Like most long-time residents of the Salem, Oregon area, I've got a love-hate relationship going with my town.
I can't leave her. I adore her many wonderful qualities. But man, sometimes she drives me freaking crazy. When she's annoying, she really is hard to live with. Or rather, in.
My Strange Up Salem column in this issue of Salem Weekly is called "How Salem Can Become Happy Town." Check it out.
I talk about how good urban design can make Salem, or any town, into a much happier place.
This simple appealing notion is the focus of Happy City, by Charles Montgomery. Terrific book, where I got my inspiration for the column. I'm almost finished with it. Will write a post about the book when I read the whole thing.
For now, I'll just share a few semi-random thought-snippets...
-- I was talking today with a woman about what we liked and didn't like about Salem. I started blabbing about the New Urbanism and similar ideas in the Happy City Book.
How cool it would be if Salem had a development like Northwest Crossing in Bend, Edward's Addition in Monmouth, or lots of places in Portland, walkable/bikable, homes with front porches, cars parked in back, a genuine neighborhood feel.
She gently interrupted me. "I live in a place like that." Turned out to be an older neighborhood in Salem. I was mildly chagrined. I'd forgotten that much of the New Urbanism is bringing back old ideas about cities.
The woman did agree about how nice it was to have houses that focus on the street rather than a back yard; where people interact with each other as they enter and leave the house; say hello to neighbors strolling by on the sidewalk.
She told me that even though her neighborhood now isn't a mixed use area, there are signs of what used to be: houses that evidently used to have a shop downstairs with living quarters upstairs.
Everything old is new again in urban design.
-- The Happy City book mentions Portland several times. Here's an interesting passage about bicycling in Portland. I guess I'm a 60 percenter. I have a mountain bike and a recently-acquired StreetStrider outdoor elliptical bike, which I ride on dedicated trails (mostly at Minto Brown Park).
I've never ridden a bike on city streets in Salem, and don't have an urge to do so. Montgomery writes about how this is a common attitude, talking about how most people need to feel safe while biking.
Traffic planners learned this in Portland, Oregon, a city that has spent two decades trying to coax people onto bikes. The city painted bike lanes along busy roads before the turn of the century. But by the mid-2000s the lanes remained empty most of the time.
Roger Geller, the city's bicycle coordinator, looked at surveys of the city's commuters and realized that they were building infrastructure for a rare species.
Only about 5 percent of Portlanders were strong and fearless enough to negotiate most busy streets by bicycle. Another 7 percent of the population were enthused and confident enough to try the on-street bike lanes.
Nobody else had the moxie to ride amid all that fast-moving metal. About a third of the population fell into what Geller called the "no way, no how" group: people who would never be into cycling.
"That made me just really depressed," said Geller, but then he realized that close to 60 percent of the population fell into a group he called the "enthused but concerned." These were people who were interested in cycling but worried about the difficulty, the discomfort, and the danger.
They would cycle only if the experience was as safe and comfortable as riding in a car or in a bus. So Geller and his colleagues sent out to create a network of "low-stress" bikeways that either physically separated cyclists from cars or slowed cars down past the speed of fear on shared routes.
It worked. Commuting by bike more than doubled in Portland between 2000 and 2008.
-- Can't remember where I learned about Copenhagen's Mountain Dwellings (above). Don't believe it was the Happy City book. Whatever... way cool design. Even with 2/3 parking and 1/3 living. Shows what can happen when creative urban design happens in an area where people appreciate it.
The Mountain Dwellings are the 2nd generation of the VM Houses – same client, same size and same street. The program, however, is 2/3 parking and 1/3 living. What if the parking area became the base upon which to place terraced housing – like a concrete hillside covered by a thin layer of housing, cascading from the 11th floor to the street edge?
Rather than doing two separate buildings next to each other – a parking and a housing block – we decided to merge the two functions into a symbiotic relationship. The parking area needs to be connected to the street, and the homes require sunlight, fresh air and views, thus all apartments have roof gardens facing the sun, amazing views and parking on the 10th floor.
The Mountain Dwellings appear as a suburban neighbourhood of garden homes flowing over a 10-storey building – suburban living with urban density.