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What are We Called?

18 Jul 2011

What do you you call someone who lives in Des Moines? No, seriously, this isn't a spectacularly bad joke set-up. Are we:

  • "Des Moinesians"
  • "Des Moans" (rhymes with Samoans)
  • "Des Moiners"
  • "Des Moinistas"
  • "Des Moinae"

Any ideas I'm missing?

Go visit Scott Rocketship's newest web venture, "What If Des Moines". It's basically the same idea behind DMPerspective, except that he is able to distill the what ifs down to a single sentence, on a much more frequent and regular basis.

Reminds me quite a bit of another website called "People Who..." run by an evidently very snarky friend of a friend. The schtick is this: distill a rant dow to a single meaningful sentence and encourage people to respond with their own reactions and ideas. For example:

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Vinyl Preservation

14 Feb 2011

I took the following photo Saturday afternoon at the Home and Garden Show:

Do they not recognize the conflict here?Do they not recognize the conflict here?

Whatever replacement vinyl siding and windows are, they are most definitely not "preservation". I guess if you say something enough, people will begin to believe it is true. Well, I suppose vinyl qualifies as preservation from one point of view: the vinyl will stick around in our landfills long after the window has fallen apart and been replaced...

It is important to note that “Maintenance Free” free products still need to be maintained – it just means that when they eventually break they can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced.

Indeed, the residential double-hung window is a great example. We have gone from building simple windows that with proper maintenance can last hundreds of years to extraordinarily complex windows that last 10 years. I wouldn't put money on any window manufacturer still manufacturing the same proprietary tilt-in sash clip for a spring-loaded counterbalance in 20 years.

On the flip side, a standard historic double-hung window sash can be retrofit with readily available replaceable gaskets and weatherstripping to become much more energy efficient. Rope and chain have been made for hundreds of years and will likely continue to be made in one form or another for hundreds more.

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Data hounds have been salivating for months over the timed release of the Census 2010 data files. Yesterday, the Census Bureau released the 2010 redistricting data for Iowa!

The redistricting data includes basic population and housing information - the full data sets of all long-form data, much of it down to the block unit level, will not be released for some time.

Look for some interesting maps and analysis from DMPerspective in the coming weeks as I crunch through the data!

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A couple weeks ago, I was a guest on Michael Libbie's show "Insight on Business". I had a great time talking with Michael about preservation for almost an hour. One of the questions he sprung on me was a comparison between the troubled West Glen development in West Des Moines and the redevelopment of the Historic East Village neighborhood adjacent to downtown. That question sparked an idea for this blog post: a comparison of the physical characteristics between an established urban neighborhood and a new "urban" development.

Then it got really cold and snowed, so the concept morphed from a physical comparison to a conceptual comparison based on the two neighborhoods' web presence. No way I'm driving out there to take photos in this weather. Instead, I embarked on a journey through the interwebz in order to do research from the comfort of my own couch. [Note: I did actually end up getting photos yesterday because I happend to find myself near both Historic East Village and West Glen anyways.]

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Everything old is new again.

I watched "Milk" last night and find it disconcerting that thirty years later, many people still exhibit the same prejudices backed up by the same tired arguments. I'm looking at you, Iowa House of Representatives.

Today, the Iowa House Judiciary Committee is expected to forward on HR6 to the full chamber for a vote. HR6 seeks to amend the Iowa constitution to add the following:

Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state.

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Historic buildings are more than just piles of sticks and bricks. Over time, buildings become a part of our community narrative: the stories we create through our daily lives all have place. The spaces that enclose memorable events become inseparable from the events that happen within them and the people that pass through their doors. This effect is all the more profound when the buildings themselves are inspirational.

Despite the proliferation of crappy buildings created in the past 50 years, I think most people actually recognize this phenomenon to some degree. We do continue to recognize beauty in fine craftsmanship, thoughtful design, and artful space.

Des Moines Rehabbers Club meeting at Trinity ChurchDes Moines Rehabbers Club meeting at Trinity ChurchA perfect example of this is Trinity United Methodist Church in Des Moines' River Bend neighborhood. Trinity Church has embarked on a fabulous and difficult journey to restore their sanctuary and update the rest of the building to serve the congregation and the community for another 100 years.

Trinity Church has become more than just a building to house a congregation, though that is certainly a contributing factor. Through the development of a variety of service programs, the organization has evolved into a true pillar of support to the Des Moines community: breakfast and dinner are provided to hundreds of people daily in the basement; fifty children take part in before- and after-school care programs; teens and community members can use the computer labs to study; the doors are open from early morning to evening for anyone who needs a place to be. The building itself represents stability in a neighborhood that needs more constants.

With not a whole lot of internal capacity for funding the restoration project, Trinity Church has initiated an ambitious capital drive (with a lot left to go). Some of the work is being done with volunteer labor.

