The Filling Station

Listed in the 2008 Des Moines Rehabbers Club "Most Endangered" list, the former Don's Service Station structure has been sitting on cribs in the Kathedral parking lot for four years... The Sherman Hill website now reports that it is finally scheduled to be moved to its permanent home at 18th and Crocker. For more information about the planned conversion to a teen hangout and worship center, visit the "Filling Station" website.

Downtown Development Plans...

KCCI reports that Hubbell Realty Company has initiated the public process for development incentives and zoning approvals for "Cityville", a 288-unit mixed-use complex to be built just south of downtown. Unfortunately, the available news reports were unclear which incentives are being pursued, with various references to tax abatement, loans, tax credits, grants, and tax increment financing. Surely Hubbell will negotiate with the city economic development department to hammer out the specifics - citizens need to be vigilant to ensure that we are getting a good deal.

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It's been a while since I have posted here, and I'm missing it a bit... I enjoy taking a look at what is going on in the city around me and looking for connections, possibilities, and opportunities for improvement. So I'm going to try a new format for a while - the Tuesday Morning roundup: Each Tuesday morning, stop in for development and urbanism-related news snippets, photos of interesting projects, and maybe a few bits of insight and/or snarkiness (depending on whether or not I have had my morning coffee).

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Bus Rapid Transit (via Wikimedia Commons)Bus Rapid Transit (via Wikimedia Commons)The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) is set to unveil a proposal to develop “bus-rapid transit” – rail-like service delivered with hybrid buses on Ingersoll and University Avenues between downtown and 42nd Street.

The proposal will be presented at three open houses on Thursday, January 26:

  • 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. – Arthur Davis Room, Greater Des Moines Partnership, 700 Locust St.
  • 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Pomerantz Stage, Olmsted Center, Drake University, 2507 University Ave.
  • 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. – Greenwood Room, Plymouth United Church of Christ, 4126 Ingersoll Ave.

From the meeting announcement:

The service would be developed along established transit corridors that feature high-density residential neighborhoods and an abundance of destinations, including two medical centers, three institutions of higher learning, multiple shopping districts and employment centers, and many other services. DART would deploy hybrid buses that are branded specific to that service, build stations along the route with real-time arrival and departure information, offer 10-minute service at peak usage, and use technology to change stoplights and accelerate travel times.

Make no mistake, service like this is a fabulous idea to promote two things our City needs more of:

  • Wider transit ridership - with service that benefits a broad base of users
  • Compact development - Encouraging higher density development along established and consistent transit routes that connect to widely-used destinations

An additional suggestion for DART (no charge):
In conjunction with the establishment of Southwest Airlines service to the Des Moines Intergalactic Spaceport, DART should also explore ways of improving the anemic service to this transportation hub. Three times in the past year I have taken flights out and back from Des Moines at times when public transit does not serve the airport... very disappointing.

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Planning for Tomorrow

12 Jan 2012

This morning I attended the first in a series of speaker events organized around the "Tomorrow Plan". Spearheaded by the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (DMAMPO), the Tomorrow Plan seeks to design a coordinated metropolitan strategy for managing the expected population growth over the next 25 years.

Tomorrow Plan Speaker Series - Bill FultonTomorrow Plan Speaker Series - Bill FultonThe headline speaker was former Ventura mayor, Bill Fulton. Fulton now works for Smart Growth America assisting assist state, regional, and local government agencies around the nation with smart growth policies and tools.

All in all, the talk was an interesting if relatively superficial exploration of some of the fundamental issues that necessitate a reexamination of unchecked single-family suburban subdivision construction. He attempted to navigate the waters between advocating for more compact development, and the undeniable political, social and economic inertia driving (so to speak) suburban migration.

Here are some of his key points:

  • Demographic shifts - Baby Boomers and Millennials are the largest population segments, and they are trending away from traditional suburban living (they tend to seek walkable neighborhoods)
  • Sustainable and walkable neighborhoods - According to a National Association of Realtors survey 77% of of people prefer a pedestrian friendly neighborhood, 88% rank quality of the neighborhood higher than home size, and only 12% prefer a neighborhood with houses only
  • Sense of Place in either an "urban" or "village" form is important
  • Current development patterns strain fiscal resources - Low density development rarely pays for itself in terms of initial infrastructure investment or ongoing maintenance
  • Suburban development costs more money to support fewer people - Things like snow removal, elderly transit, and fire fighting are much less cost efficient in low density areas

Sustainability means making sure that a win today doesn't depend on a loss tomorrow.

