes to a vibrant center that people like and want to be in, the higher the returns (on investment) become. Those higher returns allow the absorption of the higher cost of infill development and help level the playing field. Value creation cannot happen through simple quantity controls but through careful selection of uses, buildings and places that will turn first ring suburban centers into the livable and lovable places we need them to be for true smart growth.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Updated 4/19/14


UM Report about Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances
Puentes: A Comprehensive Guide to America's First Suburbs
ULI Urban Land: Reinventing Inner Suburbs

Related Articles on this Blog Community Architect:

Smart Growth in Catonsville- Opportunity knocks
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Architecture Outside the Box: Small footprints. Big Ideas. For Example Winy Maas

 "Architecture is too important to leave it to architects" (Title of an interview with the late Giancarlo De Carlo, Italian Architect)

Architects have a split public image. They get cool roles in the movies but in real life, there is suspicion abound: Aren't those the guys who just want to build monuments for themselves? Who care about being published in glossy magazines, who want to talk about everything and know little about anything? The folks that dress like artists and have fouled up the world with a whole bunch of buildings that most everybody would not consider art but rather see bulldozed? Let those guys do something real big and disastrous consequences seem inevitable. If it has to be big, let Dubai build it, or the Chinese. Just don't let them to it in our cities in the US.

Maybe this split image of architects and the general aversion of the American public to anything that smacks remotely of avant-garde has let to the current condition where interesting architecture rarely happens in the US and all the experiments, really big projects and outside the box designs happen, indeed, in Dubai, Shanghai, Bangalore or even London. Yes, stiff upper-lip London has more architectural innovation to show than New York! Unless one wants to call the "Ground Zero" development innovative.

This may be the fault of some star-architects who with a certain ingenuity came across a creative idea, succeed and then move to blanket the world with variations of the same trick. This type of product branding, making architecture instantly recognizable but rarely solving real problems, likely fueled suspicions among a generally pragmatically minded American public.
MRVDV "Farmhouse", Holland

MVRD housing Jakarta

BIG, Bjarke Ingels 8-House, Copenhagen

Rotterdam housing over the market, MRVDV

But lately there appears to be a shift away from branding and commercialization of  architecture. Libeskind, Calatrava and Gehry move over for a new crop of star architects that say they care about the public good. Who are they? A surprising number of the architects shaping new trends come from the Old World, especially Holland (Koolhaas, MRVDV, Denmark (Bjarke Ingels, BIG, "yes is more") and Norway (Snohetta). But the "old guard" is by no means retiring. Alsop from England or Herzog de Meuron from Switzerland are still pushing the envelope and so are Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. As questionable as this all white mostly male list is, one can see that the US is notably absent. So let's at least add Thom Mayne and Morphosis from California and, of course, the late Samuel Mockbee, a true innovator of "concerned architecture".

The Baltimore AIA lecture committee has always been pretty good at sniffing out new trends and innovators in the profession. Invited to speak at the Annual AIA Lecture Series, an event designed to illuminate local architects, their clients and consultants about the current state of national and international architecture, there is hardly a big name in the pantheon of architects who hasn't climbed the lectern in Baltimore and served up his or her oeuvre and opinions. So what is the emerging trend?

Big and outside the box thinking is one. It came to Baltimore via several internationally acclaimed architects who brashly combined various disciplines (another emerging trend) and didn't shy away from tackling the big issues of our time. Several of the speakers like Will Prince and Winy Maas had previously worked in Rem Koolhaas' OMA studio, a think factory training for big, XL size architecture and urbanism and really doesn't mind commercialization. Others, like New York's Peter Gluck ("The process to build a building is totally broken") cultivated innovation in smaller firms that took on difficult problems such as the separation of design and building. (Gluck builds what he designs). A firm that tackles the problem of affordable housing is Mass Design Group in Boston with Sierra Bainbridge  ("Architecture is so much more than just a building") who address architecture and equity and build schools in Africa. Susannah Drake of Dland Studio, a small firm in New York who spoke last year at an AIA Urban Design Lecture, addressed climate change, stormwater and rising sea-levels. Like Winy Maas, she combines degrees in landscape architecture and architecture (another emerging trend) easily allowing her to expand from single site design to urban systems. Another landcsape architect presenting large urban systems was Chris Reed Stoss who deals with landscape urbanism (another emerging trend) for shrinking and growing cities.

