Greater Greater Washington


Weekend links: Buckle up

Photo by Rhys Asplundh on Flickr.
Heat may be damaging roads: The hot weather is also affecting roads. The Virginia DOT has warned drivers that the heat may cause roads to buckle. Evidence of such buckling has been found on Interstate 395. (Examiner)

Riders get no info to evacuate train: After a Metro train got stuck in the heat Tuesday, the operator suggested riders evacuate but provided almost no information or instructions, and some emergency personnel were confused as well. (Post)

Wells is running: Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells says he is planning to run for mayor in 2014. Wells says he is fully supportive of Mayor Gray's agenda, but the ongoing federal investigation makes it more likely Gray would not run again. (Post)

We're #14!: DC is the 14th best city in the world to live in, according to a new ranking. It's first among US cities, just ahead of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Office development seeks shift to housing: The developer of a proposed Capitol Riverfront office building is now seeking zoning approval to build residential units. The riverfront has recently become a popular residential neighborhood. (Examiner)

Planners underestimate induced demand: Transport planners ignore or underestimate the effects of induced demand when calculating the economic benefit of building roads. So traffic reduction usually falls short of official predictions. (Streetsblog)

Who needs an SUV?: One Portland mom gave up her nine passenger Suburban and now bikes with her 6 kids to get around town by using a cargo bike. (BikePortland)

And...: The Chik-fil-A food truck will begin service in DC this Monday. (Post)... Amid talk about WV's MARC service, let's recall more ambitious proposals. (RPUS)... DC cleared almost 300 trees in the wake of last week's storm. (DCist)

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The Chick-Fil-A truck had already been in operation over by Union Station until a few weeks back. This is a redesign of the truck and apparently the menu. Too bad they won't also be taking the opportunity to revamp their homophobic political ideology.

by Craig on Jul 7, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

Chick Fil A is tasty. If people boycotted every company that gave money to a religious organization there'd really be nowhere left to eat.

by aaa on Jul 7, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

While I didn't realize Portland was part of the region, it was a nice article. While they are one of the most bike friendly places in the country, the comments looked like several of the comments here when discussing practicality. A husband who is a neurologist and living in an affluent area make a lot of things easier.

The issues on the 395 HOV lanes have become a regular occurence with extreme temperatures. The series of speed bumps at 65mph can make me cringe when I think of what it is doing to a vehicle. I'm actually surprised the regular lanes are experiencing significant issues now as well. I don't have pictures of the buckling on 395, but the following pictures are much more indicative of the conditions than the picture used with this post.

by selxic on Jul 7, 2012 4:40 pm • linkreport


It's not that Hate-fil-a gave to religious organizations. They have given $5M total--and $2M in 2010 alone--to groups that solely exist to fight gay marriage, and in some cases, promote dangerous "sexual reorientation" therapy. It's pretty clear by where they're donating that they have a very specific agenda.

Also, the truck was operating on Thursday of this week at Metro Center, so clearly, the Post is a few days late with the news.

by Circle Thomas on Jul 7, 2012 6:15 pm • linkreport

A bump in intersection of North Salisbury Boulevard and Isabel Street in Salisbury Maryland developed after the first period high temperatures last month, Maryland SHA milled it off about 2 weeks ago. The street is concrete with 2 lift of asphalt on top. As I recall the the asphalt on this section of North Salisbury Boulevard was milled off and repaved about 6 years ago.

by Sand Box John on Jul 8, 2012 1:07 am • linkreport

This blog could make itself a lot more useful by talking about the drawbacks and benefits of living in a city while dealing with climate change. How do you cope living in a 7 or 8 story building when the air conditioning goes out? What about when the elevators do? These nuts and bolts issues will increasingly be of interest to people but they are rarely discussed in anything more than a drive-by fashion.

What are the health effects of living in constant air conditioning? Can one cope without air conditioning? Personally and building-wise? How? Are there any measures we should take to limit energy output? How are the green roofs faring right about now?

Are there further adaptations we can make to stop the heating? What might some of those be?

Where do people in the city go to be outdoors? Are the pools well-run and maintained? What about the parks? How are the trees doing?

Is the condo model with high condo fees the best model to deal with city living, long-term? Do condominium managers actually know what it is like to live in a city? Or do they live in the suburbs? Or, does it even matter? Should it?

