Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Boston to Austin: A Yankee Heads to the Sun Belt (again)
So why Austin? Well, for one there is a pretty girl that I know there. Two, why not?! Afterall, it is suppossed to be a pocket of "hipness" in an otherwise oversized, overfed, overhyped, Red State. Not that I have any preconceived notions. Anywho, I'm hoping that my time "down south" goes a little better than my previous trips below the Mason Dixon line.
My first experience in the south was as a ten year old boy at Walt Disney World. Wow, what a dissapointment that was. Florida entered some sort of freakish cold snap while I was there, which caused the amazing pool outside of my hotel (complete with a pirate ship waterslide, a.k.a. ten year-old heaven), to be unusable. I will never forget the pool boy who said that " I must have brought the bad weather with me." For a Maine boy in Florida, this is the definition of cruelty. Second, besides the initial excitement of Space Mountain, everything at Disney World was pretty boring, fake, and "not as cool as the commercials." Did I just quote myself from thirteen years ago? Yes I did.
My second experience in the south was not any better. In high school I spent an entire week at an A.A.U. basketball tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. Our team, which was solely comprised of my proud high school teammates, never came within twenty-five points of an opponent. Moreover, off the court we tried to find entertainment in Greensboro. This is not something that I suggest doing. As I recall, what should have been downtown was nothing but two or three stale office towers with literally nothing around them, except parking lots. We never even ate downtown. We had to take our overly cramped van ten minutes outside of the city to find some suburban chain eatery where multiple waitresses asked us if we were from Canada. However, we did spend one long afternoon at a regional mall where I got a brand new pair of shorts stolen from me. That was fun.
My third experience in the south involved another pretty girl, and Greensboro again. I don't feel like going into details.
My fourth experience in the south was not bad. If I said that it was, I would feel like a spoiled brat because I spent an entire spring break at Kiawah Island. For those of you who do not know Kiawah Island, it is an ulta-exlusive, gated island in South Carolina where my college buddy happened to have a condo. I mostly lounged on the beach, kayaked the back marshes, drank rum, and pretended that I was decent at golf. Regardless of the fact that I was about as completely removed from reality as one can get, it can be good to sleep with the enemy and see how the other half lives. My only regret from this trip is that I didn't take more pictures of Savannah, Georgia - we went there for a long afternoon and an amazing Widespread Panic concert. If there is anything that I love as much as cities, its music.
My last experience in the south does not really count. I was in Miami during spring break of my senior year of college. To me, Miami is not the south. Rather, Miami is one unbelievable melting pot of hispanic culture, art deco architecture, hideous sprawl, and natural ecological beauty. It is as equally ugly as it is beautiful. I loved every minute of my time there.
This brings me to tomorrow. I will fly from what is basically the capital of New England, to the capital of Texas. Besides renting a bike and taking numerous pictures with my digital camera, I have no plans other than to hang out with my beautiful friend Laura. I have had some strange times traveling outside of my quaint New England life, but I look forward to seeing and learning new things from different places. And as far as Austin goes, I know very little. But learning is what traveling is all about. It won't be the Rockies and it certainly will not be Barcelona, but it will be Austin and if it isn't great, at least I will have some more stories.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
The Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) plan includes a 4,000-mile network of six-lane highways (in each direction, 12 total) and six tracks for rail transit. The plan also calls for a sytem of oil and natural gas pipelines that will be buried underneath the rail and highway. This unprecedented quarter mile swath of transit is a response to the continued suburbanization of Texas, and the American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has sent an ever-increasing amount of 18-wheel "NAFTA" trucks careening down the Texas freeway system. The TTC will purportedly facilitate less trafic congestion on the existing highway system, and will move goods more efficiently from Mexico to America. Though this may be true in the short term, like many others, I see several problems with this Texas sized boondoggle.