Most recently, Winy Maas, architectural wunderkind from Rotterdam took the lectern in Baltimore. Maas is an architect and a  landscape architect plus holds a degree in urbanism design. Maas has taught at Yale and MIT and with his small team of collaborators called MVRDV he has managed to get commissions all around the world. Except in the US. "We develop an idea in the US, then the project dies and we take the idea, develop it further and build it somewhere else" he reported, a situation that tells us as much about him as about the US.

In an eye popping pace the not quite so young anymore star went through no less than 20 projects in 90 minutes. Maas is not a one-trick-pony nor is he stuck with architecture as the art of making pretty buildings. It wasn't enough to see the first couple of projects to know how the rest would look like. The New York Times observed already in 2008 that MVRDV
approaches architecture not as a conventional expression of aesthetics, materials and form but as an almost scientific investigation into the social and economic forces that influence our constructions
So what's to learn from Maas? His vastly different projects don't share so much an architectural style as more a common approach to problem solving and a desire to use space effectively.
Invisible Architecture, Giancarlo De Carlo

  • His many very different projects. one way or another, all tell the story of density. Density in the sense of putting a large program on a small footprint. 
  • The bigger picture: With his three degrees Maas is equipped to see beyond the building and its immediate setting and use a multi-disciplinary and multi-scale approach. His thoughts gallop from the city to the region to the entire globe and the universe and back again.
  • Bigness: Maas doesn't really think much about small and incremental. He likes to cast the big alternative, no matter how crazy it may appear on first blush. With big he is in the trend. Big as a theme is so noticeable, that the Architectural Record recently devoted a whole issue to "Big".
  • Architecture as problem solving: When his clients make him jump through impossible hoops, he is in his element: "We need more space but you can't build an addition, don't build too tall, not here, not there, do not touch." (presumably a requirement by the National Park service when it came to an addition to a historic structure in Cleveland). All architects know requirements that seem to make it impossible to do anything at all but allow the excuse that one could have done great architecture, if only the client would have allowed it. Not Maas. How he solves the problem informs his design on the most basic level.
For example, when his hometown Schijndel finally asked him to build something back home ("now that you are famous") the long drawn community input resulted in a desired form that was exactly the "farmhouse" which the community already had in abundance. Maas gave them precisely that after an almost scientific investigation into the prevailing angles, dimensions and openings of the typical farmhouse. But since the program was about twice of what could fit into such a farmhouse, he made everything twice as big, including doors, windows, all of it. Of course, it really is a glass house and the farmhouse vernacular is imagery printed on the glass of what really is a mixed use center on the main town square. Maas managed to give the town what it wanted, realize the program, include a sense of irony and humor and revitalize the previously barren town square. The community embraced it. Win-win in the best way!
The Farmhouse illusion

His market covering apartment building in Rotterdam or the Mirador apartment building in Sapin are all attempts to literally reduce the foot print and overlap the building with other functions. Sometimes that meant to lift what usually happens on the ground up into the air.

So is there a new age for architecture in which architects break from vanity architecture and the single building beauty contest? Is a new generation of architects really addressing the big problems of the world?

The recent speakers invited by AIA Baltimore would suggest it, even if these architects still show egos as big as their buildings. But then, we shouldn't forget that architects who think big, across disciplines and attack the problems of humanity, have been around for quite some time. From Daniel Burnham who famously admonished us to think big, to Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, the whole CIAM Congress, the Bauhaus, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas, there never was a lack of architects who dared to reach beyond simple building design and who didn't mind if their thinking resulted in spectacular failures. Much of what these architects promoted belongs to the canon of popularly despised concepts, just think of The Ville Radieuse by Corbusier  or Broadacre City by Frank Loyd Wright.

But the recent cohort of architects show a  new resolve for cultural and professional diversity and architecture as teamwork. While this still requires courage and creativity, a collaborative, inclusive and participatory approach is less prone to fall victim to heroic egotism a la Frank Lloyd Wright (he who inspired Ayn Rand to write her wrongheaded Fountainhead) and therefore less likely to crash like the utopias of Broadacre City or Ville Radieuse. 