And city agencies - do they treat people in apartments differently than those living in houses? What about those living in houses vs. those living in condos? That's a big topic, but where is the discussion? Or just the acknowledgement that the reality can be very different for each of those three sets of people.

Finally, what about the populace itself? Think about rootedness and where you come from. Likely where you come from has a much greater sense of rootedness than where you live now in Washington, DC. What are the implications of this? Are there any? Constant change in businesses and residential units and affordability - what does that mean in terms of mitigating the effects of climate change? Will as much effort be made if people are constantly shuttling in and out? Who will make the effort? Who will commit to it?

by Jazzy on Jul 8, 2012 8:49 am • linkreport

Jazzy: What to write an article about that?

by David Alpert on Jul 8, 2012 10:28 am • linkreport

@ Jazzy:How do you cope living in a 7 or 8 story building when the air conditioning goes out?

Why the focus on highrises? Do people in suburbia have different problems?

by Jasper on Jul 8, 2012 10:46 am • linkreport

Would love to David, but for purposes of an *informed* discussion, it would be better for someone more knowledgeable to lead it, and with a background. I can spout off, but I do not have a *working* background in sustainability, in urban issues (I hate 'urbanist'), and the like. Those people are out there. Can't they be found? Let me wrack my brain to think of people. Well, Harriet Tregoning for starters - but more need to be filled in for a well-rounded discussion. Let's have it!! Please!

Well, Jasper, you said 7-8 story buildings are high rises, not me! But the reason I focus on that is that so very many people in Washington, DC live in such buildings. Maybe not quite the majority but nearly so. So, that is why, for one reason. The elderly and infirm, for instance, would SEEM to cope better without electricity in a house than an apartment, especially an apartment in which the elevator goes out, which of course does happen. Apartments, being smaller usually than houses, have a limited number of rooms to escape the heat to. Does that help?

I am not saying that being in a house without power is a piece of cake, but many of us lived that reality growing up (frequent power outages), and it was definitely do-able. In a building you refer to a high rise, especially a unit on one of the higher floors, the temperature can get to 85 degrees and higher. What is the effect on one's health? At 30 years of age? At 60? At 85? At 1 year. At six months?

And so on.

by Jazzy on Jul 8, 2012 11:23 am • linkreport

Also Jasper, pointing out the obvious here, this blog espouses "high rise" living.

by Jazzy on Jul 8, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport


In a building you refer to a high rise, especially a unit on one of the higher floors, the temperature can get to 85 degrees and higher.

And by contrast, internal temperatures in suburban detached SFHs remained below 85 degrees during the latest blackout?

by Gray on Jul 8, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport


I think analyzing how to fight global warming, by increasing usage of transit, walking and biking, is quite enough work for a blog. If you want to focus on other matters, start your own blog. Demanding that other people focus on your interests, but refusing to write anything on those things yourself, seems inappropriate to me.

If you do not know enough, go learn, and write your own blog. I do not think anyone has an obligation to write about the disadvantages of apartement living on your behalf (I continue to be confused that 7 stories is a "hirise")

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 8, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

there are many particular difficulties with suburban living during outages. For one, there may be no cooling places (or any third places with power) within walking distance. That leaves your car - IF you can find gasoline. Even if you, the low density of commerce, combined with outages, can make it hard to find a place with power.

I lived through this outage in FFX cty, and it did not diminish my desire to move to a more urban place.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 8, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

Many houses are built with basements of varying size. Again, as I said, it's no picnic in a house either, but often times, people in a house can go to the basement to get a bit cooler, or rooms more interior to the house.

The person living in a basement apartment is going to be cooler than the person living on the top floor without electricity, for the most part.

Some houses are being hit directly by the sun, yes. But there is also the *possibility* of cross breezes, if they are detached. This is often not the case in apartment buildings.

Does it get hotter on the 8th floor of an apartment building than the first floor of a house? Well, there will be many variables, but my sneaking suspicion is that overall I bet we'd be better off in a house.

by Jazzy on Jul 8, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

@ Jazzy:so very many people in Washington, DC live in such buildings. Maybe not quite the majority but nearly so. So, that is why, for one reason.

This blog is called Greater Greater Washington. I'd pose that the majority of those living in Greater Washington do not live stacked on top of each other.

In a building you refer to a high rise, especially a unit on one of the higher floors, the temperature can get to 85 degrees and higher.