Assuming that Governor Rick Perry gets the TTC plan approved, the system will unquestionably relieve traffic congestion, and it will help move cheap goods from Mexico to America. However, this will only be a temporary solution, as the plan ignores the fundamental nature of highway systems. As highway usage increases, the clover leaf exit/onramps become the lifeblood for more formless sprawl and the traffic congestion that highways are suppossed to relieve in the first place. It's a deadly and circuitous system of development that has historically failed in America. These days highway systems are more about band-aid economic development than transportation. If this country really wanted more sustainable transportation efficiency, we would be building high-speed rail, not highways.
Speaking of rail, if the TTC system is anything like our country's current rail system (inefficent and underfunded), who the hell is going to use it?! Moreover, why build the rail system along the exact same corridor as the highway. Though it is smart to build rail for the imminent global energy crisis, the rail system will start off as a joke when motorists go rumbling by a train sitting at an empty station. If Texas was really serious about efficiently moving people and goods long into the 21st century, then the TTC would be mostly rail, with development oriented to its stations, not the clover-leafs.
The sheer size of this project will also cripple cattle ranchers. How the hell is a rancher suppossed to tend his cattle when a quarter mile highway/tranist corridor bisects his property? The answer is that he won't. Texas will seize the property via imminent domain and many ranchers will be forced to reduce their herds, or sell them completely so that new shopping and housing pods can grace the once bucolic Texas prairie land. The amount of land this project will consume is astonishing (9,ooo square miles of right of way), and not only spells economic injustice, but also ecological suicide. Has anyone thought of the security issues and ramifications of placing a natural gas pipeline and oil pipeline under a monstrous transportation corridor? If I were a terrorist, this obvious sign of American ignorance might be my number one target on principle alone.
Finally, the TTC plan calls for the privatization of the entire road. What this means is that the State will seize the land through imminent domain, use state taxes to fund the project, and then lease it to private interests. The private holders who will operate the system will then charge tolls throughout the entire 4,000 miles. This toll system will be incredibly expensive to maintain and in combination with rising gas prices will make the system nearly unusable in 25 years. The highway system has previously been funded through the gasoline tax, Texans must surely view this new development as unfair.
As far as I know, this project has a long way to go before it is actually approved. Not only is funding the TTC and issue, but it currently lacks public support. Regardless, the TTC plan still proves that much of America's governemnt refuses to think progressively about the way our towns and cities must be ordered so that they can survive the turbulence of the 21st century.
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Robert Moses, Le Corbusier , and Jane Jacobs Take The Stage
Commissioner Robert Moses worked for the City from 1924-1968, and was known as one of, if not the most powerful man in New York City. Though Moses never held public office, no person in American urban history has ever had as much power over the configuration (and misconfiguration) of the built environment. The projects that Moses got built cost a startling $27 billion! Among other things, this includes the Triborough Bridge, Jones Beach, the West Side Highway, Co-Op City, Shea Stadium, the Verrazano Bridge and Lincoln Center. Moses was always the proponent for large scale go-big-or-go-home development, and once had a plan for an intricate highway system to cut through and fragment lower Manhattan. Had it not been for Jane Jacobs(A true hero) and her herculean efforts to thwart Mr. Moses, the now thriving Soho neighborhood would have been utterly dismantled for "urban renewal."
The play covers everything from Moses's childhood to his inevitable decline where he refused to relinquish power in old age. Boozy has an impressive list of characters that include Benito Mussolini, FDR, Le Corbusier, Jane Jacobs, Joseph Goebbels, Fiorello LaGuardia, Nelson Rockefeller, and even the ghost of Baron von Haussmann! Though I have never seen a Les Freres Corbusier production, they are known just as much for their zany inspiration for subject matter, as they are for their detailed research and accurate portrayal of historical events. Needless to say, I expect that for the urban planning and architecture crowd, Boozy will not dissapoint. I have already planned my trip to see the March 5th show. For more information, please visit the play's website, www.boozyshow.com. For an in-depth look at the life of Robert Moses, I would suggest reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and The Fall of New York, by Robert Caro.