We need to take the risk because the 19th century city won't be the solution for the 21st century. Anyone who doubts that, just look at the exploding cities in China. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


Architektur und Wohnen: MVRDV Firm of the Year 2014
ArchDaily on Maas
2008 NYT article about MVRDV
Pro Arte St Petersburg, Russia. Winy Maas interview
ArchDaily most inspiring TED Talks by Architects
Cameron Sinclair: A Call For Open-Source Architecture

Related articles about architects and design on this Blog Community Architect:

Architecture and Utopias
Architects in Transportation
Design Thinking
Architecture and Quantum Physics
The Architect's Kodak Moment (Do Architects Have a Future?)
Baltimore and the Dutch Design Guerilla

Friday, March 28, 2014

Is Small Town America the Home of Happiness?

In Stephen King's book "11/22/63", the flashback version of small town America is much more interesting than the presence when protagonist Jake Eppings alias George Amberson time-travels between current time and the early sixties. When Eppings becomes Amberson, his hometown Lisbon, ME morphs from a place way past its best days into a lovely place in full bloom, including a soda fountain, a smelly, noisy and smoky mill and a host of stores selling everyday goods. Is King simply nostalgic or are the best days of small town America really over?
Lisbon, ME about 1962

Canadian author and journalist Charles Montgomery located ground zero of happiness in today's American small town, somewhere between Maple and Main Street in his recently published book "Happy Cities". To do this he enlisted neuroscience and environmental psychology. "We need to connect and we need to also retreat" he observes and "the richest environments are those in which we feel free to edge closer together or move further apart as we wish". He was looking for a mix of urbanity and privacy, a place that is not so small or dispersed that interaction is hard to come by but not so large that retreat is as impossible as in New York. In short, the small to middle sized town is where happiness' perfect habitat. Who is right, King or Montgomery?
Vacant small town storefront (Copyright © George Cannon)

After decades of mourning the death of Main Street, decrying how Walmart killed mom and pop retail, wringing hands about shopping centers and malls sucking the life out of downtown, and coastal urbanization depleting the rural areas, we collectively tucked the American Small Town into a corner of our memories together with Norman Rockwell paintings and everything else that is part of the non retrievable past. We don't tend to think or mention small towns in the same breath with innovation, technology or millennials. Small towns are quaint at best, definitely not hip.

Maybe it is time to take another look and we may be surprised what we see. Could small towns across the US already have benefited from the apparent comeback of cities? Can they, too, attract hipsters and millenials? Does small town urbanity really exist and can it provide the happy balance which Montgomery describes ? Can there be economic development in small towns beyond heritage tourism?
Cool young people in a small town (Photo: ArchPlan)

I will begin in Maryland which experienced years of "smart growth policies" in favor of established towns over suburban sprawl, programs with titles like Main Street, Maple Street, transit oriented development and sustainable community. Maryland, indeed boasts many main streets which are teaming with people and shops.

Famously, Parris Glendening, the state's governor who branded the term smart growth for his policies, ordered the University of Maryland to place their satellite campus in downtown Hagerstown and not on the outskirts. He also restricted state funding for schools planned outside of towns. The Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in the center of Hagerstown now provides the cherished street life with its evening performances; restaurants and sidewalk cafes have sprung up around it. Still, for jobs many residents become commuters and board a crowded early morning bus to Washington DC, a hefty commute.

Do state policies such as smart growth really revive small towns? In spite of  town friendly policies many Maryland towns are still reeling from the ills described above compounded by the great recession which doesn't want to go away. On the other hand, some states that have the opposite set of policies and don't hold government planning and smart growth in high esteem have wonderfully lively small towns anyway.

