Posts Tagged ‘urban’

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Buying a home for the next phase of my life

Being the end of Gen-X, I consider myself a blend of Gen-X and Millennial. Like many people in my age cohort, I moved to DC for a good paying job, urban scenery, and transportation options. When I purchased my condo in 2005, I was single with no immediate plans to have children. I lived in my condo for ten years, then I moved into an apartment to get a change of scenery. I still own my condo and I do not have immediate plans to sell it. After two years of renting an overpriced apartment, I’m ready to get back into living in my own home. However, this time I’m in a committed relationship with near-term plans for children.

We started the home buying process by exploring different neighborhoods in the District. Many variables that are important to me now when buying a home, weren’t important to me when I was younger. I’ve quickly learned that as the people enter different phases of life, their housing priorities change. An important question for major metropolitan areas like DC is, can my changing needs be accommodated within my budget? Here are some of the variables I’m currently considering:

Affordability: Affordable housing is a loaded term. You can ask ten people and get ten different definitions. For my purposes affordability means we can pay the mortgage and household bills on one person’s salary or we are able to rent out part of the home to substantially subsidize our mortgage. I like to travel, so I don’t want to be house poor where we only have enough money to pay the bills. I realize capping that number limits being able to live in some of the hotter real estate areas of DC.

Location is Still Important: Living in the District of Columbia near a Metrorail station and/or high-frequency bus lines is still a non-negotiable for me. While living with my dad in Potomac, a Washington DC suburb, getting to work required driving to Metro then taking the red line to the orange/blue to L’Enfant. On a perfect day, the trip took 90 minutes door-to-door. When I was looking for a home in 2005, getting to work in 30 minutes or less was a requirement, so I ended up with a condo that was a 25-minute bus ride from my job. Now my apartment is a 25-minute commute to my current office by metro, bus, or biking.

Having a shorter commute allows me to have the lifestyle I desire. When I had a long commute, my life during the week consisted of working, commuting, and sleeping. Since I’ve been living in the District, my shorter commute means I have more time to hang out with friends, participate in activities, or enjoy a quiet evening at home. For my next home, I want to maintain my current lifestyle.

Low Maintenance Green Space: I have never cut grass in my life. When I was young, we had a landscaper who maintained our yard. One of the reasons I bought a condo was to avoid cutting the grass or shoveling the sidewalk. I love the fact that the community where my condo is located has grass, trees, and flowers, but the apartment community where I live now does not have any green space. As I think about my next home, I’ve decided that I would like some low maintenance green space.

Schools are a Thing Now: Twelve years ago, I didn’t research neighborhood schools. I didn’t have kids, so living near a good school wasn’t a deal breaker for me. Now, as I think about having a family, schools are so much more important. I find myself researching the public-school boundaries and quality of those schools, as well as public charter schools. Ideally, I would like to live in a community where my future kids can walk and/or bike to school.

Walkability is Crucial: Walkability wasn’t a factor in my last home purchase, but it sure is now. When I lived in my condo, I could walk to open space, recreation centers, the library, and several other amenities, but not a quality grocery store or places to eat healthy food. My current apartment is located in an area that is rich in all of these amenities. Living in this neighborhood has made me realize how important walkability and neighborhood amenities are to me. While I understand many areas aren’t as amenity rich as where I live now, neighborhood amenities are high on my list.

Space is a Trade-Off: When I bought my condo, I was adamant that I lived in a two bedroom home even though I was living alone. In my twenty-something mind, I felt like I needed the extra space. I even considered living in four bedroom homes.  For almost four years, my second bedroom in my condo went unused and eventually became my dogs’ room. Now that I’m older and wiser, I don’t have the same need for extra space. Ideally, my next home would have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, though I’d be willing to buy a home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms if it has more of the requirements and ideals I’ve listed above.

Will I find everything I want?