I'll take 85 that if it's 104 outside ;-)

My point was that I don't really see a difference between living in a 7 or 8 story building (what's wrong with calling that a high rise, what else would you call it?) or a town house or a McMansion without power. It will get hot, or cold, or just right, depending on the season.

I can see a difference between living in a dense area and a less dense suburb. Quite frankly, with a power outage, or any natural disaster, you'd probably be better of in the dense area. Just because you won't have to walk forever to get somewhere.

@ AWalker:If you want to focus on other matters, start your own blog.

I'm not sure that's fair. In a good online community, it's fair to ask for more information. The writers of GGW can then write about it, or not.

@ Jazzy:people in a house can go to the basement to get a bit cooler, or rooms more interior to the house.

The higher you are, the more change there is you'll get some wind if you can open your windows.

by Jasper on Jul 8, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

Jazzy: "Experts" usually have other priorities for writing, like creating an 85-page report for some think tank or nonprofit, or whatever. Harriet Tregoning runs a government agency. If you can find anyone, great, but in general it's not a model that has worked.

Blogging happens because people just go and put their thoughts down on paper, not wait for the one ideal person to come along. I didn't know as much about urbanism in DC when I started, and now I know a lot more, thanks to writing things and hearing what commenters had to say. Ken is learning about economic development and education policy as he go (and I'm trying to, also).

So you're free not to write anything, but I don't think a lack of a formal background in sustainability is a disqualification.

by David Alpert on Jul 8, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

Actually, in a high rise {btw you suburb folk are cute calling an 8story building a highrise, because most in any urban area [of course not the 14th best city in the world (eye roll)] would typify this as a midrise} the concrete construction, extensive shading cause by the ratio of roof space to side space, and use of LEED sun shades, roof designs, and structural glass insulates temperature far greater than the owens corning could ever imagine.

High rise structures faired FAR greater in this outage. Add on top of the better insulation in high rises the fact that most true high rises now and days once built incorporate redevelopment of the electric grid to get powerlines below ground through market capitalism (400 new connections provided within 1 acre of space makes people at power companies lets say... happy) and therefore retained power, as mine did except for a brief moment when the grid had to find a correction for many transformers blowing at the same time.

I wish I had the software link on this computer that can show you the efficiency of high rises to retain colder temperatures and warmer temperatures better. I think the company is called ESolutions or something along those lines but it is an energy efficiency calculation program that is used for LEED design confirmation.

Also ditto to a lot of what has been said, when the power went out, youd rather be able to rely on man power, than vehicle power as was seen by the ridiculous gouging and lines that occurred at gas stations that were in operation. When I needed food, I walked 400' to the next door grocery store, which was also operating as usual because it was built within a high rise. Also, its really difficult for your car to get crushed by a tree when it is parked in a 4 story below ground garage. Also it is really really difficult for a 19 story building to have any damage incurred from a little wind.

This storm has reaffirmed my love of living in a condo and NOT in a house which costs the same. Sorry for the preachiness, but you asked for it.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 8, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

I, too, have found extended power outages, particularly in DC to be easier to cope with in a more urban setting than a low-density suburban or even rural one. I was very lucky to not lose power in last week's storms. One of my friends in Loudon county was not so lucky, and having 2 dogs, I told her she was welcome to come to my place (dogs can't go to cooling centers, and often don't tolerate the elements as well - fur and all - so I gave her priority). She tried to come into town, but didn't have enough gas to make it. After calling every gas station she could locate within the range her car would get her, she gave up and toughed it out until I made several phone calls and found her another nearby (to her) friend of mine with power who was willing to open his home to two strangers and two dogs, because she couldn't find a gas station with both power and gas. When I have lost power in the past, I've been able to access a shower at work, groceries right up the street, and cooling centers and pools within walking/transit distance.

Much of the same goes for extreme weather that doesn't necessarily knock the power out. I didn't stock up on TP and canned goods for the various snowpocalypses, because I knew that the grocery store up the street would be able to keep me well-stocked, and I, indeed, had no trouble reaching it on foot.

