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Weekend links: Breakdown boogie

Photo by jamais203 on Flickr.
Music of malfunction: Escalators break and wear down, but the sounds they make can be beautiful in their own way. As one podcast puts it, it can be the music that defines the place. (99% Invisible)

Should Amazon be taxed?: Virginia businesses want to pay sales tax, saying every retailer should play by the same rules. Virginia spent $4 million to lure two Amazon distribution centers to the state. (Post)

Pop-ups invade vacant lots: Developers are using their vacant lots for more than parking, renting them to markets and farms. The commercial uses can breathe life into overlooked areas. (NY Times)

Hispanics disproportionately killed on roads: Almost half of Montgomery County's pedestrian deaths have been Hispanic, despite the fact that only 17% of the county's population is Hispanic. Four of the five deaths occurred on Viers Mill Road. (WAMU)

Streetcar purchase drama continues: Inekon, DDOT's original streetcar manufacturer, has filed suit to appeal the agency's recent purchase of two streetcars from Oregon's United Streetcar. (DCist)

Reimagining the alley: Long Beach, CA, wants its alleys to be more than garbage access points and become community-centric with landscaping, art, and signage in emulation of San Francisco and Pasadena. Might DC do the same? (Long Beach Post)

India plans to sprawl: India's urban growth will predominately be in secondary cities rather than "primate" cities, decentralizing the massive population shift expected in the country away from traditional urban cores. (Times Of India)

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David Edmondson is a transportation and urban affairs enthusiast working on his master's in city and regional planning at Cornell University. He blogs about Marin County, California, at The Greater Marin


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So after seeing 'primate' was in quotes in the Times of India article as well I went and dug up the Report of the Working Group on Urban Strategic Planning 12th Five-year plan (cus I just had to know) and it actually does say PRIMATE cities.

"High speed commuter rail connectivity between large primate city and growing secondary cities (e.g., between Bengaluru and Mysore) located within the distance of 100-200 km"

Of course it's not inaccurate, in more ways than one.

by Doug on Dec 24, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

Our alleys are the greatest unused potential for growth in this city. Before the federal government ordered the clearing out of alleys at the end of the first half of the last century, a significant portion of the District's population lived in the alleys. Now alley dwellings are rare and generally expensive. (Note the carriage house behind the 1900 even block of S St currently listed at $3 million.) If we could make better use of our alleys for residential housing, we,could retain the city's historic profile without trying to shoehorn in infill construction like the oversized building proposed for 15th and V.

by Lance on Dec 24, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

That you went around and actually found the Working Group's report, well, it makes me proud to be your links curator.

by David Edmondson on Dec 24, 2011 2:40 pm • linkreport

Did you even read the article about the Indian cities before you linked to it? The plan they are advocating is pretty much the opposite of sprawl. You should take a trip to one of India's 'primate' cities and see how overcrowded they are before you complain that new cities aren't necessary.

by yo on Dec 24, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

RE: Musical Escalators
Dunn Loring's escalators are improving... time was they played bad jazz, but as of late it's actually becomes rather catchy.

RE: Primate Cities
Keep in mind that "sprawl" in this sense is very different from the nature of sprawl we know. These are still full-fledged cities in their own right, replete with the infrastructure and densities quite typical & comparable (if not even more urban) than what we would know of as a city.

by Bossi on Dec 24, 2011 5:49 pm • linkreport

Strategic densification is certainly anti-sprawl, but setting up new secondary and ring cities is certainly sprawl. The impetus for creating suburbs was to empty the dirty and overcrowded central city, and it created the American urban situation we face today. India probably won't go that far (although there are rumblings about parking minimums in Mumbai), but this is a step in the same direction.

by David Edmondson on Dec 24, 2011 8:09 pm • linkreport

Seems like they want sprawl in India.

I would like Alpert et. al go to someone who currently lives in a slum in Mumbai, or even a high-rent apartment, and say to their face that they're better off living in a highly-dense arrangement, rather than taking advantage of unused land (aka, "sprawl")

by No horse in the race on Dec 24, 2011 11:19 pm • linkreport

It's easy to conjecture that the Indian plans would just lead to more sprawlburgs given that they talk about satellite cities and there isn't much detail. Tlearly, not a large scale development approach. The "popular" alleys are in just a few places near gentrifying neighborhoods and are not the dark crowded places that established alleys as slums. The segregationist history of alleys also needs to be noted.

by Rich on Dec 25, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

Back in 2007, there was talk of re-doing the alley behind 17th St which faces Stead Park (see There was a proposal the bring the park to ground level, and encourage the cafes to have seating facing the park.