As I embark on this house hunting journey, the biggest challenge for me is finding a home for the next phase of life that is within our budget and has all of amenities that we desire. For example, homes around the Deanwood Metrorail Station meet our space and affordability needs, but lack neighborhood amenities. On the other hand homes in Columbia Heights offer amenities, but don’t fit our budget. Will we find the perfect home? I’ll keep you up to date as we move through the process.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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Interesting Rail Fact in Chongqing, China

For those who don’t know, I had my undergraduate studies at a mountainous city called Chongqing. It is one of the municipalities city in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing), meaning the city is directly controlled by the Chinese government. Metro Chongqing has a large population of 18.4 million people.[i] Chongqing is located at the Midwest of China, four major parallel mountains across the whole province, and 2 major rivers (Yangtze River and Jialing River) run through the area.

Above is just a little background of Chongqing, the city’s topography is a typical mountainous city in China. Like other metropolitans, Chongqing has many modern skyscraper, and modern public transportation is convenient to get around each of the districts. Monorail is one of the most used way to get around in the city. Remember that the city is built on the mountainous topography, which means the rail can’t always run underground, it kind of look like the trains run from tunnel to tunnel.

 

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City Skyline

(Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/SkylineOfChongqing.jpg/842px-SkylineOfChongqing.jpg)

I would like to share some interesting stories when I lived in this city.

  1. Underground construction going on everywhere. Our campus in located in the middle of downtown. Same as regular campus, we have football field, library and classroom buildings. Regardless what’s on the surface, the underground level is all retails stores. Basically, the whole underground of the campus was under construction. The first year when I was there, my classmates and I could hear the “bomb” sounds when they were building the underground railway.
  2. The only flat area in this city is used for the airport.

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The Picture above shows the typical traditional mountainous building in Chongqing (Daytime view)

(Source: http://www.chineescapade.com/Admin_Manager/uponepic/guide-touristique/images/20141/ancienne-Chongqing-article.jpg)

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The complicated topography makes the night view really stunning. (Night time view)

(Source: http://www.echinacities.com/userfiles/2010-Year/10-Month/9-Day/image004(2).jpg)

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(Source: http://travel.chinesecio.com/en/image/attachement/jpg/site3/20091010/00235aa6948a0c3a34081b.jpg)

         3. The only flat area in this city is used for the airport.

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Staircase everywhere (Apple store plaza)

(Source: http://cdn.iphonehacks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/apple-jiefangbei-store.jpg)

        4. When you get off the monorail, you will be surprised to find that you are at the 8th floor.

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Highest overpass between buildings

(Source: https://i2.wp.com/china-underground.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Highest_overpass.jpg?fit=1000%2C750)

        5. The most astonishing fact is that the rail goes through core of residential flats in the middle.  

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(Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/news/2017/03/20/JS123737351_Visual-China-Group_Light-Railway-Passes-Through-Residential-Building-In-Chongqing-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqr1-IQesdsNm9WbsCncdC0h-6hHT5d1My5NPMLxxGU0U.jpg)

        6. Complicated transportation.

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(Source: http://icaa15.cqu.edu.cn/common/images/night_view2.jpg)

The city still charming to me, it is so special. I love Chongqing, includes the scenery, the people and the Sichuan cuisine.

[i] http://countrydigest.org/chongqing-population/

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Image

The Urbanist Utopia of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Image When you have a young child, you interact with certain parts of culture that you wouldn’t otherwise, in my case I’m talking about a cartoon show geared towards toddlers. From time to time my toddler and I watch “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”, which is an extension of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, created to teach social and emotional intelligence to kids. As a planner through and through, while watching this with my toddler, I realized the land of “Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood” struck me as a pseudo urban utopia. One must suspend a few key aspects of reality, namely that the main character is a talking tiger with human friends, to really make this ‘land of make believe’ a possibility. However, here’s my analysis of the neighborhood in the show about what makes it an idealistic urban/suburban form with supporting services.