As far as how we coped in the past... Well, part of that is that heatwaves such as this one were far less common in the past. Keep in mind that we have experienced all-time record heat in the last few weeks, both for its severity and duration. Otherwise, yes, I do find that older people just handle it better. My grandmother never had air conditioning - in fact, she HATED air conditioning - and they coped with a few fans and lots of trees. Yes, they lived in a post-war suburb (large brick single-family, but close-in with neighbors), and the crossflow of air helped, as did the brick construction of the home and the mature shade trees. Where crossflow isn't available and power is out, that can be really daunting and perhaps solutions such as minimal back up generation, which would maybe give each unit one outlet to run a fan, are wise. But people have lived in dense, dilapidated buildings in urban centers for a long time, and they cope by taking advantage of the "third places," as mentioned. Jim Vance mentioned, I think every day this week, escaping to the movies once a week as a child. People could walk to the park and enjoy some breeze and shade, or browse an air-conditioned store. That doesn't work as well in places where you have a spread-out, outdated electrical grid where one fault can knock out large areas, and you need gas (that you may not be able to get) to get there. And otherwise, thousands of people died in heatwaves in the past. It sounds like this one killed around 50 people, which is impressive compared to historical events, especially when you consider its geographical breadth, severity, and duration, particularly when combined with the extreme weather conditions.

by Ms. D on Jul 8, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

Unlike David, I think an expert is needed to moderate this discussion since we tend not to compare apples to apples - as in comparing our situation in the city during the last storm and heat wave when we did NOT lose power to those living in a house that DID lose power. We need a health expert to talk about the health effects of prolonged exposure to air conditioning and the effects of heat exposure. We need someone to examine and report on economic inequality. Someone to go through the data to see if during heat waves, more people die in cities, rural areas or the suburbs. And we need to take each heat wave one by one. There are so many variables and so many things to consider that I think just listing anecdotes is virtually useless. Someone needs to share the data, someone needs to say there IS data and someone probably needs to interpret it. It's not easy.

The best way to gain knowledge is to TEST knowledge. Not to confirm our own, mine included, biases.

To many people on this blog, that cities are on balance good for the environment is self-evident. To me, it is not. This blog has NOT made the case for that. The blog and its editors have simply not asked enough hard questions. There are other models to consider that might be better (village living, for instance). Lower density cities - see the Economist study. For me, there are too many unquestioned assumptions. I am not saying I think I am correct. I'm just asking can't we put these beliefs to a test? Can't we consider the possibilities, ask the questions and have an in-depth discussion?

The topic is way too broad and complex to have someone like me or really any of one of us usuals probably, begin or moderate it. It's a fascinating topic, and I think it's very very necessary for us to delve in to it.

Oxford examined three scenarios for the future of cities (involving climate change). That is the kind of thing I think we could get started on. And not facing it is kind of being in denial.

The reason I am so up for such a discussion is that I think we can make the city a better place to live, that there are improvements to make and things to watch out for (detailed here and above).

For the tiny minority who may be interested, those who are influential in my thinking are, among others, Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben. Wendell Berry's acceptance speech of the Jefferson Award was a masterful, masterful piece of speechwriting, best I've read in the last 5 years. Great, clear thinker. I can't recommend him enough.

by Jazzy on Jul 8, 2012 8:06 pm • linkreport


Jazzy seems to want a discussion of whether its better to live in an apartment or a house. That choice, like modal choice, like so many choices is profoundly individual and depends on tastes, needs, etc. There are other places on line to discuss that. Including Real estate blogs like DC urban turf, sites like City Data, etc. GGW does NOT, as a general rule, discuss personal choices. It discusses questions of public policy. There are question of public policy relating to adaptation to climate change, but I personally think GGWs comparative advantage is discussing public policies that will prevent climate change. I really do think that individuals, who not only ask for information, but express a dislike of the subject matter and orientation of the blog, should find one that suits them.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 8, 2012 9:16 pm • linkreport


Unlike David, I think an expert is needed to moderate this discussion . . .

I think you misunderstand David. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but my impression was that he wasn't saying there shouldn't be a discussion led by experts, but that it's unreasonable to expect people you identify as experts to offer to write on this blog.

If you want to start a discussion, then start a discussion. If you think particular people need to be involved, then work to get them involved. But I don't get why you would complain openly here about the lack of a discussion that you're unwilling to start in a serious way, except to say that particular people who aren't here need to be writing here.