Is there a simple way to figure out what is going on? Why are some towns on the mend while others are mere shadows of their past, just as Stephen King describes it? Are small towns driven by the same patterns as the big city counterparts which we conveniently divide into "rustbelt" and "sunbelt" cities, into innovation places versus old industry places, knowledge cities versus declining manufacturing centers?
Portland, Maine (photo: ArchPlan)

But wait, isn't the winner in the Smithsonian's list of "best small towns" right in the presumably declining Northeast, in New York State where many small former get-aways have been left to rot? In another list the best small town sits in Massachusetts, where the former mill hub Lowell became a trademark of decline. In Budget Travel's 2013 hit list for "coolest small town" Shepherdstown, WV is in the top five. Really? West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation? It looks like small town success isn't all about geographic fate, the sunbelt and the absence of industrial decline or state policies.

What do Frederick,  Chestertown, Easton, Hagerstown, Cumberland, and Annapolis in Maryland, West Chester, Phoenixville, Gettysburg, Lancaster, Lewisburg, and Carlisle in Pennsylvania, Fredericksburg, Lexington and Charlottesville in Virginia, Portland in Maine, Boulder and Golden in Colorado, Berkeley and Pasadena in California have in common?
State Circle, Annapolis (ArchPlan)

This is a rather random list of places I happen to have visited recently or provided consulting for and found to have a rising degree of vibrancy compared to 15-20 years ago, at any rate decidedly more than some of the not so vibrant small towns I am familiar with such as Laurel, Maryland or Blacksburg, Virginia, to name just two. (I will explain my reasons to describe Blacksburg that way a bit further down).

Any attempt of an answer to such a broad based question from such a wide geographic sampling invites speculation unsupported by hard data, a method common on blogs but usually not actually useful.  I will employ it here for lack of resources in order to gain at least a hypothesis. So here we go:

It seems to me that all of the above towns not only share the size criterion provided by  Charles Montgomery as a predictor for happiness, they also share one or several of the following characteristics:
  • Proximity to a bigger city or metro area (Frederick, MD, Annapolis MD, West Chester, PA, Boulder CO, Berkeley and Pasadena, CA)
  • Substantial amounts of historic building stock (all)
  • Famous historic sites (Gettysburg, PA, Lancaster PA, Fredericksburg, VA, )
  • Attractive natural settings (Annapolis and Cumberland MD, Berkeley, CA, Boulder CO, Portland, ME)
  • Home to a major institution of higher education (Annapolis, West Chester, Lewisburg, Carlisle, Berkeley, Boulder, Fredericksburg)
    Downtown Boulder pedestrian mall
    (photo: ArchPlan)
All of the above are more or less "fate", i.e. a set of cards that a town would be dealt with by history and location. Surely, there must be other factors as well. How about good economic development policies, sound planning and energetic leadership? We certainly would like to think that pro-active policies should matter.

Let's take a look at the current issue of The Atlantic Magazine with its story about "Strong Mayors". The story seems to illustrate how much economic development policies can influence wealth and well being of a small city even if the place suffered from de-industrialization. Greenville/Spartanburg in South Carolina and Burlington in Vermont are both featured as the odd couple of places that not only recovered in spite of their faded industrial past but are shining stars in urbanity due key decisions and strong leadership. Greenville's policies originate from a conservative angle and brought BMW, the car maker, to the area in classic economic development fashion . Interestingly, though, it combined this industrial policy with  a strong emphasis on quality of life in urban planning and transportation policies, including all the latest hot topics such as walkability, good public spaces, arts and culture. Burlington aimed for and achieved similar results coming form the liberal side. Both cities now have a high quality of life and attract young talent and business alike.
Frederick, MD, Carrol Creek Riverwalk
(Photo: Creative Commons)

Closer to home for me, Frederick, MD is also an example of success and early strong mayoral leadership that set the stage for downtown revitalization with some important key decisions. In the case of Frederick those decisions were downtown flood control measures that converted centrally located but flood prone areas into prime development parcels, gave the town a central greenway and water features all in one genius strike that took some 25 years to really germinate and show a visible return on investment. Today, looking at the art center, the San Antonio inspired river-walk, the restaurants spilling out into the linear park which lines the waterway and the brew pubs along Market Street, it seems all as inevitable as the arts centers, the small convention place and the brand-new commuter rail station. But all of this flowed from foresight, leadership and risk taking that was not at all inevitable when Mayor Young started his 17 years of office back in the late seventies. He also instituted annexation policies that allowed the town to land-bank for expansion in new-urbanist fashion.
Annapolis, MD, State House
(photo: ArchPlan)