Transportation
The residents of the neighborhood travel around on a vehicle they call “Trolley”, which is actually closer to a bus as it has no rails and no overhead wires, but it is a heritage-style vehicle similar to those in San Francisco. It is a beloved part of the neighborhood. Trolley provides on demand, point-to-point service based on voice activation. Think personal rapid transit with an artificial intelligence twist. Everyone has front-door service that provides a one-seat ride to their destination. Further, this transit exists in conjunction with in-home real-time updates. The town is pedestrian friendly and safe because there are no single occupant vehicles on the funfetti-patterned, winding roads. The only vehicles that we see regularly are Trolley, a postal worker (Mr. McFeeley) on his “Speedy Delivery” mail delivery bike, and even more rare is Mr. McFeeley’s mail delivery truck. Mode share is primarily skewed towards transit, followed by pedestrian trips. This is largely a product of the land use and urban form. The Vision Zero game is strong here. Low population aside, the streets are low volume, quiet, and safe. Imagine if actual cities prioritized transit, biking, walking, and wheeling.

Land Use
The downtown core of the neighborhood has all of the necessary amenities and services (healthcare center, grocery store, restaurant, etc.) that you would need in a utopia. Each of these are low scale buildings that I assume as mixed use for housing of the business owners. There’s even farm just outside of the urban core for livestock as well as a continuous source of food in the enchanted garden that the community maintains. The housing type varies from a multifamily housing development in a tree, to a castle housing the neighborhood officials, to a modest beachfront hut (Daniel and Family). A school is just outside of the urban core of the neighborhood, but still connected to it with plenty of green space for the kids to play. The urban form is ripe with some of Kevin Lynch’s Five Elements: paths of the streets, edges seen in the separation of the urban core and residential surroundings, and nodes such as the clock factory. In many ways this neighborhood also resembles a garden city or suburb with its centralized enchanted garden, urban core nearby surrounded by a park and ring road, with houses and their respective lands just outside of the ring road, and open space and forests beyond.

Economy and Government
From what I’ve gathered, the chief exports are artisan clocks and crayons. Imports and exports seem to be handled by the mail man/postal worker. They focus on a “speedy delivery” model which magically transmits orders which shows up almost instantly after deciding an item is needed. There are no orders or paperwork to process your item. Think Amazon Prime mixed with Amazon Echo, but your package shows up right after you say you need, say a broom, out loud. One could make the connection that Grandpere Tiger, who lives on a boat, and is only in town from time to time could be the long distance shipper/exporter of these products. However as a whole, the neighborhood is largely a service economy with artisan and small manufacturing.

Jobs are varied and all provide services to one another. Occupations include librarian (X the Owl), government (King Friday), child care worker (teacher Harriet), factory owner and operator (Lady Elaine), music store owner and musician (Stan the music man), Family Doctor (Dr. Anna), Neighborhood Baker (Baker Aker), Tinkerer and clock maker (Dad Tiger), stay at home mom (Mom Tiger), dance teacher (Henrietta Pussycat), mail worker Mr. McFeeley. Also in order to make the royal family more accessible, Prince Tuesday, the older brother of Daniel’s playmate, holds a variety of odd jobs including a grocery shop worker, farm worker, child care assistant, and part time babysitter. The neighborhood is governed by a royal family, which would suggest a monarchy. However, it is democratic in leadership as evidenced by King Friday holding a vote on what new feature to add to the playground. Everyone, including every child using the playground, got to vote. The decision reflected the popular vote.

Community Character
In the neighborhood, social capital is high, everyone supports one another and no visible money is exchanged. Everyone has a hand in parenting the children, it truly takes a village. All of the parents are on the same page when it comes to parenting style and they reinforce each other’s lessons. Demographically speaking, it is diverse in terms of race/ethnicity/species, and family type. There are single mothers, non-traditional family types. Where else would tigers, cats, owls, and humans live in harmony?

All of this is an important step for children across the country to see as a role model. Along with the emotional development lessons, the show is teaching a new generation to appreciate transit accessible, walkable, diverse communities where people know and support their neighbors. You can’t be what you can’t see. For adults and us in the planning community, it also gives a very strong vision of what safe streets look like, what neighborhoods can be, what access to food and transit really mean, how urban cores can support the people that live nearby. This doesn’t have to be as perfect as the show, but it also doesn’t have to stay in the realm of make believe.

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 

 





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