In short: it seems to me that you should either start writing about the kind of thing you think is lacking (that is, actually starting a discussion, not talking about the lack of a particular discussion), or go somewhere that you think suits that better. Staying here but going on and on about how the discussion here is missing something major that you're not really willing to add isn't helpful to anyone.

by Gray on Jul 8, 2012 9:21 pm • linkreport

"Lower density cities - see the Economist study."

There is fairly strong evidence that denser cities use less energy per capita than less dense ones.

Advocating for rural life is nice, but the policy issues this blog addresses involve the shape of metropolitan regions, not the proportion of people living in metro areas vs rural areas.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 8, 2012 9:28 pm • linkreport

Rural areas are fine too, for the most part they are self sustaining in many ways. Suburbs are what this site really discuss in comparison to urban areas, which are clearly net energy hogs compared to a city apartment. Think of it this way, a lot of house AC energy is spent cooling 75% of the house that a person isn't even in for the majority of the day. How can that be efficient?

Think about the process of keeping a lawn "green" in an area that doesn't habitate that type of grass or that lush of a lawn. Water pumping is energy use and water waste.

Think about how much energy loss comes from transmitting power over a far less dense region, through hundreds of splits and branches that are lowered in voltage so it will be safe in subdivisions. People dont know how much energy loss occurs when voltage is stepped down, but I can tell you for remote areas the majority of the energy used is actually lost in transmission.

I dunno if you consider me an expert, I have done a few energy studies in my day, but I certainly wouldnt say I am a leading expert in the field. I simply know that per capita, high rises are far more efficient energy and water users.

Also, empirically, look at the disastrous French heat wave of 2003 where 15000 people died. The majority of deaths occurred around the region of Paris where country houses didn't have AC. If power had gone out in part of Paris, people could easily walk to water areas and party like its 999 (to steal a partial reference to Prince). Where as in suburban regions like Champagne or Loire they would have to walk or even bike 80-150km to the nearest centralized area or non-stagnant water body in order to cool off.

This distance in regular 80degree weather is tough for most middle aged/young/elderly to accomplish, let alone when the temps exceed 100 degrees. Distance and isolation is the killer, not architecture.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 8, 2012 9:57 pm • linkreport

I think some may have gotten caught up in the discussion of 7-8 story buildings and lost sight of Jazzy's initial comment.

It's important to remember a derecho of that strength and size in this region is a rare and extreme weather event. It is not something that allows for much advance preparation. It was responsible for the third most outages to Dominion customers in Virginia history. The top two were hurricanes. The outages didn't discriminate based on zip codes or neighborhood density. Many of the areas farther from the feeders (mid and high rise buildings included) were without power longer than far out suburbs.

by selxic on Jul 9, 2012 4:52 am • linkreport

Urban heat amplifies death risk for elderly.

"During heat waves, elderly people living in city areas where night temperatures remain higher are more likely to succumb to the heat than those in nearby suburban areas where temperatures dip when the sun goes down.

"Researchers found that night temperatures matter when they studied the 9-day hot spell that hit Paris, France, in 2003. The average temperature differences between the city and the suburb varied about 1 or 2 degrees during nights and days, respectively.

"Yet, even with these slight temperature changes, older people living in the city had twice the risk of dying from the heat than those in the suburbs, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives."

"The link between indoor and outdoor temperature should also be taken into account to adapt heat reduction strategies in cities. Thus, a study conducted in Montreal in July 2005 on 75 apartments (Smargiassi et al. 2008) showed linear relations between outdoor air, surface temperature, and indoor temperature. The indoor temperature was higher in big buildings, which should be the first target for preventive measures. The surface temperature of the preceding 24 or 72 hr also affects the indoor temperature (Smargiassi et al. 2008; Wright et al. 2005).

"This joint study has allowed us to estimate the impact of heat exposure on an elderly population in urban locations, and our findings highlight the role of high nighttime temperatures and the duration of heat. Our findings are relevant to long-term prevention in the framework of national and local heat wave plans and should be of interest to urban decision makers, including health and environment ministries, mayors, and urban planning agencies, to guide actions for reducing heat islands.

"Because we spend a great part of our time inside buildings (at home or at work), further studies are needed to better understand the relationship between outdoor and indoor temperatures. In the case of an extreme heat event, the elderly are the most at risk because they sometimes spend all day inside poorly ventilated homes or uninsulated apartments on top floors of buildings (Zeghnoun and Dor 2010)."

by Jazzy on Jul 9, 2012 6:06 am • linkreport

"If you want to focus on other matters, start your own blog. Demanding that other people focus on your interests, but refusing to write anything on those things yourself, seems inappropriate to me." Holly defensivness, batman!