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Sustainability has become a core component of modern-day historic preservation activism. Indeed, we now recognize that the two are integrally related: there is no building greener than the one not built. By finding ways to creatively reuse and adapt existing structures to modern-day activities, we not only “save” our history, but also reduce the need for new construction.

Green and Main Pilot Project: Green and Main Pilot Project building before renovation.Green and Main Pilot Project: Green and Main Pilot Project building before renovation.As a designer, I often lament that the loss of historic building craft has had a negative impact on both the character and longevity of the structures we build today. It also has a negative impact on communities in terms of employment and multi-generational tradition. Renovation in general, and preservation in particular, are labor-dependent. That is, a greater percentage of the project cost in a renovation project is paid as wages rather than materials. Since wages equal jobs, preservation can be a great economic development tool. The Green and Main Pilot Project promotes socioeconomic sustainability by utilizing a broad range of skilled labor and specialized technical expertise. Even deconstruction of the interior is being performed in an intensively conscientious manner.

On a broad scale, preservation and renovation of existing buildings (particularly in urban areas) allow us to better utilize existing infrastructure and provide services more effectively to more people. Green and Main Pilot Project is reutilizing a building in a connected and walkable urban neighborhood, that is accessible by a variety of transportation modes. Because many older neighborhoods were developed in a time before widespread automobile use, they tend to be more compact and connected. In addition, an already-developed site allows for reuse of existing roads, sewers, and utilities.

At the individual building level, extending the useful life of a structure through renovation allows us to improve energy efficiency while also minimizing use of new-source construction materials. Preservation encourages adaptive reuse of existing buildings even as our needs and technologies change over time. The Green and Main building will be retrofit to a high level of energy efficiency while respecting the historic character-defining elements. For example, the historic storefront windows will be painstakingly recreated, though insulated glass will be utilized in place of the original single panes.

It is critically important for us to regain an understanding of how sustainable communities operate at both the individual building level and the broader urban scale. As a pilot project, Green and Main will serve as a brilliant case study. However, most of the projects I work on do not overtly address “sustainability” as part of their stated goals. Most of the people I work with simply love their homes and want to invest in the continued success of their neighborhoods. Sustainability is inherent in and inseparable from the act of renovating!

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I-235 Revived

22 Dec 2010

Ed FallonEd FallonYesterday's topic on "The Fallon Forum" radio show was Interstate 235. Evidently, after spending close to a half billion dollars renovating a ten-mile stretch of the highway just a few years ago, Fallon discusses a report that traffic congestion is again a concern.

[Click here to listen to the program]

It is abundantly clear that we can't build our way out of congestion by expanding highways and that they do not "promote economic development" in the existing cities they slice through. Physical evidence of this litters our urban landscapes in the form of destroyed neighborhoods - yet the meme continues to exist. It will take instead a rethinking of our transportation network and the subsidies that encourage automobile-dependent growth.

I want to thank Ed Fallon for the discussion and for mentioning several times my proposal to convert a portion of I-235 back into a street-grid-connected boulevard. I wish he had also mentioned my blog address so people could read it themselves... most of the callers had misconceptions about the actual proposal.

I am most certainly opposed in principal to dumping many more millions into subsidizing westward suburban expansion by widening I235. I am also not convinced that there is actually a congestion problem on I235 in any commonly understood sense of the word. My analysis of MPO data released several months ago reveals that the actual measured average travel time over the I235 segment from downtown to the I35 interchange only exceeds the legal posted minimum travel time between 7:45 and 8:15 am in the eastbound lanes and between 5:00 and 5:45 pm in the westbound lanes. Confusing, yes, but it boils down to this: If you drive the speed limit, there are only two brief times it will take you any longer to commute from the western suburbs. More in-depth discussion of this here.

Progressives appear to be stuck celebrating the recent "bike sharing" coup while the planners and politicians work on getting the big money for the horrible north-south connector and probably inevitable widening of I235. There needs to be more people talking about this now. By the time the project "studies" hit the papers it will be too late.

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Compare for a moment the following two photos. These are two sections of the same street (Cedar) in Cleveland approaching Case Western Reserve from the west.

Cedar Road in ClevelandCedar Road in Cleveland

Cedar Road in ClevelandCedar Road in Cleveland

The posted speed limit on this section of street is 35 MPH, though over the course of 3 days, most cars appeared to be exceeding it. Particularly as I made my way back from the Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference each evening (walking up the hill against traffic) the section in the upper photo felt quite dangerous. For a brief moment at the apex of the curve, cars appeared to be heading straight for the sidewalk pedestrian, as if perhaps a in a moment of distraction one might end up as a hood ornament on a Ford Escape Hybrid...

Something as simple as the location of the sidewalk makes a huge difference in a pedestrian's feeling of safety - moving the sidewalk away from the street by five feet, on the other side of the streetlights, made the section in the lower photo feel safer by a factor of ten.

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