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The Long Goodbye

28 Sep 2011

This evening, I am starting to disentangle Facebook from my personal life. I have just finished reading a disturbing article about the ways Facebook gathers, stores, and utilizes the information I give it.

Some key points I gleaned:

  • If you are not paying for a free service (like Facebook or Google), then you are the commodity being sold. In return for linking you to your friends and family, Facebook extracts payment in data - about who you are, what you do, websites you visit, and all the content you create and post to the Social Network. You no longer control any of this information, regardless of the "privacy settings" I'm sure you closely monitor. The new Facebook "ticker" is a glaring example of this.
  • Facebook's "Open Graph" allows third-party, non-Facebook websites to report your online activity back to Facebook. If you browse to Facebook-connected site that utilizes Open Graph, your unrelated online activities may be published to the ticker on your friends' Facebook page. This information is retained as long as Facebook chooses to retain it. This is not the future, this is now: the Washington Post's "Social Reader" app reports what you read to all your friends without explicit consent. That's fine when you are reading an article about the farm subsidy debate, but what if your girlfriend notices you have been suddenly reading up on gonorrhea?
  • If a website asks you to "connect with Facebook" don't do it. If the website requires you to "connect with Facebook" find another website. The more you "connect" with Facebook, the more information you are sharing with them and the more information Facebook will share with random people you don't know.

I am starting the process of disengaging my personal content from Facebook: my "status" and "likes", my opinions, my photos. I would like to share this with all of my friends, but I don't like the new strings attached. I will start posting "social networking" content and photos on Google+ rather than Facebook. Of course, for the time being, I will also put notifications up on my Facebook page.

Right or wrong, I trust Google over Facebook to do better by me and the content I create. When I engage with social media, I will make an effort to do so on Google+ rather than Facebook. I hope at least some of you will join me.

Add swilkeshapiro@gmail.com to your Google+ circles and I'll add you back!

See you all on the flip side.

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State Capitol Building, Iowa

State Capitol Building, west entrance - the public entrance, Monday through Friday, is the little door behind the truck and around the corner from the dumpster. Yes, I do recognize the need for a limited-access "securable" entrance, but on the other hand, it's not a very gracious way to treat visitors...

Slow Down, Speedy

27 Sep 2011

Eyes in the sky are now watching you speed down the eastbound lanes of I-235 between 53rd and Polk. Starting Wednesday, September 28, police will begin issuing tickets for speeds in excess of 10 miles over the limit. Fines are scheduled to be $65 for violations 11-15 miles over the speed limit, $75 for 16-20 miles over, and $80 plus $2 for each mile over 21 mph above the speed limit.

Cameras cover all four lanes, so don't think that you can slide by on the right...

And you had better watch your back driving around the rest of the region as well - there are five additional fixed cameras and one mobile camera placed around Des Moines on a rotating basis. Clive has at least nine on Hickman alone.


View Des Moines Fixed Traffic Camera Locations in a larger map

Despite statements that the cameras are intended to "reduce side impact crashes", it is pretty clear that income is a driving factor (so to speak) in the decision to install these enforcement cameras. Why do I believe this? because they are unmarked. If the intent was truly to reduce crashes and infractions at particularly dangerous intersections, they would be clearly marked with signage at the intersection. Rather there are inconspicuous signs when entering the City - "Photo enforced" on a small white sign on the right shoulder, for example.

By and large, I follow traffic laws. I don't speed, and I am pretty conscious of coming to a complete stop at red lights, so I am not particularly worried about getting tagged. It rubs me the wrong way, however, that the City is disguising what appears to be an income grab at least partially as a public safety measure. It is also disturbing that they outsource enforcement to a private company at a massive profit.

Channel 8 reports that net fixed camera revenues for the first two weeks in September (excluding the I-235 camera) totaled $50,000. Let's say the average citation was $70. That's a whopping 714 citations at five intersections. The private company running the cameras collects $27 per citation, for a gross income of about $38,600 per month or half a million dollars per year (rounding).

The City is poised to collect $800,000 at this rate ($1.3 million in gross revenue less $500,000 paid out to the private camera company). Until I see bright red signs at each monitored intersection, I don't think I'll be convinced that it's about safety over money.