I thought Jazzy's questions were not only incredibly on point, but the questions themselves begin the discussion as often happens on this lovley blog site. How high apartment buildings should be has everything to do with 'fighting global warming, by increasing usage of transit, walking and biking'.

To Jazzys excellent points, it seems incredibly wise to prepare for a world where power might become inconsistent becasue of the increasing frequency of extreme weather amongst other factors. Just like the New Urbanists who found the 5-10 minute walk an ideal distance based on our habits, a 4-6 story height seemed to be the limit before the elevator became ubiqutous. Not that you couldn't go a bit higher, but that's not where the elderly would reside. The floor plans and how the air flow works ought to be considered also to allow for maximum functionality, should we not have power on demand. This would probably call for good sized air-courts, and open floor plans. Even tall punched windows with deep walls have some benefits during extreme weather. However much techno-fairy dust is sprinkled on new glass curtain walled systems, they will never stack up against a thick masonry wall in terms of cooling and retaining heat to disipate at night. Using concrete on the exterior (in lieu of marble blocks:) would also minimize reliance on hightech caulk joints that inevitably fail over time and once water gets hold of the metal hooks behind a glass skin, you'll end up with another East Wing disaster.

Many concerned people have been looking at these issues for some time know, and while they don't seem to stem directly from transit issues, they factor into the larger picture of sustainability and quality of life for all Washingtonians.

by Thayer-D on Jul 9, 2012 7:35 am • linkreport

Tysons Engineer said:
Rural areas are fine too, for the most part they are self sustaining in many ways. Suburbs are what this site really discuss in comparison to urban areas, which are clearly net energy hogs compared to a city apartment.

Absolutely agree. If you're talking about ACTUAL rural areas, and not "rural areas" (outer exurbs) where lots of people commute a zillion miles into a city to work then they are pretty independent, and provide benefits to people in urban areas. For example they may grow your food, harvest the natural resources we use for building/tech/products, or provide a vacation destination for city families. You do not often find superfluous people living in these places; people have easily defined jobs and roles that support their community. Few enough people live in these places that their inefficiency is only a small impact on the big picture.

The real inefficiency comes from the people who want to get the agglomeration benefits of cities (high-paying job, specialized field, etc) but we have enabled not to make the trade-off of living more efficiently in order to gain those benefits.

by MLD on Jul 9, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

"To Jazzys excellent points, it seems incredibly wise to prepare for a world where power might become inconsistent becasue of the increasing frequency of extreme weather amongst other factors."

We dismissed full undergrounding of power lines due to cost. If there are going to be frequent enough weather events like this to justify discouraging tall buildings, or discouraging urban living in general (as Jazzy seems to imply) than maybe that dismissal was mistaken. Its hard for me to beleive that undergrounding urban power lines is going to be more costly than restricting the growth of cities in general.

I will also note that there were several deaths in the suburbs due to trees falling on houses and killing people, a subject Jazzy neglects. Focusing on urban heat island effects and on top floor effects while neglecting the dangers from falling trees, from driving where traffic lights are out, etc, seems less like a real concern with the problem, and more like an attempt to argue against cities per se.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 9, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

Some of these comments are unnecessarily defensive. I don't think everything should be about which is better as much as discussing all ways of life in the region.

Likewise, trees fall in urban areas, suburban areas, and rural areas. People drive in urban areas, suburban areas, and rural areas. Lights were out in urban areas, suburban areas, and rural areas. Unfortunately, there have been deaths in urban areas, suburban areas and rural areas. That doesn't mean we shouldn't discuss any of these problems. Jazzy suggested more discussion. Meanwhile, discussion is being discouraged. Instead of taking up some of the discussion there has been a narrow focus on a single component that was not even the initial intent of the discussion.

by selxic on Jul 9, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport

I agree with selxic. The point I disagree with Jazzy is that cities aren't good for the environment. There may be a point at which mega cities might do more harm than good as James Kunstler often mentions, but I don't understand thinking a suburb ever beats out a city. Mind you, a village, as Jazzy sugested is just a small city, but if being pro-urban implies leaving larger swaths of landscape untouched to promote the health of ecosystems we rely on, I don't think there's any argument.

by Thayer-D on Jul 9, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

"Likewise, trees fall in urban areas,"

but people on the 7th and 8th floors are seldom killed by them.