By contrast, Maryland's State Capital Annapolis is successful in spite of its local leaders, thanks to its very good historic bones, its strategic location near DC and Baltimore and on the Chesapeake Bay. One of the town's better decisions was to allow denser development along the non historic West Street corridor which provided a relief valve for the historic core. West Street now boasts restaurants, modern office buildings, hotels and a dense mixed use development near Taylor Street. But any attempt to rein in the proliferation of downtown parking, the intense car traffic or create intensified use around the scenic City Dock met resistance and cost mayors who attempted it their jobs. Annapolis politics are colorful but essentially brought about an ongoing stalemate between preservationists, growthers, no-growthers, retailers, businesses, homeowners and the tourist trade. These factions cancelled each other out while the County choked the city from the edge with subdivisions and retail centers including a dense mixed use redevelopment in Parole.

downtown Cumberland pedestrian mall
(photo: ArchPlan)

As the last local example let's visit Cumberland, MD in Allegheny County. With a history in railroads, shipping and mining, the place had fallen on hard times when those industries disappeared. Freight trains still chug through the town surrounded by mountains and bisected by I-64,  but located in the poor western panhandle of Maryland, Cumberland cannot capitalize on commuters from Washington or Baltimore, both more than two freeway hours away. Neither is Cumberland home to a famous university and still, it has made progress; has a decent downtown hotel, some good downtown restaurants with outdoor seating on the pedestrian mall and a coffee shop that can compete with the best in Baltimore or DC. Cumberland's biggest lifeline is its history as a transportation hub. There is the Western Maryland Railroad with steam engines that pull the historic train with much fanfare to nearby Frostburg. The line attracts many folks who love trains and the scenic mountains ride. And then there is the Potomac River with its defunct shipping canal with what used to be the "tow path" for pulling vessels. This canal never lived up to its promise before the railroad killed it, but today it is part of a interstate  bike trail  from DC all the way to Pittsburgh, PA. Supported by the State and Maryland's smart growth policies, a trail head with shops and restaurants was created next to the train station and the canal was rebuilt to show some water. Many thought that this was all a great folly but with today's enthusiasm for the outdoors and the popularity of biking, the trail has provided steam for the economic development in Cumberland. It helps that the surrounding mountains don't allow too much sprawl (except along the valley and I-64 towards Vale). There is much debate about  the next big thing such as windmills on mountaintops, fracking and suburbs in the woods that are supposed to lift Cumberland.further into the 21st century  Unfortunately, most of those ideas would destroy the very seeds that just began to germinate.
Western Maryland Railroad in the
Cumberland station (photo: ArchPlan)

Nationally famous for progressive urban planning is Boulder, Co, consistently a "happiness leader" on many lists. Its economic underpinning are certainly the rapidly growing Denver metro area,  the beautiful natural setting of the Rockies,  its strong defense orientation and a strong university with over 45,000 people (students, faculty and employees). Success heaved  Boulder even out of the small town category, but whatever that definition, success did not come by happenstance or sheer luck. It is based on long-term strategies such as strong land use controls (maintaining a greenbelt around the city), longstanding walk, bike and transit oriented transportation policies that made main street a pedestrian only domain. Transit service in downtown was funded by money that would have gone otherwise into parking garages. Students and residents love their Hop Skip and Jump buses. Nearby places like the town of Arvada are trying to emulate Boulder's success. (See my blog about Arvada).

Fredericksburg, VA, retail mix
(photo: ArchPlan)

A very different case is Fredericksburg, Virginia, a small colonial town 50 miles south of Washington DC. Its driver is history and a fabulous historic building stock on 40 historic downtown blocks. The town is sitting in the right location, connected to the Capital via the infamous I-95 corridor and like Frederick, MD, via commuter rail. With a demographic much like that of the Washington suburbs, the town has an incredibly vibrant  center with a healthy range of retail and restaurants that aren't just for the tourists coming to the nearby battlefields but  also cater to the needs of local residents. Locals can live right downtown, old style over stores, in historic single family residences within the historic district or even in new apartment buildings springing up near the center. Unlike Boulder, this town was never protected by strong land use controls in the surrounding areas which are plastered with malls and shopping. But there is, of course, Mary Washington University, a strong academic backbone for the town, forming a liberal enclave in a traditionally conservative landscape (which is rapidly changing with the rapid urbanization of Northern Virginia).