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Skool Bored Elekshon

21 Sep 2011

Image Source: Green Lane (GFDL) via Wikimedia CommonsImage Source: Green Lane (GFDL) via Wikimedia CommonsDid anybody catch the misspellings in the title? Perhaps it doesn't matter - apparently, very few people give a crap about our schools. Yet again, Des Moines residents exhibited a staggeringly low turnout for the school board elections last Tuesday.

Okay, maybe I am being a bit harsh. Low voter turnout is a complex issue and there is plenty of blame to go around: the Polk County Auditor, State election law, candidates themselves, lack of coverage by media sources, voter apathy.... I mean, I barely even knew there was an election and I enjoy following politics. Thankfully, former school board member Graham Gillette filed a spot-on commentary with the Cityview education desk.

Only 5 percent of Des Moines voters thought participating in yesterday's school board elections was worthy of their time.

So, it is fair to say the 111,831 voters who did not vote:

1. Had something more important to do/didn't care;

2. Didn't have any idea there was an election going on, which is possible since the five people running raised a whopping combined total of $4,763 or about 4 cents per registered voter to communicate with the electorate. One candidate didn't raise a dime. (Looks like the candidates weren't too concerned about the election themselves.);

3. Thought the candidates were so indistinguishable from one another that voting was a waste of time;

4. Meant to, but the line at Burger King was so long that if they would have stopped to vote they would have missed the first five minutes of that Brady Bunch rerun; or

5. Decided to leave it to somebody smarter to decide who should serve.

The real nugget of a great idea in his column was this: what if school board elections were held in conjunction with odd-year city council elections? In addition to saving money, this would have the effect of tapping into the predictably larger turnouts and encouraging better communication between elected officials.

Boom. Problem solved.

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I saw this on my Google+ feed (yeah, I actually use Google+ along with two of my friends)...

...and got all excited before realizing it's not for people who are building, designing, making, and hacking physical things like houses and furniture. Turns out the event is for computer programmers! Okay, so the term "design" is technically fair game.

From the Builder's Forum April 5 announcement (http://www.startupcitydsm.com/2011/04/the-builders-forum)

"We’re asking people out there in the trenches really building stuff to crack a few beers with us and share what you’re working on."

An Actual Building Under ConstructionAn Actual Building Under Construction

Perhaps I find this amusing and slightly incongruous because today I had an actual meeting with people in an actual trench who were really building actual things. Don't get me wrong - I honestly believe that programmers, web/game designers, system administrators work hard. They just work differently hard than people in the physical building trades. Building code is not the same as building a wall. Making an iPhone app is not the same as making a coffee table. Working as a "systems architect" is not the same as working as an architect.

Des Moines has a fabulous energy developing around technology innovation. We have somewhat less innovation surrounding the creation and maintenance of our physical environment. I worry about degrading the language of physical craft by equating it to accomplishments in the digital realm.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011, is a scheduled election to fill three seats on the Des Moines School Board. In addition, there is a measure to change the way school board members are elected. The proposal would create four positions elected by ward, and three at-large representative positions.

View the SAMPLE BALLOT here.

Please vote YES on Public Measure A.

I heartily endorse the idea of a ward/at-large system for our school board representation. Such a system is in place on our City Council and I am convinced that it provides the best possible representation - each portion of the City has a representative who can concentrate on issues specific to his or her area. The at-large representatives are able to take a broader systems view.

The Candidates

I can't recall missing an election since I started voting and I don't intend to start now. However, I'll admit to a bit of laziness this cycle - I'm sitting at the computer trying to do my "due diligence" research on the candidates the night before and not coming up with a whole lot.

So, for all you procrastinators out there, here's a quick link guide to all the information I could find on the candidates:

  • Dick Murphy (incumbent) Website - http://web.me.com/rmurphyia/site/welcome.html (But don't try to go there. Though reported in the Register, a website doesn't actually exist at this address. Murphy says he is "setting it up.")
  • Bill Howard Website - None
  • Pat Sweeney Website - None
  • Cindy Elsbernd Website - None
  • Felipe Gallardo (incumbent) Website - None

Are you sensing a pattern here? Not a single candidate created a website for their campaign (Note to Pat Sweeney and Cindy Elsbernd, a Facebook page is not a campaign website). In the near-vacuum of information available online about candidates, one is forced to perform the ubiquitous Google search.

Turns out, the only real candidate information I could find out there is a brief Register Q&A. Dick Murphy is running unopposed for a vacant seat, so that narrows down the field to four candidates vying for three seats. In this case, with such little information available, it becomes a search for any disqualifying characteristics or answers.

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