"People drive in urban areas, suburban areas, and rural areas."

but the choice to walk somewhere is more available in denser areas. I am speaking from my own experience in Annandale during the power outage. When you've just spent a couple of days powerless in a suburb, and have had the experience of waiting in line for an hour for gasoline, cause otherwise you were stuck in your hot home, the praise of how suburbs do in an outage elicits a gut reaction I am afraid.

"that was not even the initial intent of the discussion."

I have my own judgement of what the initial intent of the discussion was.

I for one, am not willing to give up on the planet. If we maintain our current GHG path we will have 8 to 10 degree F warming, and we will likely release the methane trapped in the siberian permafrost. The entire greater washington region may become uninhabitable at that point. Its important we prevent (or as the term of art is, "mitigate") that. Some adaptation strategies are orthogonal to mitigation. But when someone suggests adaptation strategies that counter mitigation- IE ways to adjust to global warming that will increase GHG emissions and worsen warming, that gets me very angry. Especially after what we have suffered this last week.

What this blog needs NOW, above all, is something that ties together the arguments FOR density and alternate transit modes, with the urgent need to counter global warming. That would not only be timely, but fully in keeping with the spirit of the blog.

I see instead attempts by commenters to divert from the key, and urgent, lessons of the last two weeks on the issues we address here.

Lights were out in urban areas, suburban areas, and rural areas.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 9, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

that last line was included by mistake

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 9, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

AWITC: Want to write that article? You say it very well.

The simple fact is that there is a HUGE amount of stuff I would like to say, and even more good stuff that others would like to say. I created the blog as a place to have that stuff said and I want to see it said (and spend a lot of time encouraging contributors or contacting potential contributors), but the only way most of it gets said is if someone wants to write it! So if you're interested, please get in touch!

by David Alpert on Jul 9, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

I will consider it. I need to stay anon however, and worry that will create an issue.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 9, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

AWITC: We have been able to work out things in the past. Send me an email; we don't EVER disclose the identities of commenters without their permission, and have had a few articles by people who need to stay pseudonymous.

by David Alpert on Jul 9, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

so if that article comes out soon, we'll know who you are!
Just kidding, I think it's a great article, and necessary it seems.

by Thayer-D on Jul 9, 2012 1:41 pm • linkreport

I didn't accurately gauge how threatening my comments would seem to people; I do not mean to conclude that suburbs are "better" than cities. And I'm not sure I ever said that, or even strongly implied it. But that last one might be open to debate, I can from see re-reading my comments.

I don't understand the eagerness to read the fly-by opinions of people who are hardly expert or even proficient on an issue, or who refuse to think and question in detail. Why would anyone want opt to plop oneself in the middle of volumes of these opinions over knowledgeable and experienced guidance in a discussion?

Further, how can we be expected to make decisions on big things like (as but just one example) how high a building should be when we do not understand or even feel like questioning the smaller components that make up the issue? I knew I had encountered the kind of cheerleading of large ideas without understanding of the components before when I remembered reading the Mayor Bloomberg longevity press release that was passed off as news on blog sites.

Is it too much to ask for this blog to evolve and mature over time? Is it too much to ask for more detail and more questioning? Well, it may be. But still, I put it out there, and persist. Sorry.

by Jazzy on Jul 9, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

I do think that this blog has very knowledgeable people who read multiple points of view and dont go with the "follow the leader" method of discussion. Theres lots of times I have seen articles on GGW that go against what other urbanist website say. At the end of the day though, the site has an urbanist bias, it is what it is. Should there be a contrarian column from time to time? Sure but most people against urbanism use concepts like, urbanism is communism forcing people to live in tiny boxes, as a legitimate argument against the concept. That is not a useful discussion.

A discussion of how suburbs are better than urban regions would be great, though if you read people like the anti-planner, their point of view is often comical at best. To see all people who see the economic efficiency of civilization in cities (something shown over the course of 4 millenia) as anti-auto radicals who want to destroy all things petrol is just dangerous rhetoric.