The few examples above show that urban success doesn't shun small towns in America. With the right mix of  geographic advantages and political savvy, beautiful, vibrant, healthy and happy small towns can exist which not only attract tourists but also the young, creative disciples of knowledge and innovation that flock to the universities that many of these towns have. The graduates from the local university, in turn, form a great pool for industries to locate in or near small towns and attract more creatives. 

Conversely, even a beautiful setting or a premier university don't guarantee a vital town if transportation and land use policies are outright destructive or if the larger demographics don't allow meaningful growth.
Main Street Blacksburg, VA, not much life or architecture
 (photo: creative commons)

An example is Blacksburg, Va, and its sister towns of Christiansburg and Radford which form a education rich triangle with much promise but a poor hinterland. This lack of opportunity didn't help, especially when it was coupled  with wrong headed urban renewal, excessive road construction and systematic destruction of downtown retail through endless shopping centers inside and outside  of the town boundaries. These towns wanted too much to be like the sprawling metro areas and in the end almost  buried their good bones and the beauty of their setting. All three towns continue to build pedestrian unfriendly arteries out of town, plant schools outside of town and do little to create truly bustling downtowns, their expensive streetscape projects notwithstanding. As of now even the huge Virginia Tech campus or individual feats like the lovingly restored historic Lyric Theater in Blacksburg failed to create a vibrant center.

What exactly makes a "happy" small town? It is hard to derive any simplistic hypothesis from these examples. But one thing is clear, small town America is not doomed. It can be the perfect laboratory to test urban policies and make a difference. Small towns are more nimble and those who have home rule and a strong local charter can create visible progress within a generation. Recreating and branding themselves as innovative  and historic with a twist, they can be shining examples of the qualities that Charles Montgomery described.  Walkability, bicycling  access to recreation, local food, mixed use and accountability in governance, all these things are easier to achieve in a small town than in a big city.
Small European towns have long shown some
added resilience from restrictive planning that
prevented much green-field shopping
(photo: ArchPlan)

Work from strength, one might say, and don't destroy what defined the town in the past. Take advantage of natural beauty, cater to young people when you have a university so talent stays after graduation. Attract innovation and creative industries without destroying your historic fabric. In fact, the historic core may be the biggest assets of small towns, without which they may not survive. Set the bar high for any new development because each new building sets the standard for the next to come. Find retail that works in the small historic storefronts and don't leave it all to antique shops, gift shops and fast food joints. An anything goes attitude which welcomes any investment, no matter how lousy, defeats long-term success. Instead, a long-term strategy based on  forward looking land use and transportation policies and quality of life is nothing less than systematic value creation. Find a niche that sets your town apart. It doesn't have to be high tech, art and culture works just as well. Consider Floyd, Virginia, near Blacksburg. It initially attracted hippies and music enthusiasts with its Floyd Festival and the Friday Jamboree in its General Store. Organic food stores, music shops and markets grew from there.

Read Montgomery's "Happy Cities" to understand why politics and planning as usual will neither make a vital  nor a happy community and how a few right decisions can set the stage for a feed back loop of success. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
last updated 4/15/14 for link to Hagerstown reporting and video

National Main Street Program
Downtown USA, National League of Cities study report
Chelsea's Path to Success (Study)
Great ideas for community vibrancy
Increasing Density, A small town approach to New Urbanism (Federal Reserve publication)
Preservation Magazine 4/1/14: Small Town Renaissance
A Tribute to Small Town Planning, a Planner's Blog

Related articles on this blog (Community Architect)
Portland, ME
Healthy Communities, Slogan or New Paradigm
The Walkable Childhood Habitat
From Quantity to Quality: Is Retail Coming Full Circle?