There's also been talk about bringing life to the SunTrust alley in Adams Morgan (, but I don't expect anything to happen while that horrible building stands.

by YouStreet on Dec 25, 2011 5:04 pm • linkreport

@YouStreet "There was a proposal the bring the park to ground level, and encourage the cafes to have seating facing the park."

The problem it ran into was 'where will all the garbage cans go?' (and other 'alley needs' by commercial enterprizes.) Additionally, there was strong opposition from the residential neighbors backing on to Stead Field ... since putting summer gardens on the alley side of the buildings would create noise issues.

Hence why I only mentioned residential use of our alleys. The needs of business are quite more intensive than the needs of residences. While having small businesses in an alley can be fun (there's an art gallery in the alley behind where I live), many kinds of commericial enterprizes would just be too intensive for these relatively small 'streets'.

by Lance on Dec 25, 2011 8:09 pm • linkreport

A couple of thoughts re: India: I've been reading the papers in Delhi and Mumbai for the last few days (visiting my wife's family) and first, urban development/ architecture are more prominently featured in the newspapers than in the US. And density and improved public transit are very much on the mind.

They are planning a large expansion of the Delhi metro system (which serves 2 million people a day at present) and I read an article about the "last mile problem." Ya'll would be proud. Much like the US in town locations are very expensive, but newish suburbs with new construction (towers typically) amenities are also in demand. Not sure why it has to be either or.

by H Street Landlord on Dec 25, 2011 9:43 pm • linkreport

The elevator at the Bethesda station makes noises that sound like a busker's saxophone playing random notes at random intervals.

Nice to know that I'm not the only one who hears "music" in this. :)

by Frank IBC on Dec 25, 2011 10:38 pm • linkreport

@No Horse

You don't need to ask Alpert to do that. Developers have done exactly that. They built new tower buildings with basic amenities like plumbing a little ways away from the largest slum in Indi and offered the slum dwellers a free "condo" if they stopped squatting on their prime real estate so it could be redeveloped. Few families took them up on their offer because they would rather live in a slum in the center of town than live farther away in a tower. Part of it had to do with transportation distances andd part to do with the loss of social connections.

by Falls Church on Dec 26, 2011 8:48 am • linkreport

In the Trinidad Neighborhood we've started a one-night pop up art exhibit in one of our wide alleys. Art in the Alley will be held twice a year. Art by neighborhood artists is featured, hung on back fences and walls, while residents and visitors mingle about. It is a nice way to use the alley, while still having alley trash pick up and off-alley parking. All it takes is a little initiative to start something up like this in your alley.

by djbays on Dec 26, 2011 9:57 am • linkreport

In an urbanizing country like India, most of the population growth will be in second-tier cities anyways; there are many more of them, so even if each absorbs fewer people they can still absorb more people. During America's urbanization in the 1850-1950, we built a constellation of smaller cities rather than coalescing into a few giant cities, despite being a much less diverse and populous country than modern India. This process is entirely natural, since different areas will specialize in different trades.

Besides, population density in "rural" India and China is as high as "urban" density even here in the Northeast (, so I wouldn't worry about those countries exactly repeating our experience with low-density sprawl. West Coast style high-density sprawl is certainly a concern, though.

by Payton on Dec 26, 2011 12:14 pm • linkreport

People like sprawl and big highways; they're the path of least resistance. People always seem to need to be coaxed to living in cities and riding bikes and buses and public transportation. Give it up and go with the flow--the 'burbs are the future. India knows what they want.

by AndySJ on Dec 27, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

There was also a plan to put in small, affordable, high-density SFHs in the area behind U Street Metro. This area has a dead street named Temperance Street in the city tax maps.

BZA turned down a rezoning of this area in the early 2000s due to the tightness of the space and the resulting (probable) difficulty of egress by emergency vehicles. There are two E/W alleys from 13th to 12th there, and they are indeed both rather narrow.

Which is a shame since housing there would be great in-fill development in a fabulous neighborhood.

by Jack Love on Dec 27, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

Sorry, make that Temperance Court. Square 0274, currently owned by City First.

by Jack Love on Dec 27, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

@Jack Love
Wow, that would've been a great place to live! Such a shame the plan got put down. It'll probably end up being an apartment "tower" at some point.

by OctaviusIII on Dec 27, 2011 6:46 pm • linkreport

Credit where it's due - I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Lance, but he's right(ish) about making better use of our alleys.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jan 6, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

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