Monday, January 20, 2014

Things My City Did Best in 2013 part I

Hello Everyone:

Today is the official Martin Luther King, Jr's Birthday celebration in the United States.  For many it's a day off and for others, it's a chance to reflect on the accomplishments of this giant in the Civil Rights Movement.  One of the important issues in the Civil Rights movements was social equality in the cities.  In another year-end article, the staff writers at the Atlantic Cities complied a list of twenty American cities that shared the best things they did during 2013. Whether it was a collective social cultural event like Batkid, a fantastic new business program, or a successful anti-poverty program, cities from coast to coast implemented new initiatives to promote some form of social equality for their residents.  Here is part one of the Atlantic Cities' list of the best thing my city did this year.

Atlanta sprawl
Atlanta's Alternative Transportation Boom: like Los Angeles, the city of Atlanta, Georgia sprawls out in every direction.  Thus, an efficient and reliable public transportation system is crucial to connecting the divested parts of the city with employment and education opportunities.  In 2013, civic officials implemented the Atlanta Belt Line, which has already generated a billion dollars of investment in parks and apartments.  "I think that Atlanta has really done a great job harnessing the power of alternative transportation this year, even more so than it has in the past," says Darin Givens, editor of Atlanta Urbanist.  The downtown streetcars will move throughout historic neighborhoods, such as the one where MLK, Jr. grew up.  This community has faced disinvestment for decades, now it's undergoing a transformation and even being forced to deal with re-zoning issues.  The other big initiative centered around some of the old park-and-ride MARTA sites.

Boston, Massachusetts
Toward A 'Greater Boston:' overflowing crowds at Boston pub Row 34 is a common Wednesday night feature. The pub is located on the edge of former Fort Point warehouses and looks out to the Seaport, the new urban frontier.  If you didn't know it was Boston, you'd think you were in Brooklyn, New York.  Boston is booming, 2013 was another gold star year, but one issue remains unresolved.  Can a 'Greater Boston' become more of a region.  This is the question Anthony Flint, Atlantic Cities contributor and fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is considering.  Boston and Cambridge compete with each and pending departure of Partners Healthcare to a new development in Somerville have disappointed Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh.  The successor of Thomas M. Menino will face the issue of spreading the wealth around the metropolitan region or more turf battles, akin to clan warfare.

Buffalo at nigh
Buffalo Turned Its Old Grain Silos Into Art: "Over the past decade, the long-dormant industrial infrastructure that lines the Buffalo river has come slowly creaking back to life..," reports Colin Dabkowski, art critic for the Buffalo News.  One of the many noteworthy projects that played a part in removing the rust in this segment of the "Rust Belt" in 2013 was the ambitious Torn Space Theater's environmental theater production Motion Picture.  For two August evenings, the production transformed one of the grittiest (another overused word)  parts of the spread out Silo City into one enormous stage: Digital projections were shown against the backdrop of the grain-elevator silos, while actor, horse-back riders, war re-enactors, and a helicopter pilot acted out a grand love story in the air above.  Does it sound like much?  Probably, but it was a powerful example of the artist's hand in reactivating and imagining new public spaces.  The real question is whether these artists are paving the way for Buffalo's slowly re-emerging economy or just creating a space for themselves?

Lake Michigan
Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Embraced the Bike: "the city of broad shoulders" is a city that moves. According to Ankur Thakkar, digital director for the City of Chicago, "In Chicago we move by air, water, rail, road, sidewalk and-increasingly-bike lane."  In 2013 Mayor Rahm Emanuel launch Chicago's bike-sharing program, Divvy Bikes.  The program has been used 740,000 times between 300 stations across the city.  "We're a city of neighborhoods, with with more than 20 miles of bike lanes to enjoy, being able to jump on a bike whenever and wherever makes me feel like I'm 'hacking' the city, allowing me to see the neighborhoods of Chicago anew," continues Mr. Thakkar.  Or at least, feel like a little boy again.

Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati Held an Awesome Music and Light Show in a Renovated Historic Park: judging from the picture on the left, awesome is an understatement.  Randy A. Sims, owner and managing editor of Urbancity reports, "As Cincinnati has experienced a bit of a renaissance, much of it focus has been on building public assets like parks and investing in cultural institutions..." These investments have fleshed out the more traditional approach to urban development across the United States.  One example is the recent $46 million renovation and expansion of Washington Park, one of Cincinnati's oldest, and a landmark in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in the northern part of downtown.  Again, looking at the photograph, it's more like over-the-top.  Over one weekend last August, the newly renovated and expanded park was on display during LumenoCity-a symphonic orchestra concert complete with a light show projected onto the Music Hall. Beat that Hollywood Bowl.

Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland's Art Museum Turned a Stunning New Atrium Into a Public Gathering Place: Cleveland, Ohio, look the butt of jokes until the Rock and Roll Hall Fame took up residence in 1995.  Bubbling with civic enthusiasm, Anne Trubek, founding editor of Belt magazine describes her Cleveland 2013, "...full of energy, risk-taking, and community-based huzzahs..." The city reached a cultural high-point last year when the Cleveland Museum of Art's new atrium became a public gathering place and the Cleveland Orchestra did a neighborhood-based residency.  From an economic standpoint, developments in Waterloo, St. Clair-Superior, and Detroit-Shoreway laid the foundation for 2014, that Ms. Trubek hopes will be the envy of the nation.  Obviously Ms. Trubek does not lack in any civic pride.  Ms. Trubek points out that this cultural and economic high was the result of a phone call that demonstrated her city's "...gritty, rising zeitgeist."  The moral of the story, pick up the phone.

Detroit skyline at night
Detroit's City Council Came Into Its Own: 2013 was another bad year for the city of Detroit, Michigan capped off by the declaration of bankruptcy.  However, not everything was so bleak.  The Detroit City Council took center stage, emerging as newly reformed, newly represented governmental body.  Aaron Foley, a writer with Japolnik, reports that in a city grim news is the norm, a fresh start is in the offing.  Mary Barra is the first woman appointed the head of General Motors, the election of Mayor Dave Bing that blurred the longtime racial divide, and international concern over the city's art collection all dominated local headlines.  However, the big story, according to Mr. Foley is the re-emergence of the City Council as a functional legislative body.  Congress are you paying attention?  The Detroit City Council got rid of some of the more controversial members, replacing them with a new crop using a by-district model, unseen since 1918.  The by-district model allows residents neighborhood-based representation, such as first-time member Raquel Castañeda of District 6, while more dubious members sit out this term.

Bear Creek Pioneer Park
Houston, Texas
Houston Expanded Its Parks: the pending demolition of the Houston Astrodome (there's still time to save it) was not the only big story out this port city in Texas.  Tory Gattis, president of Houston Strategies, reports, "In 2013, Houston began work on the Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative funded by  $100 million of private funds in addition to a voter-approved $166 million Parks bond at the 2012..."  This means that in six years, Houston will have over 150 miles of connected biking and walking paths lining 1,500 acres of newly connected parks.  This would accomplish a number of goals for less than half the cost.  The parks would also provide a wildlife habitat, help water quality and flood control, and unite the communities with safe. off-street paths for recreational and transportation alternatives.

CicLAvia Los Angeles
Venice Beach
Los Angeles Cyclists Took to the Streets: the eighties New Wave band (featuring the extraordinary Warren Cuccurillo) once sang "no body walks in L.A."  Even though, the band was referring to the fact that everyone drives, it could also imply CicLAvia.  Damien Newton, the editor of Streetblog Los Angeles, writes, "The best thing that happened in Los Angeles is the expansion of our Open Street Festival known as CicLAvia..."  Los Angeles' CicLAvia was inspired by Columbia's ciclavia events, large portions of Los Angeles' streets are shut off to automobile traffic and made available to all other forms of traffic.  Yours truly has witnessed this and it's amazing to see all the bicycles riding through otherwise busy streets reveling in the freedom.  Yours truly concurs with Mr. Newton when he emphatically states, "Literally hundreds of thousands of people came out to three events, one on iconic Wilshire Boulevard (saw that one), one on Venice Blvd. from DTLA to the Venice Beach, and a third in Downtown Los Angeles with tendril reaching into Boyle Heights, South L.A., Koreatown, and Chinatown..."  Thanks to the popularity of this event, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, has set aside $2 million for smaller cities to stage this event.

Pérez Art Museum Miami
Miami, Florida
Miami Got a World-Class Downtown Art Museum: Jordan Melnick, the creator of Sktchy iPhone app and editor of Beached Miami describes 2013 in Miami, Florida as "standout."  Miami stood this year for "...Good things like rallying to stave off mass public library closures and hosting an Arcade Fire benefit show at the Little Haiti Cultural Center.  Bad things like giving Walmart the green light to build a store in Midtown.  And glorious things like winning the NBA championship in exhilarating fashion..."  However, the absolute very best thing the city of Miami did was open the Pérez Art Museum Miami (Miami Art Museum for short) in the heart of downtown.  Mr. Melnick bubbles with overflowing enthusiasm about its great foundational collection.  He brims with joys over the fact, "It's a symbol of a young city's ongoing maturation and convincing harbinger of great things to come.

In tomorrow's post, we'll look at the next ten cities on this list of best things American cities did in 2013.  These are all wonderful developments that have great potential to engage disparate parts of the urban landscape.  Only time will tell if all these fantastic developments have any measurable impact.

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