Link to podcast of my conversation with Dan Rodricks and Charles Montgomery on WYPR
Link to reports about my presentation in Hagerstown, MD (video)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Is Airport Oriented Development Desirable?

AerotropolisA new urban form placing airports in the center with cities growing around them, connecting workers, suppliers, executives, and goods to the global marketplace. John Kasarda, inventor of the term and Raleigh based consultant.
First the airport came to the city and then the city came to the airport. To see how that happened, let's back up a bit: It was quite common for cities to have airports very close to their downtowns for ease of access. Munich had such an airport  that became infamous after a plane fell into its downtown in 1960 crashing into a church steeple and a streetcar into the process. San Diego operates an airport in its core city to this day, with 19 million annual passengers the busiest one runway airport in the country. Anyone having flown into San Diego knows how close downtown towers are during the approach and how easy it is to get into town after arrival which makes it easy on air travellers but creates significant noise impacts for those who live in the flight path even in desirable neighborhoods like South Park. Washington's National (Reagan) Airport is also a case of an airport in an urbanized area with an airplane that once missed and tragically fell into the Potomac.
Approach to San Diego airport,
proximity to downtown

By contrast, Dulles, the nation's first jet airport, was created on a whopping 10,000 acres a full 26 miles to the west of the Capital as an international gateway and grand gesture with its sweeping Eero Saarinen terminal design. The aerotropolis here could be Reston, a New Town model developed here as the more urban contemporary to the New Town of Columbia (see my blog article about Columbia). While Reston's downtown took decades to get off the ground, signature office buildings sprang up along the Dulles access road left and right and presented a form of corporate sprawl clearly attracted by the airport. Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI, Thurgood Marshall), the regions other competitor airport, was always located a safe distance from Baltimore (and even more Washington), even when it was still called Friendship Airport and was just a small facility sitting in the middle of nowhere. Similarly, the Raleigh Durham airport RDU started as a small propeller and general aviation airport located in the middle of its two namesake cities in the middle of farmland and forest.

Many other US cities thought they needed to move their airports out from their initial central locations to lands far away. Austin did that with its new Bergstrom airport and Denver did it in the extreme with its Denver International Airport that sits now a good half hour interstate ride away from the city. Denver purchased so much land for its airport (54 sq miles) that the DIA land area is bigger than the entire French capital Paris (40.7 sq miles) and  a 1000 times larger than that of BWI (3,600 acres). For what? Even with its multitude of runways and extensive terminals, DIA's aeronautic facilities still use only a small portion of the land area. The rest  is for an aerotropolis that is just beginning to take shape with a large hotel at the southern end of the famous tent terminal and a new rail connection. Denver may be the extreme example of an airport moving away from the city and then a city moving to the airport.

Airports away from established city cores represent a whole other set of issues. Inconvenient access is only one of them. (None of the remote airports was designed with rail transit. BWI eventually created access to Amtrak and commuter rail via a bus link and built a light rail line right to the terminal, Dulles' and Denver's rail links are under construction).
The other issue of remote airports is the logical consequence that "the city" (at least growth) will  follow the airport to its new location and the old tensions could arise anew, the conflicts between the airport operations and the surrounding land uses could once again become issue even though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear regulations about flight zones and noise zones, the ones for safety the other to protect airports from litigation and claims. (FAA Part 150 and FAA Part 77).
Height restrictions arising from flight patterns at airports
make place-making  forms of development extremely difficult

Is it, then, desirable to concentrate uses around airports? Is Airport Oriented Development (AOD) as desirable as Transit Oriented Development (TOD)? Are there efficiencies to be had from proximity? Is airport clustered development sprawl or is it smart growth? How should core cities respond to the AOD? Is it competition or is it complementary development? Does airport development strengthen or weaken the region?