I am definitely not saying that is anything like what you are saying Jazzy, but I am saying why it is so hard to talk about the counter point with people who simply hate cities (even though most of them work in a city)... carpet baggers

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 9, 2012 10:53 pm • linkreport


No doubt, it's an important subject. However, this is a volunteer site. If you see a hole in coverage, offer to fill it yourself.

Is it too much to ask for this blog to evolve and mature over time? Is it too much to ask for more detail and more questioning?

Isn't that what you've done in these posts? You've formulated a good post on the subject right there. If you want some expert testimony, send it to some experts and get their feedback.

But what some object to is the demand that someone else do that work. No one likes an armchair quarterback or a backseat driver.

by Alex B. on Jul 10, 2012 12:11 am • linkreport

Jazzy, you're right that experts need to be brought in, but this issue is extremely complicated, and hardly been studied. The study you linked to demonstrates this, because Paris is a much lower, tighter environment with smaller apartments, than DC. We're closer to the modernist suburb of houses and high-rises used for contrast, but honestly, I have no idea what the best approach is.

One thing that is clear is that a humid area like DC needs good airflow. Humidity traps heat; this heat needs to be moved away from bodies. The Haussman apartments, in contrast, do not have good ventilation; they are usually one-sided and small.

High-rise apartments (12-30 stories) would likely be cooler if the windows were opened, but like Thayer mentioned, air courts are probably helpful for shorter buildings.

This stuff gets very, very complicated very fast, but it is good to have a voice of dissent to keep things on the level. If only the experts had done research into this...

by Neil Flanagan on Jul 10, 2012 1:20 am • linkreport

There are seldom trees that are 7 or 8 floors high in urban areas, AWalkerInTheCity. I don't think that leads to a debate of quality of life in urban areas though. You're advocating for a lifestyle. I'm not. Jazzy's initial comment was not anti-urban nor was it about the suburbs. It asked for discussion of life in mid-rise buildings that are prominent in this region.

Likewise, I'm not pitting suburbs against urban areas (nor am I against "urbanism"). This region has both and they often work together to make this region greater and more complete with services and opportunities. There are even several areas where the line between suburban and urban lifestyles are blurred.

I made a few trips to the Little River Turnpike area during the outages. I saw the power out along most of it for days. I don't know if you were in one of the older single family homes in large neighborhoods far from Little River Turnpike or townhomes or apartments near it (all of which are served by overhead lines), but I am willing to acknowledge some portions of Annandale are relatively dense and provide ammenities to the point that they reflect urban life more than suburban life. Likewise, buses run on Little River Turnpike regularly.

by selxic on Jul 10, 2012 4:36 am • linkreport

"River Turnpike or townhomes or apartments near it (all of which are served by overhead lines), but I am willing to acknowledge some portions of Annandale are relatively dense and provide ammenities to the point that they reflect urban life more than suburban life. Likewise, buses run on Little River Turnpike regularly."

local buses running EW on the pike run once an hour. Annandale is denser than some suburbs, but due to its still lowish density, its poor layout, the poor quality of its streets and sidewalks for walkers (and cyclists, but at 103 F that wasn't so relevant for most of us), its a very unpleasant place to accomplish daily errands without a car. Especially when 90% of the businesses are without power, sold out of key items, etc, so its effectively one tenth as dense as usual.

I am not clear what Jazzys point really was. That there are personal disadvantages for some to living in a hirise are well known. As there for living in a SFH, a TH, whatever. This blog does not as a general rule address (though some commentors do) the personal advantages of living in one type of house or another - do we get discussions of how to arrange furniture in a TH? The costs of lawn mowing? This is a policy blog. If, as SEEMED likely (based on who she cited) Jazzy wants to encourage rurual living as a policy, thats well and good. but its irrelevant to the focus of this blog, which is about how to shape metro areas, not the role of rural areas - and to the extent what we discuss here is relevant, urban growth tends to go hand in hand with rural preservation - the flip side of the urban smart growth movement is the rural preservation/urban growth boundary movement.

I am not advocating for a lifestyle for everyone. We all have different, personal needs (which is why discussing lifestyle questions is NOT appropriate on a blog). I am interested in POLICY, and in removing those policies which have led us to supply less urban walkable housing than the market demands, despite significant positive externalities to urban walkable - externalities that include lower GHG emissions, the culprit in the warming that will lead to more heat waves and power outages. And, in parts of the less developed world, to consequences far worse and far more deadly.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 10, 2012 9:33 am • linkreport

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