Clearly, the questions would be answered differently, depending which airport, which region and what the function of the airport and the region is. Industrial regions with manufacturing will attract lots of industrial use and warehousing around the airport, not necessarily a pretty sight and often placed directly at the highway interchanges to the airport access roads for intermodal connectivity. Those uses have low heights and the noise impacts are not a problem nor would cities necessarily compete for warehouses to located within their historic boundaries due the their enormous footprints and spatial needs.
Noise zones at BWI

The question of locating warehouses reminds us, that entire complex of the logistics of goods is a field that smart growthers, new urbanists and environmentalists either like to forget or relegate to the unloved edges of geography, usually not right in plain view. In an age of "just in time" delivery, many highly perishable goods and expediency a standard requirement, industry and warehouses like to locate near airports. How much so can be seen at BWI from the air when starting or landing and the huge roofscape of the extensive sheds comes in full view and much more so at cargo hub locations like New York, Atlanta and the like.
Industrial uses and warehouses near
and Arundel Mills Mall near BWI

Unlike in the case of TOD for which pretty clear criteria establish what kind of development increases transit ridership, the matter is more complicated for air travel.

Except for conference hotels there would be only a few uses that would generate air traffic as destinations for an air traveler simply from adjacency to the airport. And even those conference hotels that attract smaller conventions or larger conferences that require face to face presence of business travellers are dubious as economic development since they keep visitors from visiting nearby core cities or frequenting a larger geographic area.

Cargo, i.e. warehouses for goods in transit or light manufacturing with immediate air shipping would be less ambivalent in their benefit for economic development or reduction of unnecessary surface travel, provided suitable areas for space intensive uses are available and do not create road traffic in the wrong location or open land consumption in environmentally sensitive areas.

By definition, airports are regional hubs and just like other vital transportation facilities, they provide a vital underpinning for a regional economy. One may be inclined to think that they could provide this function best if they would concentrate on aviation related uses and not be distracted by ancillary uses. After all, airports have to consider that air travel continues to grow and that they may need to expand their facilities to properly function. (Global air traffic is expected to double between 2010 and 2030).

In reality, though, the economy of an airport increasingly includes non aviation aspects. Decreasing amounts of revenue are obtained from landing and runway fees (i.e. the flying activity itself), mainly because fewer airlines serve more passengers with fewer flights today than before the recent consolidation phase resulting from the bankruptcies of several large airlines.  Airlines look for cost reduction wherever they can, including airport fees. Consequently the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is mandating that airports look for revenue diversification. Airports could look at increasing cargo for revenue. But frequently they look how to make money from concessions in the terminals, parking, hospitality and development of surplus land. (BWI revenues here. Overall trend here).
Revenue of airports

So how to plan all this? The federally mandated Metro Planning Organisations (MPOs) and their regional transportation planning seem to be good candidates for such coordination but they are frequently not very effective. (See previous article on this blog). Their role is limited to surface transportation and even for that they typically don't consider land use which is controlled by cities and counties under "home rule". As a result they probably pay too little attention to the role that airports play in creating traffic, land use shifts and economic development in the surrounding jurisdictions. Metropolitan Planning Organizations and regional governments who can endlessly fret about HOV lanes, highways or rail transit investments have little say in the elephant in the room, the airport.  (FAA Planning Circular).  Land use that is generated by airports and the development they attract often doesn't fit well with local or regional comprehensive plans. It is not entirely clear if the gigantic Arundel Mills mall and casino development has anything to do with the nearby BWI airport, but it certainly sprung up near the airport without ever having been part of locally designated growth nodes.

Given the continued global growth in air transportation (both passenger and freight), local and regional planning organizations better prepare for growth around airports by planning good surface transportation connections and zoning that controls haphazard and unfettered growth  in favor of development patterns that resemble the notion of an aerotropolis, a term, which carries the word polis in it, which means town. Simple growth does not deserve that term but good mixed use development that creates attractive spaces just may. However, unlike transit, air traffic as a mode is highly disruptive, which makes both, real place-making and mixed use (especially residential use) very difficult and aerotropolis look more like aerotopia .

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
The article was augmented and enhanced with additional information after it was first published. Last update 3/27/14 for additional links

(The above observations were motivated by a week long planning workshop revolving around the future of RDU and its land holdings in which I participated this week as part of a ULI Advisory Service Panel. Presentation here. WRAL report here).

Related blog articles on Community Architect:
see embedded links

Land Use Compatibility and Airports
The NYT on the new business model of airlines
TRB Reports Airports and Land Use Compatability
Pittsburg Aerotropolis Vision Plan